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The Truth, Mainly - 02/13/2006

High-tech cars in Geezerdom

OK, I canít keep it a secret any longer. Iíve got a confession to make.

Here it is: For the first time in my 72 years of existence on this planet, I BOUGHT A BRAND NEW CAR!

There. I said it. Iíll say it again less loudly: I bought a brand new car.

Donít get me wrong. Iím not proud that I bought a brand new car. But itís an unlikely truth: I now have a car that nobody else has owned, a car that nobodyís dog or baby has relieved itself on the seat of, that nobodyís re-painted to cover up the rust spots, that nobody has backed into a telephone pole or into a homemade grease pit in their garage. A car that has never run out of gas and then coasted 237 yards right up to a service station gas pump.

In short, a car with no history, no stories to tell.

Iíve bought lots of cars, but Iíve never bought a brand new one.

Brand new cars, Iíve always thought, were for people who hadnít done the math. Iíd done the math, and I knew you could buy fifteen or twenty used cars for what youíd have to pay for a brand new one.

Sticker prices in new car dealersí showrooms made me initially dizzy and ultimately nauseous. But I would look at them anyway so I could tell my family how many used cars we could buy for what one new one cost.

And it wasnít just empty talk. To show my wife and teach my kids just what I meant, I once owned seven used cars that I parked in our back yard. And for all seven of them together I paid less than a third the price of a brand new one.

Sometimes some of the seven even ran.

My kids, their sense of economy not yet developed, were dismayed by a backyard with seven used cars in it. Rather than have their friends over, theyíd go to their friendsí houses and admire their friendsí parentsí new cars.

My wife was on the kidsí side. She said she might drive back to her parents if any of the seven cars could be depended on to start. Consequently, all three of our kids grew up to become serial owners of brand spanking new cars. For years, my wife and I were the only family members with cars more than three years old.

But several years ago as I was entering my dotage (my wifeís word), I cut back to two cars: a 1990 sedan with 160,000 miles on the odometer, and a 1984 station wagon with 202,000 miles on it. Still have them. I go out and talk to them sometimes when nobodyís around.

And now, in addition to my two old friends, weíve got a brand new 2006 model. I go out occasionally to talk to it, but it doesnít seem to give much of a damn about what I say.

The Truth, Mainly


Itís a much more complicated car than Iím used to. Itís a half breed or a cross breed or a hybrid or whatever they call them. Itís one of those jobs which—if you ever learn how to drive itóis supposed to give you 50 miles per gallon. (Which calls forth a tearful memory of a Volkswagen diesel we once had that got 50 miles to the gallon, but it, alas, died 15 years ago.)

Anyway, our brand new car is much more complicated than Iím used toóand it takes some sadistic pleasure when I screw up trying to drive it. Itís got a wicked sense of humor. To wit: two days after we bought it, I drove it over to a friendís house so he could see it. He was properly appreciativeóright up until it wouldnít start when I was ready to go home. I had to call my wife so she could tell me again how to make it go.

Sometimes when Iím driving it, it stalls at traffic lights too. But it gets along just fine with my wife. She tells me I should read the ownerís manual! Can you believe that? I, who have been driving cars and pickups and tractors since I was 12 years old, should read the ownerís manual? It is to laugh.

There was a time when cars knew who their masters were. But Iím being humiliated by this one. Iíve lost my confidence. So my wife does most of the driving.

I still try, but itís like a cave man trying to understand a television set.

So the next time you see a befuddled old geezer behind the wheel of a brand new high-tech car, be kind. If itís moving, stay out of the way.

If itís not, call my wife.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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