Readers’ Rite 12/09: Cars
My car’s name is Wanda, a 2010 Hyundai Elantra with almost 150,00 miles on it. Over the summer her AC broke, she needed a new catalytic converter – and no, I still don’t know what this part does – and a part of her engine literally rotted out. This fall has been my first semester having a car on campus. I thought that the various repairs over the summer would have had my family and I all set with Wanda expenses for quite a while. However, my weirdly low tires and shaking steering wheel only worsened in Buffalo. The last time I went home, I received all new tires for my birthday, but I’d like to think my dad did it to celebrate that Wanda will be a teenager in a month. Again, we thought, the tires are all good and Wanda is back and better than ever. I left to go out to the store and drive my car for the first time since picking her up with her spiffy new tires, but when I tried to leave the car wouldn't start. Obviously, I immediately panicked and wondered if it would jeopardize my 200 mile drive back to buffalo in less than 24 hours. Kyle at Advanced Auto Parts and my dad worked together to save the day and get me a new battery and safely send me on my way to Buffalo. Although these hindrances are concerning at best, I can not help but to find them endearing. I love my car. She has brought me to some of my favorite people and places and I have made so many memories because of little ol’ Wanda. I don’t thank her enough for her resilience and loyalty throughout the years. From the fully-inflated beach ball in the trunk to the Taco Bell fire sauce packets in the glove compartment, Wanda is a great car and loved dearly.
My first car was Rosita, a red 2016 Hyundai Elantra who had been in a minor accident with her previous owner that barely left a scratch. She was a reliable ride for the two and a half years I had her. That car brought me to college, moved me into my first apartment, and drove to my first date with my significant other. She wasn’t perfect, but she was mine. Then, on October 12, 2021, a dumb driver on Elmwood Avenue decided to jet out in front of a line of cars forcing everyone behind to slam on their brakes. Unfortunately, Rosita’s brakes were not in the best shape and she went crashing into the SUV in front. Reliable until the end, that car saved my life by crumpling under the impact of the other car and left me with only a minor concussion and a lot of tears. She was so damaged that the driver’s door was smashed, trapping me in the car. The last time I left Rosita was by crawling over the center console to get out the passenger side. I miss her—especially her push start button—but I know she’s glad I have found a friend in a navy blue Kia named Frosty. Though she never would have gotten stuck in the snow like he has (twice).
For someone who is 20 years old I've gone through my fair share of cars. And to be honest, I haven’t had the best of experiences. When I was 17 I got my first vehicle, a 2005 Jeep Liberty—I named her Betsy, not sure why—and since it was my first car I treated it like gold. I was beyond excited to have my own vehicle to drive around; it felt like the first taste of adulthood and freedom for me. But, that freedom was short-lived. I had the car only a few months and it was continually breaking down. The engine repeatedly made weird noises but I chose to ignore it. The last ride I ever took in that car ended with smoke coming from under the hood and me stranded on some side street freaking out thinking my car was going to explode. Not fun. Obviously this car was past its expiration date, but I was lucky enough to have a selfless grandmother who gave me her car since I could not afford to get a new one and needed transportation to work. Once again I was elated, and grateful, to still have a mode of transportation. Yet, once again, this excitement did not last long. Three months into having my second car, it started shutting off in the middle of driving and would not turn back on. Again, the engine was making strange noises—there’s a theme arising here. One day it shut off in a main intersection and I was blocking traffic for an hour. I had to have police officers sit behind me since I was taking up half of the road. Now, I have a Jeep Renegade, named Ozzy, that has thankfully (knock on wood) only given me trouble once. If his engine starts rattling and making odd sounds—I definitely won’t be driving it.
Driving has never really been my forte. Within four years of driving I had four car accidents, the last of which left my vehicle totaled, and my dog with a broken paw. However, this was the first car I had ever purchased with my own money, so I was very reluctant to let it go. When the mechanic said it could be repaired, I went for it. There was a long canvas sunroof, sometimes called a moonroof, that I had not gotten the chance to use yet, since I totaled the car in February — less than two months after purchasing it.
So, I wanted to enjoy the rush of wind through my vehicle as I drove on warm summer days. I almost achieved it too, until I accidentally drove into my low-rise garage with the sunroof open one day, and shattered the plastic lines inside tied to the pushing and pulling mechanisms that controlled the roof’s movement. Repairs were over $2,000, so I began to consider alternate options; perhaps screwing a large pane of plexiglass to the top, thus rendering my car something of a rolling fish bowl?
I was very opposed to gluing the top shut forever, so my mom came up with an alternate idea — pull the interior wires and plastic pieces out all together, and use loose screws to slide the roof back and forth on the tracks. Then, adhere ratchets to the roof and metal hooks to the front of the vehicle in order to provide a hooking point to secure the roof shut, or open, respectively.
Though hideous, this gerry-rigged idea worked, and for one glorious summer I had a ratchetable sunroof that opened and closed. Then, when the weather turned, I couldn’t stand the snow flying into my car while I drove, and we sealed the roof shut for good.
The bright side is, maybe without the roaring of wind on top of the car I’ll be able to focus better and maintain my two-year accident free record.
It’s rare that an entire day goes by for me with absolutely zero moments of utter and complete annoyance. I find myself knocking over entire Starbucks coffees with my elbow as I curl my hair, leaving sticky residue all over the bathroom floor. Sometimes it’s forgetting my laptop charger and watching it sputter for air in class helplessly. Other times it’s face planting in the Target parking lot. I’m an alarm sleeper, slip and faller and terrible forgetter.
Despite all this, I have always found myself to be lucky. My bad moments usually are presented on a silver platter of optimism, and I’m constantly thinking: “It could have been so much worse!”
Two Mondays ago it was me and my Buick against the world as I drove to my shift at work. The clock read 10:41 a.m. as I exited the I-90, and as “Fools Gold” by One Direction kissed my eardrums, I noticed my car was driving a little wonky. I’m such an avoidant person that I figured, “Eh. It’s probably fine,” and sang along to the music. I pulled into the entrance of the Galleria mall, and within ten seconds, I realized that things were, in fact, not fine. My steering wheel froze, I got notified that my airbag was about to explode, and after five more seconds, the whole car stopped. The engine shut off, and that baby was dead as a doornail. And where was I? In the smack middle of The Cheesecake Factory parking lot. Do you know how humbling that is?
After many tears and hysterics, I ran my sorry self into the restaurant, thankful for the non-slip shoes that were giving me some extra traction. As I frantically explained what happened, my manager looked at me blankly and walked away. I stood there baffled, but two minutes later he returned with two line cooks by his side. “Let’s go give you a push,” he said.
As I was pushed into a curbside pickup spot by these men, I realized that even though my alternator died and interrupted my One Direction, I was pretty damn lucky it died where people silently cared about me. It could have been so much worse.
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