I know absolutely nothing about cars.
Okay, I guess that isn’t true, strictly speaking. I know how to drive them. I know that they run on gasoline. I know Bruce Springsteen likes to sing about them (even though he admits he doesn't know that much about them either). And I know that the second anything stops working in mine, I need to call my dad ASAP.
That is the full extent of my knowledge of cars.
I have no idea what goes on under the hood of my car. When I open it, it looks like an super-complicated game of Mousetrap, with lots of random doohickeys that make it run. But honestly, as far as I know, there could be little gnomes running on a hamster wheel who are REALLY the reason why my car goes when I push the gas pedal.
So when my “check engine” light came on last week, I did what any rational person would do.
I became convinced that my car was going to explode and began dictating a will to Siri. That’s legally binding, right?
Turns out, I just didn’t tighten the gas cap well enough the last time I filled my car up and apparently THAT causes a “check engine” light. But even once my father reassured me that no, my car was NOT going to explode (actually, his exact words were that it PROBABLY wouldn’t explode, which was somewhat less than reassuring), I still had to bring it to the dealership for them to reset the “check engine” light.
Luckily, I befriended the service manager at Toyota years ago, so that was a painless procedure. Until he reminded me that I need to get my car serviced before I drive it to Brooklyn to see the Gaslight Anthem in a couple of weeks. And unfortunately, it’s almost at 90,000 miles, which means that I needed to get the timing belt replaced.
I have no idea what any of that means. All I know is was going to cost me something like $1,100. Which is ELEVEN Springsteen shows! (Okay, not really. It’s three plus Ticketmaster charges. But in a perfect world, it’d be ELEVEN shows that I now can’t go to! Although in a perfect world, I’d be at ALL of the Bruce shows with no timing belt issues. I’d also be stick skinny, married to Leonardo DiCaprio, a world-famous author, and I’d have a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos’ look sparse. Clearly the world is not perfect.)
So, I cried a little, but agreed. Because I can’t afford a new car right now. And I DO love my car.
And in fact, I love my car more than ever now, because while it was in the shop, I drove my brother’s old Jeep.
Back in 1999 when my brother got the Jeep (from my uncle—it was already four years old then), he thought it was the hottest car on the planet. He pimped out the stereo system and you could literally hear him coming from about a mile away. Seriously. It was better than a LoJack.
Fast forward to Wednesday when my dad gave me the keys.
“We need to discuss a few things about driving it,” he said.
A few things turned out to be a lot more than I expected. For example there are warning lights on for parts of a car that I’ve never heard of. I don’t know what a rear cooling sensor is, nor do I know what it does or why it’s “bad.” Does it have tattoos and piercings? Does it need to go to the time out corner? And is it ACTUALLY okay to ignore it like my dad says it is?
The key fob works, he explained, but only if you’re trying to lock or unlock the rear passenger side door. It’s useless on all other doors.
The brakes are “slow,” he told me, “so leave about double the stopping distance you’d normally need.”
Air conditioning? Hah. That died years ago.
Planning to drive anyone else? Not a good idea. There used to be seats in the back, but they’re long gone.
Need to open the back hatch? Watch out because It doesn’t stay up. But there’s a pole in the back of the jeep that dad told me he uses to prop the hatch open with.
As he walked me through the basics of driving this relic of my brother’s adolescence, my eyes wandered to the spare tire holder, which looked oddly misshapen. “What’s wrong with the spare?”
“There is no spare. There are jumper cables and motor oil in there.”
“What happens if I get a flat tire?”
My dad just looked at me like I was an idiot. “Don’t get a flat tire.”
Needless to say, I was a little concerned by the time I got into the driver’s seat. Which wasn’t helped by the fact that I started the car, released the emergency brake, put it in drive, pressed the gas pedal and—nothing happened.
My dad knocked on the window and I rolled it down (THAT actually worked without me breaking out the 80s-style hand crank). “You have to put it in reverse for a second to go forward because the brakes lock up.” Silly me, I should have thought of that.
So, taking my life in my hands, I put it in reverse, then back into drive, and it mercifully lurched forward.
“This isn’t so bad,” I thought as I pulled away. It’s MUCH higher than my car and I DO like feeling tall.
That feeling of contentment lasted until I got it up to 30 miles per hour, at which point the car began to sound eerily like the Loch Ness Monster giving birth to a rabid elephant.
I quickly called my dad. “Is it supposed to sound like this?” I shouted over the car’s hideous cries of agony.
“Yup,” my dad said. “It’s fine.”
At which point, I realized that one of two things was going on. 1) My dad hates me and this was all part of a plan to kill me while making it look like an accident because there was NO WAY that this car was going to get me to and from school and the gym while mine was in the shop, or 2) the car ALWAYS sounded like that and we just couldn’t ever hear it over my brother’s subwoofers and ghetto fabulous music.
Right now, I’m leaning toward option 2, as the car DID safely get me where I needed to go. My hearing hasn’t quite recovered, but I’m pretty sure that old Nessie is either going to have that rabid elephant baby soon or else finally reach the end of her days. Nothing can make a noise like that for that long and live.
And my timing belt was replaced, so I’m back in my car with a new-found respect for the gnomes that keep it running so smoothly.
I’m poor. But I’m back in a hot car that actually works like a car is supposed to. Whatever that means.
And as my dad pointed out, if I ever DO want to run over that goose that stalks me in the mornings, I’m free to borrow the Jeep any time.