Every car I’ve ever owned has been a gift. I mean this literally. My grandmother bought my first car for me. I was living with her at the time, taking care of her as she slid away from us into the depths of Alzheimer’s. I needed a car to take her around to things, and to drive to school. So we visited the used car lot, and just like that I had my first car. I called the car Hope, because she was a big, white sedan, which reminded me of the movie A Great White Hope. I drove her for two years, until my grandmother died and I decided to spend a year (which turned into two) as part of a traveling youth ministry team. Before I left I sold Hope to my sister Sae, who took her off to grad school in Steubenville. Later when it was time for her to get a new car she sold Hope to my aunt and uncle (Johnnycake’s parents), who still own the car, so I still see it every once in a while. It was a good car for me while I had it. I hope it’s been good for its later owners too.
My second car was a gift from one of my friends, a slightly older guy who was coming to the same Catholic young adult group I’m still a part of. He didn’t really fit in with the rest of us – besides being older he was also divorced with a son in grade school – but he was a good guy with a good job who decided that he wanted to do his charitable giving a little closer to home. I had been home from the traveling youth ministry thing for a year, and was about to move from my parents’ house to live with The Kiddo and my Old Roommate. Not having a car was making it challenging to get to all my commitments, but there was no way I could afford to buy one, so I was prepared to suck it up and practice humility by borrowing other people’s cars when necessary. Then this guy called me and asked if I wanted a car, and if I had one, could I pay for the upkeep and insurance and things? I said yes and yes, and a little while later I found myself driving out to Troy to pick up my present car, Rhonda the Honda.
Rhonda has been a good car for me. Sure, she came with cigarette burns in the upholstery, a lingering slightly funky smell that no amount of Febreeze seemed to banish, weatherstripping issues in the trunk that mean everything that stays there gets mildewed, a total lack of air conditioning, windows that like to occasionally jump their tracks and get stuck (in the up position, if you’re lucky), tires so threadbare she got two flats the first week I owned her, the front left running light patched up with packing tape where it had been busted in by the previous owner’s brother, and big ghetto-bass booster speakers installed in the trunk by the previous owner’s skeevy ex-boyfriend. But she got good mileage (important even back when gas was $1.12 a gallon), I rather like driving with the windows down, particularly when I can blast my tunes, and once I replaced the tires I didn’t have to fix anything else on her for quite a while. Plus, did I mention that she was free?
Rhonda and I have had some good times together in the years we’ve been together. There was my first big road trip to Paco’s wedding, driving to my first Lindy exchange, and slap-happy early mornings taking the Kiddo to school. I’ve been deeply grateful to have her. But little by little, things have started to slip. First it was the window motor breaking on the back driver’s side window, which meant it no longer went down, and then the front passenger side window jumped the track and got itself wedged in the up position. Of course, since it was off-track the seal wasn’t complete, so now it whistled to me whenever I drove over 30mph (MDoS would yell at it and bang on the door when he rode in my car). Then there was the evening when I took a turn a little too hard and bumped against the curb… knocking my muffler off. Of course, it didn’t come completely off, so I ended up dragging it behind me all the way home. That took some fixing. And then there were the brakes that started to go soft on me, especially when the weather was hot. Rosie got those fixed up, though not until after I was in the accident where Johnsy’s car got totaled. And then there was the time when the car caught fire, courtesy of the faulty wiring from those ghetto-bass speakers. After that my car didn’t have a sound system either, and the electrical system started to get funky. And then… the heat went out this winter… early in the winter. Do you remember how cold it got this winter? I do. On top of that the turn signals turned schizoid, clicking incessantly when I don’t want them, and not turning on when I do. That was the last straw. I told Johnsy that this summer I needed to get a new car.
The problem has been the usual – no money. Things have been incredibly tight for me for a little over a year now. It’s a little easier now that it’s summer and I can work full time, but still. There’s no money for even little extras, much less buying a new car. I told Johnsy that I might be able to maybe spend $500 on a car, which is a ridiculous price for a car. You can barely buy a really good bike for that much, and I want something with four wheels. Plus AnniPotts needed to buy a car this summer to take with her up to South Dakota (she’ll be teaching on an Indian reservation there), so any good bargains that came our way would probably go to her first. So I started praying, and starting to put the word out that I was in the market. I didn’t hear of anything, and this past week I was talking to God about this, letting him know that I had no idea of what to do and He was going to have to take care of this.
And He did. Yesterday I got a call from Johnsy. Her friend Dana was selling her old car, would be willing to sell it cheap, and wanted to give me first refusal. Her father, who has a knack for finding incredibly cheap good cars, had found the car for her, so I knew she hadn’t paid much for it in the first place. There was a good chance this might actually be something I could afford. So I called her up, and we talked about the car. It’s an old car, but the engine is almost new since she had it replaced about a year ago. The windshield is cracked and there’s no air conditioning, but everything else works. Compared to what I’ve been driving, it sounded wonderful. And then the miracle happened: I told her about my situation, and how much I’d been thinking I could afford. She said, “$500! I couldn’t charge you $500! No way! The car’s not worth that – you’re going to have to replace the windshield, after all. No, I was thinking I might charge something like $250.”
That’s right. $250. For a car. A good one.
So… I think God might like me a little. And one day towards the end of this month (we’re still working out the details), I’ll either drive down to Dana’s house or Dana will drive up here, and we’ll visit the title bureau together, and I’ll have a new car. A car with windows that go down and turn signals that work and (wonder of wonders) heat when it gets cold. A car with a sound system that will let me play my tunes again. A car with a trunk that keeps out moisture. A car that I could drive to, say, Cincinnati or Columbus without worrying that it will fink out on my halfway there. It makes me a little dizzy just to think about it.
I think God just gave me another gift.