I suppose it’s a coincidence that this is happening right now…but it is Zippy’s seventh birthday next week. Seven years ago, I bought that car, new off the lot, in Amarillo, Texas, and immediately used it to go speeding down I-27 to the history museum in Canyon, blasting Music for the Masses the whole way.
When I took Zippy the Wonder Saturn in service last week here in L.A. though, I was informed that he has the car version of clogged arteries. He has a carbon buildup near a valve in his engine that has an $800 price tag to remove.
“Do I need to get this fixed?” I asked. “What will happen if I don’t?”
“Well, really, nothing,” the tech told me. “The car might stall sometimes.”
“Forget it then,” I said. “Just fix the transmission axle seal and I’ll trade the car in this fall.”
Now, thanks to a few factors, I have assumed for a while that I am not a good car loan candidate. There’s some financial issues between myself and a certain Big Fat Texan Ex-Boyfriend. Most of which have been sorted out, but it’s left some black marks on my credit. I’ve paid off Zippy, and he paid off Onyx, his Ford Taurus, but it’s not enough to raise my rating back up to “good”. Therefore, I abandoned the idea of getting a new car, and settled for being one of the few people in the “middle class twentysomething” bracket driving a seven-year old mid-size coupe.
I’ve covered for this by carrying on about how it’s against my values to buy a car. Which it is, because buying a new car is supporting the car culture that I think is one of the biggest things wrong with society today. I think about many of the things that are wrong with urban America, and cars are RIGHT UP THERE. I don’t care if it’s a hybrid, or a bio-diesel, it’s still a car, which fits it in with sprawl, strip malls, drive-thrus, ugly, UGLY landscapes, freeways and white flight. This is not a culture I want to buy into. I have the car because it’s not feasible or practical for me to bike or bus everywhere in my life. But I don’t like being part of the problem.
Add to that the sheer committment of buying a car. This may be carried-over fear, but when I was in Texas, I would have moved home to Vancouver – and gone back to UBC – much quicker if I hadn’t had a car loan to pay off. I probably would have been back at UBC in the fall of 2000, instead of 2001. This doesn’t make much difference now, six years later. But it sure made a difference at the time, when I was lonely and homesick and depressed in Dallas. Once my student loans are paid off, I just don’t have any debt. At all. A car would change that.
With Zippy, if I make a decision that takes me out of a car-based city, then it’s easy to drop the car and go. If I move to London or Paris, which isn’t out of the question, I certainly won’t need a car. If I decide to take six months sabbatical, go home, live with Mom and Dad and write that book on L.A. history I’ve researched for the past two years, then I won’t need a car. If I take a year to go do volunteer work in Central or South America, or a year to walk the Silk Road from China to the Middle East – there’s more I want to do that involves me not being responsible for a car than there is that keeps me in car cities.
But the reality is, I may not get around to any of that. I may just go back to Seattle in a few years. So I suppose the is the big metaphor. I found out this week, I do qualify for car loans, and after a few more months of credit rating cleaning, and saving up for a down payment, I can trade in Zippy for a different vehicle. Do I go with my values and just get a cheap secondhand car? Do I go with my values and get a really cool Honda Insight Hybrid, with its price tag and payment committment? Do I try to get past my issues with their use of Jewish slave labor in WWII and look at Volkswagens? Do I assume that I’m going to do something really cool in a couple years that will take me places I won’t need a car?
Or do I just buy a regular car like everyone else, and assume I’ll eventually go back to Seattle or stay here in L.A.?
Maybe this is the real reason I haven’t bought a car yet. With my life, and my dreams, and my desires, it’s an awfully big, metaphorical decision.