Happy motoring

Can I borrow your Batmobile? Can I borrow your Batmobile?

My trusty Honda has gone paws up. It had served me loyally for a dozen years and 150,000 miles, and although it was not flashy — we’re talking Honda Accord here — it was dependable, and vigorous, and those who knew it well could appreciate the extra cylinders lurking in the engine. True, most of my driving required roughly 2 cylinders or even 1, but this one had 6, which came in handy when I had to run bootleg whiskey or, on a dare, drive to South America.

For a long time I firmly believed that whenever the Honda had mechanical troubles I could deal with the situation by letting the car rest. Machines can heal. So many people fail to grasp this simple truth. When a machine has a mechanical breakdown you often need to let it sit there for a week or 10 days and catch its breath. Sometimes a machine needs to do a little penance, too. As the owner of the machine you have to know when to stroke it, soothe it, reassure it, and when to send it into the corner to ponder why it’s in such big trouble.

About a month ago, the Honda started making disturbing noises. This was definitely a cry for help. My solution was to keep driving, to work through the pain. You can’t call it quits just because of some aches and pains. But then the car noises got worse, and warning lights flashed on the dashboard, and the car clearly was losing its will to live. I let it spend two weeks at the end of the block in a state of reflection. Finally it made the epochal trip to the garage via tow-truck. The mechanic took a look, and then said various things to me about what was wrong, to which I responded, “Uh-huh….Uh-huh,” and he named a large dollar figure, to which I responded, “Okay,” and I saved everyone a tremendous amount of time by not asking follow-up questions as if I knew, or potentially might know, what on Earth the mechanic was talking about. The problem involves the alternator. That I understand.

During this recent period in which the Honda has been on injured reserve, I’ve borrowed the cars of friends. Indeed, I have been trusted with multiple sets of car keys. That my friends have such faith in me, that they’d share their steeds with me in a crisis, warms my heart and makes me appreciate how blessed I am to live in a nurturing community. What I like most about borrowing a car is that I can finally drive fast. With all the speed cameras in town you can’t drive over 30 mph in most of the city, but in a borrowed car, particularly one with good pickup, you can see what the cityscape looks like when it’s flying by at tremendous velocity. I’m tired of puttering around as if I’m in a golf cart! When I head down the boulevard I want other drivers to say: “There goes a motorist.”

My plan is to get the Honda fixed up just enough to enable me to unload it somehow, and then I’ll buy a new one. Apparently this is a much more complicated process than it used to be, just as it’s more complicated now to buy Cheerios, since there are so many flavors. I kind of miss the days when car-buying was a transaction between two people, usually men, each trying to outfox the other, with the car itself a kind of prop. Now, though, you can go online and custom-order your car, have it built to your specifications, and of course there are dozens or hundreds of specificiations, and you can basically pre-set the radio dial from your computer before the car is even built. I guess that’s progress, but if i do it that way, how will I know that I’ve outfoxed the salesman? What’s the metric of victory?

I have to confess, I’m really not looking forward to this whole process. And in the meantime, I’ve got all these other cars I can drive. I’ve got keys. And am eager to do some serious motoring.



Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."



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Joel Achenbach · February 14, 2013

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