This car of mine …

The sun is setting on my car at last.

Note: This post was just about good to go a week and a half ago, but all the big stuff in my life got in the way. So now, without further interruptions, roll ‘em:

Monday (Sept. 13) I reached an anniversary I wasn’t anticipating for a number of reasons. Well, location and economic necessity and just plain resilience, to name three.

And in a disposable society, it’s inconceivable that anyone holds onto a car for 10 years unless it’s a classic.

Well, I consider my 1993 Toyota Celica GT a classic — even if, like an old stadium, it’s starting to crumble. And it was 10 years ago Monday that I bought it.

I hope it lasts me another 10 more, though I know full well it won’t. I’m just hoping it holds up until I get another job.

*****

So here’s where I ask shamelessly: Anyone want to buy me a car? I figure if I ask the world for something, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. (Then  again, I’ve asked the world for a job too, or a couple million bucks …)

In a perfect world, I would be driving a new Mini Clubman S or the car I’ve wanted a long time: a ’65 Impala SS convertible in that classic mid-’60s Chevy sea foam green (I think their name for it is Artesian Turquoise), engine size optional (283 or 327), white top, custom white interior with matching green bucket seat inserts, maybe some white paisley scrollwork for that Franorama touch and, of course, a killer sound system.

(And actually, in my hallucinatory pipe-dream world, I’d be driving the car I’ve really wanted since I was 9: a ’70 Boss 302 Mustang, yellow with black striping and louvers and rear wing, or a ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda. Or a white ’67-’68 Shelby Cobra Mustang with blue stripes. Or maybe a Ford GT. But I’m being economically reasonable here …)

But in my imperfect world, living on journalist’s wages (and now unemployment checks), I’ve never been able to afford a new car, let alone an old custom. So finding a car that had looks, a reasonable sticker price and longevity far beyond what I could have imagined was a bit of serendipity on my part.

And if anyone knows where I can get a decent repo and/or auction car for not a lot of money, please tell me …

*****

My luck with cars on the whole has been spotty at best.

My first car, just out of college, was a ’76 Malibu Classic, 350 V-8, black with white top. I bought it off a deaf guy named Lewis, a mechanic at the Chevy dealer down the hill from us in Waterbury. I think it was something like $2,800, $3,000. It ran okay, but it was old, and New England winter isn’t the friendliest environment for cars, anyway. But it did get me through my first four years out of school, and on several road trips to New York to see bands or just hang out in the City.

It was a lot of fun, but by late winter 1987, the car had had it. One day, I was driving down the hill on Route 68 from Prospect, my hometown, through Naugatuck. Out in front of a transmission shop, I saw something I eventually wished I never saw.

*****

Ever since I built a Monogram model of a funny car called the Troublemaker in seventh grade, I wanted an El Camino in the worst way.

Guess — I got an El Camino … in the worst way.

It was nice looking — a ’74, originally brown but repainted white, with red, blue and yellow racing stripes down the sides above the rocker panels, 350 V-8, Turbo 400 tranny, mags. I knew at the time why I liked El Caminos: They were androgynous, like me — the vehicle that didn’t know whether it was a car or a truck, with a driver who didn’t know whether it was a male or female. Except this sure was not the best of both worlds. I paid two grand for the thing and must’ve sunk another four grand into it before it totally fell apart 16 months later.

It was good for hauling records and sound equipment, since I was doing some DJ work both for myself and my friend Jonny Swing’s DJ company. And it looked nice, as I said. But what didn’t go wrong with the fucker? The performance transmission was the only thing that didn’t go on it. There was the time I had carburetor problems after covering a girls’ softball game, I popped the hood, took the air filter off and gave the car some gas to get it going, and saw flames shooting up the carb. Or the time the gas tank strap rusted away, or was it the crossmember holding the straps in place? I can’t remember — but I do remember driving back from seeing an old college friend in Jersey, and one of the straps broke as I was on the George Washington Bridge. An hour-40 of white-knuckle driving ensued as I imagined what the obit would look like — and, while I was in New York, the tabloid photos. But I got it back in one piece.

That actually was the last straw. But there was also the time I threw a rod a good couple of inches through the engine while driving up the hill in Naugatuck. And from the there came one good and lasting thing.

The Hell Camino was out of commission for three weeks while I waited to get a rebuild. Meanwhile, my pal Ron Johnson and his then-wife, Mary, had a car they weren’t using. It was a red ’76 Chevette, and he was kind enough to let me take it until I got my beast back. The only catch? It was standard and I had never driven a stick before. The only car I’d ever been in to that point with a standard was my father’s car for my first seven years: a ’55 Bel Air, four-door, black with white bubble top, three-speed on the column.

