Monday, April 13, 2009

Trust your car to the man who wears the star...

Whenever my husband gets in my car, he tells me it gives him “the skeeves.” He is a neat freak, so the fact that my car is not up to par really gets to him. But I don’t really care. I mean, I live in my car. And by “live” I don’t mean that I spend a lot of time in my car; I mean that life goes on there. I eat in my car, laugh in my car, and sometimes even cry in my car. In the backseat are books in case I need to kill time somewhere, canvas grocery bags because I try to be green, an umbrella (because I’m unrealistically optimistc about the possibility of rain), and a dictionary so I can look up words from KNPR. There are smudges on the passenger window from George’s nose as he watches the world go by on the way to the park. My car door has scratches on it from a very aggressive llama at a wild animal park. There is a stain on the backseat from a potted plant I bought that spilled when I took a sharp turn. To me, these are part of life – nothing to worry about.

And while the interior may be unkempt, the machinery of my car is doing just fine, thank you. It goes in for perfectly timed oil changes and regular checkups, due to one reason: years ago my Grandpa owned a Texaco service station.

When I was a kid, Grandpa and his brother still owned the service station on the West side of town in Paoli, Indiana. It was a special place where the local men went to socialize. I was allowed to sit in the brown leather chair in between the front window and the ice cream freezer. If I was lucky Grandpa would give me an ice cream sandwich or I would be there when the last cigar was sold so I could take home the cigar box and put special things in it.

My Uncle John worked at the station in the summer, long and lean in his green shirt with the Texaco patch. I could see him helping customers at the pump, but I was not allowed to go into the service area where the cars were hoisted high. That was a serious area – no kids allowed.

At my Grandpa’s funeral two years ago, a man walked up to Grandma and introduced himself. “Your husband saved my life,” he told her. Years before, he had been out of money and desperate and was walking a small country road looking for work when Grandpa pulled alongside him in his pickup truck and offered him a ride. When Grandpa found out he was looking for a job, he offered him one at the station. “I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t saved me that day,” the man said to Grandma. He ended up working at the station for over 15 years.

Grandpa and I didn’t have a lot in common when I got older, but we could always talk about my car. “How many miles does it have on it?” he’d ask when I drove home from college. Later when I flew in from Vegas to visit, he’d always ask the make, model, and color of my rental. Over the years he gave a lot of car advice from his reclining chair by the front window in the living room.

Everyone in my family knows to follow certain “automobile rules.” Don’t slam the car doors. Don’t drive barefoot. Always pull up to the farthest pump at the gas station. Put a concrete block in the back to keep you from sliding on icy roads. Don’t speed. Follow the rules. We were taught to respect our cars and fellow motorists.

As I write this, I wonder why I don’t respect my car enough to keep the interior clean. But I just figured out why. One summer when Mom’s car’s front corner was dented by another driver, Grandpa fixed it and then painted the corner of the yellow car a bright brick red. Mom was mortified. But I can see Grandpa’s reasoning. It was a good car that was impeccable in its machinery and ran well. What it looked like didn’t matter.

So the next time you’re in my car, please know that it will get us where we need to go. Don’t mind my empty drink cup or the paw prints on the dashboard. I take care of my car in the way that matters. I LIVE in my car!

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