"So," I said, as soon as the Amazon Queen answered the phone, "you wanna go out for breakfast?"
"I dunno," she said.
"Not that hungry right now," she said. "Any idea where you'd go?"
"Yeah," I said, "The Swiss Kitchen."
Ah yes, the Swiss Kitchen. It's such a wonderful breakfast nook. It was a sure-fire inducement. She immediately agreed to go.
"OK," I said. "I'll pick you up in five."
"No, you won't," she said.
"Nope," she said. "There's no way I'm riding to Tupper in your car."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because it's not safe."
"Not safe? " I said. "The body on that car is rock solid."
"Agreed," she said. "But everything else on it is about a half-step ahead of the junkman if not the Grim Reaper."
"Why why uh "I sputtered. "That's libel, or slander, or defamation of something."
"Oh yeah, Mr. Lawyer Boy?" she said. "Well, it's also true."
And it was.
The car, a 1998 Volvo with a couple hundred-thousand miles spent almost its entire life in Texas, so the body was great. But as Arnold Schwarzenegger proved, a great body is no sign that anything else is worth a tiddly-doo. And my Volvo's might not've been worth half a tiddly-doo. Maybe not even half a tiddly or half a doo.
1. A suspension that suspended nothing but its duties: Hitting a bump, even a small one, rattled the entire front end, as well as my nerves.
2. The interior rearview mirror had broken off the swivel. The passenger's side mirror gave me either a fine view of the shoulder or a fine view of the passenger. The driver's side did work, pretty much.
3. The engine made a high-pitched "Mreee, Mreee, Mree" whine that sounded more like a table saw than a car of any kind.
4.The steering was a wee bit spongy.
5. Whenever I turned to the left at any speed above 10 mph, the right front tire squealed.
6. The sun roof leaked.
7. Only one of the electric windows worked, and of course it was not the driver's.
8. Something metal fixture hung down under the back of the car, next to the muffler, and with every extended turn it swung back and forth clanking off whatever it hit back there.
That list is far from complete.
On a good note, the CD player worked unless I hit a bump.
So why, you might ask, didn't I get these things repaired? One reason and one reason only -?money. Replacing a Volvo part is only slightly less expensive than replacing a hip.
So what to do?
I had only one choice: To admit defeat, bite the bullet, and get another car.
After four decades of driving 20-year-old cars, I decided my next one was going to be brand newat least for me (which meant around five years old).
The oddest odyssey
I knew nothing about new cars, but I knew who does -?friend Judy Girard. She's been selling cars for 30 years, and I knew she'd find me a good one, and she did. She sent me all the paperwork, which I filled out and returned. Then I only had to pick it up. Just before I left to do that, I ran into Brother Ron Burdick.
He asked me what was new and I told him about getting my new car.
"When?" he asked.
"Tomorrow," I said.
"Cool," he said. "Who you buying it from?"
"No one around here," I said.
"Oh?" he said. "So from where?"
"Portland," I said. Then I added, clearly gratuitously, "Maine."
Then Brother Ron, a man of no hidden agendas, uttered the unutterable.
"Do ya think it'll make it?"
"Doesn't have to," I said.
"No," I said. "All it has to do is get within a hundred miles. Then AAA can take over."
The next morning, bright and early, I fired up The Wreck of the Hesperus and headed for all points northeast.
The ride to Plattsburgh was uneventful and I reached the Cumberland Head ferry in both fine time and fettle. But when the ferry got to the Vermont side, the car laid its first bad ju-ju on me: I couldn't shift out of Park. It'd done that a few times in the past and an artful jiggle of the shift lever had immediately resolved the problem.
I jiggled the lever -?artfully. Nothing.
I rejiggled. Again nothing.
I turned the car off, then on. still nothing.
As the other cars drove off the ferry, I broke into a hot sweat. My heart tried to pound its way out of my chest.
Finally, desperate, I recalled something I heard the Model T drivers did when their cars wouldn't cooperate. I leaned over and spit on the shift lever base. Then I tried to put it into Drive. It worked perfectly.
After that, it was smooth sailing till White River Junction, when I realized my front tires were making a really weird motion. They weren't wobbling. They weren't wiggling. I guess maybe they were wibbling or perhaps woggling. The motion didn't go away, but it didn't get worse, either. I considered that a good thing and soldiered on.
An hour later, the check engine light came on. But since it had always done that from time to time, I ignored it.
Everything stayed status quo till just inside the Maine border. Then, with a little over an hour to go, the engine noise, that "Mree," "Mree," "Mree," changed to a "Mreee-ka-thwump," "Mreee-ka-thwump." Each time it did, the tachometer needle dropped. So did my heart.
I had no idea what was happening and I knew only one way to "correct" it. I slammed in a James Brown CD and cranked it as loud as it'd go.
The rest of the ride went just fine: I couldn't hear the engine over Soul Brother Number One, and I didn't look at the tachometer.
After I drove the car into the dealership I took a deep breath, exhaled a mega-sigh of relief, and mumbled a half-baked prayer of thanks. I was home free. I signed some papers and as felt I'd just made the Trade of the Century: I had my new car and did not have my old one.
The new car was a beaut - a sleek black Honda Accord with low mileage and all working parts. Even its rearview mirrors worked perfectly. For the first time in years I had now three perfect views of what was behind me. But in spite of that, when I drove out of the lot, I never looked back once.