She was not the sort of person they wrote about in those long, didactic laments about "The American Love Affair With the Automobile."

She's never had a love affair with a car. To tell the truth, she's never even had a love affair in a car, but then, she had such a retarded youth. She simply didn't understand people who spent their evenings sensuously Simonizing each other's fenders and pouring over the pictures in the Joy of Bampers.

It was all a touch too kinky. Cars were too demanding - Plates! Excise Tax! Insurance! Gas! Oil! Wow! - and the only thing they offered in return was carbon monoxide. Anyone who would fall in love with a car was probably on the receiving end of boots and whips every Saturday night.

Not her. She wouldn't wax ecstatic about a piece of metal and glass. She wouldn't wax it at all. She prided herself on having a sensible "working relationship" with each of the three cars that had been in her life. To each she was serially monogamous. To each her expectations were identical and, really, rather reasonable.

I mean, she wasn't looking for thrills. She wanted stability, dependability. She wanted a car to 1) start, 2) go, 3) stop. And to use a minimum of gas in the process.

Of course, she was willing to make some adjustments on her part. Every relationship is a two-way street. She offered a bit of therapy, a touch of body work, a change of oil, a muffler on demand. She did her bit to keep the thing viable, to keep it on the right road, if you know what I mean.

And that was enough for her. A love affair, after all, was likely to end with a crash. A working relationship would simply deteriorate. She preferred the kind of ending that was predictable, rather than cataclysmic.

The demise of this one, for example, had been preceded by a number of minor-to-major breakdowns. Slowly, part by part, it had ground into uselessness. The old spark was gone, not to mention the spark plugs. It had become addicted to new points. It mainlined oil. It had become not a gas guzzler, but a maintenance junkie. It was no longer worth the energy.

The crisis occurred when she realized that she had lost all hope. She didn't trust it anymore. But there's one thing that's nice about a working relationship. When it stops working, it's over.

It took her no more than an hour to move out. She was the sort who nested, even in an old red station wagon that had a tendency toward palsy. In this nest, she found some nostalgic twigs: a window scraper broken in the historic May snowstorm of '77; a press pass from the 1972 Democratic National Convention; a green glove belonging to a mystery guest; a spoon; a pair of sneakers, she carried everywhere (you never know when you'll need them); 67 cents; a broken jack; assorted sand and dust samples from a dozen states on the Eastern seaboard.

She packed what she could and left without a moment's regret. There was no affection to transfer, just a license plate.

What she bought was a check-rated, consumer-reported working relationship. The usual. But this time, there was something different. It was tanned, snub-nosed, right off the boat, four on the floor, 37 to the gallon, eager. It had more hope than history. It even seemed kind of nice. Sort of, well, cute.

She found herself saying things like. "It drives like a dream!" She bought it a waste basket. She decided she would never profane it with a bumper sticker.

The truth was that she had her first crush, and at her age she should have known better. It was bliss for 25 hours and 14 miles. Then, as she drove it through the office parking lot, a white taxi cab without a touch of class, a battered relic of a workaday relationship - the sort that ends in silence across the dinner table - shattered her idyll. Along with her door, her axle and her frame.

As she watched it being towed away, she tried to remember. Wasn't it. Hemingway who said that no genuine love affair has a happy ending?