Elaine. I Love You.

Upon arrival at any family gathering, after I field the initial barrage of greetings, hugs, drink offers, and after Gramma tells me how healthy I look, there will always be a beat.  And then, with a look of concern sweeping across her face, Gramma will ask:

“How is your car running?”

With me – that’s always a loaded question.

“How is your car running” might seem like a shallow or superfluous opening question to ask your grandson whom you only see once or twice a year, but allow me to provide some context.

My family does not live in the same neighbourhood.  Or region.  Or province.  We are speckled all throughout Western Canada.  What separates us are some of the most unforgiving mountainous highways in the entire world.  The two things that hold us together are – the maintenance of said roads, and the maintenance of our vehicles.

Cars are something that is important in our family.  They keep us together, and they keep us safe.

My ability to make it home for Christmas hangs in the balance in what I have going on under the hood of my 1991 BMW 318is.

And what I have going on under the hood of my 1991 BMW 318is is what irks me.

My car’s name is Elaine – as in Benes.

A common criticism of the types of women that I’m attracted to is that they don’t challenge me enough.  They don’t call me on my shit.  They don’t meet me halfway with their demands and desire.  They are all so sweet.  They are all so stable.

Elaine is not one of those women.

If she were a real woman, she’d be the type that throws plates at me in a fight.

And I dig that about her.

You want to drive downtown?  Not tonight! *smash*”

If I drive her every day, she starts running shittily.  If I don’t drive her for a week, she’ll barely start.  She needs attention – but not too much.  Sometimes, not unlike myself, she just needs her space.  And I give it to her.

It usually bothers me when people anthropomorphize their equipment or machines, but if you drive a car with as many quirks and idiosyncrasies as Elaine, you can’t help but endow her with a few human characteristics.

I’ve always been drawn to people who are a little bit unstable.  And Elaine’s one word biography reads: “Unstable.”

Elaine’s setbacks are as follows:

  • Her speedometer hasn’t worked in 6 years – which is kind of liberating in a way.
  • Her radio antenna fell off – I made the mistake of lending her to a girlfriend of mine, and when I got her back, the antenna was gone.  The girlfriend had no idea what might’ve happened.  Classic.
  • About 4 years ago, I put a Tragically Hip CD into the stereo – no one ever saw it again.
  • My driver-side window doesn’t go down – which gives me two new options when going through a drive-thru: I’m either doing business through the sunroof, or driving thru in reverse with the passenger window down.
  • She has a hole in the top of her gas tank, so I fill her up just ¼ of the way, and everywhere I go, I visualize that I’m driving while holding an egg on a spoon to avoid spillage.
  • The wipers’ top-speed is about the rhythmic pace of a Fleet Foxes song.
  • One time her spoiler fell off on the highway — so I pulled a U-ey, and glued it back on at home.
  • One time, after class at Uvic, I walked out into the student parking lot to discover a huge dent above my passenger-side wheel well.  No note.  If that’s not a sign of tuition prices being too high, then I don’t know what is.
  • You need the hand size of an infant and the precision of a jeweller just to change the headlights when they go out.
  • Rear defrost FAIL.
  • Driver side seat doesn’t go forward.
  • The gentleman who owned her before me was a mechanic from Surrey (which interestingly is a synonym for douchebag), so needless to say, my exhaust sets off car alarms and has hindered my overall performance at hearing tests.
  • No cup holder.  Son of a bitch!
  • The sealing around the driver’s side door was ripped out, so when I drive on the highway in the rain, it feels like Daffy Duck is whithpthering in my ear.

But she gets me.  She fits me like a glove.  The driver side seat is completely unadjustable — and it’s perfectly spaced and reclined for me.  When I drive a girl home after a date and I’m too nervous to make a move, Elaine has a brilliantly difficult-to-find door handle which has often graced me with the gift of time.  These extra 10 seconds has led to several first kisses.

