Take most people, they’re crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they’re always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that’s even newer. I don’t even like old cars. I mean they don’t even interest me. I’d rather have a g**d**m horse. A horse is at least human, for God’s sake. ~J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Holden’s take on America’s car craze rings just as true in 2011 as it did when the book was published in 1951. Safety standards and styles have changed, but we’re definitely still talking about miles to the gallon. And there are definitely still folks who care deeply about keeping their cars in perfect condition. It’s still tempting to view one’s car as an extension of oneself, a stand-in for genuine value. And car salesmen (like all good salesmen) profit most from those with a weak self-image.
As a teenager, I managed to avoid making the seemingly inevitable association between vehicles and self-worth thanks to the wisdom of my parents. Rather than buying my a shiny little sports car on my 16th birthday, they sent me to school in a rather beat-up old Mercury Villager
A sixteen year old cannot drive a car so clearly uncool (yet not old-school enough to qualify as ‘retro’) and believe that the car says something important about her. This car forced me to eschew the idea of automobiles as status symbols. Or, at least, as my status symbol. The best part about this particular minivan was the inspirational license plate my mother had screwed to the front: A bright yellow plate that simply read “JESUS”. Why should a car bear the name of Jesus? I always imagined people looking in their review mirrors and noticing that the Son of God was on their tail: kind of a modern twist on whole hound of heaven thing. Presumably, the idea was to publicly identify ourselves as Christians so that we would have an extra incentive to drive well. Or maybe it was another one of the subtle ways that that my folks tried to keep me from cruising for cute boys. Regardless, the Jesus-mobile got me where I needed to go and provided a grounded view of the true value of a car.
Later, after a few car-less college years, my folks again set me up with the family’s latest cast off minivan. As a hip young professional living in downtown Colorado Springs, driving another scratched up, eco-unfriendly van stung my pride on occasion (nevermind who got it scratched up in the first place–that’s not the point!)
But the Caravan served me well for a couple of years. Once again, it made highway flirting a little more difficult, and I realize that this was for the best. When my ego reared up at the sight of a friend’s snazzy little coupe, I learned to remind myself to be grateful that I wasn’t making car payments. While I never developed an emotional attachment to this one (it remained simply “The Caravan”), it also got me safely where I needed to go. Except that Sunday morning when I braved the snow and ice to make it to the church nursery on time, only to slide into a curb, bending the axle beyond recognition. (From this incident, I drew the valuable lesson that sometimes God wants us to stay home).
After the Caravan’s untimely demise, Grandpa came to my rescue with an extra Suburban he had sitting around in Kansas. (I’m pretty sure that only former auto shop owners have extra SUVs sitting around). By now you should be noticing a trend in my vehicular history: bigger and better, every time. This baby has a forty-gallon tank!
This car was definitely more aligned with Colorado style. With four-wheel-drive and a no-nonsense engine, I never ended up like THESE Colorado drivers. Plus, despite driving the least flirtatious car on the road, I managed to meet and marry the love of my life. See, high school self? You didn’t need a cool car after all! (There are days, it’s true, when I wonder if the sight of a car that would contain half-a-dozen offspring was influential in our relationship.But I digress.)
Sadly, the good old Sub is nearing the end of its days. And so, after years of living like an automobile vulture, surviving on the carrion cars left behind by my betters, its time to take the next step. Yes, my friend, I am talking about entering the used car market. I’m talking about blue-booking! Trade-ins! Craigslist! CARFAX REPORTS! I’ve avoided it long enough and I’m ready to take the plunge. Stay tuned for riveting updates.
(But if this doesn’t work out, I’m definitely getting a horse.)