Sunday, January 11, 2009

Love and Value: A Eulogy

I know that it's wrong to speak ill of the dead, but I think the time has come for me to say how I really felt about Helter-Skelter, aka Trouble, aka my Jeep, aka the Worst Financial Decision I Ever Made.

I liked Helter, I did. And unlike Titan, who I can actually get mad at, I couldn't really get mad at Helter. It certainly wasn't her fault that she was so expensive. I chose to pay that high price, and I chose not to negotiate because I wanted that specific car, and the car salesmen knew it and they bled me dry.

Readers, I paid something like 33,000 dollars for that car. And I had 7.5% financing.

It's an outrageous price, an outrageous rate, and my monthly payments were equally outrageous. Add in the fact that I was driving a brand-new car and I had a terrible driving record, and you can imagine that my insurance premiums were pretty outrageous, too.

It all seemed worth it at the time, mainly because I had no idea what money was, how much it was worth, how long it took to earn enough money to pay for that car. Six years seemed like eternity to me, so why care? Why try to push for five years? Why try to lower the price? $564.90 a month seemed fine. I had no concept of reality, of what you COULD get for 565 dollars, how to measure value. I had never seen a car payment before and I had no idea what my parents paid a month, either for car payments or insurance. I had no idea what a good deal was. And even if I had known, it wouldn't have really helped. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I had money, what seemed like a LOT of money, and I was very ready to spend it.

And so Helter and I began our relationship, and in her defense, she tried her best to live up to her hype. She never caused me a moment of trouble--not likely in four years on a new car, but still it's worth mentioning--and she got me into and out of many a tight spot. She never rolled off that cliff or refused to start. Her radio, although nothing special, worked every day and accepted my iPod connections later. She never rolled over on me, in spite of my best efforts, and although she would never win a drag race, she gave it her all when I pressed down on that gas pedal.

After four years of crashing her through underbrush, backing her into telephone poles, rear-ending minivans, spinning her out on the freeway, crawling rocks, and turning left in front of speeding motorcycles, she slipped on a patch of black ice and gave up the ghost. Poor Helter. I never gave her a chance, really. By the time I realized how much I had paid for her, working to get the most value from her frame seemed impossible. I would never get out what I had put in, and so from the start, I never valued her. I never babied her, not once. I never loved her. I liked her, but it wasn't love. I treated her like a junk car that I had paid a pittance for, and by the end of her time, she looked like it. I couldn't use the rear wiper anymore because when I backed into a telephone pole, the back gate had bent so far in that the spare tire no longer gave the rear wiper enough clearance. She was black, and I never washed her. The interior was also black, and I never bothered to pick up the Titan hair, so the exterior and the interior were basically gray. I melted wax on a seat and stained the dashboard, and of course I drenched her in coffee. Her sides were scratched up, and she was beginning to develop rust spots on her hood from bird doings that I never cleaned off.

Maybe she committed suicide on that ice patch out of depression because she knew I didn't love her. I'll never know.

Now I have a new car. She's only a year younger than the girls I tutor, all of whom are now seniors in high school. When she rolled off the factory floor, the first Bush was still president. She already has 174,000 miles on her. Her hood is losing its paint, showing the primer underneath, and her interior lights are gone and there is actual mold on the console. I paid $800 for her, and put an additional $550 in her right away, in the form of all new fluids and an oil change. And I can tell already I will value her more than I ever valued Helter.

She doesn't have a name yet, but that doesn't matter. She needs babying and I am here to give it to her. She drives great and handles great and her four wheel drive works great, and everything else, I can fix. She doesn't have a radio, she doesn't even have cup holders, and I don't care. She's mine. Not shared with the bank and my dad: she's MINE. I paid for her, and I worked for every dollar that I used to buy her, and she's mine. I'm in this relationship for good. If it's under a year, so be it. If it's five years, I'll be there at the end.

Of course, I'll be a little more comfortable in her once I clean out her mold.

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