May 13, 2009


Not long after I got my new wheels, I joked to my brother that I needed to christen them with a fender-bender. I don't know why I made this joke, because it wasn't all that funny.

And it was a joke.

But now it's not.

Tonight, on my way to work, I took a classic spare-myself-a-wait-at-the-light-and-get-to-work-on-time maneuver, turning right and making the so-called Michigan left to avoid the stop-light left. It went smoothly. Except. Except: after I completed it, I had to wait at the stop light. It turned green, and people started to go. So I looked down at my iPod, presumably to find Kenny Loggins or Elvis Costello or some other such artist too old for my own good. And once I looked up again, there was a rusty old pickup much closer than I had remembered, much more stationary than I had remembered. I slammed the brakes too late, christened the new Honda, and muttered a few choice words.

I haven't been in many accidents. Actually, I've never been at the wheel for a significant bumper-thumper. So, I told myself there probably wasn't much damage, even though I knew our collision was sound. I got out, checked everything over - I'd show you a picture if I had taken one - and saw the great big scrape on top of my bumper, and a big dent in the grill. Thankfully, the Honda H was in pristine condition - how else do you know it's a Honda? The other driver got out and looked it over. He seemed unmoved by it all. No damage at all to his pickup. He handed over his information and I wrote it down nervously.

He seemed cool, collected. But if life is anything like the movies - and I have no reason to believe it isn't, because the cinema is the fount from which I tap my whole reality - then this guy was probably on his way to a diamond heist. I bet that when I bumped him, he assumed I was from a rival faction, attempting to keep him from getting to the big exchange. He probably took a pistol from under his seat, loaded it, screwed on a silencer, and tucked it into the back of his slacks. He wouldn't have hesitated to take me out, get back into his truck, and get back on his way to a private jet to Liberia where there would have been a few a few shady characters in a limo with suitcases full of Benjamins and Euros, and the guy's girlfriend, taken hostage and tied up on the floor. This was never about the diamonds, it was about getting his woman back. He got sucked away from his career as a semi-professional softball player and into a complicated web of lies, deceit, and pretty diamonds. He would have handed over the diamonds and waited for them to unshackle her - did I mention she's shackled? - and when they finally unlocked her handcuffs, she PULLED A GUN ON HIM. SHE WAS IN ON IT THE WHOLE TIME, AND SHE NEVER LOVED HIM. But I digress.

The important thing is that he wasn't mad, and we didn't have a beef. There was no damage to his truck. And I'm not surprised, because it was made of metal and my car is made of, like, old laundry basket plastic. It folded right up.

Anyway. I got his info, let him leave, and filed a police report and a claim with my insurance. It was all my fault. So now Kenny Loggins has cost me, I can only assume, at least my $500 deductible.

I spent the rest of the night wondering why I didn't just do something differently to avoid the accident. If I had just waited at the light or gone straight or been five minutes faster or slower or left the iPod at home... But then I thought, How many times have I done it right and not realized it? The six years I had my car, not once did I have so much as a bump, or a scrape, or a busted mirror. You never know when or how often you've escaped danger or humiliation. How many times have I taken the right way and, say, serendipitously avoided mowing down a troupe of girl scouts helping elderly folks cross the street? Then I would certainly have spent the rest of my life in jail with that hanging over my head. But no... I just got into a fender-bender. And it's just kind of expensive. I'm going to drain my checking account, but if that's the worst thing that happens, I think I'll be alright.

By the way, I would name the movie something with a diamond pun. And it would star Nicholas Cage.

May 11, 2009


I'm sitting here watching PBS after midnight. They're showing a BBC documentary about Tornadoes.

I have always, always, always wanted to see a tornado. I have a suspiciously large number of dreams about them, and in each one, I decide that I'm actually finally seeing a tornado in real life and I'm not dreaming anymore. And I always stand outside and gawk and marvel at their hugeness, soak up their sheer destructive power. And then I wake up and awkwardly realize that I still haven't seen a tornado in real life.

Whenever we get a really violent storm and I get the chance to watch it, I scan the sky in morbid curiosity, hoping to catch a glimpse of a funnel cloud forming. They never do. They're rare in Michigan, where our weather is buffeted by Lake Michigan.

My dad has seen them, I think. I've asked him before. He grew up in Iowa. I'm not sure he ever wants to see another one. Iowa is in the tornado alley where, I learned via PBS - and stowed away somewhere in the section of my brain allotted to fifth grade science class - warm winds from the south rise up over cold winds from the north, drifting up into the jet stream where they begin to rotate. The supercells spin and funnel downward toward the ground, and berth the twisters, and throw train cars around like toys and destroy trailer parks. It's a classic joke to make fun of the people who get on the news and stand in front of where their trailer used to be.

This documentary is showing the destruction. You always see it on the news in the spring when a particularly bad one levels a neighborhood somewhere in Kansas. A particularly bad storm occurred in Oklahoma in 1999, and they showed a lingering shot of block after block after block of skeletal remains of houses, acres and acres of garbage and debris and walls and bricks and sinks and typewriters, and trucks where living rooms used to be. A team of storm chasers from England arrive late. They miss the spectacle, and see only the aftermath of entire neighborhoods and towns left completely destroyed. They leave feeling a little... depressed.

And I think... I don't really want to see a tornado all that badly.

May 2, 2009

The first days of the Honda Civic

A few weeks ago, sensing the beginning of the end of the Escort, I began to look for a new car. I didn't find anything.

