All the VW Beetles of the Rainbow

Sometimes, it seemed as if the only cars in Peru were VW Beetles. I got almost all the colors of the rainbow just in Cusco and Lima alone. I never did see a purple one, so I’ll have to head back sometime and see if I can spot one.

















Elegy for the Saturn

This past weekend, I sold the Saturn. You may remember this car from a post I wrote last year pleading for just a few more miles of functionality. The car came through wonderfully, I’m happy to report, but seasons have changed, and even in this bizarrely mild winter we’re having, the car isn’t holding up so well. That, plus the registration and insurance fees and the always-high gas prices, and it became clear that I should say farewell to the car sooner than expected. But who knew it would be such a sad experience?

The M-22 sticker says you're a Michigan car forever, no matter what the license plate claims

The actual selling of the car was really easy. I went to the CarMax out in Glencoe, and after a short wait, a nice gentleman chatted with me about his tour of duty as a medic in Vietnam while an appraiser checked out the car. The company offered me $200 (oh how far you have fallen, Mme. Sunroof), I filled out the paperwork, and voila! They had my car, I had a bank draft, and my friends T&K picked me up to take me back to the city. No problem. But I was almost teary-eyed as I signed the paperwork. I don’t think my parents or siblings were untouched either, when I told them about it. This car has been in our family a long time.

It’s a ’96, and my dad bought it new in September of 1995 to use on his trips around the state selling phone systems for AT&T. After a few years, he got another car and the Saturn became the main vehicle the twins and I learned to drive in. We used it through high school, and after they graduated, my parents sold it to me and I took it from Kalamazoo to Naperville to Chicago. It’s sixteen years old and has seen a lot.

This car has been to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. It’s crossed the Canadian border. It’s been up north in Michigan and in the western suburbs in Illinois. It’s been through Indiana as quickly as possible (“Crossroads of America,” indeed). This car has been in two fender benders, at least two traffic stops, and no major accidents. It’s been through ice, wind, snow, fog, and a summer hailstorm. It’s been to beaches, farms, forests, cities, and the very edge of a swamp.

This car has been the site of acts of passion–raging fights, tearful make-up talks, and fevered make-out sessions. It’s blasted hip hop, rock n roll, Beethoven, and Beyonce. It’s seen feasts of candy, pop, fast food, homemade granola, and giant sandwiches. It’s been the designated driver. It’s been the speeding driver. This car has been the solution to problems, the means for movement, the impetus for plans. It’s been the starting point for road trip dreams and fantasies of escape, and finally, it’s always been the way home.

BFFs forever

Here are some things I found when cleaning out the Saturn:
48 cents in change
1 euro coin
11 maps
1 baggie of q-tips
2 safety pins
an entire winter wardrobe in the trunk (hat, sweatpants, jeans, two shirts, even undies–you need to be prepared in the Midwest for whatever the weather might throw at you)
3 quarts of motor oil
1 first aid kit circa 2003 (judging by the expiration dates)
2 flashlights
1 mostly-working umbrella
2 hair brushes
1 fossilized French fry
1 snow shovel
2 blankets
handwritten driving directions to my dorm room freshman year of college

Rest well, Mme. Sunroof. And in the words of Neil Young:

We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come.
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run.

Long may you run, long may you run,
Although these changes have come.
With your chrome heart shining in the sun,
Long may you run.

The Music Don’t Lie, Part 3

I have a fraught relationship with music and driving. I mean, of course I love music and I listen to it constantly when I’m in the car (no dry talk radio here). But I seem to have an uncanny knack for finding myself in trouble just as a song’s playing that’d make you go, “and isn’t that ironic, don’tcha think?” (I will pause now for you all to wail along to Alanis’s logic-flawed but bellow-perfect chorus.)

Back? Feel refreshed? Excellent. Onward!

Example 1: I was about 10 years old and my mom was driving the twins and me somewhere on the highway. We’re grooving to “Roxanne” (the meaning of which utterly escaped me for another 4 years or so, I’m happy to say), when suddenly, sirens, lights, and we’re on the side of the road. Mom has a short conversation with the police officer, who probably lectures her on speeding while transporting her “precious cargo” (this phrase has actually been used in reference to child passengers, ew). And then as soon as the police officer turned back to his car I make it SO MUCH BETTER by saying, with utter lack of facetiousness, “Mom! Mom! Isn’t it funny that The Police were on the radio, and the police just came to our car? Mom, isn’t that hilarious?” I do not think she found it hilarious.

The Police

Possibly my mom wouldn't have minded so much if these officers had pulled her over.

