Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life is a Highway....

Yesterday at around 2:30pm I was driving westbound along Highway 401 - radio blaring and my 2 kids in the back seat (possible reason for radio blaring could have been to drown out the sounds of the 2 kids FIGHTING in the backseat, but I'm not sure) I was in the left lane, doing a respectable 110km/hr . Suddenly, I felt like the car was losing power. I couldn't maintain my speed any longer. I quickly decided to pull to the right lane to make sure everything was ok. Sure enough, my speed kept decreasing no matter how hard I jammed on the accelerator. I immediately pulled the car onto the shoulder and that's when I smelled the burning.

I am pretty certain my heart stopped at that moment. First thought: Get the kids as far away from the car and the speeding 401 traffic as possible. Second thought: Rescue my purse, my Nikon and my Blackberry from the front seat (stupid, perhaps, but let's be serious. I wasn't going to let my 2 other "babies" burn if the car was, in fact, on fire). Third thought: Now what?

While I was pulling kids and electronic gadgets from my 15 year old relic, a kind stranger had already pulled off the road and called for help. Thankfully, the car was not on fire, even though the smoke billowing out from under the hood would have you believe otherwise. To make a long story short, the mechanic called this morning with the sad, $2600+ news. My car had finally given up the ghost.

Last night, after the excitement had died down, Marc and I were talking about the "Ghosts of Cars Past". It got me thinking about how cars really are more than just a way to get from Point A to Point B. A car can represent your first taste of true freedom, your first brush with responsibility (and, usually, debt), they can be a status symbol or a reflection of your personality.

To date, I have owned seven different cars. I bought my first car at the ripe old age of 16. The ink was barely dry on my newly printed drivers licence. I purchased a 1984 Silver Chevrolet Chevette for the bargain price of $500 using some of the money I had earned working in a real estate office for the past 3 1/2 years. As you can imagine, I was on top of the world. I no longer had to rely on my parents to get me where I needed to go - freedom at last!

I was one of the first of my friends to have their very own wheels, and, boy, did those wheels get a workout. That poor little car never stopped. One day, one of my friends called the car "The Silver Bullet", and the nickname stuck. The car didn't have air conditioning, power steering or power brakes, but I loved it. For 15 bucks you could fill the tank and drive for 2 weeks. On any given day, the Silver Bullet could have as many as 8 passengers - in spite of the fact that the car only had 4 seat belts. (Luckily a few of my friends were small, and not at all opposed to riding in the hatchback). The Silver Bullet was witness to several first kisses and a few painful breakups. A few of my friends even learned how to drive (and passed their road tests) in that car. Best of all, the Bullet never left me stranded on the side of the road. In the time that I owned it, I never spent a penny on it, other than gas and oil changes. When the Silver Bullet finally gave up its ghost (after at least 250,000 Kms), the junk yard actually gave me $250 for it. It was, without a doubt, the best $500 I have ever spent.

My next car had big shoes to fill. The Silver Bullet was a hard act to follow. I bought a cherry red Dodge Colt for exactly 5 times what I paid for my Chevette. The car was a 5-speed manual transmission. My boyfriend at the time had taught me how to drive a stick (exactly once) on his honda civic, so of course I figured I was qualified to purchase a standard car. I was a second year student at U of T. I survived first year calculus - I could conquer this car!!!! I stalled the car at least 10 times on the way home, but I evenutally got the hang of it. It was a fun little car to zip around in, but it never pulled at my heart the way my first car did. I did, however, eventually give it a nickname - Little Red.

Little Red was a money pit - there always seemed to be something going wrong with it. Within months of buying it, I had to replace the clutch. At one point, Red's starter went. One of my friends told me that all I needed to do was have someone give the car a push while I sat inside and popped the clutch - and PRESTO, no starter needed. This was great fun and saved me a bundle in repair bills, but was a real bitch when I went somewhere by myself. I had my first accident in this car - my fault. I was driving Eastbound on the Lakeshore admiring a white Lamborghini heading West when I suddenly found myself parked underneath a Nissan Pathfinder. That was the end of Little Red. I can't say I was sorry to see her go.

