Zen and the Art of Single Lady Car Maintenance

One of the things that makes me not that happy about single life is the sheer amount of panic that ensues when something goes wrong and a significant other could absolutely make everything so much better. At least in theory.


I think I have Car Attention Deficit Disorder. I grew up on subways and walking around New York. I do not get cars. I will not apologize for it.

I learned how to drive when I was already ancient in car driving years — 22. (I fondly remember my newspaper colleagues telling me stories about learning how to drive tractors when they were 12, and I didn’t know whether I should be impressed or depressed by that.) I had a driving instructor who had a face like Bill Clinton and wore tiny shorts like Richard Simmons.

You know, the kind of thing you can’t make up.

So, two weeks after I got my car, if that, I got into an accident. I rear ended a lady. I busted my front tail light and the hood of my Toyota Corolla was bent a little. I had to drive to East Texas and work for six months. I figured it would be fine.

And then, there was Tropical Storm Allison, and everything flooded. Including the car. And on my way to work one evening, the hood flipped up and cracked the windshield. My city editor, Jim, met me in a random parking lot to help me tie the thing down to the fender or whatever big metal piece was available for his boating rope.

The love of my life would have said, “You really need to get that fixed.” Or, “I can come pick you up when you drop it off to get fixed.”

A partner would have also dissuaded me from parking in front of a fire hydrant in Seattle, which is what I did after I drove there from East Texas in 2001. Again, I had no frame of reference for fire hydrants and cars and the fact that they did not go together.

Not long after I arrived in Seattle, I walked down the hill from my lower Queen Anne apartment into the Seattle P-I newsroom, bereft.

“Someone stole my car!” I was about to toss myself on the floor.

“Where did you park it?” One of my stoic editors asked.

“Right outside of my apartment, near the fire hydrant.”

They did not laugh openly at me. Someone suggested I check the nearest towing company.

Had I missed that in the driver’s handbook? Apparently, yes.

In California, I had the mother of all single lady car problems. On my way to work at the San Francisco Chronicle, a motorcycle cop pulled me over for…I’m not sure what. I had not updated the registration on my car for at least two years, because I’d been moving. I had not renewed my driver’s license within the allotted 10 days of arriving in the city. I did not have current insurance.

It was his dream come true. “I am going to have to impound this,” he said, asking for my keys.

A features editor loaned me the money it took for me to undo the $2,000 worth of neglect, to bring my car current. It would be about five years before I mangled that car and had to buy another used car. (Editors and co-workers have always come to my rescue during these things. It’s amazing.)

My biggest problem in my latest car are the tires. I feel like a jerk, but I am always in danger of a flat. I run over nails, I bang the tires against the curb. I am just generally not good at tire maintenance.

This summer, the issue is my battery. My car is old enough that it takes water in the top. Who knew? At this point, I will know more about my car than I do about relationships. Or maybe my car trouble is a huge metaphor for my relationships & tending to them and learning about them. It is all very mysterious. I do know that I no longer take it for granted when I get in my car that the thing is going to start. As my friend Pamay posted on Facebook not long ago: “It’s all fun and games until the check engine light comes on.” Welcome to my world.

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