The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

The Car Called Forever

One of our culture’s favorite past-times is cars. Cars that draw attention, turn heads, impress neighbors, these are the best cars. Cars that people can’t forget. We want the world to know about our cars. Yeah, well, I’ve got a car I can’t forget. And I can’t get rid of it.

Some years ago, we decided our van was just too big, and used too much gas. We decided to downsize. We bought a Mercury Station Wagon. We dumped, er, I mean traded in the van, and eased away from the dealership with a sleek, stylish cruiser. Not new, mind you, but nice, very nice. We were so excited we decided to take the family for a drive, as all good families with new cars do. It was comfortable, all the kids had places to sit, and yet we could drive forever without refueling. Make a note of that word – forever. You’ll see it again.

We drove that station wagon. Good Heavens, we drove it. We drove over the hill, through the dale, back and forth to grandmother’s house. We drove it north, we drove it south, heck, even east. We did stop short of driving west, but only because we live on the Oregon coast. That car has led a hard life.

Things went well for a while. But a couple of years down the line, I began to notice those little signs of wear. Now, we’ve worn out cars before, this certainly wouldn’t be the first.  We began to feel a bit cramped. We began taking two cars to places. Just once in a while, mind you. We didn’t want anyone to think there might be a rift developing between us and the car. But way back in my mind, I began to plot its demise. And, unknown to myself, the car began to plot its revenge.  It plotted to never die.

My plan grew nicely. In fact, I was just about to suggest to the wife that perhaps we should begin considering a trade-in, when she came home to announce a “squealing noise”. Now, I’m an old Volkswagen nut. I fix ancient Bugs and Buses as a pastime, and so fancy myself as a mechanic. So I took the cotton out of my ears, and listened. Indeed, there was a squealing coming from the car. But then the kids quit fighting about who had the heaviest grocery sack and went in the house.  The squealing stopped. I looked at my wife, shrugged my shoulders, stuffed the cotton back in my ears, and went back inside.

She was not amused.

Eventually, it was determined that the brakes – not the children –  were the source of the unwanted noise. Since at this point I seldom drove that car, I asked how long it had been doing this. The answer, while still not clear to me to this day, turned out to be best measured by the depth of the grooves cut in the front disks by the brake pad rivets, which had long since become free of that bothersome, stifling brake pad material. And, as it turned out, my wife curtly informed me that she had told me about the problem several months earlier. Apparently, she hadn’t noticed the cotton in my ears, and assumed I had heard. Silly woman.

Shortly after this minor affair, another squeal was reported. I checked the brakes and kids out thoroughly, and pronounced the sound normal for new brakes, and preteen children. But you know, the trouble with squealing noises in cars is that you have to be able to fly at highway speeds beside the car to really tell where they come from. Turns out it was the rear this time, but not the brakes. In fact, a passing motorist helped us diagnose the problem correctly as a bad rear wheel bearing by driving up beside us in the passing lane, waving wildly, indicating that our car was on fire. The heat generated by the bad bearing caught the leaking grease on fire. This while the wife and two of the kids were on their way to church. The other two kids were safely riding on ahead with me in my ‘65 Beetle, blissfully ignorant of all this.

Now, mind you, we were trying to sell this car. Of course, no one would buy a non-running vehicle, so once again we were compelled to repair the thing. After a feeble attempt by yours truly, a mechanic was summoned. I respect that man. He came to our house, picked up the car, and drove away without so much as a smirk. I wouldn’t know anything had it not been for the neighbors, good friends of ours, who saw him wiping tears from his eyes before he could turn safely onto the highway. This same man came and replaced the little doohickeys in the block that pop out when you forget to mix the water in your radiator with anti-freeze, in our driveway, in January. Did I mention I loved to restore air-cooled engines?

Our car returned to service a short time later, and I was getting very anxious to unload this pile of rust and metal. But then my wife called me at work, to inform me there had been an accident. “Was everyone alright?” I asked. Yes, of course. “And the car?” I struggled to conceal my disappointment when she said it was all right. At least she thought so.

“What exactly do you mean, you think so?”

“Well, I can’t tell where there’s any damage.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I think so.”

At this point, I could tell there was something puzzling her, so I let her collect her thoughts for a moment before asking what was wrong. I was concerned that she might be in shock, or hurt and not telling me.

“We totaled the other car.” She finally blurted out.

“But you said there was nothing wrong” She cut me off, “With our car! There’s nothing wrong with our car! The other car is smashed clear up to the driver’s door. He can’t drive it away if he wanted to!”

