Saturday, March 8, 2014

Car Shopping

Cars, it's like our lives are so entwined with them they tell our story. My son recently got his license. Today we did that thing where we went and looked at cars together, kicked the tires, examined the dings, got down low and looked for rust, listened to the clack of loose valves, stepped on the gas on the highway to see if the cylinders all fired unfailingly. The first car we looked at looked good and seemed to handle okay, but once we got it off the highway the automatic transmission started slipping and sending the rpms close to the red line before shifting. Not a good sign. We finally settled on a VW Jetta that was a solid performer with just 80,000 miles at a price we could afford. I asked him if he wanted to look at others and he said no, he wanted the VW and he had a look of certainty that I've only seen in his face a few times. Once was the day he was born. So I knew we'd made a good choice.  Then on the drive home we saw a Tesla, one of those new electric cars, on the highway. We had a talk about how much more efficient electric cars are, all the torque is immediately available; the power thrust is much more linear and smooth, no gears at all.  It's the future. Not like the way we get up to speed today, all choppy and noisy with engines that take a liquid, burn it into a gas, contain all the pressure, expel the waste products and somewhere along the line convert the energy available into motion mediated through a series of gears. It's messy. but kind of human, and if you're lucky you get one with some soul, an extension of your own roving, noble spirit or broken down hulk of a wreck.

It was nice to share the time with my son, still in the age of internal combustion, and think about the launching of his life into a destiny unknown but full of potential and possible perils. I told him about my first car, also a VW, a Beetle, which I rode down to Mexico and Guatemala, then up to Seattle, and finally back to New York City where it was sacrificed to the criminal element of Astoria and stripped to a carapace. I hope and pray that this new car of my son's carries him far and safe too, and I know he'll be smarter than me about a lot of things, like leaving a car underneath a bridge in Queens. But maybe he won't, and maybe he'll make other mistakes. But that's life, messy and kind of human.
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