In the Land of Giants
I used to love my car.
Admittedly, I never had the love affair with automobiles that some men do. I never loved cars; I only loved my car, yet it was a relationship filled with neglect. In the seven years I owned it (you see, I can’t even bring myself to give it a gender, as so many do when speaking of cars) the most I ever did was put gas inside the tank and occasionally change the oil. The fact that my 1986 Chrysler Laser lasted seven years without ever (really) breaking down is in itself a miracle.
My father bought it in 1992; I bought it from him in ‘93, as I was waiting until I turned eighteen to come into a little bit of money in some accounts from my youth. He told me that I could buy another, or this one, as I took a liking to it from the moment he bought it. That alone was a big step for him; he previously owned a 1979 Ford pick-up truck, bought new and devotionally driven for thirteen long years. That was the vehicle that I learned how to drive with. As I always say (however often I may say it, given that I haven’t owned a car in nine years) if you learn on a car with manual steering and manual brakes, you can pretty much drive anything.
My father made a sacrifice selling me that car, the kind parents willingly make for their children. He bought some black thing that broke down constantly, while I basically drove the Laser into the ground, pasting Pearl Jam and Nirvana stickers onto the hatch and making me an easy target for Middlesex County police officers to pull over. (Which, of course, they did.)
The Laser, I’m convinced, had some sort of metaphysical understanding of the laws of karma. (I know – I won’t genderize it, yet I’ll give it the title of philosopher.) It had a deep and ancient knowledge of balance, perhaps foreshadowing my own path of yoga. When the door handle on the driver’s side stopped working (you could open it from the inside, but not from the outside), at the same time the automatic window slid off the track, making it manual. Hence, you could roll down the window by placing your palm on it and unhinge the door from the inside handle. Occasionally, during those frigid New Jersey winters, both door locks would freeze and you couldn’t open either. Voilah! You opened the hatch and crawled in through the back. Yes, I did that, many times.
Sure, there were some unbalanced problems. The bumper fell off. (I don’t remember how.) For two years I drove around without bumper stickers, as well as an exposed gas tank. And for two years, the electronic dashboard stopped working. I had no idea how fast I was going, or how much gas was in said tank. I had to guess. Yet cars like Chryslers shudder when under a quarter-tank, so I was never really worried.
As for speed, in those two years I was only pulled over once, on the Turnpike, for going too fast. I had just failed inspection (we won’t talk about how I got through it the previous years), so I pulled out the sheet, said “sir” and “please” a few times, and the cop let me go with a warning. A few weeks later, without warning, the dashboard starting working again. I never questioned it.
Oh, and it had some weird spark plug issues, so I always carried around a ten-pack. I may have had to change it twice in a day, but those things are cheap.
On January 1st, 2000, I donated the car to a charity. I was living in Jersey City and no longer needed a vehicle to get where I needed to go. Two months later I received a telephone call from the Passaic police department saying that my car had been found abandoned on a downtown street. I had the license plates; they had traced the serial number. I told them I had donated it to a church; they replied happily that it would be auctioned by their fine department. I thanked them and hung up, wondering what could have happened in those two months to my genderless, philosopher friend.
For seven years I loved and neglected that Laser, and never once did he/she/it give up on me. I never once considered getting another car (OK, I did once, but we won’t get into my financial state at the time), and I got by, like my father did before me with his truck, and like he has with his car now for the past decade. (Not the black thing, mind you.) And while I don¹t miss having a car, living in Brooklyn and making my way around on the at times faulty but usually reliable and extensive subway system, I do occasionally miss having that Laser.
I’m not sure when it became normal for Americans to buy a new car every two to three years. I’m not sure why anyone would ever think they’d need to. (But this year's model has an iPod cord plug!) The math on this one is really simple: When you build a business based on excessive purchasing, the excess will run out. There has to be a balance. Corporations are not exempt from the fundamental laws that govern our planet. That the auto industry (that any industry now reeling from the business of excess) would run to the government for help and ask them to inject taxpayer dollars into their brand, while continuing to build their model on the culture of excess, is the most irresponsible and, plainly put, sad (in all its dimensions) scenario imaginable. And yet it is the one in which we now live.
What can we do about it? Well, to start: if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And if it’s a little broken, see what you can do about it before running to the manufacturer, waving a credit card, and seeing what perks are thrown in. There’s something to be said about sustainability. We’ve built our culture around replacements: replaceable cars, replaceable body parts, replaceable responsibilities. With the giants reeling, it’s our turn to step up and shoulder our own responsibilities. Then we’ll see that they’re not so giant after all, and we all stand on the same ground to begin with.
Image by swanksalot, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet