Thursday, May 14, 2009


After receiving only one ticket for an expired inspection sticker this year (side note: when we lived in the Back Bay and my sticker would lapse — it always does, I can't remember even once when I got an inspection ahead of time — my car, just sitting there, minding its own business, not going anywhere, would get pasted with tickets, like two a day, until I'd finally find a way to skip work and get to a damned inspection station during their stupid banker's hours. Stupid giddy meter maids. My car isn't worth the amount of tickets I've accrued in its lifetime. But I digress, wildly. In fact I feel like we're so off track we should probably just start this sentence all over again if we ever get out of this parenthetical jungle.) ...what was I saying? 

Oh, right: After receiving only one ticket for an expired inspection sticker this year, I got my ride inspected today, and — I'll be! — it passed. It's a fairly new car (my first new car ever) but this year it started showing its age a bit. Just a bit. Just enough to make me wonder if maybe he'd say, "Sorry sir, your ____ is shot to _____. I can't legally let this thing back on the road. It's gonna cost about... well, I'd say ten million dollars." 

I own the car outright now, with just 45,000 miles on it, and it's nice not having a car payment. But that vulnerable feeling is why I'm thinking we should trade it in while it still runs. I lived with that gnawing fear for years, when every single car I owned was just a catastrophe waiting to happen, if not an outright embarrassment to man and machine alike. 

This brings us to today's Top Five Thursday list:

My Top Five Worst Car Problems 

5. One morning, when I was subletting in Somerville, my girlfriend at the time and I got into my 1988 Honda Accord to drive closer to the Davis Square T. That little Honda was very good to me; I will always love Hondas as a result (I even own stock). But, it had rained heavily the night before... and when I stopped the car at the first intersection, a deluge of cold water came flooding out of the sunroof compartment, shocking and soaking the hell out of us at like 8am. Not a great start to a morning.

4. My 1989 Saab 900— which I really loved, I mean what a nice smooth ride and easy clutch — had a condition late in its life where the heat was always on, and on full blast. Not only was this distracting and loud, it was VERY HOT IN SUMMER. Very, very hot. (It goes without saying that I've never owned a car with air conditioning. Really.)

3. My Dad's 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra, a.k.a. "The Silver Bullet," which I borrowed a lot in high school, at one time had power windows. But by 1994? They no-worka-so-good. Also, the driver's side door didn't open from the inside. (I'm pretty sure that's illegal.) So I — and my dad, a successful grown man! — always had to exit the car by climbing out the passenger side. If the window decided not to go down at a toll booth, you had to get out the passenger side and run around the front of the car like some highway lunatic. (FastLane would have been helpful.) Sometimes the window would go down at the toll... but not back up; a very bad time in winter. 

But most notably this issue created a problem when some friends and I got pulled over in NH (for a broken license plate light... I mean come on. The funny thing is that's happened to me like three times in NH. Is that the only thing that's against the law up there?). The cop came up to my window and I couldn't roll it down; nor could I open the door to even talk to him. So I was yelling through the window, and the kid in the back seat opened his door to tell the cop, "Can you open his door? It doesn't work!" and of course the cop flipped out. "EVERYBODY PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!! GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW!!!" (We cleared things up. He actually knew my aunt.)

2. Again, the Saab. As a collective #2, I present to you all the things wrong with it that wouldn't otherwise make it onto the list by themselves: When I lived in Central Square, it got broken into... twice. Once from each side, and each time the thief destroyed the door lock. You could unlock it a pencil. Or, sometimes, not at all. Depending on how the locks were feeling. Also, it had a "low idle." So if you weren't giving it enough throttle — while just sitting at a red light — it would die out on you, and sometimes not start back up again. It stalled, kaput, on me in the middle of an intersection several times — which is exactly as stressful as it sounds! Also, the clutch gave out one night as I was coming off the exit ramp of I-93 into Boston. I had to try and coast to safety in fifth gear — no easy feat! — and we came to a stop outside the Suffolk County jail, at like 11 o'clock at night. And, it died on me on the way to Thanksgiving dinner one year. After finally arranging a tow, I had to take the commuter rail — surprise, not exactly running a full schedule on Thanksgiving Day — and made it in time for dessert. (Thanks to my Dad who picked me up at Newburyport.)

1. On the day of Super Bowl XXXVI (the first Patriots Super Bowl win), I arrived at my friend Adam's house in, yes, the Saab, and pulled into his driveway. It turned out we needed more space in the driveway, so I tried to back out — uphill on ice. My reverse gear had been kind of iffy ever since I bought the car (the guy who sold it to me lived on Summit Ave. in Brighton; I can only assume he had backed uphill into one too many parking spots), spitting out of gear every now and then. It started to do it as I spun out on the ice... and kept doing it. I got worried. And then it wouldn't go into gear at all. My reverse was shot. That's bad news!

Luckily, a few of my friends were on hand (and halfway through a pre-game quarter keg) so we pushed the thing up the hill and safely into a parking spot on the street. (I say this in complete sincerity: it was like the Patriots getting introduced as a team that day. That's what friendship and teamwork is all about.) I left it there overnight (got what was probably my 400th parking ticket), came back for it the next afternoon, and had to drive it back to Allston with no reverse. That's like a psychological thriller... "there's no going back!" I took it to the Saab Doctor and he tried a radical new approach he'd been developing: just turning the gear fork around. It worked, and it only cost me a couple hundred bucks instead of a couple thousand. 

The lesson though? That car — and all of them, really — cost me a couple hundred bucks every couple hundred miles! I'm over used cars. Give me that new car smell!

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