By Scott Sullivan
Men don’t name cars. At least that’s the way it was.
“Sparky’s growling,” your wife would say.
Needs a muffler, you’d answer.
“How do you know her feelings aren’t hurt?”
Now it’s different. As soon as you say, “Buffy’s rattling,” she has the hood open, making like Mrs. Goodwrench. Advise, “Don’t get grease on your rouge, shnookums,” and she’ll clobber you with a ratchet.
I was thinking this at Love’s Truck Stop, mouthing French fries dolefully while waiting for her to pick me up after spinning out on the freeway. I’d planned to buy new tires soon but the old had hydroplaned first in a cloudburst.
Though my 2009 red Camry and I had spent 292,000 miles together, men don’t get attached to their cars. They are only machines. Conveyances.
911 said stay in your vehicle. Its rear end was hung on the right-lane guardrail, left nose protruding slightly into the traffic lane. Rush-hour drivers sped over a rise, saw the sight in the rain and reacted, barely.
A Samaritan pulled up behind in a pickup with its top and rear flashers flashing. “Get in; you’ll be safer,” he said. We were rear-ended moments later.
No good deed goes unpunished, I thanked him.
“The truck is insured,” he said.
The police came. A wrecker driver winched my car off the rail and dropped me off at the truck stop. I hung out — What else could I do? — the surreality sinking deeper, until my wife came.
“At least you’re alive,” she said.
My car’s not so good. It did not deserve this.”
“You’re being hysterical.”
At least I can feel guilty.
I called my insurer, a body shop and car-rental place next morning. The shop called back later after a wrecker towed it there.
What? There is good stuff left in it.
“A 10-year-old car with 300,000 miles would cost more to fix than its value. Your insurer wants to cash you out.”
I left things inside.
“Come get it before it’s hauled off,” the shop worker said.
By the time I arrived in my rental car, they were closed for the weekend. Outside was my Camry, smashed and forlorn. The shop had my keys locked inside.
I found backups at home and went back to pick the carcass. Important junk there. I sat in the driver’s seat and it felt so much like me; the rental car seemed like treason. It was like being present at my autopsy.
Oh boy, new car time. I used to prowl lots for months, read brochures, haggle prices and postponed buying, which spoiled the anticipation.
My wife? She likes “cute” ones.
Cars aren’t “cute,” I say.
To prove it, she bought a green Geo Tracker ragtop she named “Gumby” and drove 10 years without taking the top down once. All it did was leak. When Gumby died she left the cutie in front of our house till the city fined her and sent a wrecker to haul it off.
I can’t afford new, I told her.
“Get one used.”
They’re called pre-owned now. I’ll get one that’s practical.
“You’re the most boring man in the world,” she said.
I’d be S.O.L. if cars got to choose their owners. Moreso without the kindness of other people.
Think: you are driving home from work, then caught in a movie over which you have no control. There’s no traction under you, your car glances off a retaining wall, does a 180°, then you’re suspended inside, the car’s rear wheels in the air, looking back at traffic. All this took three seconds.
The guy who rear-ended the truck was OK. Not his car. He climbed inside too. We waited.
I looked out the pickup‘s rain-splattered windshield at my Camry. The sun framed the twisted thing in a rainbow. More and more cars splashed past.