A ‘car guy’ admits defeat
A friend asked me the other day how many cars I’ve owned in my life.I took a wild guess and – figuring I’d go on the high side – I said, “Fifty?”He laughed and pointed out that there are five cars parked in front of my house right now – and that a year or so ago I’d gotten rid of a bunch of semi-junkers that were clogging the driveway and outraging the neighbors.How many?Let’s see … there was the Jeep Wagoneer (dead battery, leaky carburetor), the Audi 4000 (mysterious electrical problems), the BMW 2002 (totally trashed) and the old Subaru station wagon (home to countless field mice).My friend did the math. “With the five you still have, that makes nine cars in the past two years.”In fact, there were two others to go on that list – one mighty nice old Audi that I’d sold and one total wreck that was towed away after I’d hit a bear on Highway 82.So, actually, 11 cars in maybe three years.And before that … well, I have to admit that my wild guess of 50 was probably pretty low.I got my first car more than 40 years ago, and the list since then goes on and on.A Buick and a couple of Fords. A 1950 Jaguar that never ran. A Chevy van. An old MG. A couple of school buses. A couple of Corvettes. A Volkswagen. A Volvo with one side caved in. A Chevy pickup with a blown engine. The thing is, I used to be a car guy.Back in high school, nothing made me happier than spending hours on my back, under a car, with my head in a puddle of oil and dirt falling into my eyes.I rebuilt my first Corvette from the ground up. I put a Volvo engine in a 1953 MG. (Can’t remember why … but it seemed like a good idea at the time.) And when a car broke down, I’d dive under the hood and start yanking and pounding on things until I figured out what was wrong. I remember rewiring my Corvette, in the middle of the night, by the side of the road in deepest Massachusetts, after a terrifying moment when the headlights went out, the engine quit and the car filled up with smoke. And I remember figuring out a way to bypass a clogged fuel filter on my Volkswagen in the middle of a snowstorm by the side of I-70, halfway up to the Eisenhower Tunnel.It wasn’t exactly fun – but it was always a challenge and I always enjoyed the moment when I turned the key and the engine started and I went on my way. (Even if there were wires running out from under the hood, through the open driver’s window and up under the dashboard.)But now it’s different.I’ll admit I’m older and slower and the idea of lying on the ground with my head in a puddle of oil just isn’t very appealing any more.But that’s not it. The problem is, cars aren’t really cars any more. They’re some ungodly mixture of car and computer. An abomination in the eyes of the Lord. As if General Motors and IBM got drunk at the office party and wound up in a cheap motel – having a three-way with Bill Gates. And we’re all driving the spawn of that unholy alliance, that terrifying night of drunken whirring and clicking and clashing and giggling.What do you call them? Cardroids? Carborgs?Whatever they are, average guys just can’t fix ’em anymore.I took my car in to the dealer the other day because the headlights were aimed a little too high. A simple matter. You turn a couple of screws, lower the lights. But I opened the hood and I couldn’t even find the screws. They told me I’d have to make an appointment, because it takes a computer to re-aim the headlights. Arrrgh!The motto used to be, “If it won’t fit, get a bigger hammer.” Now, I don’t know what you’d get. A bigger computer? More electrons?It’s been a while since I’ve had a car break down on me – but if it does, I don’t think I’ll even bother to open the hood.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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