The coordination it took to drive standard looked daunting to me as a little one. But Ron took me out to a parking lot for about 15 minutes, told me what I had to do, let me take over, and that was that. I did pretty damn well for myself. And I was now bilingual — standard and automatic. Which would eventually come in handy.

But the upshot was that the Hell Camino was the girl you always admired from a distance, you fantasized about being with her, and once she had you, she turned into the raging bitch monster from hell who never gave you a moment’s rest.

*****

For my next vehicle — since I was driving 45 minutes daily from New Haven to Waterbury, and going up and down the hills of Connecticut in all seasons, and driving to games a lot more frequently now that I was covering the Hartford Whalers, and since I was doing more DJ gigs — I wanted practicality. I wanted durability. I wanted a truck — better yet, a 4×4. A little more macho than my true nature, but I needed it for the mentioned reasons. And I wanted something much closer to new.

I found it at the same Chevy dealer in Waterbury where I had bought my first car. It was an ’87 GMC Sierra Custom 1500 — dark blue, short bed, short wheelbase, built like a brick. And it only had 10,000 miles on it. Getting up high in a cab would take some getting used to, but one thing I wouldn’t have a hard time adjusting to was making fewer trips to a mechanic. I think I paid $10,300 for it, necessitating my first car loan.

The day I got the truck was a liberating experience. My friend Rodi had given me a bootleg Big Star “Live From Radio City” cassette that served as a wonderful truckwarming gift. And late in that first afternoon, in August 1988, I drove it back down to New Haven — and while I was very happy and relieved to have a vehicle that ran, I encountered its shortcomings right off. The short wheelbase meant the truck would bounce on every single bump on the highway — something that was torture about a year later when I was on I-84 in New York state, a notorious stretch of bad road, on the way to my ex-girlfriend Ann Marie’s wedding in Pennsylvania. Also, it was another small-block GM V-8 engine, but it was a 305, a step down from my usual 350s, and the truck seemed seriously underpowered, a problem that became more pronounced the older it got.

Still, it was sturdy and did me well through about eight years of New England winters. And the wildest winter storm was the Valentine’s Day blizzard of 1993. Even in New Haven, on the shoreline, where the snowfall is usually minimal, that Saturday we had 18 inches. Plus an inch sheet of ice atop that.

But The Mummies were playing at CBGB that night. The Bay Area masters of unraveled, lo-fi garage trash and drunken revelry were playing two final shows at CB’s, then going overseas, then coming home to break up. And my fellow music fiend Fast Eddy, who lived up the hill from me, called me to tell me the show as still on. By that time, late afternoon, the precipitation had stopped.

I wasn’t driving into the City, but we could at least get to the train station — if I could get out of my parking lot, which hadn’t been plowed. The lot was in a huge downhill behind my building, and the landlord didn’t leave a shovel. I figured I had a big-ass 4×4, so I could get out eventually. It took an hour and a half of rocking back-and-forth to break the ice and get up the damn hill, and maybe another 15 minutes to get over the crest of ice left on East Grand Avenue by the plows, but I did it. I picked up Eddy, then drove to East Haven to get our pal Danny Ly, we stopped for a beer at the Anchor in downtown New Haven, then got on the train.

The show was well worth it. Lots of noise, wailing and drunkenness, and that was just the band. When we got to the Bowery, the snow was slush up past my boots, and I was sweating like a a pig and soaking my sweater and coat straight through, first in the club, then in the low-30s temperature — meaning I was cold and wet and miserable. We hung out in the West Village waiting to take the first train back to New Haven, the 5:40 from Grand Central. Even on the best of days, the 5:40 to New Haven is the worst train ever — an hour-40 trip takes nearly 2 1/2 hours. And the heater was out. And when I got home, I soon discovered that my cokehead guitarist roommate hadn’t turned on the heat, and the thermostat was down to about 40.

And when the snow melted some, I noticed that the crossmember beneath the transmission was bent. I still insist it was worth it.

