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Life Lessons I Learned from My Car

My Favorite Filly

 

Twelve years in residential property management exposes you to some interesting and unique situations.  When you’re dealing with people in the place they’ve chosen to make home for whatever duration you have them, they are most fundamentally themselves in their own domain, where a man can either be king of his castle, or the troll of his bridge.  The result can often yield either the best or the worst of what humanity has to offer.  I have seen both paladins and rancor beasts among my residents. 

Oh yeah, I’ve got a few stories I could tell.

 

     But today I’m not telling tales about the people of my previous career track… this is a story of the stuff.

 


I’m often amazed, and occasionally appalled, at what people leave behind when they move out of rentals.  The law in my state requires that I hang on to any abandoned personal belongings for 60 days, with a written and posted notice 21 days prior to alert the owner before disposing of it.  After that, it’s chucked, donated, or sold, depending on the circumstances.

 

There was a time you couldn’t look around in my place and lay your eyes on any piece of artwork, furniture, equipment, or gadget that I’d actually purchased.  In the course of my administration, I’ve cleaned out entire garages that held the collective “junk drawer” of all the once-prized possessions deserted by the comings and goings of as many as more than three decades of turnovers.  It was a little like unlocking a time capsule.  I’m almost surprised we didn’t find something living in there (Brendan Fraser would have been nice!).

 

Why anyone would have ever taken up so much usable rental income to maintain this treasure trove of trivial trinkets for so long is beyond me, but since my specialty in my industry was getting to maximum occupancy, I quickly needed the space, and cleared them all out.  Most of the obvious refuse was jettisoned to the dumpster — where for all I know it may have then been picked over further by ambitious scavengers who enjoy doing such things — but a bit of it was salvageable.  Among other artifacts I liberated and rehomed, I rescued an antique queen-sized headboard and bedframe, which still supports me at night to this day; a relic from a simpler time, harkening back to an era where it wasn’t unusual to be excited that the gun rack was still attached and intact.

 

     But this story is not about the stuff that fits in my house.

 


On one particularly snowy day in the winter of 2000, when I was running 725 units in Brooklyn Park, my favorite resident caretaker of one of the 13 buildings in my charge came bustling into my office, asking if I would be towing cars that morning.  Anytime more than 2” falls in my parking lots, I schedule the plows at least 24-48 hours in advance to come out and clear them, with posters on every entry in the community, flyers under every apartment door, and even with my staff on the phone making phone calls to tenants we know that it would seem haven’t made arrangements to get their vehicles moved out of the Bobcat’s way, despite the many obvious warnings.  I’d always make sure to give my clientele every opportunity to avoid the hassles and charges of removing their autos for them, but, inevitably, there’s still sure to be a handful of stragglers that have to be taken out on a flatbed.  Usually, if you can only count them on one hand, that’s been a good day. 

 

I let my model employee know that of course I would be towing cars, as I’m sure she did already know, since it was part of her job to make others aware.  But she seemed a little more frantic than I was accustomed to seeing her from her normally worldly-wise, grandmotherly, retired schoolteacher demeanor, so I asked her what was the matter.  She said that her son had been trying to sell his car, because she’d told him to get rid of the damned thing — it was apparently an eyesore and taking up space — but he was away at school just then, and didn’t get the message about moving it, so she’d hoped we could work something out to avoid making him come home to find himself carless in that fashion.

 

Interestingly enough, I happened to be without wheels at the time.  I’d been in an accident a few months back which had totaled my car, the rental I got through the insurance company had run its covered course, and I was just getting to the point emotionally where I felt ready to be driving again.  I inquired if it was running.  She said it was, that it fact, it ran great, even in winter; it was just old, not much to look at, and her son got around mostly these days on a motorcycle she couldn’t keep him off of.  I asked how much he wanted for it.  She was sure he would probably take $200.  I opened my wallet.  I had $50 cash on me at the time, and told her I would have it moved out of the way at no cost to them (the keys were on him at the time), if she would take $50 now, and the balance after I was done dealing with today’s mess, and had time to pop to the bank.  She was relieved, and told me not to be silly, that $50 was fine.  I did try to give her the rest a few times in the next couple days, but she simply wouldn’t take it.  It wasn’t even until I was leaving the office that night when she caught me at the door with the key her son had dropped off that I thought to go see what kind of car I’d just purchased for a couple twenties and a ten spot.

 

     Turns out, it was an 89 Mustang. 

 

Now, I won’t claim to be a muscle car aficionado, nor even an enthusiast of the classics.  Sure, I may have spent a few years working for a local Porsche, Audi, and Range Rover dealership, but if you’d have asked me, I’d have told you truthfully that what kind of car a person drives is basically irrelevant to me. 

 

     But then there was this baby. 

 

 

I’m not normally one to anthropomorphize material possessions… most of the time, I just don’t care enough about any thing to bother.  But this fabrication of metal and creature comforts, this harmonious symphony of electric and mechanical engineering, was different to me, somehow. 

