I haven’t complained about my car in a while, and I know that you’ve all been missing it. Listening to me bitch is like listening to angels sing, or listening to fry-monkeys slap together cholesterol-filled burgers. You might disagree with me on this point, saying that listening to me bitch is a lot like licking out the inside of a running blender: painful, noisy, and an experience that should never be lived through. But you would be wrong. It’s like that singing angel/fry-monkey thing I was telling you about.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a rant about my car breaking down. It’s mentioned, for sure, but only in passing. The thing is, the air conditioner in my car broke down last fall. One day, I turned it on, and it just blew hot air at my face. Me and my car generally get along better than that, so I realized that it must be sick. But, because I’m generally an apathetic bastard, I ignored it. The Austin air had cooled enough at that point that you could step outside without immediately suffering heat-stroke, brain-melt, or eyeball-explosion. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was bearable. That feeling lasted through the fall, winter, and into what they call “spring” here. Spring is where it rains for three weeks and then bursts into the hundred-degree range. It’s miserable, humid, hot, stupid, and the only good use I’ve thought up for it is it prepares you for summer. Summer in Austin is miserable, humid, hot, stupid, and the only good use I have thought up for it is it probably prepares you very well for camping on the surface of the sun or getting a condo in Hell.
Anyways, so summer arrived, like a drunken guest that shits in your closet and doesn’t tell anyone, so that you suddenly realize that everything stinks and you hate your life.
And we decided it was time to get the air conditioner fixed.
Since we both have jobs and things, and since we didn’t know how long it was going to take for the air conditioner guys to fix the car, we decided that our best plan of action was to get a rental car.
It was my day off, and I had been up late the night before, annihilating stray brain cells with my man Trey, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t remember too clearly. A quick aside: you know you’re in bad shape when you hear yourself slurring out the words, “Come on, Officer, it’s not THAT unnatural.”
Anyways, so my princess drags me out of bed, she’s talking to me like I should know what I’m doing out of bed before noon on my day off, she’s trying to make me wake up, get dressed, and for Pete’s sake, brush your teeth.
I call to get a new credit card activated, it was one we were planning on using just in case car repair got too astronomical. I call, and end up talking to the lady, she’s either got a really heavy Indian accent, or I’m still way too drunk to be conducting business over the telephone. She keeps trying to sign me up for valuable savings programs that only cost me nineteen-ninety-nine per month. I tell her I’ll have none of it, thanks. She tells me, “Mr. Weeks, we really recommend this program, like suppose you have an accident?”
“Than I’m taking as many people out with me as I can,” I mutter.
“Nothing. Never mind. Is it obliga…obligato…do I have to have it?”
“Well, no, but we really rec-”
“I’m cool, then. What’s my credit limit?”
She tells me, and then she tells me about some yearly fee. “Wait, what?” I ask. I didn’t even know credit card companies charged annual fees any more. But she’s gone with a “Thank, you have a good day.”
Right on, lady, thanks.
We’re going down the highway at about seventy-five miles an hour, surrounded by all sorts of morning drivers, and I’m a little more awake now, probably not going to ram anyone off the overpass, but you can always dare to dream, right? And then we’re at the rental car place.
We end up talking to this guy; he’s funny, charming, and intelligent, which pisses me off something terrible, because I don’t like being around people who make me look like an ass. The way I figure it, it’s my job to make others feel stupid and dim-witted, not the other way around. This guy’s smoking me, though, and it’s taking all of my burnt-out brain cells to even keep up with the jokes he’s making at my expense.
You want to know how smooth this guy is? He sends me out of there in a Ford Focus. Now maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, hey, what’s wrong with a Ford Focus?” And if you’re thinking that, you’re probably moving your lips while you read this post, and you probably don’t understand the big words I’m using, like “intelligent” and “car.”
You know what’s wrong with a Ford Focus? Everything.
I’m not sure why I hate them so much, but I do. I despise them, I despise the people who drive them, and I despise the people who let them onto the freeway without throwing a Molotov cocktail at them. When I imagine customer service customers driving over a cliff in a burning wreck of a car, it’s always the Ford Focus that I see them in. When I hear of a child being abducted, the kidnapper is always in a Focus. And when I imagine Hell, it’s always a fiery version of the original Atari game Frogger, except everyone’s in a Focus, and I’m the frog. Except for I always see myself as a frog with some really bitchin’ sunglasses on, because eternal damnation or not, you have to have some sweet shades.