Several other cars have followed. My blue Eagle Vision was the car I bought after I sold my first few houses as a brand new Realtor. My fondest memory of this car involves a camping trip at Kilbear with 3 of my guy friends from university - the car packed so full of gear that I couldn't see anyone in the backseat.

Next came a Chrysler Cirrus, which was the most incredible shade of purple. This car took me on my first date with Marc, brought Makenna safely home from the hospital, and fought a stop-sign-running mini van, emerging with barely a scratch.

After I (sadly) returned my leased Cirrus, I ended up with a 2001 Silver Chevy Cavalier. This car was a lemon from the get go. I'm hard pressed to even think of a good memory with this one - most of the memories involve me stranded on the side of the highway (always a highway, never a quiet side street) making a panicked phone call to Roadside Assisstance. It was cute, and the 5-speed manual transmission made it fun to drive, but I couldn't wait to get rid of it. In fact, I had already signed all the paperwork to lease a new Chevy Venture Van, when I parked the car under yet another SUV. (This time I blame a snow storm instead of a flashy white lamborghini) A $7,500 insurance claim seemed to be a fitting farewell to this lemon of a car.

The Venture van had a pretty unremarkable 4 year term as my mode of transportation. The girls were quite young, and most trips in the van involved watching the same movie over and over (and over) on the very handy entertainment system. Two that stick out in my memory are The Pacifier-starring Vin Diesel (sadly I couldn't see him, only listen as I drove) and Scooby Doo. There were no accidents, no highway breakdowns - just endless trips to brownie meetings, dance recitals, preschool classes and T-ball games. The quintessential "Mom Mobile", my mini van did its job of carrying my family safely wherever it needed to go.

In 2009, my four year lease was once again drawing to a close. I started shopping around for new cars. I really wasn't sure what I wanted and I wasn't keen on signing up for another 4 years of car payments. It would be really nice just to have a break! My dad had retired at the beginning of the year. He and my mom had decided that they didn't really have a need to have 2 cars on the road any longer, so his 1996 Grand Am was sitting in his driveway, undriven. He offered it to me and I jumped at the chance - happy to have a car that was paid for, even if it wasn't as pretty as some of the cars I had in the past. (Aren't I a little too old for my daddy to be giving me a car?) This car had its quirks (drivers window didn't open, glove box didn't close and the gear shift often popped off in my hand when I was trying to shift into park) but I quickly grew attached to this little junker (and the extra $500 in my bank account every month. Hellooooo, SHOPPING MONEY!!!!)

I took this little baby on my first big-girl, man-free road trips - first to Montreal, then to Buffalo (to spend the aforementioned shopping money) and, most recently, my first hubby-less camping trip with the kids. What it lacked in looks, it made up for with heart. The Pop-mobile ran like a champion until its untimely demise on the 401 yesterday. Now, you would think I would be happy to have an excuse to run out and buy a new car. You know me...I love spending money! Yet today, as I signed up for another 4 years of car payments, I was sad. Why am I so sad to see this car go? (In fact, as I was writing this blog I only got emotional about two of my former rides - the original Silver Bullet, and the Pop-mobile). Maybe it is because the car belonged to my father. With him so far away now, maybe I am more emotionally attached to this old car than I ever thought possible just simply because it was his. I'm not sure. In any case, that car lived a good life. RIP Pop-mobile!

As of Monday morning I will be the proud new owner of a 2010 Kia Forte in Titanium silver. A sporty little sedan that is good on gas and light on the wallet. I've never really been one to care about the kind of car that I drove (although some of the preceeding paragraphs might have you believing otherwise). I have always thought of a car simply as a mode of transportation. Period. The time I have spent writing this blog have made me realize that is not necessarily true. A car takes you on vacations and brings you to work. It watches your first date kiss you good night and takes you home to visit your family at Christmas. It brings your babies home from the hospital and is ready with kleenex in the glove box after you drop your "baby" at University. A car becomes a part of your life adventure, whether you realize it at the time or not.

Drive slowly...and enjoy the ride.

J :)