I took it to Portland, Maine, three times — twice to see my favorite New Haven garage band, The Double Naught Spys (with Danny on bass), open for Portland’s girls of the garage, The Brood, at Geno’s, a dive bar on the outskirts of downtown; and once on vacation in the summer of ’93. That was the trip for which I finally broke down and joined AAA. I loaded my mountain bike in the back, filled a cooler with a case of Yuengling and headed off on my own. I spent one day hanging with my old college friend, Jennie, who lived on Peaks Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from the piers. (She’s now a Unitarian minister in Indiana.) There was also one glorious day on Long Island, just a few minutes farther away on the ferry. I parked the truck, unloaded my bike, boarded the boat and then rode around the island, and somewhere around 2 in the afternoon, I spotted a small cove with a huge flat boulder. And there, I decided, I would play lizard for the next two hours. It was one of the best skull-emptying sessions of my life.

The only recurring mechanical problems with the truck were electrical — I must’ve replaced the cap and rotor three times. Just shitty electrical. But finally, after about eight years, the little engine that couldn’t finally wore out.

In the winter of ’96-97, the engine started sputtering. I thought it was just misfiring. A friend of a friend highly recommended a young mechanic in Waterbury. He told me one of the cylinders was going. He said it would take about three weeks to do the job. It also cost $2,400.

Eight months later, it started acting up again — this time only worse. I was going through a quart of oil every two days, and the cabin was thick with the smell of 10W-30. The cylinder was gone again. Except when I went back to see him, he and the business were nowhere to be found. Hey, I fucked up — I trusted him.

Feeling angry, burnt and a little paranoid about trusting a mechanic, I picked the brains of some of my New Haven Register colleagues; they suggested Rob Lyons, whose garage was on the Boulevard, a couple miles away from the office. Rob, a quiet, unassuming, nice guy, told me straight out the truck wasn’t worth fixing. By then, it was rusting as well; my once-seemingly impenetrable Big Blue Bruiser had a quarter-sized hole in the passenger door panel. He offered to buy the truck for the body, so he could drop in a motor and use it around the lot as a snowplow.

So in the summer of 1996, I left the truck with Rob. It had just 10,000 miles on it when I got it; I left it at 184,000. If I’m not mistaken, I think it’s still sitting in the back lot of his garage; I don’t think he ever got around to putting an engine in it.

*****

By this point, I was through with small-block GMs. And trucks. I wanted something good-looking. But reliable.

I wanted a Toyota.

Yes, kids, there was a time not too long ago when Toyota was the gold standard for reliability — I’d heard time and again from people who owned them, and some who didn’t, that you couldn’t kill a Toyota. And that was enticing.

A woman in Waterbury had an ’86 Celica ST for sale, about $3,800. My pal Mikey Friedler and I made the drive from New Haven to check it out. It looked solid enough. The engine sounded fine — a little small at 2.0 liters, and as I later learned, 97 horsepower, but it seemed to have enough getup to it. After all, a Toyota didn’t need a 305 under the hood. And it had a five-speed — my very first standard, which meant better gas mileage and better control. It was fuel-injected and had an electronic ignition, meaning I wouldn’t have to deal with faulty GM carburetors and distributors anymore. It did have one thing most Celicas didn’t have: a trailer hitch, which the owner used for hauling her Jet Ski. Not that I would need it, but as long as she wasn’t hauling anything too heavy, that was fine.

Plus, the ’86-89 Celicas were good-looking little cars — I’d even say cute, with their modified wedge design — and they had hideaway headlights, which I’d liked since childhood, since the days of the ‘mid-’60s Corvettes and the ’67 Camaros and Cougars. Sold.

I forget how many miles it had on it, but it did me well for at least the first 2 1/2 years. I truly enjoyed the, well, poor man’s sportiness about it. It looked good, I didn’t need to stand on a milk crate to reach the hood and the roof when I went to the car wash, and the engine was reliable. It got me about 30 mpg on the highway and 25 in city driving. And in the summer of ’97, it did get me to Myrtle Beach and back, and that’s when I learned just how good the air conditioning was.

Unfortunately, the engine was the only thing reliable about the car. When the damn thing went, it went.

There was the time the clutch went on the Merritt Parkway — a venerable, crowded, narrow highway on a busy Saturday night, And the Sunoco station where it was towed in Westport fucked me for $950 for it. Water seeped in and wreaked havoc with the electrical wiring and shorted out my tail lights at one point. One night, just where I-91 flowed into 95 South in New Haven, I picked up a shredded truck tire tread that acted like a whip and cracked the lower front fiberglass housing and trashed the alignment of my right front.

