Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Tribute to the Last 40,000 Miles

When we first met, I wasn’t sure it could ever work. She required so much more maintenance than I was used to, and she was much more hands on than I like to get on the first date. My father actually set us up and I didn’t have much choice but to get to know her, to listen and understand her needs and follow her lead. We spent a lot of time in my driveway those first few weeks, and she didn’t usually smell so great when we were done. Those were the first few miles on my 2000 Volkswagen Jetta.

She was a used car, with 60,000 miles on her and plenty of life left in her wheels. There was a nick here, a scratch there, but an impeccable stereo with good bass and space for six CDs at a time. That was all I needed to know.

A year and 40,000 miles into our relationship, she’d already seen me cry countless times. Draped over the steering wheel as the proverbial shoulder to cry on, I sobbed in the protective environs of my Jetta several times while working at a horrible little publishing company with more dysfunction than Dunder Mifflin. Soon after starting there as online editor, I would also splash the dash with (gross) tears of desperation as I tried to pull myself together after countless break-ups with my on-again/off-again personal trainer boyfriend. The Jetta would wait patiently while I moaned and snorted my way through a few minutes of concentrated angst, and then she’d rumble to life when I turned the key to go home. It was almost as if she were offering me her condolences as we moved along the road…

Now, now…Did you really want to hang around and pine for someone with a lava lamp and a week’s worth of dirty dishes piling up beside his water bed?” A few quick maneuvers from second to fifth gear told me I did not.

As in all of my relationships, there came a time when I started to lose some faith in the Jetta. She was always so good to me that I didn’t know how to react when she started to become a slow drain on my bank account. Her taillights went out frequently, and I started to think she enjoyed it when the same state trooper on Route 20 pulled us over time after time.

You realize that we spoke about this problem last week, right?” The cop asked as he peered into my car.

I always felt bad for him because I was usually pulled over late at night after coming back from my parents’ house where I spent the evening doing laundry after a long run in my old stomping grounds. As a result, I probably didn’t fit the profile of the usual suspects trolling the highways at 2:00AM with malfunctioning cars. With my laundry neatly stacked in the passenger seat, my wet hair back in a pony-tail, and NPR humming in the background, I peered over my dark framed glasses at the officer and promised him I’d have the lights checked out. Not too exciting, where cop stories are concerned.

Due to the ever-demanding maintenance the Jetta required, she earned herself the nickname Junka. Born from a blog I wrote about her in 2006 when she had just 110,000 miles on her (posted below), the nickname was a result of some ranting I felt the need to do after a series of repairs that cost me almost $1000. I once took an all-inclusive vacation to Aruba for that much money. It pained me to shell out the same amount to fix parts of my car that I’d never even see.

My relationship with the Junka wasn’t all bad, we did have many good times together. I’ve traveled to almost every triathlon I’ve ever competed in and every race I’ve ever run in that car. She’s kept my hands steady many a time as I nervously drove to each event, visualizing how it would go over and over again, anxious to know if I would be able to do as well as I’d hoped. And she was there to congratulate me with a soft seat after I crossed the finish lines, practically saying “I told you so” when I’d hang an age-group award medal from the rear-view mirror. She’s waited patiently in parking lots as I called everyone I knew to tell them how it went, while my sweat-soaked racing garments soiled her fabrics in the hot summer heat.

The Junka has taken quite a bit of abuse over the years. She’s suffered through hot coffee spills on her center console as I jerked the car to work in a hurried frenzy, and spilled barbecue sauce from late-night stops to Burger King when I needed a little snack after happy hours. She’s a potpourri of stray blonde hairs, old winter road salt, and caked off mud from running shoes that are tossed into the car without care. I seldom vacuum her or wash her out because the time and effort seemed stupid to spend on an “old car.” Though I did have her detailed once a couple of years ago when I realized that there was barbecue sauce in more places than I could reach with a toothbrush.

I’m amazed that the Junka has hung in there for so long after I wrote about her at 110,000 miles. Nearly 40,000 miles later, I’m actually sorry to see her go. In the last year she’s lost a muffler, developed an oil leak and seems to have developed “dashboard” Tourette’s syndrome, where the warning lights will randomly flicker on and off, and the needles in the gauges surge forward then back to normal with no rhyme or reason. Her key has broken in half so that I now carry around the remote end in one pocket, and the manual entry half in the other. When I lock her from the outside, she pushes out a homely, sickly honk akin to a goose with a sinus infection, perhaps.
Patches of rust flake from her sides like old skin from a bad sunburn.

As I prepare to part ways with the Junka, I reflect on all the time I spent at her wheel. We’ve come a long way, so much further than the 87,000 miles we actually drove together. We’ve been through three jobs, three boyfriends and one fiancé. Ironically, just last night as I was tearing through the glove compartment to find the title to the car, I came across a piece of paper folded up – an email from my ex-fiance with directions to his place. It was the email I’d printed for the very first time I went to his house. Those directions once represented a beginning, found after almost three years in a car that was coming to an end. I couldn’t help but pause for a moment, letting myself dabble in sad.

I remind myself that when one door closes, another opens. I’ve started to come out of the long, dark funk I’ve been in since breaking my engagement. I see that life goes on, as it must. I know that not everything can last forever and sometimes you have to stop investing in something if it’s doing you more harm than good – like my engagement, like my car.

