A Love-Hate Wheelationship

 A Love-Hate Wheelationship

By Sean McVeigh

My car officially turned 20 years old this year. Next year, she can even have a drink! Now, of course, I haven’t had the pleasure of owning her that whole time (twenty years ago, I was not legally able to drive), but it has been a wonderful — and very interesting — better part of a decade. I am not a gearhead. Far from it, in fact. But after a few years in the driver’s seat, I start to fall in love with anything on four wheels — not in spite of her imperfections, but because of them.

The relationship you develop with your car is very similar to the relationship you develop with your partner. At times they can be charming, high-maintenance or a downright pain in the ass. On the outside, she is still beautiful. She’ll get a car call here and there from the construction site. But it’s on the inside where she shows her true self. I say old, but I know that 20 years is not by any means ancient for cars. Driving a car from 2004 compared to a car from the ‘80s or earlier is not even comparable. Not to mention, this car was pretty impressive back in its heyday. This ‘04 gem even has a touch screen in it. That was certainly not standard at the time. All that said, getting into a new car today is like boarding a spaceship compared to my jalopy.

Every ride is an adventure. And every adventure always begins with the same question: Will she start today? Once over that significant hurdle, the next step is to take inventory of my surroundings. What other surprises am I instore for today? Will the radio turn on? If I roll down the windows, will they roll back up? It rained last night; I wonder if there is a giant puddle in front of the passenger seat. Did that stretch of warm weather bring back the fruit flies? (Boy, I hope not.) It’s the automotive equivalent of a suspense thriller and I am the in-way-over-my-head detective.

Aside from the car starting and moving — the high standards that I hold my car to — the other issues I am faced with daily are more inconveniences than they are actual problems. All in all, I really do not mind them. Maybe I feel a bit exasperated on those early mornings in February when the heat isn’t working and every time I hear that loud rattle in the undercarriage, I pray nothing bottoms out, but those moments of doubt are few and far between. And I do my best to keep these experiences just for me. Anytime I am expecting company on my travels, I make sure to take the wife’s whip. And if we are going on an extended journey — outside the five boroughs, say — I know my horseless carriage will have to sit on the sidelines. When my wife is forced — and forced being the perfect word — to ride in my car, she always asks for the latest scouting report. “OK, what can I expect this time?” It’s important to be ready for anything but she will take any leg up she can get.

Just last week, however, the dreaded “check engine” light appeared on my dashboard. I was hopeful that an oil change would breathe new life into my girl and her slate would be wiped clean. I was wrong. After some relatively noninvasive diagnostic testing, it became clear that any more serious work would be juice unworthy of the squeeze. The decision was made that from here on out, the only real maintenance that I will be doing will be very top-level stuff. The goal is simply to keep the engine running. I know one day I will go to start her, and she will not turn on. It might be 1,000 more miles or it might be 100,000 more (HA!), only time will tell. Regardless, I am dreading that day … and hope I am not too far from home when it happens.

Would having a new car be easier? Sure! But there is just something about a beater that leaves you enamored, and I am head over wheels! Theodore Roosevelt was a big fan of a person’s “tolerance for the uncomfortable.” I’m pretty sure he had surviving in the African safari or exploring an unmapped South American river in mind, but I like to think that if I ever saw him hitchhiking on Rockaway Beach Blvd. and I pulled over to give him a lift, he would hop in, take a look around, give me a nudge on the arm and say, “Atta boy!” Proudly, I would respond, “Got a jump?”

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