Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fractional Odyssey

Six months, six thousand miles, each simultaneously fraught with peril and delight, each redolent of new car smell.

This winter was excruciating in so many ways, but none more than those where my new car was concerned. I was afraid to drive Puck on ice or through blizzards. (Obviously this didn't stop me, and we got to know each other.) I was paranoid about what the road salt would do to him, often finding myself at the car wash in below-freezing temperatures, bending over to spray out his undercarriage and wheel wells. I've seen the way vehicles age in Wyoming when not garaged, and it's not pretty, so I sighed with regret every time I parked him in my gravel driveway to face another bitter night exposed. I worried about starting him at 15 below or leaving him plugged in all night, cooking off the oil. And I couldn't use the sunroof.

So I couldn't really begin to fully enjoy my new car for the first five months, even though I never regretted the purchase for an instant. I was never going to buy a new car. I agreed with Dad, who had many good reasons, including the fact that you can get a good running vehicle for a few thousand bucks so why purchase a new one that requires full coverage insurance, but chiefly because if you have a car payment, you have that much less disposable income to spend on gas and a big, big problem if you lose your income altogether.

However, by the time I really, really needed a more reliable vehicle and had a few thousand to plunk down, he was gone, and with him the magical ear that could merely listen to an engine turn over and tell you whether or not it was sound, and what needed done if it wasn't. Also, there was the cautionary tale of Morgan's poorly Pontiac, which she came by used at a dealership and which should have been a great car but turned out to have a few Californian skeletons in its attractive, black-lacquered horizontal closet. I couldn't afford a used car like that. So I researched and agonized and finally made a choice, and with each passing mile I believe more and more in fate.

When driving Puck off the lot on December 17th, 2007, instantaneous depreciation was the furthest thing from my mind. I was terrified. I can drive most anything with four wheels, but it takes a while to really get to know a car, and the alien feeling of the springy new clutch (I had test-driven an automatic) was appalling. I expected to instantly meld with the new car like chocolate chips in cookie dough. In fact, the first time we tried to move forward, I killed him. I couldn't hear the motor to know if I was giving him enough gas. Too quiet. Too new.

I got to know and love the satellite radio and mp3 jack right away. I like the driver's position, high and forward and firm like an SUV, love that the shifter is right at my wrist, got used to the blind spots (and learned how to see around them) and the tight, pushy clutch (we never jerk when we shift now), and I worship the heaters (blowers and seat), which are hot enough to melt lead. I love the keyless entry even though the key is huge and blocky. The cruise works great, the radio controls on the steering wheel are superfluous but fun, the stack controls are simple and inoffensive, the hatch and tonneau cover are handy for laundry, luggage, and groceries even if the door is a little hard to close due to new and stiff hydraulics.

I chose the car for the very female reason that I loved the way it looked on the outside, but I also love the simple, clean interior in warm and welcoming shades of tan and creamy beige. There are soft, rubbery plastics in nicely understated textures, and the goofy fake-brushed aluminum center stack can be easily recovered with a wood grain kit from Mopar if I ever get tired of it or scratch it up. I don't stick to the cloth seats, which really do repel stains rather miraculously, and the dog and cat hair vacuums right off. The two generous glove compartments are excellent and the arm rest slides neatly forward and back and the air conditioning blows cold and subtle, although the vents don't swivel quite as wide as I'd like; I can't point them directly at my chest, which is where I want the cold air to hit (otherwise it makes my joints ache). But seriously, if the vents are the only design flaw I have to complain about, I'd say the car is gold.

But even if Puck was horribly disfigured and uncomfortable inside and sounded like a train and had a face only a blind man could love, he'd still be my second mechanical soul mate (lest ye forget, first there was Monte). Once we got into our groove, and once spring removed some of the apprehension (there are still idiotic teenagers and rock-flipping trucks and idiotic deer and rainy asphalt to hydroplane on and rock slides on the Fontonelle causeway and next winter to consider if I'm still stuck in this wasteland), then and only then did I get what my cousin Garrick was talking about when he said, regarding his brand new gunmetal Charger, "You stare at it and think, 'I just want to drive you.'" And it's true. I love to drive my car.

Above all Puck's cosmetic charms there's the fact that he's surprisingly zippy for an overweight, underpowered station wagon. I got the very basic 1.8L four cylinder engine, after all, to save on gas mileage, which it does, oh does it ever. I get the high end of 28-32 on the highway, 22-26 in town, now that he's pretty well broken in and had two oil changes. He takes corners like a barrel racer, dives downhill like a bird and drifts uphill under his own momentum, very much like a roller coaster, and cruises as comfortably as the Caddy without sashaying all over the road.

He fits into even the most ungenerous parking spaces but feels cavernous with the sunshade open, whether the sunroof is open or not. But, oh, when it is it's just divine. On a miraculously sunny day in March I drove all the way to Mom's with the sunroof open and the heater blowing and the stereo blaring in a wanton waste of energy just because it felt so nice to have that connection with the sky, because to me an open road ahead is just heaven and to be able to drink in every facet of that road, every sight and sound and smell, makes every mile a blissful adventure.

And it's miraculous to have found a car that combines all the best beloved features of every car I've ever driven, plus things I never dreamed of, all in a sparkly black package that sort of makes my heart melt when I see it down the street or from a window, and if history repeats itself (and we all know it does), I'll only love him more with each passing mile as his clear coat turns cloudy and his floor mats get stained. My first Dodge lasted 20 years and 240,000 miles and I expect no less of this one, so here's to another 114 months at least of hitting the road together, Puck. I'll take good care of you.


Blogger Doolin said...

this might make for a lovely wallpaper....


June 22, 2008 at 10:05 PM  

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