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Riding Around in My New Car

We bought a new car recently. Our previous car is 20 years old (almost old enough to drink!). I’ve known we need a new car for a while. For personal reasons, a more practical car for my partner and I would be automatic, easier to get in and out of, and less likely to suddenly die if you go through a large puddle or sneeze wrong. You know, something reliable and comfortable. A stereo that works all the time, instead of just randomly (we think it turns on when the car gets warm enough but this hypothesis hasn't been tested scientifically) would also be nice.

Even with this knowledge I’ve dragged my feet for a few years on getting a new car. At first it was easy to say we couldn’t afford one but with repairs regularly equaling one or two grand a year - that line stopped holding water.
Honestly, I wasn’t emotionally ready to let go of our old car until now (and even now letting go is a relative term since I am sending it to a retirement home in the country, also known as “my brother’s place”).

I have only purchased 3 cars in my nearly 40 years of existence – and the Civic we're letting go has the most baggage. I bought my first from mom when I was sixteen (for a few hundred dollars – which to be fair, she had bought from her parents). I forgot to check the oil and killed it within the year. This was embarrassing since my mom actually showed me how to do an oil change and I was proud of doing them on my own (in hindsight, a teenager doing her own oil changes may have also contributed to its death).

My second vehicle, bought on my 18th birthday, also lasted less than a year. This was a Geo Metro (also known as the “plastic car”) which I wrecked from rear-ending a station wagon while rubber-necking at another accident. I don’t even think I knocked the dust off of his bumper but I crunched my front end in half.

At that point I decided a bicycle was good enough for me and lived car-free for about six years.

I bought the Civic while living with my grandmother in Ohio, after her car died. My boyfriend at the time, who later broke my heart into a million pieces (but we’re still “Friends”) helped me find this one on Craig’s list, check it out, and make the purchase. It’s only previous owner was nurse who put a lot of miles on it (going 70 miles each way to her job in Columbus) but took good care of it (and threw on some snazzy rims). After trying her friend’s Camry (or was it a Corolla) she couldn't resist upgrading to a more luxurious car and sell this one.

Six months after buying it, I sold it to my grandmother for the price I paid. Selling it to her was the perfect solution since I didn't need a car in India (where I would be studying abroad for two semesters). And with her old car dead, she really wanted a vehicle. Best of all, there no way she could drive the Civic since she didn't know how to drive a stick. Yes, you read that right, my grandmother bought a car she couldn't drive.

She was 90 (or 91?) at the time and very independent. She hated the idea of not having her own transportation but also took her doctor’s advice seriously. He had told her the previous year “If you got in an accident, even if it wasn't your fault, the police would take one look at your age and the medications you’re on and blame it on you”. That doctor should get an award.

My grandmother, even though she wouldn't admit it, was a frightening driver. After her doctor’s words, she never drove again but loved having a car so that people giving her rides, weren't burdening their vehicle with the miles and the gas. She had a nightmare one night that she drove the car anyway, so knowing it was a manual in her driveway, which there was no way she could drive, gave her another sort of security and comfort.

Then we finally convinced our nonagenarian elder to move in with my brother (the same one who operates the car retirement facility) – or at least build a house to her comfort and preference on his property that she could live in.
When she moved there, the car sad mostly idle (on the grass so gathering rust) for a few years before I requested it back. By this time I had graduated from college and just taken my dream job, which required I have a vehicle. I finally felt old enough and mature enough for the responsibility (but only after I drove a scooter for six months) so I visited grandma for thanksgiving and offered to buy the car back.

Oddly enough, she wanted to sell it to me for the same price I sold it to her. I tried to explain that a car loses quite a bit of value in four years (I was thinking one third of the price would be great but I would consider more). Finally, she got tired of the conversation and said “Just take it” and waved her hand to shoo me away. I protested because I really wasn't angling for a free car (Hear that family members! I promise – that was NOT my goal!). But she didn't want to haggle. If she wasn't going to get what she paid for it, she wanted nothing. “You need it more than I do” she said. She loved hearing about my new job –the waste-not-want-not attitude that got me a position at this premier zero-waste organization had significant roots from her depression-era frugal attitude and practices.
So, I drove the car home that fall and then spent several thousand dollars fixing the rusted muffler and brakes. It wasn't quite the free car everyone thought it was.

Nonetheless, I loved this car – I came of age in it. My heart was broken, I found my dream job, I met the love of my life who I hope to marry someday, I became a mature adult who could serve on the board of a multi-million dollar co-op AND maintain a motorized vehicle for more than year. And best of all, every time I drove it I thought of all the times I spent with my grandmother. It has been seven years since she died and I never stop missing her or thinking of her.

Our new car, with the comfy seats, working stereo, and automatic shifting just doesn't have that.
But holding on to a dying car that doesn't suit our needs won’t bring my grandmother back. And with the new car, I have memories to look forward to that involve my beloved, our dog, and who knows what else.