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Life Arts    H3'ed 12/30/09

Why Should Buying A Car be Bittersweet?

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I am in the process of buying a car. This is not something I do very often. In fact, the last time I was in the market for a car was back in 1998, when the girls were pretty new drivers and Mick was in third or fourth grade. And although I have no intention of getting a brand new car this time, even a used car these days, in this economy, is a substantial purchase, not to be taken lightly.

I've virtually made up my mind. I even have the car here, safe in my garage. I took it home overnight so that I could show Rafi and take him for a test drive. The papers haven't been signed yet, but they might as well be. I'm in and I'm not giving it back. But, for some reason, I find my heart unexpectedly heavy and I was curious about why that is.

The car I'm replacing is a '98 Plymouth Voyager. It's the last in a line of minivans that faithfully took me through more than twenty years of carpooling. Twenty years! While there is nothing sexy about an old minivan, this car occupies a warm place in my heart. It symbolizes a wonderful stage of my life, one that is over. I surrendered carpool duties in the spring of 2008. While the moment was bittersweet, life without carpool has its definite upsides.

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But, I'm having a hard time getting rid of this last one, this rusty, dented, hulk of a machine, with more than 100,000 miles on it and filled with ancient receipts, crumpled napkins, dog hair, and just plain junk. This car resonates with me. In some strange way, it is me.

I am also aging, maybe not rusting, but definitely wrinkled and worn. Together, these cars and I successfully transported my kids and their friends to school, on outings, family trips, etc. The wild and woolly conversations we've had and the ones that I've overheard when I was nothing more than the chauffeur. My kids learned to drive on these cars, and ventured into another dimension of independence in them. Collectively, these cars are the repository of countless memories, many of them routine and unexciting, but all part and parcel of the process of raising children in this day and age, in our suburban community.

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I no longer need a mammoth vehicle. For the first time, I have entertained the notion of moving beyond utilitarian. It was startling. Don't get the wrong idea. I wasn't thinking Corvettes and Mazeratis. But, when your tush has been almost welded to the seat of a minivan for so long, even thinking "sedan" is a huge change. I will miss sitting high, though. I did like that visibility.

I was worried that I'd have a hard time getting used to being lower on the road. My mother used to drive an Acura. When everyone was safely in school, she and I continued our tradition of meeting on Wednesdays and going out for lunch. She'd toss the keys to me and off we'd go in her sporty red car. Often, it felt like I was suddenly almost subterranean, so low to the ground did I feel. It was a strange, fleeting sensation and, because it was so brief, I never had the chance to get over it.

For a while, I flirted with the idea of getting a Prius. In my heart, that is who I am and how I see myself. Harsh reality, dollars and cents however, mitigated against it from the start. A new Prius was completely out of the question. I didn't object to a used one, so I did a test drive earlier this week. It was fun! To my surprise, I didn't feel too low at all. The car was peppy and responsive. And I loved the gauges which showed how it sipped gas. In fact, it was hard to concentrate on driving; my eyes kept returning to those cool diagrams, proof that I was so green, so virtuous.

Despite that great experience, I'm actually not getting a Prius. I'm one of those 10,000 mile a year drivers. In the end, it just didn't make sense. I could never recoup my initial outlay, even for a 2005 model. It was hard to let go of that dream image of myself. But, I did it. I'm perfectly happy with this '07 Honda Accord with only 34,000 miles on it. Call me superficial but I instantly felt right at home in that charcoal gray cocoon (coincidentally, my favorite color). As Ariella pointed out, you spend a lot more time looking at the inside of the car than you do at the outside. I never thought of it that way, but it's so true!

So, then, why am I melancholy? I think I've put my finger on it. Most of the cars I've driven or bought in my lifetime had a parental component involved in them. When I was growing up, any car we drove was chosen and paid for by my father. As I got older and before I was married, my father was my chief consultant. I even remember going car shopping with him once I was married and had children. The dealer talked only to my father. Maybe it was because they knew one another. No matter; it infuriated me. Who was paying for that car, anyhow? I felt invisible and I didn't like it, not one bit.

But, I'd give anything to have my father to consult with now. He's been gone for around seven years now, and in bad shape for years before that. In 1998, he was already debilitated and my mother found herself suddenly in the hospital, too. I was already in the midst of negotiations - virtually done, in fact. Once my mother was hospitalized, I was s imply no longer in the mood. But, the process had already taken on a life of its own; like the messy matter of being born - I was more out than in, and there was no turning back. So, I ended up with a car. It was far from the high I'd been hoping for. The whole thing had lost its magic, suddenly no big deal.

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This is the first time when I've done this pretty much on my own. Of course, I consult with Rafi, and I've found my brother John to be very helpful. But, there's something missing. This is a moment when I'm both looking forward and backwards. I feel like the baton has been passed, whether or not I was ready and willing. I can't refuse. And I can't bring my father back to life - that vital, opinionated, but very loving man he once was - except occasionally, in my dreams. At those times, I resist waking up, delaying reality's return. Oh, how I resisted being babied growing up. Now, how I miss the babier. Isn't life funny?

I'll try to focus on the thoughtful, thorough way I researched this project. And know that the strong and resourceful person I am today is, in part, a tribute to my father. He'd be so proud of me if he could see how well I turned out. I'll work on stepping graciously away from one stage of my life and into the next. Thanks a lot, Dad. I sure do miss you.


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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