One other thing about Elaine – she was built for the Autobahn.  She barely starts, she’s loud, everything is wrong with her except for her heart.  You get that car on the highway.  It’s Hammertime! (Which was actually a #1 hit when she was made.)  She’s got it where it counts.

But I’m worried about her.  I’ve taken her to dozens of mechanic shops since I’ve had her, but I’ve never had to leave her overnight somewhere until today.  It doesn’t look good.  Sometimes when you’re sitting in the waiting room, you can just tell from the earnestness of the doctors and German-born mechanics that there’s something horribly wrong with your friend.

I guess you know what you’re getting into when you get a second hand car.  It’s like adopting an old dog.

____________________________________________________________

And now, the Story of Winnie:

When I was little, my family decided that we couldn’t go another day without adopting a Wheaten Terrier.  We found one in the Classifieds of the Vancouver Sun:  “2 year-old fully trained Wheaten Terrier female.  Gentle with children, excellent for family.  Has all of her shots.  Looking for a nice home.”

So we bought her.

The ad was placed from a small community in Northern BC, so she had to be flown to Vancouver, where we picked her up.  My mother recalls that right away she and Dad could tell that there was something horribly wrong.  After a couple of visits to the veterinarian clinic, Winnie’s past came to light.  She was a puppy mill female whose uterus had been used as a lucrative assembly line for what the vet approximated to be 7 or 8 years.

The vet scratched behind Winnie’s floppy ears as she explained, “This happens more often than you’d think.  They just make these poor dogs have litter after litter until they are physically unable to reproduce anymore.  I guess the lucky thing for Winnie here is that she has finally found a real family and a real home for her twilight years.”

So Winnie was retired.  And we were her Florida.

I didn’t know the difference, though.  To me, Winnie was shiny and new and I loved her with all my heart.  She was an angel.  And we were happy to be her retirement home.

_________________________________________________________

Anyways.

I hope this isn’t the end of Elaine.  I hope that I have a few more years of setting off car alarms, and driving through drive-thru’s in reverse.

I’m at an age where there are very few constants in my life.  But Elaine has been there all along.

Taking me places.

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2 thoughts on “Elaine. I Love You.

  1. Elaine will be just fine. Don’t you fret! I just had to get rid of my car under not-so-favourable circumstances…it was a sad day. You get so attached to these metal boxes!

  2. Squirt was my first car- a 2 door, hatchback, powder blue five speed Chevy Sprint. I had her for 7 years. A few highlighted memories of her are as follows:

    1. When I first got her, my Dad handed me a stack of Canadian Tire money and told me to get some things for her interior to spruce her up. I ended up purchasing silver and black Hotweels seat covers, a steering wheel cover, air freshener, washer fluid, floor mats and some oil… and the girl at the counter was appalled when the stack of 5 and 10 cent Canadian Tire bills payed for my total entirely.

    2. The first day something went wrong was the night a few friends of mine and I were driving around drawing penis’ on street signs. Then with all the fast getaways, the divers seat back broke off. It was like driving while sitting on a stool for the next couple days. I finally broke and told my dad and he had it promptly replaced with an awesome racing bucket seat he got from an auto wreckers. I decided to scrap the Hotweels Flaming seat covers then.

    3. Once at university, was when the real abuse started to happen. With enough parties around her with the CD player blasting and forgetting to turn the lights off every once and a while her battery finally died. Although I was bartending 4 nights a week, at the time I didn’t have enough money to buy her a replacement. So for 3 weeks, I would walk out to my car on my way to work, wearing my black cocktail dress and heels for work, open her door, and start pushing her down the street. Eventually as she gained enough speed, I would vault into the drivers seat, pop the clutch and be off to work. Luckily, she weighed as much as I did- this also came in handy during winters in Vernon for the few times I got stuck in snow banks.

    4. I fully believe she cared for my best interests however. In 4th year University I was dating this boy- lets call him Tyler. Tyler and I had been casually seeing each other for a couple of months and our relationship was becoming more serious (or so I thought).