Example 2: The universe got me back about 7 years later. I was a few days shy of my 17th birthday, when my driver’s license would go from temporary to permanent. I was driving around my hometown, hand delivering invitations to my 17th birthday party, which was to be in the theme of the original Star Wars. (Raise your hand if you’re surprised that this is the kind of party I would throw.) I slowed down for what seemed a respectable amount of time at a stop sign on a residential street and carried on to a main street, where I was promptly pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign. My first ticket, my first time crying in front of a cop, and what’s on the radio? “Free Bird.” No joke.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Skynyrd definitely look like they're waiting to be booked at a police station.

Our latest example came last night, an instance of Instant Karma Gone Wrong. It was pouring on my walk home from the train station, and I passed a woman giving terrible directions to a couple of guys with guitars and travel backpacks. I corrected the directions after the woman walked away, but when they said thanks and they’d start walking now, I said, wait, that’s almost 3 miles away, let me give you a ride. So I drove them to their friend’s house and wished them well. On my way back to my house, rain drummed on the roof, the radio played “Classical Gas” (that instrumental that is clearly made for cruising along in a car), and I started to plan dinner in my head. Then I heard a rumble and it wasn’t thunder. My front left tire blew out, and I rolled along as the wheel moved farther and farther off its axle, til I got to a tire place that was actually open. They fixed it quickly and I headed home, $60 poorer and wary of any song even remotely referencing driving, or freedom, or law enforcement.

Next time I hear “Crash and Burn” by the Bangles on my car radio, I’m pulling to the side of the road and just running.

Previous editions of “The Music Don’t Lie” found here and here.

Image 1 from here. Image 2 from here.

An Open Letter to My 1996 Saturn, Which Has Taken on the Role of Life Coach, Despite Never Having Been Hired in This Capacity

I’ve been reading some of the open letters over at McSweeney’s lately, and decided to try my hand at writing one. You can write to anyone or anything (generally not someone or something you are expecting a response from), but it must be nonfiction; that is, it has to be prompted by an actual event in your life.

An Open Letter to My 1996 Saturn, Which Has Taken on the Role of Life Coach, Despite Never Having Been Hired in This Capacity

Dear Madame Sunroof,

We’ve known each other for a good many years. You’d already completed one career track as my dad’s car for his sales trips by the time my sisters and I got to use you in high school, and you were a healthy 8 years old when I purchased you from my parents after college. You moved with me to a new state and settled in pretty well, becoming casual acquaintances with the Naperville Saturn dealership and its garage, and moving me around the suburbs of Chicago with ease.

But something changed when I moved us to Chicago proper. You were no longer the carefree car of my youth, eager for whatever adventure lay ahead. No, now you were a delicate old machine, approaching each trip farther than the grocery store with trepidation and squeaky brakes. I thought you were just aging, and I tried to ease the transition as best I could, with sporadic trips to the mechanic and a constant stream of verbal encouragement when we were riding around town together. I thought this would help and you’d cheer up.

Instead, I find that you’ve chosen a new career path in your twilight years. You’ve taken it upon yourself to be my life coach, though I never asked you to take on that role and certainly don’t consider myself in need of one. Once I figured out that each new ailment was trying to teach me a life lesson, I saw your plan coming together.

Going from 0 to 35 is a bit shaky, but it’s the crucial going from 35 to 55 when entering the highway that really makes you shudder and nearly shut down completely? Easy does it, tortoise and hare, etc.!

When it rains, the water comes in through a mysterious hole that no mechanic has been able to find and soaks the foot space of both the driver and front passenger seats? Bad things happen unexpectedly, and the best you can do is be prepared with some towels to sop up the mess!

The horn starts blowing in the middle of the night for no reason and I have to drive you around for 30 minutes til it shuts itself off? Get ready, because babies are way worse!

The rear suspension rod has lost all lubricant and makes a horrible creaking noise heard two blocks away every time I turn a corner? Loud music still solves most woes!

The rear windows won’t go back up once lowered (sometimes you can only go forward!), closing the door too hard turns the overhead light on or off (you never know when a ray of sunshine will burst through!), the floor of the backseat is literally rusting out (there’s nothing quite like a breath of fresh air!), and so on.

I guess I appreciate all these lessons you’re sharing with me, ol’ Saturn. But in a couple weeks I plan to drive us up to visit some friends in northern Michigan, and I’m counting on you to make that six-hour journey there and back. We’ve been a lot of places and covered a lot of miles, and I’m awfully fond of you. I’m sure that you can go the distance. Whaddya say, how about we make this lesson “if you’re well-loved, you can still go far,” and not “at the end of it all, go out in a blaze of glory”?

Truly yours,