American men are supposed to have a love affair with cars. I don’t; never have. Particularly ironic since I lived in Detroit for ten years. Perhaps you can blame my feelings on the fact that the first car I owned was a baby-blue, 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon. Think Wayne and Garth in, “Wayne’s World”. Think John Denver’s character in, “Oh, God!”. The Pacer was always utilized for comedic effect; James Bond never drove one. Consider the level of self-loathing such a purchase might inspire. I bought it from my dad, for $3,000. That was a lot of money for a penniless college student in 1979. AMC produced some ridiculous vehicles in the ’70′s. My Pacer Wagon, which my roommate labeled, “the rolling aquarium”, wasn’t even the silliest car AMC marketed; my older brother drove a brown, 1972 Gremlin, with its bizarre take on a back seat. That’s right. . .we were a two-AMC family.
The next car I owned was purchased with my wife, concurrent with our getting married, and moving to a new apartment. I remember it as an extremely hectic, change-centric time in my life, imposing significant financial pressures on me. The car, a 1984 Sunbird, was a relatively serviceable vehicle, for a reasonably long period of time. It was one of the few cars I owned whose useful life outlived its debt payments. The clearest memory I have of the Sunbird was the day it expired. I was driving to my office in downtown Chicago from our home in the Northern suburbs, on the Kennedy Expressway, when it simply quit. I had it towed to a garage somewhere on the north side of Chicago, where the mechanic later rattled off the long list of issues which would need to be fixed on the car. I pictured him pulling the hand-crank on an old-fashioned calculator as he detailed each item to be fixed. I said, “No, no, you don’t understand, I just want to get the thing running again, I’m not aiming for museum-quality.”
“That’s what I’m describing for you,” he responded.
“Well, the car is probably not worth that much,” I speculated.
The mechanic shrugged, and said, “I know a guy who comes in here sometimes; he’d probably give me $100 for the car.”
I considered that, and asked, “This guy who comes in here sometimes – do you think he would give you $200 for it?”
“No, I’m pretty sure he would only give me $100 for it,” he said.
And that was that.
Our next purchase, intended to accommodate our growing family, was a late-80′s-era Ford Escort Station Wagon. At least, we thought we were buying a station wagon. Those of you who are familiar with late-80′s-era Ford Escort Station Wagons will understand that that particular vehicle was a tiny little crackerbox of a car, and can in no way whatsoever be described as a station wagon.
Our first foray into the minivan world was with a Nissan Quest. It was very much like every other minivan ever produced; nothing whatsoever distinctive about it.
After the Sunbird expired, in the interest of minimizing cost, I opted for a Dodge Neon. My wife insisted that the Neon, particularly in red, the color I chose, was a “Chick Car”; she may have been right. It didn’t help that the car didn’t have power windows, a rarity in the late ’90′s. I vowed never to make that mistake again.
With the coming of the new millenium (actually those who have devoted their lives to the study of calendar dynamics – who are called what? Calendarologists? – insist that the new millenium began on January 1, 2001, although if you recall, the Y2K furor occurred a year earlier), I purchased a 2000 Malibu, which lasted a solid twelve years, and clipped 200,000 miles, with only a minor bit of rust near the end of its life. Now, you would think that kind of longevity would have provided me with some small sense of satisfaction. Nope, cars suck! Why couldn’t that car have provided another three or 4 years of faithful service before being smacked by an unsafe driver as I was entering a parking lot? “Totaled” was the insurance company’s unceremonious conclusion.
Now this next one was an interesting purchase – a Chevrolet Conversion Van, complete with a TV screen for the kids to watch videos and play games while we traveled. The downside of this car was that, when we weren’t traveling, we were using it to run errands, to the grocery store and to the cleaners. That is, until my wife decided that I should drive it to work every day, some thirty miles or so into Center City, Philadelphia, from our home in the Northern suburbs; her idea of a joke, I’m sure; not the most cost-effective commuter vehicle. I also remember my daughter walking up to the front of the car (not possible in a normal-sized passenger car), at about age four or 5, and accidentally stepping on the cupcakes we had purchased for my wife’s birthday. I thought that was funny, and that it would be a precious family memory for years to come, as I served the smashed cupcakes that evening. I was wrong; my wife was not amused.
We went through three or 4 of these Chevrolet Trailblazers, upgrading to a newer, improved model every couple of years, all the while steadily increasing our monthly payment (they call it “rolling over” your loan in the automotive financing business), until we reached the point where it would have been less expensive for us to have financed the purchase of a helicopter.
Next in our lineup of expensive hunks of metal was a 2009 Saturn Vue, a minivan produced by a company slated for extinction. If you’ve ever tried to repair something that is no longer being produced you know the challenges we have faced with this fine vehicle. Those of you who own Edsels can appreciate the issue.
And, finally, the 2012 Ford Fusion. It’s not a bad car, and I have to say that technology has come a long way in the last twelve years, at least in the area of sound systems. But the proof of the pudding will lie in its ability to hold up for at least twenty years, without requiring more than $50 in annual maintenance cost, and log more than 500,000 miles. That’s a car I could truly love.
So, I feel as if I’m missing out on something, not having had that American male love affair with cars. But, cars suck! From cradle to grave; from that first moment when your wife says, “Hey, let’s go test-drive cars today,” to that moment when the mechanic says, “No, I’m pretty sure that guy will only give me $100 for the car,” and every step in between, cars provide me absolutely no satisfaction or joy. But I do like hotdogs and apple pie.