Wednesday, December 06, 2017

What's in a Car? A Sedan By Any Other Name... Ode to a Family's First Wheels

In August of 2006, my wife and I drove off the lot with a brand new 2007 Kia Magentis and a huge debt. On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, that same car was dropped off at a different dealership in a different town, most likely to be stripped for parts, then scrapped, with maybe some obligatory junkyard sex in and/or with the backseat. (Listen, I'm not sure what kind of kinky sex stuff the average junkyard owner is into, and I'm not going to judge. All I know is that a man can get lonely out there in the scrapyard, and there's no shame in a man doing what he needs to do to stay warm on those long, cold, winter nights.)

To other people, it was just another indistinguishable blue, four-door sedan, but to me and my family, she was an indelible part our history. When we first bought her, my wife and I were young and idealistic and unburdened with the responsibilities of parenthood or restraining orders against me from Scarlett Johansson. We needed something to replace the Chevy POS we were driving around in that her father had helped her secure for the bargain basement price of $3,000 (the whereabouts of the previous owner are still listed as "unconfirmed" by the police). Neither my wife nor I had any experience buying a car, and so when we went to buy our first car together, we, of course, paid through the fucking nose.

Looking back, it was bad. We did not try to negotiate. Like, at all. We were so overwhelmed by the process and happy to find a car we liked that we just wanted to get the whole fucking thing over with. It was the kind of thing that years later you refer to as a "learning experience" to try and help lessen the sting, the type that can last for decades. And it's not like car dealerships do anything to make the experience any more palatable. I'm not sure how it happened, but the whole institution of shopping for a car (in North America at least) seems to have specifically designed to make you feel as shitty as possible even after you buy something you like.

But I won't say that we got fucked over, because that would imply that the product was somehow faulty in some way. We didn't do nearly as much research as we should have, but it seemed that we lucked out with the Magentis. Aside from what seemed like a slightly higher than average rate of brake repairs, she held up remarkable well under some extreme conditions. She survived five years in the harsh winter climates of Northern Ontario, and another six in the not-quite-as-harsh winter-ish climates of Southern Ontario. Nearly two hundred thousand kilometres, and no major repairs, replacements, or recalls.

Over the course of eleven years, our Kia Magentis served as transportation for my wife and I for to up to four concurrent jobs (two each) at one point. We brought both of our children home from the hospital in that car. We took it on countless family trips and somehow managed to stuff four people and all of our camping gear into that thing at least a couple times a year.

That car literally saved our life one of the aforementioned family trips. My daughter was still young enough to be in a car seat. For some reason, I was determined to make it to my parents' house on Christmas Eve to join in the festivities there. It wasn't snowing at that point, but the wind was pretty strong. Fuck it, I thought, shitty weather was part and parcel of living in the north. It was only afterwards, when the typically uneventful two-hour drive turned into four-and-a-half-hours of underwear-staining hell. The wind did not die down at all as I had assured my wife it would, and when the snows came in visibility went to shit and the roads became as ice. We passed no less than ten cars in that time that can gone off the road. The average speed for most of the time on the highway was somewhere around 30 km/h (for any Americans reading this, 30 km/h is roughly equivalent to "really fucking slow").

We were on the final stretch of that Batman-forsaken stretch of snow-blown highway when it happened. I had finally found a rhythm, following close behind a transport trailer. With visibility low, everybody was basically following the tail lights in front of them and hoping to whatever powers that may be that the fucker in front of them was a much better driver and didn't lead them into a thirty-car pile-up. I had just glanced up in my rearview mirror, when my wife screamed at me to "Watch out!"

In that split second, the transport had jackknifed, and the trailer was sliding sideways across both lanes of traffic. Because I had been following so close, we were then right in the space where the trailer would need to swing back should the driver be able to right himself. Instinctively, I hit the brakes. Hard. Surprisingly, we did not skid out of control into the ditch into an icy grave. Instead, the car held true. Even when we were then struck from behind the car immediately behind us that I had not considered when I hammered by breaks like a madman. Luckily, it was another sedan (we think) and it was basically a love tap on our bumper. Still, it scared the bejesus out of us. It was a slightly-less-than-two-lane highway by that point with the snow, and there was no real way to know for sure where the shoulder of the road ended and the ditch began, so we were unable to meet our first and only fender bender counterpart. Like being grinded up against by a random stranger at a concert, I may never know who I shared such a publically intimate experience with.

That was years ago now, but I still wonder to myself. If we had been driving any other car except the exact car we were driving, would we have made it home for Christmas or ended up as another statistic? I mean, probably, but until somebody creates an entire, identical alternate universe as a control group where the only thing different was that we were driving a Honda Civic that night, nobody can disprove the fact that driving in anything other our Magentis, in that exact snowstorm, under those exact circumstances, being rubbed up against by that exact other car that me and my family most likely would have ended up in a horrible wreck buried in snow with our frozen corpses serving as the kind of grim tableau that would work great as a heavy metal album cover.

Sometimes, a car is just  a car (or, if you're Freud, it's probably a dick). Sometimes, it's a chariot that transports your family brazenly into its next adventure. Sometimes, it's a stinky, rolling cage of barely contained rage and fast food wrappers. Sometimes, it's a transport for oversized furniture that it wasn't meant to haul by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, it's a travelling house on wheels that stinks of campfire smoke and rain-drenched clothing and gear. Sometimes, it's a taxi. Sometimes, an ambulance. Sometimes, Santa's sleigh. Sometimes, a garbage truck. Sometimes, a limousine.

And always, part of the family.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your rear bumper.
May the sun shine warm upon your windshield,
And rains fall soft upon your wipers.
And may you be in heaven half an hour 
Before the wreckers know you're scrap.


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