New Car New Me

I had a mechanic back in the day, just one guy in a shop. I liked him and trusted him to make decisions with our best interests in mind, saving me money and making sure I was safe in my 2 ton potential death machine.

Rick was also interesting to chat with about all kinds of things, not just cars, but he sure loved cars. He took care of ours from cradle to grave. He played matchmaker in re-selling a few. I’d ask his opinion about choosing a new car, and he had strong opinions. I was excited about the new VW bug. “Chick magnet.” The new PT Cruiser? “Chuck magnet.” The most ecological choices on the market, like the Prius that had just come out? He scoffed. The most ecological thing to do is keep your old car. Making a new one is hard on the planet.

We’ve kept all our new cars for at least ten years. In 1982 I regretfully traded my beloved 1973 “burnt orange” VW super beetle, my first car, that my dad “sold” to me, for a used Dodge van so we could travel around the country. It developed a bad habit of dumping water from its radiator whenever we turned off the engine, so that we could only stop near a water source. After it finally melted down, Alan’s parents gave us their blue Ford Torino which needed frequent oil feedings. But in the only accident of my life, on a steaming August day in 1984, six months pregnant and sleep deprived, I t-boned a truck. With the front end smashed in, the hood permanently shut, it too starved to death. That’s when we began buying new.

Our hill: this old car ain’t going nowhere.

When we moved to Portland in 2014 we had two cars that ran great. But then two unexpected challenges came up. First, the 2-wheel drive and low clearance meant neither could handle much snow. Second, our new house sat on a fairly steep hill; when the snow stuck, we were stuck. Some winters it lasts several days, even a week. We stay well stocked and read by the fire, so mostly it’s fine.

In the December 2016 snowmageddon we had to abandon our car on the side of the highway. It wasn’t the car’s fault, no one else was getting out either; cars were scattered along every road and highway. Still, I was left with a mild case of PTSD, and every fall I get anxious – what if there was an emergency? I wanted a reliable vehicle for our dramatic Pacific Northwest climate.

Everyone in Portland seems to have a Subaru. The place is lousy with Forresters, Outbacks, and Crosstreks, many of them ancient but still on the road. It seemed to be a requirement of citizenship. We kept our eye on them – good for grandkid trips, for camping, for rugged adventure, for long road trips crammed full of gear and musical instruments, all part of our retirement plan.

But it wasn’t just snow-worthiness that was important. As hybrids and electrics became more available and affordable, that was our future. Also, this could be the last car we ever buy; it had to last! But our perfect car wasn’t out there yet, so we put off the decision, and put aside money.

Adventures with the grands, a big priority for a car

Then Toyota introduced the RAV4 Prime, an AWD plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) with far better mileage than our cars. But then the pandemic hit, and the supply chain issues still remain. With gas prices high, everyone wants one and they’re impossible to get. People pay higher prices, and dealership negotiations are unheard of. Some people even pay extra to get one right off the ship before it’s whisked away. Dealerships added a fee just for the honor of buying the car, coincidentally the amount of the electric vehicle rebate. No thanks.

Then Hyundai brought out the PHEV Tucson and we added that to our searches. Like the eye of Sauron, we scanned the Portland metro area for availability. We got on waiting lists, called sales people, and searched the web. But when a dealership announced delivery of a few cars, they were bought up by the time we got to the phone.

Then it happened. Four Tucsons! on the lot! in four colors! We had to debate it all over again. Cost vs. size vs. battery range vs. rebates. But finally, it came down to the fact that there were FOUR ON THE LOT! NOW! The snow from a few weeks ago lingered in the back of my mind. It was go time. Our plans for the day went out the window. (Retirement note: you can turn on a dime when necessary.)

Several hours later it was done. From the broad smiles and handshakes, we perhaps funded the entire sales team with college educations for their kids. But we were satisfied enough. It was in our budget. Back in Psych 101 I learned about cognitive dissonance, and I try not to look back on decisions that can’t be undone. Mission accomplished: 1) We can stop thinking about it. 2) MPG peace of mind. 3) Snow is in the forecast; not a concern.

Now I’m figuring out this farkakte mystery car. The learning curve is steep. My first touch screen, first hybrid, first electric. I’m learning a new language with unwieldy vocabulary and acronyms. I discovered the most important thing first: how to light up those seat warmers.

It’s just… a lot…

How different I am from those VW years so long ago. I’m not jumping in and out of the car with ease, zipping around corners, not as reckless, and certainly not changing my own oil. This car is complicated, staid, safe, and cushy; a different animal entirely.

The first day while nervously driving slowly in the right lane, checking my mirrors four and five times, and trying not to be distracted by the mysterious lights and dials, I worried aloud to my son, “I feel like I’m becoming an old lady driver.” He looked at me and said, “You will never be an old lady driver. It’s not in your makeup to be an old lady driver.” I laughed, and gracefully zipper-merged into the fast lane. But I didn’t floor it; I drive a hybrid now.