And this smooth pimp, man, he’s handing me the keys, and instead of punching him in the throat, I’M ACTUALLY TAKING THE KEYS!
“Let’s check the mileage in this bad boy,” he says. I unlock the door, pull on the handle. I turn the key the other way, pull the handle. Nothing happens. I turn the key again, nothing happens. The pimp, he’s all macking on my on girl, so he doesn’t notice, and I’m trying to memorize his pick-up lines in case I have to win her back from him tomorrow, but I’m still trying to get the stupid door open, and it ain’t opening.
Finally he notices that I’m still fooling around with the door instead of just opening it. “Is there problem?”
“It’s not unlocking.”
“It unlocks, my man. Just be a man about it—open that door.”
I yank the door handle, and it opens with absolutely no problem whatsoever. I mean, it practically opens itself, man, Stephen-King-Christine style. Herbie Goes Bananas-style.
Rental Car guy, he gets a big laugh out of it. And then he starts talking about getting the insurance for only an additional fifteen bucks a day. I tell him, no, I’ll have none of it, thanks. My princess looks at me, and I understand right away that we will be getting that insurance, no matter that I don’t crash. I mean, we drive all the time, all over the place, and I don’t crash. Okay, I backed into a guy once, but that was during Christmas season, I had just worked something stupid like a hundred and six billion hours straight, and I just wanted to go home. Oh, yeah, and once I rolled my car, but that was a long time ago, and my family prefers me not to talk about that incident. There’s only so much you can get away with being the black sheep before it just becomes too embarrassing for everyone involved, and they have to whack you.
I passed that point long ago, but lucky for me, I’m practically bullet-proof and my spider-sense keeps me safe.
Anyways, so I know that we’re going to get insurance, but the car guy, he hasn’t picked up on it, just yet (not so smooth after all, are you, dick?), so he starts rattling off, “So if anything happens to it, you’re covered. If you drive it into a wall, if you hit someone, if someone hits you. If a tree falls onto your car during a storm, if your neighbors get into a fight and it gets hit with a trash can—these are all true stories, by the way.” So I know he’s just making shit up.
“If it catches on fire, if you get hit pulling out of this parking lot.” See, he was off to a good start there, he was taking us places we wanted to go, what with the neighbors, and trees just falling over, meteors crashing down—think about all the bad things that happen everyday, and we’ll be covered by all of it!—but then he punked out, you know? I mean, I might get hit pulling out of the parking lot? Weak sauce, man.
We got the insurance anyways, though. Not because of his lame-ass stories, mind you.
So I get into this little thing, this Ford Focus, and I drive it to the car repair place. My princess drops off my car, his name is Eddie, and he’s a real car. I’m embarrassed for him to see me like this, in a Focus, with it’s high-pitched little whine of an engine, and I hope that he understands that I only subject myself to this for the greater good.
I drop my princess off at work, and then I begin my short trip back home. One thing I notice about this little piece of rent-a-crap—aside from the fact that it smells like the sheets of a cheap hotel bed after a weekend of an aspiring alcoholic’s debauchery—is that it accelerates really well. And brakes well, too. Like, if you slowly lower your foot until it kicks into second gear, then just floor the shit out of it, you can rocket from thirty-five to ninety with startling speed. And you can still stop before you reach the next intersection.
I realize that I paid fifteen extra dollars for the insurance—the guy said that if I wanted to drive into a brick wall, this is the time to do it. I don’t want to drive into a brick wall, of course—that’s just insane—but I wouldn’t mind rolling it. I mean, how often to you get a chance to roll a car when you’re sober? Alls I have to do is make it out alive, and I’m all set. I would love to take this bastard Focus back, the tires all exploded, one of the wheels in the back seat, you can barely see out of the windshield because of the collapsed roof, and the left blinker won’t turn off. “Here’s your car back—I think that fifteen bucks will cover the damage, don’t you, wise-ass?”
