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.
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.