Out of gas

Given a choice between the two, I would have gone with the model from the Mercedes Benz C Class lineup, with the V6 engine, leather seats and manual transmission – black with custom wheels, no less. But since money was tight, I went with option two: a 2001 Pontiac, with fabricated features like “rain deflecting rubber-edge blades” and “optional movement.” And a whole lot of problems on top.

That was four years ago. Since then, my car has sucked me dry, from repairs to tows to the occasional purchase of zip ties and duct tape just to keep it from falling apart. Money has been tight on several occasions because of it, putting me in positions where I had to choose between weekly groceries or a late bill payment – a decision ultimately determined by the color of the bill itself. Is it white or is it yellow? First notice or third? Did it come in the mail or was it tied to a brick and hurled through my living room window? When did the cable company make connections with the Italian Mafia, anyway?

My car is making my savings account bleed so much so that recently, my wife and I decided it’s time to finally give up the Pontiac (nicknamed the Rolling Turd, for obvious reasons). It's not so much my intent to upgrade as it is to make a secure investment in something more reliable, fuel efficient, and less likely to need extra sweet talk and encouragement to get where I want to go.

Lately, we've spent much of our free time online, searching through the seemingly endless options of vehicles from Autotrader.com and Craigslist. We've even hit up a few local car lots in person, though it's not something we ever look forward to (I personally still have a very stereotypical and very unfounded view of used car salesmen as crooked liars, all dressed in stained Dockers and a plaid tweed jacket. Not to mention, I never know how to respond when they ask what kind of car I’m looking for, exactly. I just know it has to have that optional movement feature).

That brings us to our next dilemma: liberating our checkbook of the burden that is the Rolling Turd. Our first objective is to sell it (“Plan A,” if you will). But I would be lying if I said we haven't considered “Plan B,” in which I park the Rolling Turd in a highly precarious part of a more urban area in hopes of it being jacked. I'll even make it more inviting by leaving the keys in the ignition, the door slightly ajar, and candy along the dashboard – complete with a sign in the window that says, “Will be back in 15 minutes. Do not steal”

All this car searching has me wondering why American culture is so infatuated by the automobile. I wonder why it is that while some countries struggle to meet essential human demands, like food supply or clean water, the Land of the Free observes cars as a symbol of socioeconomic status. Whereas the American Dream once consisted of a couple horses and piece of property, our modern-day standards are a little higher. The American Dream isn't just about ownership anymore. It's about ownership of the very best; keeping up with the Joneses. It's about flaunting income and power, and it’s about greed and envy.

So what kind of car am I really looking for? Unless someone has a Mercedes to give away, all I want is a car that gets from point A to point B without a good push. That's not too much to ask. Frankly, if I had my way, I would take back my first car, an ugly 1995 Subaru Impreza, complete with a whopping 110 horsepower, malfunctioning tail light and a front fender made almost entirely from Bondo.

So my Subaru wasn’t exactly a symbol of power and wealth, but at least in its 250,000 mile lifespan, I never had it towed. Everything comes with a trade-off.

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... @evesunshawn

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