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Politically Incorrect

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Bonneville Dreams

March 27, 2002

I blew up another car last week. Okay, maybe it didn’t actually blow up, but it’s well down the road to that ultimate fate and even though it’s not all my fault, I’m pretty sure it’s partly my fault. “Well, you do tend to ride 'em hard and put 'em away wet,” one of my mechanic friends said of my relationship with vehicles. That will kill a horse, and in his rather blatant way, my friend was telling me it kills cars, too. I think he’s being a little harsh with me – I’m a much better driver than what people say – but it’s an undeniable fact that I’ve owned more than my share of vehicles throughout my life, and driven most of them straight to their untimely deaths.

I needed new transportation, didn’t have time to mess with it and, in a bow to the Scots heritage I have yet to find any trace of in my genealogical research, I hate to spend money. I went straight to Blackie at Alpine Motors with a simple request – “fix it.”

Blackie had the ultimate solution in mind but he didn’t have the authority to take my driver’s license away. So he did the next best thing – he put me behind the wheel of a 1996 Pontiac Bonneville. It’s a one-owner car, only 60,000 miles, treated as gently as a newborn babe and a price of only four digits before the decimal point. “You’re saying all the right words,” said another mechanic friend when I told him about it.

 “Mother!” Misty said when I took her for a test drive. “This is a grandma’s car!” I gave her a look out of the corner of my eyes, slammed on the brakes, made a quick, three-point turn into the back end of the Bonner Mall parking lot and whipped the car through a couple of quick figure eights. “Well, I AM a grandma, after all,” I told her. She pried her fingers loose from the suicide handle above the passenger side door and said, “Look at that. It’s hinged so you don’t get your fingers trapped. That’s a nice little touch.”

Like I said, I don’t enjoy spending money, which means I haven’t had a car payment since Dustin, now a teenager, was a newborn. Whenever I’ve needed a new vehicle, I’ve bought whatever was available for the amount of money I had in my pocket. Therefore my leading form of entertainment in the last 20+ years has been my cars.

A little white Toyota (my first and only foreign-car experience) developed an electrical problem while on a cross-country trip and I pushed it four miles into downtown Albuquerque during the morning rush hour. The Jeep Cherokee had a couple of missing teeth in the flywheel so I had to crawl underneath and bang it over with a crowbar to start it. The little red Gremlin with the busted linkage I parked by jamming a brick under the wheel. A Chevy Monza, two Suburbans, a Bronco II and whatever that green thing was with the non-functioning heater I owned for one long, Chicago winter. For most of my entire life, getting behind the wheel of a car was just the beginning of a guaranteed adventure.

I couldn’t imagine adventures in the Bonneville. All leather seats and an interior so clean I bet a child has never ridden in that car. A motor so quiet, I had to put it in gear to discover whether I had started the car or not.

A little blue read-out on the dash told me it was 21º outside and the look of pine trees blown near sideways in the wind hinted the wind chill was in the minus numbers. I thought for a bit how comforting it would be to drive down the road in such weather, knowing it wasn’t likely the car would break down and I’d be on foot, out in the elements. For a few hours, I dreamed.

Ride ‘em hard and put ‘em away wet. Really, I don’t drive like that at all. But I don’t drive like the Bonneville would demand, either. Any vehicle I own ends up jam-packed with newspapers and kids and animals and books and collected rocks, and I expect it to take me anywhere in the mountains I want to go, while graciously negotiating the mine-field of ruts I call my driveway. I don’t want to worry about driving it through weeds to park at the base of Scotchman; I don’t want to wince when every third car between Clark Fork and Sandpoint tosses a chunk of rock into my windshield; and I don’t want my sanity to waver by packing children in like sardines, then listening to them bicker with each other all the way to wherever we’re going.

I really did like the CD player in the car though, and I turned it up loud so Sheryl Crow could belt out she’d “stayed in Mississippi just a day too long,” throughout the neighborhood while I carefully picked out every crushed, orange, peanut butter cracker my grandson, Tyler, had dribbled into the carpet.

I handed the keys to Blackie with regret, while the Bonneville sighed happily in relief. “I love it,” I told him. “And it won’t work. Let’s look some more.”

Blackie did find me a vehicle, and I quite happily drove the Yukon past the Bonneville in the parking lot. That Bonneville is a great car, you know – it just isn’t mine. But if there are any grandmas out there reading this, give Blackie a call (263-2118) and go for a test drive. And if you notice any pieces of orange cracker that I missed, toss them out the window when he isn’t looking.


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Landon Otis

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editorial, driving

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