The car is aging.
I mean that, of course, in the sense that the car is — like the rest of us — getting older. But I also mean that the car ages me. As in, I gain a couple of decades whenever I slide behind the wheel of our late-model, Big-Three sedan. It is — and I use this term fondly — a dad car, a car your father might drive, a car my father did drive for several years before upgrading and generously bequeathing it to us.
All my cars, actually, with the exception of the Chevy Cavalier my brother and I shared for two weeks one summer in our teens before it was stolen out of our driveway one night and later found on the outskirts of town with vomit and heroin works in the backseat, have been dad cars: the Pontiac something or other, the Cadillac Sedan Deville, the Dodge Intrepid, and now our current beast. The running theme, of course, has been the price. For me, “free” tends to trump “pride” when it comes to vehicles: if the price I have to pay for not going into hock over a car is that people assume that the carseats in the back are for my grandchildren, well, then, that’s fine with me. Our current car is popular with the seniors here in Thunder Bay. People tend to do a double take when they see me behind the wheel. “But she’s too young,” they must be thinking. “Hi Gramps!” my friend Daphne calls whenever I drive by. My friend Jody giggles whenever she sees it. “It just doesn’t ... fit ... with the rest of you,” she said once, and I wanted to hug her. (Or maybe hit her.) She, of course, drives a Harley. (Or is that “rides”?)
Still, I have a soft spot for our eleven-year-old car, partly because my mother also drove it. I can still picture her behind the wheel, faintly remember conversations we had while driving, and imagine she’d get a kick out of seeing me drive by, two kids in the back, barking, “Do I need to stop driving or can the two of you stop hitting each other?”
But the car is aging. We are entering, I fear, that period of increasingly rapid automotive decline, where repairs edge out maintenance and visits to the mechanic inch closer and closer together. It’s all the little things: the door to the glove compartment doesn’t close properly; Rowan’s seatbelt gave out last week, forcing us to move his booster seat into the middle (fortunately, he says he likes being next to Isaac, but you know that’s just a chicken fight waiting to happen); the brights don’t stay on unless you hold down the lever; every so often, the driver’s-side windshield wiper takes on a life of its own and whaps around the side of the car to smack the driver’s-side window. The paint is chipping, the shocks are iffy, the electronic locks work only intermittently, you have to hold up the hood with one hand while you check the oil, and the cup holder spring mechanism is busted. That said, it still looks fairly respectable and gets us from A to B without fuss.
There is aging, of course, and there is aging. Time passes by at the same rate for us all, I realize, but my children are growing, developing, becoming stronger, more realized, versions of their own selves. I, on the other hand, like the car, seem to be aging in the sense of getting older, where regular maintenance is designed to slow down the decline rather than actually improve things, where pain moves on a regular sightseeing tour throughout my body: neck, shoulders, wrists, knees, ankles. My forearms are shit. I have vertigo, just like my mother did, and it gets worse every year. I chew cold things only on the left side of my mouth. My lower back hurts. The index fingernail on my right hand is thickening and developing a permanent split. I’m going grey. My vision is still rock solid, but that’s only because I had laser eye surgery four years ago. I may be getting wiser, but I am losing nouns, names, just like they (I forget who) said I would. I can still touch my toes, but I worry that, if I skip a week, I won’t be able to any more.
I am told this is just the beginning.
That said, I like to think I still look fairly respectable and I can get from A to B without much fuss.
In my head and my heart, I am a Prius girl, or maybe a Subaru Outback or even a Mazda 5 kind of driver. (In my slightly wilder dreams, I’m driving on the coast, any coast, in a red, two-seater, convertible MG.) In my head and my heart, I can stay out all night dancing, type like the wind, squat to pick up my toddler without grimacing as I straighten my knees. In real life, I’m hoping the current car lasts us until Isaac is in school full time and we can shift our child care budget over to car payments.