Monday, November 14, 2005

Death car for cutie

Okay – I’m one of those annoying people who name their cars. Precious? Sappy? Sentimental? So?
Sylvia (a fourteen year old silver Mazda 323) simply feels like a pet – a pony or a donkey or a really large and dopey dog – and I just know she performs better for me for my recognition of her unique character and dauntless spirit.
Perhaps if I had a Range Rover or something sleek and sophisticated and expensive and gorgeous I would be too cool to name it – perhaps start calling it my ‘automobile’ or my ‘motor car’, but until that transformative day, I’ll likely be scooting around in a grayish silver five-speed hatchback, that while she sucks at acceleration, maintains a nimble handle-ability even at high speeds. Even as much as 120 k!
Not every Mazda 323 has a character, but mine does.
Purchased off the gay equivalent of the proverbial little old lady who only drives on Sunday (my guy was a fit and eco-conscious anorak-wearing homosexual, who for the most part eschewed the car for the exercise benefits of the ten speed) Sylvia was born (rolled off the production line) in 1991 and slipped into her own slip in my underground parking garage sometime in 1995.
She came in perfect, top notch physical condition – every button and toggle responding, her windshield wiper fluid filled to bursting, her antifreeze topped off, an oil change and tune up in her recent past. And to top it all off, Sylvia cost a mere $2000.00.
(Okay – interesting aside: I just nipped downstairs to take the laundry out of the dryer and stopped to pick up my mail... ‘Grand Touring Automobiles’ has sent me a personally addressed invitation to test drive an Aston Martin DB9, Jaguar XK-R, Range Rover Sport, or “…possibly a Bentley Flying Spur. Whatever your selection we will be pleased to assist you.” I’ll bet. I might just take them up on it, if only to see their faces when I alight from a Japanese car. Yeah – that’s the thing that will raise their eyebrows…)
Look: ten years with no car payments, minimal insurance with my spotless driving record, and never a flat tire or a break down. She parks on a dime and a tank of gas lasts weeks. The best $2000.00 I ever spent. Why wouldn’t I give such a splendid performer an affectionate name?
She’s not the first car I christened. I had an ancient British racing green Mini I called Martini – she looked like an olive – and a navy blue Toyota I named Lola. (She was a Corolla.) Both of them terrific cars, both unbelievably dependable and resilient… both I remember with great affection.
But Sylvia – well, she’s just been around so much longer, has seen me through the ups and downs and vagaries of a life less ordinary, and she’s captured my imagination in a way that demands a tribute or a recognition of some sort: a thanks-for-a-job-well-done something or other, anything really to mark what looks like potentially her last year of service to a grateful owner.
Because she’s faltering a little –just a little here and there – but in ways and areas that signal a deeper malaise.
Her springs are no longer springy. She goes over speed bumps even at a snail’s pace with a jarring bump – and no recoil; when we’re down, we’re down. She’s reluctant in first, dithery in second and downright obstinate in third. (Fourth and fifth are still smooth so far – but there’s not much use for fifth, or even fourth, with Toronto downtown gridlock the way it is.)
Her muffler – as recently replaced as last year – is no longer muffling very much of anything. (Don’t ask me where I put the receipt or guarantee from Midas – do you know where it is? No? Well, neither do I. Those things are for losers and little old ladies I always say… and of course for idiots who never dream a return on merchandise might be a possibility…)
A gallant gentleman leapt out of his car at a stop light the other day to inform me that my left brake light wasn’t functioning – and I am able to see on my own that her front right headlight is not all that it could, or should, be either.
A black day – and a black eye for Sylvia.
The trunk will not open from the outside, which to be honest is really the only satisfactory or useful way to open it, and her windshield wipers really only glance across the windshield these days. I snapped the key off in the ignition a few weeks ago (what do they make those things out of – pressed tinfoil?) and with just one ignition key left, when the man from the locksmith’s finally jiggled out the snapped off piece and asked me if I wanted him to make me another, it wasn’t just the outrageous price that made me say no.
I think we may have reached a tipping point of no return.
Which is not to say that something cannot be salvaged from this downturn in mechanical health: the hatchback lock should be able to be fixed, the windshield wipers replaced (I read somewhere that some people swap them for new twice a year – luxury!) the front and back lights replaced or mended, the muffler traded in, the dent in her bonnet knocked out, a little Rustoleum sprayed here and there and – ta da! – I’ll have an elderly, wheezy, un-air conditioned car, with seventeen pairs of sunglasses silted here and there around and under the seats, enough change dug out from under the floor mats to actually make all the repairs, and a mien that has gone from sporty and energetic to dejected and exhausted.
She really isn’t silver anymore – she’s a careworn tattle-tale grey.
I won’t drive her to the friend’s cottage now, and as for road trips to Ottawa and Montreal? Long faded dreams my friends. She will remain town-bound until they hook her up and haul her off; a downtown car with trips planned for no further than further downtown.
A pal in the movie business offered to blow her up next time a car needed to be blown up in a scene, suggesting such an explosive send off was tribute in itself. But it’s just too violent an end for such a loyal and dependable old friend.
I’d like to see her hauled off to a chop shop where she can provide much needed parts to other damaged cars. I myself am signed up as an organ donor, I see no reason why she cannot be a parts donor: there are certainly many little bits and pieces of her that are still in working order – steering wheel, ashtray, cigarette lighter and rear view mirror are all still in almost pristine condition. And her ownership and insurance papers have never been out of the glove compartment – quite possibly the neatest of all of her various and handy compartments.
I will drive her for a little while longer – but I know that day is coming: the day when I wouldn’t let Sylvia herself, if she were a person (or a pony, or a donkey or a big dopey dog) travel in her anymore – because she just isn’t safe.

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