When I was in high school, I drove my dad’s El Camino. This was the car of my dad’s soul, a special car, and I’ll always remember it. My dad is really, really tall, so the driver’s seat was pushed all the way back, and because the car was 30 years old, the seat was stuck there. I had to drive scooted up to the front of the seat, pushing the gas and brake pedals with the tips of my toes. The door on the driver’s side didn’t fully shut, so it was common for it to fly open when I took a right turn. It smelled sort of funny. It got about 15 miles to the gallon. But I could haul my friends around in the back, and I got to go wherever I wanted. I loved it.
The couple of cars I had after that don’t bear mentioning. They had no personality, no identity. Both died pathetic deaths and were abandoned at service stations when it became clear that fixing them would cost more than their value.
Then in graduate school, I got the car of my soul: an incredibly old Subaru station wagon. It was the first car I ever bought myself. It was only $1,500, and it was what we called monkey-shit brown. The car had no air conditioning, so when I went on trips, my dog and I had to jump in lakes to cool ourselves. For several months I had to push-start it. The transmission died. It wasn’t particularly zippy: when I was driving it, I saw a bumper sticker on another old Subaru that said, “Zero to 60 in 11 minutes,” and that was accurate. If I was going to pass someone, I really had to plan for it. And I loved it. It was a station wagon, so it could carry anything I wanted. It smelled like dusty old books and dog fur.
The car I had most recently was another Subaru station wagon, which tried very hard to be the replacement car of my soul. But it never was. It never spoke to me. It would overheat, so I’d have to turn the heat on in the middle of a 90-degree summer so that the engine didn’t melt. And ultimately the engine did melt, and I had to get a new one (a cost I’m still paying off). Then it broke. And broke. And broke again. The very nice Subaru mechanic kept trying new things, starting with the cheapest and moving up. Ultimately, he said that I’d have to do a couple of thousand dollars in repairs and see if those worked.
And I said goodbye, Subaru.
So recently I’ve had to find another car. This, as I’m sure you all know, is an incredibly tricky project.
I toured dealerships to decide what the new car absolutely must have. Here’s what I discovered about my own needs: the car has to be in really good shape. I don’t know how to crawl under the car to fix random things, and I don’t want to. I’m done with automotive challenges. Now I’m a full-fledged adult, and I want a car that gives me the benefits of that status. Other important factors: the car has to have seats to haul my daughter, her friends, and her friends’ parents. And it can’t be a sedan. It has to have five doors — if not a station wagon, at least a hatchback.
Finally, a friend found a car to fit my most important criteria. My friend said I won’t find a better car in my price range. He’d be willing to step into it right now and drive it to California. And it’s a hatchback, with plenty of room for me to haul folks around. So I bought it.
And yet when I first saw the car, my stomach turned a bit. I’m almost afraid to tell you: it’s a purple PT Cruiser. Ugly. Beyond ugly — ridiculous. People are going to make fun of me as I drive down the road. At the time I got it I wondered if I could bear driving a car this hideous.
But what I realized is that my two favorite cars have been ridiculous, unattractive. They’ve caused people to grimace when they’ve seen them. And when I’ve covered them in bumper stickers that have said things like “Pro-child, pro-family, pro-choice” and “Vaginas!”, they’ve been perfect.
This new car probably won’t be a car of my soul. But I’m open to it. I think we can have a symbiotic relationship. Hello, ugly car. Welcome to the family.