I once thought it would be cool to drive a “nice” car. When I say “nice,” I mean luxury, like a Mercedes or something. I don’t mean so “nice” it’s impossible for someone like me to afford (Lamborghinis are in that stratosphere), just “nice” compared to a Ford.
The closest I ever got to “nice” cars in my youth was riding in my friend’s Mercedes when I was a kid. This friend was the son of the one and only local businessman who was doing well enough to buy a Merc, because he owned the one and only store in our very small town.
I remember feeling quite luxurious while riding in that car, because compared to my family’s Rambler, it had style and class, plus a distinctive Mercedes smell I can still recall. I used to hide in the back seat when my friend’s mom would come to get him, hoping I could be invisible enough to go home with him to their big house on the hill. Didn’t work.
My family had upgraded to the Rambler wagon from a Studebaker sedan, circa 1955. To my dad, the car was just transportation; he liked to know his mileage, so he used to write it on the Rambler’s dash with a grease pencil. I didn’t aspire to anything high class when it was time for my first car, and the 1965 Ford Falcon my parents brought home seemed just fine. It was cute, quick, and fun, all attributes I didn’t have as a high school nerd.
After I wrecked the Falcon in a ditch near Wallowa, Oregon, I went carless for a while. I was in college, and the small Eastern Washington University campus was easy to navigate by foot or bike. But when the opportunity came up to get a big ol’ 1971 Chevy Impala for a paltry $700, I borrowed the money from Mom and suddenly became quite popular with the other students in my college youth group. I had wheels, and that beast could haul six or seven other kids.
Later, married to a man who equated “old car” with “great car,” I traded downward (he thought upward) to a 1966 Barracuda. It was purple (mauve actually), it stood out, and 25 years later, people I used to work with still ask about that car. Yes, I still have it, but something died in it so I won’t get in it anymore. Eldest son can’t bear to part with it and tries to get me to ride in it with him. “After a while you don’t even notice the smell, Mom. Honest.”
During my first marriage I drove that old Barracuda; an old but classic Dodge pickup belonging to my husband; an old, and very ugly, dark green AMC Ambassador; an old Dodge Dart with the vinyl peeling off the top; and then, for many years, a Toyota Tercel wagon and a GMC Jimmy SUV, both of which became old well before I stopped driving them.
I remember how much our two boys hated the old Tercel wagon and how they screamed for joy when it pooped out on our way home from Priest Lake. It had pooped out before, but this time it seemed permanent. A whole new engine was the only thing that would get it going again. Their father, determined to get every last mile out of that (and every) car, slapped a Japanese engine in it and, by doing so, made his poor children cry.
Funny thing is, I never worried much about dings and dents in those old cars. I was careful, more to keep from getting in hot water with my late husband than because I really cared. Those cars were, after all, old. After he passed away and I remarried, my new husband offered up a novel thought: “You deserve a really nice car.”
Who, ME? A “nice” car? Like, maybe, a newer-but-used Chrysler or Buick? Or a classic, restored car like the ones my eldest son favored?
No, he said, “nice” like a new Mercedes or Lexus. New as in not pre-owned or rental-returned or anything else except test-driven. I could barely grasp the concept of owning a car that no one else had ever owned, driven, or dripped ketchup in. Or one in which nothing had died.
The opinions of my sons differed vastly. Eldest thought my current car was just fine because, like his dad, he favored old-AKA-classic. Youngest was all for the idea and eagerly went for a test drive with us.
A few days later, my shiny new gold Lexus sedan was ready to pick up at the dealership, and for the first time in my life, I had a premium ride. For which, of course, I was paying a premium price; not just monetarily, but also in terms of stress.
Every parking decision had to be carefully weighed: was I far enough from the store that no one would park next to me? Was I far enough from the car next to me that I wouldn’t get door-dinged? Would I remember not to door-ding the car next to me? Could I parallel park without scraping an expensive wheel on the curb or dinging my bumpers?
When the first disaster finally happened, my overwrought reaction was completely out of proportion to reality. My husband had perhaps, maybe, possibly put a couple of tiny, itsy bitsy, wee little scratches in the front bumper. Scratches one could almost not see with the naked eye. And I foolishly got hopping mad in front of my family, which embarrassed him and should have embarrassed me. That’s when I began to hear the words, “It’s just a car,” ringing in my head. My husband was the most important person in my life, and the car was an object. A nice, expensive object, yes, but nothing more.
The perpetrator of the next disaster remains unknown. I was showing the car off to a friend while it was still quite new, and she said, “Oh look, there are dents in the hood. How did that happen?” It looked like someone had dropped something small and heavy, like the claw end of a hammer, on the edge of the hood. Who, how, when? I had no one to be furious at. But it was, after all, just a couple of dents in something that was just a car.
Since then, I have popped a very pricey Michelin tire on a curb, damaging the shiny and expensive wheel. I paid the price for a new tire gladly. Glad there was a matching tire still on the market and I didn’t have to replace all five. Oh, and my wondrous, darling, amazing husband backed into a post and put some scratches in the back bumper. He was on an errand of mercy for me at the time, distracted and in a hurry. I wasn’t furious. He is more important to me than any object.
I don’t know what will happen next to my nice car, but my stress is less now that I know the mantra by heart: “It’s just a car.”
So when you see me driving around town in my sort-of-shiny gold Lexus with a scraped front passenger-side wheel and a scrape on the back right bumper, be sure to wave. Yes, it’s a “nice” car. But it is, after all, just a car.