But in the end, it was the body that gave way. I hadn’t known that, as reliable as Toyota engines were at the time, their bodies, like their electrical systems, were shit, especially in the harsh, salted-roads-in-winter climate of New England. By the summer of 2000, the water had seeped in beneath the trunk and started eating away the lid from the inside. By the end of the summer, at around 164,000 miles, I only opened the trunk if I really needed to; the passenger-side hinge was starting to rust its way through the lid.

It was time.

*****

On Labor Day 2000, I was heading to my brother Ken’s place in Naugatuck, driving up Route 63, and I saw a full used-car lot a couple miles from Route 8.

I had discovered I liked my cars smaller, good-looking, and I liked white as a color. But I wanted something more rugged than my dying Celica.

The Jeep Wrangler looked nice, and it was my first choice for a replacement vehicle. It was definitely rugged, and I could haul my records and CDs to and from my radio shows with less hassle than I had sometimes getting them out of the trunk of my old Celica. But I did have my reservations about them. The gas mileage would be considerably less than I was getting with the Celica, it would be loud as hell, even with a removable hardtop, and I hadn’t forgotten how jarring a ride I had with my short-wheelbase GMC. Plus, the prices were pretty steep for the value.

I was looking for a Wrangler when I pulled into J&M Automotive Sales. Instead, I found a white Celica — $7,400.

It just beckoned me — not a come-hither look, but a shy and alluring smile. That’s more my speed.

I had never considered the ’90-’93 Celica models. In fact, I didn’t like their looks at all in comparison to my ’86 — too big and too rounded. But the hatchbacks were fastback and had a better look than the coupes.

I mulled it over and finally returned later that week to talk about the car. Turns out Garrett Johnson, one of the owners, knew my name because he was a loyal listener to my radio station, WPKN, and had heard my show before and had donated money to the station. We talked about the ups and downs of Celicas — he told me that Toyota had worked out the bugs that had plagued the ’86-’89 cars, mainly the body problems. Also, the electrical bugs had been solved for the ’90-93 models. And it also had a two-way moonroof — tilt the roof slightly upward or retract it. And the engine was larger — 2.2 liters and 135 horses — so that was good. And it only had just under 87,000 miles on it — not bad for an 8-year-old car. I took it for a test drive one afternoon on a break from work and liked the power I felt as I headed north on Route 8.

By the beginning of the next week, I was ready to take it. We did a mild amount of haggling to get it down to $7,000, since it had been sitting on the lot for a while, and I was able to get a loan through my credit union. And since I was on vacation, I was ready to take it on a little trip to Provincetown and get the hell away from New Haven. I left the car at my folks’ house, to be towed away by one of those donate-a-car-for-charity groups. It looked forlorn sitting there awaiting its trip to its final resting place, wherever that may be. But I didn’t feel sentimental pangs, just relief.

I was ready for my new car and my first trip. But first — my first mechanical malfunction.

The car had been sitting in the lot so long that the coolant had eaten through the cheap radiator. Toyota radiators are plastic with copper tubing, a far cry from the bulky old-school coolers. And since they’re so light, it’s just a matter of removing the handful of clips holding it to the car, lifting it out and dropping in a new one, just like that. Mine sprung a leak the very next morning, when I had planned to hit the road. Instead, I had to bring it back to the dealer, where they ordered a replacement and put it in free of charge the morning after that.

Then I could head to the Cape. No problems.

*****

And I headed to a lot of places. I mean, besides Connecticut, where I had to drive almost everywhere and would put over 20,000 miles a year on the odometer. Counting California, this car of mine has been in 16 states. (Lessee: All six New England states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland (and D.C.), Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia …)

In September 2002, I took it South for my longest road trip, a week and a half. Started with a 13-hour drive to Raleigh, to stay three nights with my old journalist friend Orla, attend the opening of a show of prints by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh at a gallery my first night in town, and eventually eat at my first Ethiopian restaurant. Then, an eight-hour drive on I-40 to Nashville on the first anniversary of 9/11, and along the way there, I learned about the death of John Unitas, tasted my first Krystal burgers (the Southern equivalent of White Castle, only with mustard instead of ketchup), and, as the moon rose over the hills of eastern Tennessee, picked up the home of the Opry, WSM, which was commemorating the anniversary by playing a program of old-school country gospel. Stayed most of my visit at a Knights Inn off I-24 where I experienced fast food nirvana: a White Castle almost directly across the street and a Krystal a quarter-mile down the road. Saw some old friends, enjoyed a songwriters’ circle that Friday night at the Bluebird Cafe (led by the legendary writer Don Schlitz), and spent a Saturday at the Country Music Hall of Fame (where the clerk in the gift shop told me she liked my Monks T-shirt).