 

She was beautiful to me right away, with a sleek black exterior that you could tell used to look shiny, but was now faded and worn, and places in her frame so rusted out you could put your hand through them.  She was hardly a thoroughbred anymore, but I still referred to her with great affection as my “Rustang.” 

 

     But that was just her looks.

 

Having belonged to a 20-something college kid, of course, she was equipped with the finest stereo system, complete with BOSE speakers and subwoofers, not that I know much about what that means… she just sounded sweet, and everytime she had a noise, it was that much easier to just crank up the tunage, and blast it away.  She had electric everything; windows, mirrors, seats, even her sunroof, though, that was mostly for show… her air conditioner and heat were both the most instantaneous delivery system of climate adjustment I’ve ever known.  Whether it was -8° out with a 40 below windchill factor, or 105° in a 58% humidity heat index didn’t matter… I always knew that 30 seconds after I started the engine, I’d be snug as a bug in a rug.  And, oh my, how that starter was the stuff that dreams and legends are made of.  Nothing could affect it that it wouldn’t sing like a golden harp the moment you touched it.

 

I named her Kasey, which means “vigorous,” because she deserved a traditional Irish name for her feisty Irish demeanor.  But she was always a kitten for me. 

 

She had her issues, of course.  In her old age, she had started losing herself, piece by piece.  Everything that was wrong with her was because something had fallen off. 

 

The passenger door didn’t open from the outside. 


     What's with this...?

             ...oh, no biggie... the handle fell off.

 

You couldn’t get the glove compartment open without a key. 


     How come...?

             ...you see, the thing is... the knob fell off.

 

The hatchback trunk lid was held shut with a length of wire. 


     Why...?

             ...don't worry about that... the lock mechanism fell off.

 

You had to change the radio station with a piece of a broken hanger. 


     What's going on here...?

             ...oh, that?  Yeah... the button fell off.

 

You could hear the car coming from 3 miles away.

 
   
What the hell...??

             ...um, well... muffler fell off.

 

 

Wait, whoa… hold on, time out… What???!!

 

 

Yes, I really did say that.  And, yes, the muffler had fallen off.  I was sure that I would be pulled over any time for the noise alone… Mustangs are not exactly known for being quiet even with functioning dampening devices.  But, I just never got around to it, because cars, like long-time spouses and old pets, tend to take on the personality of their drivers, and my baby fit me like a favorite comfy pair of tight jeans.  And there is something truly liberating about tooling around town in a conveyance that naturally stages a clear path of folks moving to get out of your way.  I’m sure the defensive thought is, “Watch out for the crazy chick in the beat up hunk of junk… now there’s someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that car, and you can’t expect her to bother with a second thought for mine.”  But, they couldn’t be more wrong… I truly loved that car, I think because she wasn’t perfect, but still gave me everything I needed and wanted, with gusto.  I loved her because no one else would, and because she needed me to; and for that, she loved me back in her own way.

 

I remember once skidding on black ice and sliding her delicately into a snowbank on the side of a highway, where she buried her nose halfway up to my windshield.  I looked around at four other cars in the ditch, whose owners were struggling to restart, pacing around and kicking their tires, or already on their cell phones calling for a tow truck rescue.  I patted my girl on her dash, shifted into reverse, and glided smoothly out of a Kasey-sized opening in the frozen embankment without so much as a hiccup.  She made a 3-point turn like she was a professional skater, and we were off again on our merry way.  I turned up the radio for the rest of the commute into work, and arrived at the office whistling, excited at how fortunate it is when you need a high performance vehicle to get you out of a winter jam to be blessed with rear-wheel drive.  Now, granted, if I’d had front wheel drive, I wouldn’t have been in the ditch in the first place, but every champion steed comes with her own personality… it’s part of the give-and-take that you accept when you agree to take her on, and know that the benefits will far outweigh the idiosyncrasies.

 

 

Kasey carried me through some great times for the better part of 3 years.  She carried me through some bad ones, too, but I never held that against her.  After we’d had 227,000 miles together on top of where she was when she came to me, she pulled over one autumn twilight and was done.  She’d blown a rod… there was nothing I could do to save her.  She’d never once complained up until that point… she’d never been anything but easy when it came to doing what was asked of her.  Being a Mustang, of course, there was a good deal of value in most any of her parts and pieces still in good condition, and I was glad that I could pass those along to take on new life in other machines, and know that they would go to disciples of her breed who would feel as much love for them on their new settings as I had on her.

 

 

But sometimes I do still miss that old girl… we were a good match.  Maybe we reflected one another so well because we both took on characteristics of each other, but maybe I’m still learning from her about the kind of vehicle I want to be in life.

 

Someday I’ll be a bit rusty around the edges.  A little sludge in my boosters and some mud spinning around in my tires will eventually start to slow me down… my sparkplugs might stop firing with quite as much energy as I used to have, and over time I’m sure I’ll end up carrying enough luggage in my caboose to lower the efficiency of my mileage. 

