If you don’t, you’re driving something relatively new and I congratulate you.
Electric windows and power steering ... GPS and DVD ... more digital dashboard features than a major-league scoreboard. A sweet ride.
If you do, well, welcome to my world.
Roll-up windows and no power steering ... FM and sometimes AM ... a fuel gauge that challenges you to squeeze another 30 miles after the needle has dropped below the red line.
“No problem,” you say to yourself. “I’ve never run out of gas in this car before and I’m not about to start now.”
There is such a thing as the arrogance of belief in one’s ability to defeat reality.
It’s what keeps you rolling.
Still, my car is more than 20 years old and there is always the possibility that every time I depress the clutch, something seriously hideous could happen. Once, back in the late Eighties, I shifted and the car I was driving died.
Not even 70,000 miles on it.
I was so aggravated, so incensed, so far from help that I did the old Fred Flintstone move, propelling it with myself, my left foot providing the power until I rolled it into the company’s parking lot.
Three in the morning.
I slept on the floor of my office, just willing myself to forget how bad a day could actually be.
And don’t say, “Why didn’t you use your cell phone and call for help?”
There were no cell phones and even if there had been, I wouldn’t have owned one. I was a poor writer, barely able to make rent payments.
Not unlike my current situation.
And that’s why, since the first of the year, I’ve been worried about having Benny -- that’s my car -- undergo an inspection.
He’s a 1991 model and, well, old.
“MAN,” I SAID to myself as my wife checked out Benny’s lights the night before his appointment, “what kind of country is this when my beat-up old car has to be inspected every year and I have no health insurance.”
There’s a disconnect in there somewhere.
The only way an emergency room would even take me in is if I were behind the wheel when something awful happened. If I fell off the roof, cleaning out gutters, I’d be on my own.
It’s OK if I’m uninsured, but if I drove my Civic without having thrown $300 at a company that shall remain nameless, I’m in real trouble.
There’s something wrong with those priorities.
My wife hates my car, anyway.
Wants me to give it away, donate it to some worthy cause.
I don’t think she fully realizes how attached I can become to old, worthless things.
All those records and books and movie posters and monster models and concert T-shirts and ticket stubs and lawn chairs and coolers ... I’ve hauled a lot of stuff from there to here, a Jacob Marley in the flesh. Link by link and all that.
She’s the polar opposite. Every week it seems that she donates a bag of books to some cause or another.
“What I want you to do,” she’ll say, “is just get rid of the ones you’ll never read again.”
“How do I know that? I mean, there might come a moment when I absolutely MUST have access to one of them -- say “Franny and Zooey” -- and if it’s gone, where does that leave me?”
The conversation usually devolves from there.
I’m not normal.
I understand that.
I have no idea why that wonderful woman puts up with me.
It was a miracle that she actually agreed to ride with me -- in Benny -- to the state inspection location, a place that held only bad memories for me.
A couple of years ago, they popped me for a problem with my lights and wipers.
Three hundred gone.
Last year, it was tires.
Six hundred bones.
So I was understandably on edge last Saturday afternoon.
“I’d rather be going in for a colonoscopy,” I said, backing out the driveway.
“Why,” my wife asked, trying to figure out her seat belt, “do you insist on driving this thing?”
SHE BOUGHT A brand-new car a couple of months ago, the seventh or eighth car she’s had since we met in 1987.
It’s got everything.
A real 21st century ride.
I think my car embarrasses her, actually.
But that’s her problem, not mine.
I’ve never cared much about new clothes or new cars or new anything.
I still ride a Schwinn Varsity I bought senior year in college, 1976.
I still listen to music that was made way before I was born in 1955.
I still read Shakespeare and believe “Hamlet” is the most monumental literary achievement of all time ... unless I’m in the mood for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” or “Ball four.”
So ... a car inspection gives me the willies.
So many moving parts, so many expenses possible, so much out of my control.
I decided to play it strong, to not let on how badly a major repair could damage everything.
“Your hands are shaking,” my wife said after Benny had been driven into the bay.
“I think I’m on the verge of a panic attack,” I said.
Which was true.
I can live with chronic tooth pain.
I can survive insomnia.
I can even manage to deal with new neighbors.
But put my 1991 Honda Civic in a garage, subjected to a stranger’s touch, and I know -- I simply KNOW -- that the worst is about to happen. It’s in my DNA. Some folks’ glass is half-full ... others see theirs as half-empty.
It’s shattered into a million pieces, having fallen off the bedside table when my mind was conjuring nightmares of tests for which I wasn’t prepared.
“He’s waving us over,” my wife said.
“The guy inspecting Benny,” she said.
So it cost me $14.60.
But my car’s good to go for another year.
You know how some parents used to put their children’s grade cards on display?
My wife put Benny’s clean bill of health on the refrigerator, attached by a 50-year-old kitchen magnet.
There you are.
Sometimes the best happens, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Published: May 28, 2012