The car that was bought by my grandmother 17 years ago, and then handed down to my father, and then handed down to me, is finally dead. Or at least, I've finally decided to stop spending money to fix it. I've been riding in or driving that thing for most of my life now, since I was 7 years old and my brother and I would go visit Grammy every few weekends. And after the past 4 years as its owner and primary driver, desperately trying to suck as much usage out of it before the inevitable, I'm ready to say goodbye.
Grammy never put many miles on it, so most of the wear and tear can be attributed to my dad and I. Dad drove it during the last few years of his daily commute to D.C. before retiring, during the period when he was badly afflicted with sleep apnea, and would frequently doze off behind the wheel. Although he amazingly never had any serious accidents, the Taurus still has several cracks and bumps in the front and back bender from those days. In the summer of 2002, when I moved off-campus and Dad gave me the car, it was already covered in rust and slowly falling apart, but I was determined to get the most out of it.
I don't know if I can even list all the functions and gauges that ceased to work during or before my ownership of the car. For one, there's a compass on the dashboard that to my recollection has never worked. The horn stopped working after a couple weeks of going off at random every time I drove over a bump, which was really embarrassing. The gas gauge kinda sorta worked, in that the needle stayed on F until the tank was almost empty, and then turned right over to E. I almost always waited until it hit E to get gas, and in retrospect it's kind of amazing that I never ran out of gas and was stranded anywhere. The power locks are a little unreliable, especially on the driver's side, and sometimes the back doors stick and have on occasion momentarily trapped friends in the backseat. The turn signals worked only intermittently for a couple years before dying completely. I always felt bad about that, because as I driver I'd always been really vigilant about using turn signals curteously, but the car forced me into becoming the asshole who always changed lanes without warning. I'd still flick the switch every time even though I knew it wouldn't work, just to feel like at least I had good intentions. The only part that really bugged me, though, was in the summer of '03 when the radio stopped working. Driving without music just wasn't an option, though, so for the last two and a half years, I drove everywhere with a Sony boombox in my passenger seat.
Once, when driving into the harbor tunnel, a big pebble bounced up and smacked into my windshield and left a circular crack a couple inches wide. The crack never really got any bigger, and it was on the passenger's side, so I never did anything about it. When Comp
saw it he asked if someone had shot at me. The driver's side window is completely fucked up and off the track, and my dad and I are the only people who knew how to arrange it so that there is only a small opening at the top of the window through which a minimum of cold air blows into the car. I used to not know how to fix the window, and one time tried driving back to Delaware for my birthday, which is in January, and when I rolled down the window at the Bay Bridge to pay the toll, the window got stuck down with all the winter air blowing into the car. I was so miserable and cold I just turned around and drove back to Baltimore and felt like shit about it. It was really dramatic, my Worst Birthday Ever.
The car is full of reminders of its previous owners, especially Grammy, who passed away about 4 years ago. Her No Puffin
sticker is still on the glove box door. And I still crack up every time I see it, especially when my passengers assume I put it there and don't want them to smoke in the car, which I could care less about, considering how much my dad smoked in the car. When I was cleaning it out, I found a box of little cigars or bidis or something under the seat that he must have left there years ago. And even though I've had the interior cleaned a couple times, the upholstery is still caked with the fur of Dad's dog, Shelby, who he used to let ride in the car on a daily basis, taking her along on every errand.
With the exception of a stretch from Spring '04 to Summer '05, I never went more than 6 months without needing a major repair, and it was rarely the same thing twice. The first was also the only time that was entirely my fault; I drove with the parking brake on half of the way home from school, up in Towson, down to my dad's house, in the city, before realizing it. But the damage had been done, and by the time I got to Fells Point, my brakes had gone out completely. I drove all the way down Aliceanna Street, from President to Washington, with no brakes, rolling through red lights and yelling apologies to people while also yelling for help, because my horn didn't work. The brakes went out again a few months ago, and I paid a few hundred to get them fixed again. That shit is scary.
Late one night when I was driving back from my friend Mat's home studio in D.C., after a long recording session, the engine overheated. I had to pull over on the shoulder of I-95 with smoke billowing out from under the hood, and walk a mile to a 7/11 to call my dad to come pick me up. And because my car was full of drums, keyboards, and recording gear, I had to load it all into Dad's car so that they wouldn't be in the car overnight until I could get it towed in the morning.
But the most unexpected breakdown was last August, after over a year of no significant Taurus problems at all. My brother Zac and his fiancee Brigid had flown out to visit for a few days, and they spent the day before the flight back in D.C. with me and J.G. On the drive home, maybe 10 minutes from Dad's house, my car stopped dead in the middle of the street in Washington Village in South Baltimore. No warning signs, no nothing, the alternator just died right there. We were able to roll the car off onto a side street and park it illegally, and waited in the hood for an hour for the cavalry to arrive. J.G. in particular was not happy. After we got home, she let out all her frustrations and anxieties about me having an unreliable and unsafe car, which had been bubbling under the surface for a long time. Once her ex-roommate had told me that J.G. used to talk about how she was afraid that the car was going to kill me someday, which made me feel horrible. That night, she made me promise, in writing, to try to get rid of it and find a new car within 30 days. I don't know if she forgot about it or just didn't bring it up again because she knew I couldn't afford to buy a car, but she left the paper I signed at my place, and I threw it away and kept the car.
For Easter weekend, I went to Delaware to spend a couple days with my mom and my stepfather, Joe, and the drive down there was uneventful. On Monday, as I got ready for the drive home, Joe, as usual, offered to take a look under the hood and see if I needed any fluids. I was low on oil and power steering fluid, so we went to Walmart to get some and then filled them up. And then, I started to pull out of the driveway, and heard the most godawful grinding sound. At first, I thought I'd left something behind the car and had backed over it or caught a fallen tree branch underneath the car. So I put it in park, but the thing kept rolling until I put on the emergency brake. And for some reason, all these big ball bearings were falling out of the bottom of the car like a gumball machine. Joe reckoned it was the transmission, and just made that face that I knew meant this car was a lost cause.
I've gone for the quick fix more times than I can count, sometimes hundreds of dollars at a time, just to prolong having to get a new car. And if this had happened while I was at home in Baltimore, and I had any money in my bank account, I'd probably go for the quick fix again. But this time, I decided to just let it go. Now that J.G. and I live together, and she takes a shuttle to work and barely uses her car during the day, sharing a car is actually a possibility. We'd already talked a bit about putting me on her insurance when the time comes, and now the time has come. Luckily, Mom had off work the next day, and drove me to Baltimore. The car is still in her driveway right now, and I mailed her the title and registration the other day, so that she can get it towed and junked.
I'm kind of relieved, to be honest. I'd been kind of waiting for the Taurus to finally be so fucked up it wouldn't make sense to pour more money into it, to the point that I wasn't really keeping up on it. I was supposed to take it for am emissions test last fall and never did. A check to the insurance company bounced a couple months ago, and when they cancelled my policy, I didn't bother trying to get it renewed since I was too broke to afford the payments, and these days I only have to drive to class a couple times a week anyway. And I got mail last week that if I didn't send proof of insurance in a month, they'd revoke my license. So having to ditch the car and get on J.G.'s insurance couldn't have come at a better time. Still, I have a lot of memories in that shitty old Taurus. One love, Boomer.
Labels: story time