OK, I canít keep it a secret any longer. Iíve got a confession to
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
Donít get me wrong. Iím not proud that I bought a brand new car.
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
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
And it wasnít just empty talk. To show my wife and teach my kids
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
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
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
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
or a cross breed or a hybrid or whatever they call them. Itís one of
those jobs whichif 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.
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
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
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