After a stop at the Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s home) on the way out of Nashville, started making my way up I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley.  Stayed overnight in Staunton, Va., and went to Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace the next morning before continuing back up 81 — where, as fate had it, I landed in the home of my father’s side of the family, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., just past dinner. And I dropped in to say hi to my aunts and uncles — Ellie and Blanche, but they weren’t home, and then across the street to knock on Gil and Pat’s door. They not only opened the door, but fed me and put me up for the night. (It was the last time I saw my Aunt Pat, who passed three years later.) Saw the aunties the next day before finally heading back to New Haven.

There was the night I drove up to one of my favorite quiet spots in the world, the Lourdes Shrine in Litchfield, Ct., only it wasn’t a silent night — it was Christmas Eve, and I drove up for the vigil Mass. It might have been the last time I attended a Catholic Mass that had nothing to do with a wedding or funeral. Anyway, the sky was cold and crisp — and crammed with stars. Just an appropriately beautiful, still night/stille nacht for a Christmas Eve. So afterward — before heading down to Bridgeport to do a Christmas overnight radio show — I made a detour of a few miles to the little town of Bethlehem … with the moon roof open, so I could soak in the bracing cold and occasionally sneak an upward glance and catch all the beauty in the sky above. Bethlehem was quiet at midnight — dead asleep, really — but I had to do it before I made my way back to civilization. And eventually the cold won and I shut the roof as well.

There were the yearly trips to Provincetown the week before Memorial Day, where I would always go on a whale watch … and where, in the spring of 2001, I dared to go to a vintage clothing shop on Commercial Street, find a dress, wig and shoes, and go out as my better half for the first time that didn’t involve Halloween. (For West Coasters who think Connecticut is Jersey, P-town is at the tip of Cape Cod, the eastern end of U.S. 6 — which, until the state of California decertified most of its segment in 1964 and cut it off at Bishop, ran all the way to Santa Monica and was the longest highway in the country. A fishing town founded in 1620, P-town has also been home to artists of all sorts for generations — Eugene O’Neill once ran a playhouse there — and has long been a gay tourist site, especially in the summer. In the winter, it’s a cold, desolate, isolated, windswept bitch of a place.)

My last visit, in ’03, I drove up late on a Friday and was starting to nod off while driving on 495 in the rain through New Bedford, Mass. — at least until Jason Giambi belted a grand slam in the bottom of the 14th, in the wee hours, to give the Yanks a win over the Twins, and the loudmouth John Sterling’s “Theeeeeeeee Yankees win!” call sent a surge through me that kept me going until I got to P-town around 3 a.m. I woke up the next day to a horizontal rain and realized I didn’t have an umbrella. An hour later, I landed at a Benny’s general store down in Dennisport, where, at the $5 umbrella bin (buried for some godforsaken reason on a bottom shelf in automotive), I ran into an old Connecticut music friend and extremely talented musician named Pat O’Connell. He lives above the elbow of the Cape, occasionally records and sometimes plays out with stray members of NRBQ and The Incredible Casuals. One of the classic cases in my life of “There are no coincidences.”

There was no question the car was coming with me to California the following March. Besides, I thought it only fair that a car that got me through New England winters should get some leisure time in the California sun.

*****

California brought a whole new set of challenges. Well, for one, any place I wanted to go outside of Fresno was a drive. This wasn’t the East Coast, with less than a mile between most exits and a lot of well-lit highways. The 99 freeway is mostly a swath of darkness through the San Joaquin Valley, and if you’re not awake, you’re in trouble. And any place worth going from Fresno is a drive: the coast is about 2 1/2 hours, the Bay Area and Sacramento three hours, Los Angeles four, San Diego and Las Vegas six. (I’ve taken it to the Bay Area countless times, Sacramento once and L.A. about four times.) And the dry heat is brutal — normally in the upper 90s and 100s from June through the beginning of October, around 110 the last two weeks of July. (This year was an exception.) The prospects of overheating, especially climbing mountains, such as I-5 over the Grapevine, are strong.

And there are other challenges. Like the time my catalytic converter went in ’05. The Firestone garage that was recommended to me called me to say it would take another day or two because it wasn’t a California converter. As you might know, California cars are held to the toughest emissions standards in the country, and some of the parts differ out here. When all was done, it was over a grand — and since everyone was tied up with deadline work, I had to ride my bicycle in a cold downpour about 10 miles — in the days when I was grossly out of shape — to pick up the damn thing.