“I’m going to drive this thing like I’m a racecar driver,” I think. “No, not a racecar driver.” Because, come on, man, that just sucks. The goal of those guys is to drive around in circles over and over. Yeah, they go pretty fast, but still. “Like Batman,” I think, but that seems almost like blasphemy, what with me being in a Ford Focus and all. “Like a stunt driver,” I think. “I’ll drive this stupid car like I’m a stunt man!”
I turn off onto a gigantic hill with all kinds of twists and turns, and I stomp on the gas pedal. I pass a yellow sign that tells me the speed limit is 20 miles an hour. It’s yellow, though, and I seem to remember my driver education teacher telling me that the yellow signs meant that it was only “suggested speed.” I take it at 52, and ignore the squealing of the tires as they lose traction on the hot asphalt. I’m about to piss myself out of fear, but I just can’t help myself. I realize that my brain has betrayed me once again, luring me into a sense of safety by claiming sobriety and insurance. I take the next turn at 64, and I barely dodge a trashcan that someone has left hanging over the edge of a curb. And then there’s a BMW in front of me. I take a second to decide between the gas or brake pedal, but decide to go with deceleration. But I’m in crazy-asshole mode, and I start honking, riding his bumper, scaring the shit out of him.
You can tell that he’s rich because of his car and his haircut, and you can tell by the look on his face that he’s not used to being treated like this. I wave my fist around in the air like I’m some demented kind of cartoon villain, and you can practically smell this guy’s fear. I shoot past him on a single-lane road, laughing and screaming at him that I’ve wired a bomb to his cell phone. I don’t think he can hear me, though, because as shitty as this little rental car is, it at least has air conditioning, so my windows are all rolled up. I turn on the radio (it’s got AM/FM radio, and a freakin’ tape deck, if you can believe it. What kind of a world do we live in when people are still renting us cars with tape decks in them?), find a station that I like, and turn it up all the way. The speakers get all crackly, but so what? I hit the brakes at the next intersection, make sure that there aren’t any cops around, and blast through the red light before the old lady in the Cadillac even realizes that it’s her turn to go. I leave her back there with her nostalgia about the good old days when the people like me stayed hidden in the shadows like they were supposed to, and I cruise to the movie theater to catch Star Wars.
After the movie, I drive over to pick my princess up for lunch. I drive with a dangerous sort of self-righteousness, knowing that I am right no matter how many rules I’m breaking. Like a politician, or one of those whacky religious groups who is always screaming about how people are corrupting children. I look for a vehicle with a pompous bumper sticker talking about in case of Rapture this vehicle will be empty or about how abortion is bad and censorship is good, but there’s never one around when you need one. So I look for something else to ram into. Nothing good, though, not even anything by hippies, talking about how you should plant a Bush, or World Peace starts at Home.
The car-fixing guy is talking to my princess on the phone when I show up to pick her up, and she hands it to me. He tells me what they’re going to do, tells me how much it will cost, and asks me if I’ll pay. I tell him, sure, whatever, do it. I’m just thinking about getting back on the road and torturing this stupid little Focus some more.
After lunch, I head back home for a bit, throw the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, and call my mother. Because I’m a good boy, if you disregard the fact that I hate the human race and only want to stay alive long enough to see the world burn to the ground. And destroy this Focus.
I pick up my princess when it’s time to get off work, and intentionally drive through the residential areas because they have these things called “speed humps” that are supposed to make you slow down. The thing is, anyone with half a brain realizes that they’re really just fantastic ramps. I mean, you can catch some serious air on these things, if you ignore the suggested speed of fifteen miles an hour. I take the first few at a pretty moderate speed, testing, adjusting, and preparing. The fourth one, I just haven’t got enough speed, the fifth one is a flat-out failed attempt, but the sixth one is a success. I get that odd sensation you can only get from being inside a vehicle that you’re supposed to have complete control over, but don’t. And by don’t, I mean, you have absolutely none, because all four of your tires are in the air, and you’re laughing your ass off because if you stopped and thought about what the hell you were doing, you would be terrified. On so many levels.
Anyways, that’s about it. They called and said that the air conditioner was fixed, so we went and picked it up this morning. I got back into my own car, and the air conditioner worked, and everything was wonderful. I wondered if I would have any residual insanity from driving a rented Focus, and I wondered if Eddie would scorn me in some way for ever setting foot in such a lame-ass replacement, but we’re good.
And that’s my car story. I hope it will hold you for awhile.