Saturday, June 02, 2007

Girls Gone Stupid II

by Tory Butterworth

Lisa's last blog reminded me that I, too, submitted a story to the anthology, "Girls Gone Stupid: Dumb Things Smart Women Do," which never happened. Like her, I thought it was a great idea and, like her, I never found another place to submit it. So, here's my stupid story . . .

* * *

I have a degree from MIT and a PhD on top of that, so I’m not exactly dumb. But when it comes to cars, I’ve always felt really, really stupid. Particularly around car dealers, even those without any degrees.

My seven years of graduate school delayed my independence from my family of origin, and it was in my thirtieth year that I decided to move from Michigan to Pittsburgh, PA to start a new life. I was driving my mother’s Chevrolet Citation then, and had been told by a car-savvy friend that it would probably last until I settled in with a job. “Just don’t expect to get anything for it when you trade it in,” he’d advised. The Citation proved my friend wrong by dying a month after I moved, and I was jump-started into buying my first motorized vehicle.

With a “General Motors family” discount and a substantial down payment from my mother, I somehow managed to wangle a car despite not having a job. At that point, I wasn’t picky. I took whatever was on the lot.

She was a white Chevy Nova and I named her Bonnie. Things officially settled down two months later when I got a job and was able to afford her payments without any financial subsidies from my mom.

Bonnie wasn’t a bad little car. She did have an annoying habit of going through mufflers like nobody’s business. And she gave me a big scare shortly after her last payment, when she needed a new oil pan. I wasn’t sure at the time whether to put her down, but I made the right choice for radical surgery and she lived another four years after that. All in all, she got me there and back again through nine years, 160,000 miles, and sixty small monthly payments.

She did have one peculiarity, though. Her radio reception was lousy. Of course, taking what I could get at the time, I had reconciled myself to no tape deck or cruise control. So I attributed this trait to her inexpensive sound system, manufacturer installed, or perhaps the Pittsburgh hills that made reception difficult.

Still, eventually even Bonnie’s life expectancy came to its end. I was standing in the parking lot of a Subaru dealer with my friend Judy, looking for her replacement, when I complained to the salesman about, “miserable radio reception.” He casually reached over and extended her antennae, which had remained dormant in its black plastic sheath since her christening. No words were needed to express the shock on the faces of either me or my friend.

Judy and I laughed about this incident all the way home. Bonnie’s radio sounded great for the next three weeks, until I traded her in.

Anyone else feel stupid around cars?


Joyce said...

Great story, Tory!

Gina said...

Tory, I feel stupid about very nearly everything! [And I have a B.A. and a J.D.]

My first car was a Chevy Nova. I bought it because I'd rented one while on vacation out west, got lost in a big park in Utah or Colorado -- really lost, like among the trees and rocks with no road in sight -- and drove it down a dry creek bed banging on rocks until I found a way out. I was so impressed with that Nova that, when my best friend moved to Southern West Virginia and I realized that I'd need a vehicle to visit her, I bought one. That car was like a tank. I kept it for more than 10 years, and the last year it passed inspection for only $53. Of course, being a Chevy it was rusting away and losing body parts. I pieced it together with aluminum tape designed for patching canoes which, with the peeling paint and putty spots, made it look like it had mange -- or maybe leposy. Still, I really loved that car. Thanks for reminding me.

Cathy said...

The Chevy Nova, the Citation, I've had them all. The worst was a bright orange Chevy Vegas we bought from a private owner; in about a week both front fenders began to bubble up, and we realized we'd been duped by a quick body repair. We kept it, and it ran for a long time.

Your story is hilarious, Tory. Please submit it to Chicken Soup for the Radiator's Soul. I claim amnesia about my Girls Gone Stupid stories.

Kristine said...

Tory, that's so funny!

(Yeah, I'm pretty dumb when it comes to cars, too.)

Tory said...

Gina and Cathy: A metaphor here? We keep patching up the outside, but the car keeps running!

Annette said...

I'm going to plead stupidity even though my dad insisted I learn how to do all the routine stuff like change a flat, check the oil, check the tires' air pressure. Back when I was a teen, Dad didn't want me to rely on the kindness of strangers (AKA mass murderers), so I'd better be somewhat self reliant if I broke down.

Now with a AAA card in my wallet and a cell phone, I have no need for such skills. When my husband asks me if I've checked the oil lately, I bat my eyelashes and respond, "No, dear. That's why I married you."

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I had to take over maintenance of my own car; the Tour Manager views it as more of a tool and less of a way of life than I was raised to believe. So I walked into Acura one day (been driving them for... holy smoke. Almost ten years now and you're about to see part of the reason why) and said to the service manager, "Talk to me like I'm stupid. Tell me..." and I listed all these things I needed to know about my car.

It was quite the refreshing change from the dealers/service jerks who'd tell me I didn't ask for a front-end alignment and a four-wheel was what was needed. Or the ones who lied about their defective paint. Or...

Tory said...

Annette: not hard to see where your crime fiction imagination comes from.

Susan: Sign me up!

lisa curry said...

Tory, I loved this story when you wrote it, and it still makes me laugh now. Thanks for sharing it with everyone. I think the ability to laugh at ourselves is a gift that should be cultivated on a regular basis. I'm positive it promotes good mental health -- wouldn't you agree, Dr. Butterworth?

Tory said...

Lisa: absolutely!