Bethany did.

About five minutes after I told her I was looking, she pointed me to an ad on Craigslist for a Honda Civic. I looked up a few reviews, did a little research. People say Honda Civics run forever. I saw a story about one that made it to 900,000 miles. A friend told me yesterday he knew someone that just bought one with 400,000 miles on it. A guy at work bought one from 1997, and said you can expect them to reach 300,000. So since this one was almost in my price range, I emailed the owner and asked to check it out.

I went out to her house a few days ago and took the car for a test drive out on the freeway. It handled well, had a sunroof and A/C and cruise control and a CD player, veritable luxuries in my book, but I didn't necessarily feel love at first sight. I didn't know for sure. I thought... I want it, but I haven't driven anything else.

But another couple was driving down from Mount Pleasant that night to check it out, so I had to make a decision. I asked my brother if I should pull the trigger and he told me to go for it if it seemed right.

After I test drove it, I stopped and applied for a loan. When they called and told me I was approved, I called the owner and told her I wanted her car. She was happy, and called... the others... and told them not to bother with the trip. Meanwhile, I had another friend run a Carfax report. He called me and gave it a really positive endorsement.

So... I bought the Civic.

I've been driving it for a few days, watching the miles tick up, permanently away from the 64,000 mark at which I bought it. We're getting to know each other. I still reach down for the shifter when I'm slowing down. There's nothing there... My hand doesn't know what to do while I drive. And my left foot gets bored looking for the clutch. But I'm sure they'll get over it soon. It's road-trip worthy. It's in good shape... It's nice.

It's an adjustment. With the Escort, it was paid off. It outlived my expectations. There was no pretense, no pressure for upkeep. That car was supposed to die with me. And I have to baby this one.

Picture for you:


May 1, 2009

The final days of ZX2

Thursday. I'm driving on a busy street when I begin to feel a shake from the front of my car. It feels like a flat tire. I stop to check it out. All tires are present and full of air, nothing is dragging underneath, nothing is awry under the hood. I return to the car and pray that I make it back to the store.

It does not make it back to the store.

The vibration begins immediately. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking: Is this the end? Since I'm not well-versed in vehicular snafus, I grip the steering wheel and beg the car to survive two more miles. But soon, the shaking intensifies, and quickly, and suddenly I come to a dragging, grinding, screeching halt, leaning forward and to the left. Cars lean forward and to the left when a wheel comes off.

And sure enough, I see the emancipated wheel, keeping all of its momentum upon liberation from the weighty car, rolling and bouncing across the street, through a suspiciously large gap in traffic. It jumps the curb, rolls up a driveway, and barges through some poor homeowner's screen door.

I will have to deal with that later. For now, I'm sitting in traffic, near rush hour, at a busy intersection. On three wheels. I get out, inspect the damage, and pop a squat in the grass by the street.


I call work. I'm outta commission for... at least an hour, I say. I call dad and hurriedly, anxiously explain the scenario as best I understand it. Soon, an old friend rolls up and helps find the lug nuts. A cop pulls up behind me and we fill out an accident report. We inspect the damage at the house and retrieve the wheel. No one lives there, the cop tells me. Abandoned. Foreclosed. Thank God.

A wrecker comes, dad comes, the boss comes, and we agree that all of this came about because the lug nuts weren't tight enough after the new tires I got on Saturday. The wrecker charges $20 to put the wheel back on. The car is good enough to drive back home, so dad takes it and I finish the shift in his truck.

Saturday, I drive the car again, the wheels polished and brushed up by the tire dealer. They did their best to make things right. But by 11, a strange noise is coming from under the hood, and the bitter smell of burning rubber. My AC compressor, I later discover, is seizing up and has an appetite for serpentine belts. When I drive it home later, tense because it's loud, I hear the belt snap in the driveway, and rubber-smelling smoke pours from under the hood when I get out.


Sunday morning when I get up, I look for a new car.

Sunday afternoon, Dad and I replace the belt. When we go to buy a new belt, an old friend is there who offers to look at the car later in the week. It takes four hours for dad and I to replace the belt because we can't get to the darn thing and we don't have hands the size of a three-year-old girl. Another friend stops by to help us, and this is when I discover it's the AC compressor, and it's hungry for another belt, at least until it's replaced.

Monday, the old friend we saw when we were buying the belt offers to buy the car for $700. I'm not sure what I could get for a maybe-running car with some real issues, but he knows how to fix cars and I agree to the price, because it'll be in good hands. A few days later, he comes to get it, and swaps out the AC compressor with one from the junkyard. He slips on the new belt in five minutes, roughly three hours and 55 minutes faster than Dad and I did it.

I sign over the title, find the keys, and drive it to his house and say a strange, brief good-bye.

It patiently taught me to drive it's stick shift, suffered through that long drive to Florida after its air conditioning gave out, rolled over the 200,000 milestone a few weeks ago.

It's weird to get attached to something. You ascribe a personality to it. I never named it, nothing seemed right, but I did like it. When I paid it off, it was mine, and I had pride in it even though it never really fit me. Little red car, no head room... just didn't seem right for me.

But it was. Every time I drove, and that was often, it was there with me. Everywhere that I would go, the Escort would surely follow. It felt so wrong leaving it in Florida when I flew home for a week. We adapted to each other, conformed to each other. It was truly my space.

And now it's not my car anymore.

But I've got a new one.