 

But I’m going to keep starting up smooth every morning. 

 

I’m always going to go with everything I’ve got.

 

     I’m going to keep the music up loud. 

 

          I’ll fire me up when I’m hot, and chill me quick when I need to cool down. 

 

               When I need to turn around and do an about-face, I’ll keep it simple, and make it easy to take off in a new direction.

 

 

And I’m never going to be afraid to let people know loud and clear when I’m coming down the road, so they can get out of my way.

 

 

LJ Idol | Season 6 • Week 18 - Topic: ADORED

This post has been brought to you through an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol
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Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
hightekvagabond
Mar. 18th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
"And I’m never going to be afraid to let people know loud and clear when I’m coming down the road, so they can get out of my way."

Like Kasey's missing muffler?

Are you saying you will be farting every where you go when you get older? Lord save us!
karmasoup
Mar. 18th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
Ahehe... why do you think they'll be in such a hurry to give me a wide berth? ;)
shadowwolf13
Mar. 18th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Sounds like a jewel of a car. I love the old muscle cars. :)
talon
Mar. 18th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this, both for the excellent use of language and for the fact that it shows that you really loved that car. Beautiful metaphor to close, by the way.
lawchicky
Mar. 18th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
I still can't get over that you bought a car for $50!
karmasoup
Mar. 18th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, me, too... and a Mustang even, no less!
pixiebelle
Mar. 19th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
This was great :) Reminds me of some of the cars I have owned. My first car was wrecked when I got it and had wire holding the trunk down.

The last car I had before this one was my baby though. It was a 1992 Mazda MX-6 and I could go 90 miles an hour without a problem if I needed to (and of course, I needed to a lot). But the window did not wind down on the driver side, the door panel was falling off on the passenger side and it got where when it started, it would squeal really loudly.

But I loved her :)
karmasoup
Mar. 19th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I figured this was the kind of post that most everyone could relate to, because I think we've all had a car like that at some point in our lives. Of course, I would love it if the votes reflected that sentiment. I don't know much about Mazdas, but I think people who have them do tend to love the way they handle.
pixiebelle
Mar. 19th, 2010 04:18 am (UTC)
Voting has been harsh this week, that's for sure...

But I think most people can relate :)
blythe025
Mar. 19th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Great entry. It's amazing how beat up, run down, falling apart cars can be the ones you loved the most. :)
karmasoup
Mar. 19th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, ain't it, though? I think it's the imperfections that give them their personality and make them interesting. Thanks for popping in! I still chuckle when I think about that story you told about your little brother and sister. ;)
baxaphobia
Mar. 20th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
Ah people and their cars! My husband loves his 64 chevy truck. haha. And any old VW beetle!
karmasoup
Mar. 20th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
That's actually really one of the craziest parts about this story to me... I've never really been one to go nuts about a car... I had never been emotionally attached to one either before or since. I guess this one was just one of a kind that way, and maybe that's what made her so special to me. Thanks for reading! ;)
onda_bianca
Mar. 20th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Awwwww...I liked this. Especially about all the parts falling off!:)

It's funny how emotionally attached we can get to vehicles...but they do see us through all sorts of emotional stuff!
karmasoup
Mar. 20th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you dug that! I think that was my favorite part of all her quirks, honestly... because, any time I had anyone in my car, we had to go through the barrage of that very same explanation, and, it just became sort of an enjoyable explanation for me. Eventually, I just let everyone knew, the answer is mostly likely, "Because something fell off." I think somehow that just resonated with me. Thanks for reading! ;)
beautyofgrey
Mar. 20th, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC)
Wow! That sounds like an awesome car (even rusty and falling apart), and such a deal for $50. I envy the sort of scavenging lifestyle, too (I love stumbling across what other people discard, and finding a home for it....that's how we got most of our furniture.)
karmasoup
Mar. 20th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm still a little blown away by that, too... the fact that out of $50 I got three years and over 200K miles with an awesome car has completely spoiled me for pricing on other vehicles. I'm pretty much the type to want things to come to me with a history. I very rarely buy off the rack... if I have clothes on, you can bet they came from the thrift store. And it's not so much that I want a deal, though that's nice, as it is that I want feel more like what I choose is a better choice than whatever is being mass marketed at the moment, so I'm not continuously contributing to The Story of Stuff, but rather continuing the story OF the stuff.

And, oh, btw, I was going to tell you in your post a few weeks back about the food organization I'm involved with, but at the time I thought it was local... since I've since found out that it's not, you might enjoy checking out the non-commercial efforts that go into making Angel Food a reality for people who need it.
agirlnamedluna
Mar. 20th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
I had a 93 VW Polo (paid much more than that though) that you could hear arrive from afar ... I really liked that car, made me sad when she ran her final course.
karmasoup
Mar. 20th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
Isn't it FUN to drive a car that people can always tell is you?
agirlnamedluna
Mar. 24th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
Unless you're planning a robbery, definitely ;)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )