by Janet Gilmore
Many years ago, my Dad wrote “Hi Jan” on the dashboard of my car with a piece of chalk he found in the side pocket. That message greets me every time I get into my little blue car and makes me smile. The car has 84,427 miles on it. Because my cousin Debbie’s car has 111,000 miles on it and she’s supposed to be my role model, I assumed my present car would be my last car.
So, you can imagine my surprise the other day when a Philadelphia Water Department truck might have put an end to my dreams. When I pulled out of my driveway to go to a doctor’s appointment, a big Water Department truck was parked diagonally across our street. A neighbor’s car narrowed the way past the truck even more, but I figured I could get past if I took my time.
Slowly, slowly I edged my way past the truck. And I would have been fine if a Water Department employee hadn’t gotten out of the truck and stood on the curb to “help.”
“You’re good, you’re good, you’re good, come on,” he directed.
And I was good until I listened to him. I inched past the truck, past the neighbor’s car until I reached a spot where I could hit a tree, hit the Water Department guy or be very late for my doctor’s appointment.
“Come on, Lady, You’re fine, you’re fine…”
Let’s just say the Water Department doesn’t need a new truck. The collision dented the door and ripped the handle off the passenger side of my car. Passengers cannot get out of the car now. Luckily, my husband Hugh was home and able to exchange information with the Water Department, so that I could actually be on time for my doctor’s appointment.
A little back-story: last winter in the very cold weather, the driver’s side handle snapped off. I got used to entering on the passenger side and climbing over to the driver’s side.
Now, however, I couldn’t open the passenger side, either.
I carefully choreographed entering my car from the back seat, daintily climbing into the front seat. Ridiculous, but I could do it. I did it all over the place — at the gym, at the library, at the dollar store, at Acme. It was a little hard to load the back seat with groceries and then climb into the front, but hey…
Inability to open the passenger door from inside, however, is a safety problem, and rightly so, and the car will no longer pass inspection.
“You need a new car,” Hugh said.
“ I don’t WANT a new car!”
“It won’t pass inspection. And the fuel lines and brake lines might rust and break.”
I hate when aspersions are cast on me or my car. “I KNOW! But I don’t WANT a new car!”
“Let’s get an estimate for a new door and call the insurance company like grown-ups…”
The car is a 1996; it’s not easy to find parts. The Morano Brothers in Flourtown gave me an estimate for a new driver side handle and a new door and handle.
The insurance company told me we had dropped collision insurance coverage in 2005. “You need a new car,” Hugh said.
“I don’t want a new car.” Maybe quieter was more emphatic. I let my eyes well with tears.
I took the car to Morano’s, and they replaced the handle. Mr. Morano, using car-speak, said, “I had to de-activate the thing-gummy. The door lock is in the open position. Whatever you do, DON’T push the lock button down. I’m not sure it will open again.”
Do I really have to tell you the first thing I did when I got home? I pushed the lock button down. Anyone would; right? And guess what? Morano was right! When I pulled it back up, I couldn’t open the door from inside or out. I was back where I started, minus $200 for the shiny new, useless handle.
We spent the next morning at a Toyota dealer, looking at new cars. They’re splendid, of course. I test-drove a Prius once we found out that a hybrid car was not the kind we have to plug into an electric socket to run. The Prius was lovely, quiet and the best choice, although the dealership only had it in beige, black or white, which I would never be able to find in any parking lot. We got a price and went home to think.
I get e-mails and phone calls everyday from Toyota dealers and Toyota pages to “like” on Facebook, plus pop-up ads for new cars. They’ve all talked to one another somehow and decided that I need a new car.
I wish everyone would leave me alone. I’ve never twisted myself into so many knots over a decision like this one. It was easier to decide whom to marry. I don’t want a new car that I have to worry about. I don’t need heated seats. I don’t want to spend thousands for a new car. The only thing wrong with my car is a door, plus all the many things that we imagine might go wrong.
I don’t want a new car. Even if I won one on “Wheel of Fortune,” I still wouldn’t want one. I want to keep my old car with my dad’s special greeting to me. The car in which my young son made up his first poem. The car that my father kept supplied with pretzels in case I got hungry on the road. In which my husband acted out “I quit smoking” in charades while I was driving.
I don’t want time to march on. I want to gather what I have around myself and treasure it. And I want to rewind to a time when we were all young and healthy and in good working order. I want my old car. That’s not asking too much; is it?