    One weekend I went away and left Squirt in his hands. Unfortunately on the first day of babysitting, as he was unlocking her driver’s side door, the key broke off in the door. She was finicky. You could only open her from that side. I sincerely believe in karma, as at the time it turns out Tyler was dating a few other women on the side to me. As much as she could Squirt had my back. This little key breakage forced him to call a man to come to his house, pull out the broken piece of key, leave to his shop, create a new key from said broken pieces, and return to Tyler’s house. Instead of a nice weekend with my car, Tyler ended up getting at $200 bill for being an asshole. Karma baby- treat me nice and be gentle with my things.

    5. Eventually she started to fail a little. A few scratches here, a few dints here. So one day I finally decided to cater to her ghetto racing car dreams. I got her a racing stripe. But not just any. One bright orange, 2-inch stripe, out of duct tape, off centre, that went from back to front bumper. The sun then bleached it out and it turned yellow. It was glorious.

    6. Her most memorable night came in her last year of existence. I was out partying with 4 friends, being the DD, touring around Victoria when my girlfriend Elexa got a text from some boy she had met a couple nights before at a bar. Hilariously enough she remembered giving him her number, but not what he looked like, and although his invitation to drop by was very suggestive, her reservation lied in that she didn’t really know how to play the situation. So I said this. We would drive her to his house, one of us would go in with her to say hi, if the situation was favorable enough, they would leave, if not, we would wait for her in the car, and we could all abort together. So we did. And he was laying in bed, drunk, and completely unimpressive. So we left. We went to the beach, to park and look at the ocean and listen to music and talk. Squirts lights started to flicker. The music started to play slower. And no it wasn’t the drugs, it was poor electrical work. Then Elexa realized she didn’t have her purse. She had left it at the boys house. So we had to do the long drive back and she was forced into the awkward reverse walk of refusal where you have to backtrack after rejecting someone and give them the goodbye again…

    Two of us were waiting downstairs in the car with it idling when it started to pour. Rainforest, west-coast, downpour. The kind of rain that makes your insides wet. But then like some spaceship powering down, the lights in Squirt started to flicker and the whole car made this “Beeeeeeaaaaammmmmoooooooom” sound as she turned off. And as Elexa and Sarah emerged from the apartment building of rejection, they found Squirts hood up, with me bent over her battery, trying to figure out what went wrong. Like all solutions previous, a roll start was what we deemed our best option. So like a bobsled team, with two on each side we started pushing her down the street. With enough speed the back two hopped in first and pulled the front seats back into position. Then Sarah and I followed, slammed the doors, I popped the clutch, and we were off…

    Now I’m not very familiar with the electrical details of a car, but I know this. Squirt would run fine, so long as the lights were off, and so were the windshield wipers… and I couldn’t completely stop in neutral or she would stall. So at 3 am, on the wettest night of the year, I was driving with my head out my window like Jim Carey in Ace Ventura, with my accomplices checking each direction for other cars and most importantly police. Upon every intersection we would pray for a green light, or slowly approach until it turned. 23 minutes later we arrived at Elexa’s house having never encountered another car, and parked.

    The next morning she started perfectly.

    7. After university I moved to Australia for 6 months and handed over they keys, to my longest friend Marie. It was on the condition that she use Squirt as she see fit, and give her back to me when I returned.

    Two months away I got an email.

    “Dear Emily,
    Your car is a piece of shit. A week and a half after you left it died on me on my way to Bamfield. I had to tow it to a mechanic and after a small conversation they said that nothing was fixable. It was time for it to go.”

    Squirt got squished. Car compactor, made into a cube, squished.

    And I never got to say goodbye. Or thank-you for saving my life and all the good times.

    A couple of months ago I ran into an old friend of my from University. We were outside his house catching up, and as we were about to say goodbye he said, “Hold on, gimme one sec to run in, I have something for you”

    It was my spare key to Squirt. Its all I have left now.

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