I wasn’t sure about getting a new car…dealing with another monthly payment, getting rid of something that’s become such a time capsule for my twenties…but I’m 30 now. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life in the past year, and I guess getting a new car was something that was bound to happen at some point.

I looked at lots of options – thinking that maybe I wanted an SUV – maybe the Tiguan? Or a Honda CRV? But what about something cheaper, like a Civic?

I ended up going with another Jetta, even after I was sure that I hated the 2009 model -- probably because I was convinced I ought to go with something different after so many years in the same car.

She’s a lot fancier than the Junka, and it will take a while for this new kid to develop the kind of character that the Junka had, but she is pretty spectacular and I look forward to a long relationship with her, too. Because the Jetta isn’t the kind of car you drive a couple of times and then kick to the curb. With the Jetta, you go steady. I’m looking forward to the next 87,000 miles of my life.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Volkswagen Junka

Here's a new tagline for the Jetta:

"The Jetta - For people who like to throw money into a black hole." How about this one: "Farfegbankrupten!"

True, my car and I have had a love/hate relationship from day one. I test drove it
with my father in the passenger seat nearly three years ago. The test drive will be forever memorialized as the time when I demonstrated to my father how poor my stick shift skills were.

About three miles from the dealership is a gravel parking lot where I was given
the simple exercise of moving the car forward just one inch at a time, so to show my father that I could take the car on the road and integrate with actual traffic (as opposed to flying down back roads where only a random squirrel would suffer the consequences of my rampant driving). I've never heard swear words combined in quite the same way as when my father braced himself on the passenger door and dashboard after a session of bucking about the parking lot in the Jetta that afternoon.

"Jesus Chr*st, Lisa. I don't have any confidence that you will ever be able to drive this car," he concluded.

Despite my apparently poor display (I was actually pretty good at this point - my
friend Danielle had taught me to drive standard months ago and worked with me in a much more "serious" condition), I ended up getting the car and the Jetta and I have had a fairly decent relationship over the years, save for past few months.

Jetta has been pissing me off. To start, her exterior lights have gone out one
after the other which has prompted many annoying pull-overs by the local police. Then her wiper got messed up, so that a long black strand of rubber would trail behind the rest of the blade every time I turned them on. For months my dashboard was lit up like Vegas - with every possible warning light turning on at random times for no reason. My personal favorite is the orange light shaped like an engine with a thunder bolt striking it. What exactly is that supposed to mean?

Is the car about to blow up? Am I going to be damned for driving 4,000 miles over my oil change number? It's very vague. I usually let that one go for a while before pulling into a garage to inquire. That's another thing about car troubles...

"Inquiring" about these troubles usually leads to a hefty swipe on the credit card. Turning off the orange light costs about $200 dollars. I can make it go away with a Sharpie for about 75 cents. YOU do the math.

Following all of this, I noticed my car starting to feel like a saucer sled on wet
roads. It was mid-July and I lost control of my car going 40 mph on a major highway with some drizzle on it as if I were on black ice in mid-March. Upon further examination, and after my father's plea to come outside and "look at the goddamn tires," I saw that the front wheels were all shiny with little silver threads. What's the remedy? An alignment and new tires - cha-ching!

Another favorite ailment that plagues my car, is the fun game of "power window hide and go seek." The game is really short. Driver attempts to lower window using "down" button, window decides to fall inside of door and screw you with a 20 minute drive to work in the rain, yeah! Oh yeah - and cha-ching!

Finally, my brakes decided to call in sick Monday morning. While pulling out of
the parking lot at my apartment, I missed mowing down the kids waiting for the school bus by about five inches when I discovered that Plan A) Brake for children, would be replaced with Plan B) Swerve to avoid hitting children. (And please note that this action has nothing to do with my prior blog, Kids Suck).

Not all of the Jetta's problems are from old age and quality German engineering.
I take some of the blame for things gone wrong, because I have been known to inflict pain on the car. Backing into a boat hitch twice inside of five minutes comes to mind. And after a fight with an ex boyfriend a year ago, I attempted a fast exit in reverse out of a steep and narrow driveway, which resulted in my careening through the lawn over a grassy knoll. I removed a large portion of the earth with something underneath my car (a big, plastic black part broke off that I've since relocated to the trunk for safekeeping), moonlighting my Jetta as a backhoe.

Ah yes, me and the Jetta and the love between us. She's got 110,000 miles on
her and things can only get better with time, right? Like a bottle of wine...the longer it's around, the more money it will cost you.


The Singlutionary said...

My longest relationship is with my car. I love this post. When I first moved to my city without knowing anyone here I would go sit in the car just to feel like I was at home, just to feel surrounded by something familiar. Every once in a while I think about getting a new car, one that has climate control and doesn't need constant work. But my car is my buddy. She has character, she is older than me and she gives me encouragement even when I neglect to wash her or change her oil. We've been together 5 years this fall and who knows how many thousands of miles since the odomoter broke a while back.

Thanks for writing about your car! I know how you feel about her. I am not ready to say goodbye to mine yet. I'm not sure I ever will be.

The Singlutionary said...

PS: There is an award waiting for you on Singlutionary.com

I love your blog and I hope you'll keep posting!