I’m looking forward to packing the car for a trip, not having to tetris the gear in, and not having to apologize for what I say to Alan while we pack the car. But it’s possible that our rugged adventurous days are over, and this ultra comfortable ride is just what we need now. As Greg Brown sings, “I like a bed and a blanket, some light breakfast, sometime tomorrow.” I’ve grown attached to comforts, glad for a car that, even though making it was hard on the earth, will now let me step more lightly.

The car automatically connects to my phone, and it found my current playlist, David Crosby’s album If I Could Only Remember My Name. This car knows what I want. I missed this album when it came out in the early 70s, and am enjoying catching up. I found the repeat button and played “Laughing” over and over as I drove, thinking about how Crosby wrote it for George Harrison, about taking the Maharishi with a grain of salt, words he didn’t dare say to George’s face.

I realized as we drove off the car lot that I never looked back on the old car that we traded away. My mind was on the new one, and I’m not sentimental about cars; never named them, and rarely decorated them. But then I thought about how that car brought me to Oregon eight years ago, and how well it served me this past decade. If I have any car nostalgia, it’s for that ’73 VW bug. Not the creaky rattletrap bone jangling tin can feel, but missing that VW girl, long brown hair blowing in the wind, elbow out the open window, music blasting, letting my freak flag fly.

Can you just see me in there?

17 thoughts on “New Car New Me

  1. Oh Nancy. .love your orange VW Bug!! My first car was a white top turquoise bottom Corvair that I wish I still owner! Ralph Nader was wrong…it was not a death trap unless you took a curve wayyyy over the speed limit!! Then it balance on 2 wheels…or back end as if on ice. Still a great first car for a college student!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fun little romp back in time. I totally get it on the learning curve. This last car I bought (Pearl) was my first with touchscreen and moon roof and a means of integrating all the VERY IMPORTANT THINGS held on my phone. Now I feel like I’m in a cockpit going through a pre-flight check before launch on my many daily adventures. I think what we choose to drive says a lot about us and I like what your choices have said about you. My first car was a ’74 Capri. It was puke green with a pristine interior and an iffy engine. We love what we love though, don’t we? For better or for worse. 

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think part of not being attached to my cars is not identifying with what they say or don’t say about me… the size of this new one is a strange fit. I’ll get used to it I’m sure, but it doesn’t match my self-image at all!
    Unattached to each one, except for that first one, which is all about freedom isn’t it? Even when it’s puke green. 🙂
    The cockpit image is exactly right! Thanks Bonnie!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So fun! My first car was a ’74 VW van—orange! And now I have an orange SUV with bells and whistles. One cold day I said to myself, “With all these B & Ws, you would think there would be a heated steering wheel.” Oh! There is! It’s been almost five years since I plopped down inherited money and drove it off the lot. I’m still learning about it. And not only does it connect to my phone, but also to my hearing aids. I still wax nostalgic for that VW that took me and then husband on a month’s long tour of the country during the bicentennial summer, and brought my children home from the hospital. I cried when it was towed out of our driveway. Thank you for the trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh golly, I hope I’m not still figuring it out in 5 years. Hmmm, heated steering wheel. I look for that. Also a hearing aide connection. I learn so much from blog comments!!
      We were on our road trip that same summer. Perhaps we met, at a coffee shop or bookstore, or going opposite ways on some off-road byway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we discovered this commonality before. We were in Philly on the 4th, and you were elsewhere, I think. Boston? We did stick to the blue highways, we might have passed! Maybe we pulled into the same campground! Not in a coffee shop (not sure that was a thing in ’76, but in any case, it was years before I started liking coffee!).

        Well, there are two of you: one to drive, one to read the manual. 🙂 The heated steering wheel is awesome though!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well this is timely. My current car is a 2001 Nissan Exterra, yes that’s right, 22 years old and still chugging. We just got it back from the shop where we dumped a couple grand in it and the mechanic said the engine runs really great. We knew that seeing as this was the first time we have put that much money into a repair on it. But still, 22 years old! That’s 154 in dog years. I can’t help but feel a bit nervous knowing at some point it’s going to break down. AND, it looks like shit. Big pieces of paint chipped off of the body, faded bumpers, etc.. AND, it runs like a champ. So while I dream of something a bit more respectful looking, at 250,000 miles, I’m one lucky duck.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m hoping when the time comes to replace the Extraterrestrial, it will be a smooth experience. Oh, and I love the cockpit analogy, I too, have not owned a car with all of the bells, whistles, lights and screens. It’s definitely intimidating. And yet, I sort of look forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is amazing Barbara! Keep on chugging for sure! Perhaps you can outlast all the supply chain issues when your time comes and you’ll just zip right out of the dealership in your cockpit. Thanks for reading!


  6. Ahhh..yes…finally I get to see that “73 that mimicked my lemon yellow “71….Thanks for all the tips but I am keeping my 2017 chick magnet, turbo charged, blue VW Beetle for now! I just had to bookend my life in the next version of that “me”….a hybrid someday….:-))

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s