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Our New Car
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Sense and Sensible Cars

By James Lileks

 

When I met my wife, she was driving a Kleenex box dipped in metallic

paint. Wind it into fourth gear and the engine sounded like a box of

constipated hamsters. The only way you could hit fifty in this car was

to drive it into a crowd. We sold it years ago and got by with one car.

 

Until now. My wife hates my car, a low turbo-boosted Batmobile. She

points out, sensibly, that there is no reason to break the sound barrier

just to get milk and eggs. She's always late to work because she has to

get out and repack the drag chute. You can't argue with that. You can't

say how cute she looks when her face starts rippling from G-forces. So

your shoulders slump in the yes-honey posture of submission, and you go

to buy some sensible car, like a Ford Eunuche, or some underpowered box

like a Dodge Blurt.

 

We chose a sensible four-door. It was a car designed to appeal to female

buyers. First clue: the rear-view mirror only showed cars at their most

flattering angle. Second clue: the mirrors had a warning that read

OBJECTS IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR FEEL FATTER THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE.

 

The base price was reasonable, but then you start adding option

packages. Leather warranty folders, halogen glove-compartment lights, a

motorized seat with more positions than are found in Kama Sutra

(warning! Do not drive while seat is in the Plucking the Heavenly Lotus

setting) and, of course, the rust protection option. Apparently the

vast majority of people want their cars to rust, so rust protection is

an option.

 

The audio options included eight flavors of radio, starting with a

system that had the fidelity of a Chatty Cathy doll. At the other end,

the Audiophile Package, with fourteen speakers hidden throughout the

car, bass speakers in the seat so powerful they can actually eject you

through the sunroof, a CD player, and a dwarf in the trunk who adjusted the graphic

equalizer for each song. (Rust protection for dwarf is extra.)

 

And of course, airbags. The old car had no airbags - you hit something,

and you were speared like a martini olive. The Detroit love-tap, as it's

known. The new cars has more airbags than radio speakers. For all I

know the airbags come out of the speakers. Hit something, and it's like

being tackled by a pack of giant extroverted marshmallows. You hear a

distant hmgh! as the airbag in the trunk coldcocks the drawf. An airbag

probably pops out of the microphone of the DJ at the station to which

your radio is set.

 

For all these geegaws, it is a fine, sensible machine. One problem: it's

perfect. Its smooth metal gleams with nary a crease or a ding in the

door. I park it at the farthest reaches of the parking lots, just so

some guy in a rust-rotted beater doesn't slam his door into mine out of

spite. But the day of the dent is coming. I wait. And worry.

 

Last week my wife called from a pay phone. She'd hit something on the

freeway. We'd only had the car for a month, whereas we have had each

other for a decade, so my immediate concerns were somewhat jumbled. Is

the you okay? I said. Are you dented?

 

She was fine. Just a flat. A truck belonging to the Casually Tied-Down

Board and Nail Co. (How's my strewing? Dial 1-800-EAT TACKS) had dumped

spiky junk all over the road. She drove the car to a garage and watched

the mechanic pull out a nail the length of Excalibur. He patched the

tire with some black goo mechanics can spit from some secret gland, and

all was right with the world. Right?

 

Later I looked at the cost of the repair, the cost of the insurance, and

of course the cost of the car payment. Then I looked at my bank balance.

I realized where exactly the first dent would be made.

 

And that doesn't even count the cost of feeding the dwarf.