Beanery Online Literary Magazine

November 15, 2007

CARMA by geoffrey m. miller

Filed under: WR/V GEOFFREY — beanerywriters @ 3:34 am
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—by geoffrey m. miller
© 1997 Miller Creative Services. All rights reserved

“How much would it be without the hubcaps and body moldings?” I asked my formerly friendly automobile salesman. His eyes got wide. He slumped over. His forehead hit the desk with a thud.
“Look… It wouldn’t matter.” he sighed without looking up. “We’ve already eliminated every option. Moldings aren’t optional. Neither are hubcaps… or wheels… or the transmission. This is as cheap as it gets, Mr. Miller. Take it or leave it.”
I have never owned a car that had less than 100,000 miles on it. In my experience, hubcaps and moldings WERE optional. It was a fair question.
So was the one about the vacation home. He had been showing me around the lot. After inspecting rows of vehicles that I couldn’t possibly afford, we came to a tiny little stripped-down shoebox of a car and I asked how much it was. He said “Eighteen thousand dollars,” and I asked if that included a nice piece of property and a summer home by the lake. It didn’t. But it did include these lovely non-optional hubcaps.
Back at the desk, we calculated that my meager income, poor credit rating and lack of a down payment would not necessarily prevent me from buying this car—provided I was willing to fill my credit application with bald-faced lies. Before he collapsed, the sales guy pushed the paperwork to my side of the desk. I took the pen and hovered it over the “X”.
“This doesn’t feel right,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t the money, either. Driving a reliable, brand new, fully-warranted little box just wasn’t my style. This car would pass inspection without the interesting challenge of creative duct taping. This car would start without my having to put a clothespin in the carburetor. This car simply lacked the charm and character I had come to expect from a motor vehicle.
Most people would disagree, but I believe that an automobile—left to its own devices and allowed to age for a dozen years—can fill our lives with fascinating and unexpected experiences, something a car just can’t do when it’s new.
In a new car, driving to Aunt Clara’s in Columbus would be a prescription for boredom. In my ’78 AMC Hornet, it was a character building experience rivaling that of Marine Corps basic training. The car, 12 years old when I owned it, had an exhaust pipe made entirely of coat hangers. It helped me to learn advanced driving techniques like “Embankment Braking.” Taking this car more than walking distance away from home was like taking a Conestoga wagon into Injun Territory. Driving required courage and daring… qualities I would not now possess if it weren’t for the Hornet.
The first car I ever owned was responsible for giving me my fifteen minutes of fame. It was a 1972 Honda “600-Coupe”; a precursor of the Civic and one of the smallest vehicles ever made.
My drunken fraternity buddies and I used to pick it up and carry it places no car had ever gone before: the Women’s room in the Student Union and the Deans porch-roof, for instance.
Before long, my little car had developed such a notorious reputation that we made it part of our float in the Homecoming Parade: a replica of the school’s bell tower, with the Honda stuck inside. We took second place.
My favorite car of all time was also the most decrepit—a 1974 Ford Torino I owned in the mid-eighties. The engine sounded like a Conga band. Its biggest source of motive power was gravity.
This particular shortcoming forced me to learn another advanced driving technique, which in turn led me to one of the most wonderful people I have ever known.
The technique was the “High Momentum Hill Climb.” If velocity at the bottom of the hill exceeds 85mph the vehicle MAY have enough momentum to reach the top. The policeman who issued the speeding ticket had never heard of the “High Momentum Hill Climb.” The Magistrate said I could pay my fine in installments.
The paperwork was being handled by the previously mentioned wonderful person. Her name was Marianne and it took me three visits to work up the nerve to ask her out.
That was January. Early that summer a rainstorm chased us from our favorite State Park and followed us home. As we turned onto her street, the water that had leaked through my non-existent wheel-wells came rushing from the trunk into the passenger compartment and splashed against our feet.
I can still hear her laughing. She didn’t care about her wet shoes or about the condition of my car. She was happy just to be there with me.
I have not seen her for many years and probably never will. If I could go back though, I’d get out of that car, open her door, and propose to her right there in the middle of the street, in the middle of a rainstorm.
It was a sad, rich, wonderful experience that I would not have had, had I been driving a car like the little box I was about to buy. I held the pen. The salesman held his breath. I looked out the window.
“What are you asking for that one?” I asked.
“Which?” asked the poor man.
“Used car lot,” I said, directing his gaze. “Last row. The one with duct tape on the tail light.”


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