I was skeptical, but held my peace. She’s exaggerating, I thought, and made off for home to survey the scene, stopping at the neighbor’s house first, whose car we hit. The small pickup was completely smashed, right up to the driver’s side door, just like she said. The wheel was bent over. The door buckled. It was a total loss.

I drove home, and circled the station wagon. It looked all right. I stood in front, and hunkered down to look at the front bumper and grill. After a couple of moments, I could see it, and of course, once I could see it the damage seemed so obvious, so glaringly obvious. The plastic grill insert was neatly cracked, right down the middle. My wife saw me inspecting the car, and came out to the driveway sheepishly, studying my face for anger. I chuckled. She chuckled. We both laughed. And except for dealing with the neighbors, the event was over.  Our car was, it turned out, immortal.

Of course, soon after this, she pulled out of the driveway and smashed the rear fender on my bug. Flattened the fender right up against the car, she did. It did break the taillight out on her car. Served her right. I refused to replace it.

These events all happened in a relatively short space of time, as I recall. Two or three years ago, in the fall, I believe. I did patch the light with red tape, which made it I think as far as the highway before fluttering to the roadside. We got two tickets for a broken taillight before we finally got a new one. Of course, during all this time, rust was beginning to take its toll, too. Then I noticed that I couldn’t get the passenger-side mirror to hold still. I thought the mount was loose, but on closer inspection, I realized there was actually a crack in the metal of the door near the base of where the mirror mounted to the door. This crack also allowed the window to roll up on the outside of its groove. So to get the window to roll up right, the back seat passenger would roll down their window, and press in on the glass of the front window while the front passenger pushed the button to roll it up. Then the tailgate began to sag. Not much at first, but pretty soon it wouldn’t close right. I tried to adjust the latch, but to no avail. The whole tailgate could be lifted 4 inches, and needed two children acting in concert to shut. You could hear it creaking all the way across a crowded parking lot. The passenger doors followed suit, and began to droop, one at a time. I adjusted them, but they’d just droop again. This was really beginning to get ridiculous. Somewhere in there the engine began to drip oil and smoke when going uphill, which of course graduated to downhill and on the level as well. The last straw was when we were driving in a severe rainstorm, and suddenly the power locks started locking and unlocking themselves wildly, and one of the windows, I forgot which in my panic, started going up and down. This car was possessed. And the spirit was not a kindly one.

The salesman was very polite. It was obvious, though, that he really didn’t want to be the one to haul this car in on trade. Still, he gave us a trade-in allowance, and we struck a bargain on a mini-van. The day came, and we drove to the dealership. As we were going through the paperwork, it became obvious that something was not right. Turned out some detail of the trade-in aspect of the deal had been done wrong, and would have to be redone for them to take the car. He looked perplexed. After consulting with his manager, he came back, and said, “Look, a deal’s a deal, and we won’t back out at this point. But we can’t really take your car without redoing all this paperwork, and frankly, it’s not worth it. We’ll just subtract what we were going to give you for trade-in from the purchase price, and you can just keep the car, ok?”

I was stunned. I had just been offered money to keep my car. I looked at my wife. I looked out the window at the station wagon. And in that moment, a change took place in my heart. I began to take pity on that poor, unwanted wretch of machinery. It was unloved. And I felt terrible for it. I came that close to loving a water-cooled car.

I drive that car, now. It stopped charging it’s own battery three months ago. Only two windows go up and down, and that’s only when the fuse that feeds the windows, clock, fuel gauge, and something else I can never remember isn’t blown. Oh, yes, it’s the heater/ defroster. Did I mention it’s February now? If I turn on the heater, the fuse blows almost every time. The shocks are nothing more than a guide bar for the bald tires to bounce up and down on. All four doors open only with creaks and groans usually reserved for haunted houses. I dream of a refinery that recovers the oil from my driveway and uses it to make gasoline. The back of the car sags. The driver’s side sags even more. Paint has flaked off in large areas, leaving the primer beneath exposed. The rear-view mirror rattles when you go over bumps, as does the front suspension. And yet, the car goes on, forever and ever. Well, at least until 2003. I tried to sell the car before the registration expired, but no luck. I even asked the lady at the motor vehicles department if she wanted a car. It’s OK, though, I really need it to tow another Beetle for me in a couple weeks. So I’m stuck for another two years. But yes, I have a car that draws attention, turns heads, impresses neighbors, and best of all, a car that people can’t forget. I know I certainly can’t. Wanna buy a car?

One Response to “The Car Called Forever”

  1. Ryan says:

    Ha! Great story! Thanks for the chuckle, good sir!

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