Friday, January 20, 2006


It's unhealthy, the love I have for my car. I have sworn to myself, my wife, and this car that I will drive it until it absolutely, completely dies. My beloved Outback, a.k.a. the Big Gay Subaru, is almost eleven years old and still has its original clutch. It got its first new battery a year ago--not because the original went dead, mind you, but because it occurred to me one day that the battery was ten years old and it was probably time to get it replaced, if only on general principle. The dudes at Sears tested the charge before replacing it and asked me why I was having a perfectly fine battery replaced. "Because it's ten years old," I said. I had to say this a few more times before they finally believed me.

This car has a lot of rules to it. We turn off the lights, air, windshield wipers, and radio before turning the motor off, a practice which likely contributed to the longevity of the original battery. We do not put our feet up on the glove compartment, nor do we get into or out of the car if the emergency brake is not on (and, preferably, the motor is off). We do not leave things in this car that are not an ice scraper, the Club, the first-aid kit, or the Tupperware container for traction material. We do not eat messy things in this car. We do not consume any liquids in it that do not come in cups with lids, bottles with caps, or aluminum cans.

How much do I love my car? So much that I even had the airbags inspected last spring, "ten years after the manufacture date of the car" as suggested (in English and French) by the sticker on the sun visor.

When I got custody of this car, my dad showed me how to check and add fluids, how to take the hood cover (a.k.a. the Nose Bra) off and put it back on securely, how to check the tire pressure, how to use the tire pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and how to change a tire. I've never had to change a tire, but he had me practice lifting the jack, taking the regular tire off, putting the spare on, taking the spare off, putting the regular one back on, and lowering the jack enough times that I feel pretty damn prepared.

So yesterday I decided it was time to replace the front wiper blades. The rear blade was just fine, but the front blades were crappy to the point where it was easier to see in the rain if they weren't on. Off I went to the auto parts store. The last time I did this, across the country, there was a book in the wiper blade section where you look up your car and find the blades yourself, but at this store, there was no book; and the dude had to look it up in the Employees Only Computer. Armed with my "exact fit" blades, I went back out to the parking lot, only to discover that taking off the old blades is still a lot harder than putting on the new ones.

There I was, in my linen dress and embroidered blazer, jiggling the old blades around to release the catch, in full view of a 4-lane city street. I got the driver's side blade off and replaced all right, but the passenger's side one was harder. This middle-aged guy pulled up in a big shiny SUV, perhaps to return his movies at the Blockbuster next to the Car Quest. Then all of a sudden he was right next to me, asking if I needed any help.

"No," I said, "I'm just replacing my wiper blades, and the learning curve's pretty steep. I did the driver's side already--" and then, as if on cue, the catch released. "Well, thanks for the supervision!" I said cheerfully, and the guy walked away.

I'm not sure what it is about the combination of me and the Big Gay Subaru that is such an effective Middle-Aged Guy Magnet. About a year ago, when I was still living in Cleveland, I took advantage of a sunny winter day to get my car washed. (Those backwards Ohioans salt their roads, then wonder why their cars rust through.) I was already at the shopping center where the car wash was, so I thought, what the heck? Time to wash the car and return it to its rightful dark blue state. So I propped up the hood and set about removing the Nose Bra.

This middle-aged guy rolled down his window and said, much like a Yellow Pages ad, "Car problems? Need help?"

"Nope," I said. "Just taking off the nose bra so I can get my car washed."

"Need any help with that, then?" he offered.

"Um, no, but thanks," I said.

He shrugged and drove off.

Later, as I was putting the Nose Bra back on my sparkling blue car, another middle-aged guy rolled down his window. "What's wrong with your car?" he said.

"Nothing," I said. "I've just had it washed, and now I'm putting the nose bra back on."

"Need help?" he offered.

"Nope," I said, removing the hood prop and expertly dropping the hood gently into place.

If ever I were to wake up one morning and say to myself, "You know, self, what we are missing here is a Middle-Aged Guy" (note to my wife: this is never going to happen), all I'd have to do is drive to a random shopping center, prop up the hood of my car, and start memorizing the multilingual warnings on the battery. I'm good at memorizing things, but I doubt I'd get very far on it before my wish became reality.

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