Or going to fill the gas on my air conditioner. I have a ’93 car, which was the year manufacturers switched from freon to less harmful gases. But what I didn’t know was that the car makers kept installing the old systems until they ran out, and mine was an old system, and a freon refill is a fortune, which is why your masochistic hostess doesn’t have working AC.

Meanwhile, the car would go through tiny alterations — some by me, some by age — that were defining little passages unto itself and sometimes annoyances. The stickers that defined part of who I was: a Hot Wheels logo on the rear hatch deck, from a Hot Wheels convention. The WPKN window clings in the rear quarter windows. The yellow Connecticut emissions sticker on my side from 2004, my last year there.

The flame-job front license frame that was a going-away gift from my favorite 8-year-old-girl in the world (now my favorite 15-year-old), Cameron.

The retractable antenna that stopped retracting. The rear window light housing that cracked after I stuffed my bike in the hatch in haste one day. The right rear tail light that I cracked in the same manner and had to replace, with a junkyard version that had a broken screw hole, meaning I had to help fasten it with duct tape. (It’s now a little loose, not totally flush to the body.) The driver’s seat I had to replace with a junker because the back broke off the original one day in mid-drive (talk about fat), and the seat belt light has since gone on and off at will. The original radio/cassette that I replaced with a CD/cassette/radio combo. Little annoyances/scars/decorations that give it, well, personality.

Mostly, though, it’s been a good car. And while long hauls out here are truly long hauls, the short ones are really short. I was only about three miles from work, and most places in Fresno/Clovis — the world’s largest model railroad layout — are close by. Plus, I use my bike now to run some errands, such as mailing bills and buying lottery tickets. If I’ve put more than 12,000 miles a year on the car since I’ve been out here, that’s a lot.

And through it all, the gas mileage has been excellent. It’s been consistent the whole time I’ve owned the car: about 25 mpg city, 33 on the freeway.

But the signs of age have been accelerating. The car’s becoming a money pit.

First, it was the broken water pump in April. And because the timing belt drives the water pump on these engines, that had to be replaced as well. Dave, my mechanic, was gentle on me — I was expecting a bill much higher than the mid-4s.

Then the big reality check. At the end of June, en route to the San Francisco Pride Parade, I noticed, as I was waiting to have a flat replaced, that my radiator was leaking. I took it to Dave the next day, and actually, it wasn’t the radiator — it was the heater core going on me. He told me it was time to get another car. I asked if we could just drop in a rebuilt engine, and he said it wouldn’t be worth it — the body had gone through too many New England winters and wasn’t in great shape.

He patched it up best he could, but an hour after I got the car back — and after closing — I felt a sharp sting on my left ankle as I drove. And then I saw the temp gauge spike rapidly. And then I realized what stung me and pulled over immediately — I saw a pool of green form beneath my feet. The core flat-out went; I had it towed back to the shop, and they bypassed the core the next day. I just won’t have heat in the car if it makes it to the winter, that’s all — bundle up, kids.

Damn — I had heard 200,000 was only half-life for Toyotas.

Of course, it all adds to the feeling of being a total loser — unemployed, stuck in Fresno, with a car that’s falling apart, a very disagreeable housemate who really makes me uneasy, and now no health insurance. And no place to go, really. It’s a small part of what almost sent me over the cliff the month of August.

And the last couple weeks, the car has run a little rough. It feels as if I just caught a few bunches of watered-down Shell. But maybe it’s worse, as the gas treatment doesn’t seem to be working. The tranny, perhaps? And the car almost overheated on the way back from Santa Cruz and San Francisco Labor Day night, and the temp gauge was starting to climb above midway when I returned from Monterey with my friend Heather a week ago Saturday evening — even after topping the radiator that morning.

As I pulled in front of the Iron Bird Cafe on the 10th anniversary, the odometer, which read something like 86,800 when I bought the car, read 243,473.  That’s a lot of miles, literally and metaphorically, even with diminished driving out here the past 6 1/2 years. I didn’t really feel like celebrating, though — not with the fear that it’s just gonna fall apart on me at the worst possible time. Well, hell, any time you’re out of work is the worst possible time, innit?

I’m not overly sentimental where I’ll have a hard time letting go, even though I wrote at length. It’s just that I think it’s cool and unexpected that I was able to make a used car stretch out over 10 years of my ownership and 18 in all. So this will be its obituary in advance. I’m just hoping something gives soon. And not my sanity. Or my car.

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