Tuesday, August 22, 2006

a donkey ride down memory lane

In one of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse…you get the idea), of which I was very fond in high school, girl detective Kinsey Millhone confides that, while she’s no bloodthirsty killer, she’s glad she knows how to shoot a gun—that it’s just one of those skills that’s good to have, like drinking coffee black or driving stick.

I don’t like loud noises, and I prefer my caffeinated beverages to end in “-uccino” (frapp-, capp-…you get the idea), but I have always been proud of myself for being able to drive a car with a manual transition. It makes me just a teensy bit butcher.

But it’s a skill that had been fading fast, ever since I traded my ’87 Toyota Tercel for an automatic ’97 Honda Civic. I’ve been driving the latter for almost four years now, and have come to think of it as a fairly modest car in LA’s landscape of Hummers and Beamers and Honda Civics With $10,000 of Accessories Grafted Onto Them.

Yesterday I was reminded of the comparative luxury of the non-pimped Civic, however, when it failed its smog test. Because my dad is a Car Guy—and because I live just ten miles away and have never escaped his car care radius—he insisted that I take it to his mechanic in Manhattan Beach.

Instead of taking public transportation back home, or renting a car, I got to borrow my dad’s back-up car like the Car Guy Princess that I am. His non-back-up car is a 2005 BMW Z4. It’s the first new car he’s ever owned, and it’s, well, the ultimate driving machine. He grumbles about the quirks of its GPS navigation system the way someone might talk about the quirks of a new lover—completely unconvincingly. It’s clear that he’s just immersing himself in every detail of his new love, and wants an excuse to mention these little discoveries in a way that’s not braggy.

While I was theoretically grateful for the existence of the back-up car, I found myself grumbling in a non-loverly manner as I lurched home in the car I learned to drive on, a 1987 faded teal Suzuki Samurai.

It was the first time I’d driven a stick in years, plus it has acquired a number of not-so-endearing quirks since I was in high school. My dad mentioned them casually, one by one, as we drove back from the mechanic.

“So, to start it, you have to hold down this red button I installed.”

“Oh, of course you can drive it on the freeway. It’s just that sometimes it gets windy and the top almost flies off. So you have to keep the windows up. Which is unfortunate, since there’s no air conditioning.”

There is also no power steering, no airbag, no alarm and—I think this goes without saying—no GPS navigation system. And I quickly developed a bruise on my right ring finger from the wrestling match it takes to shift the car from third to fourth gear.

Nevertheless, as I vroomed up Sepulveda and Jefferson, I found myself readjusting to its rhythms, reminiscing about the early days of my driving life. About how Stephanie used to affectionately refer to the Samurai as “The Donkey.” About how brave I felt driving all the way from Manhattan Beach to Westwood for summer Daily Bruin training. About singing along loudly and badly to mix tapes of musical theater songs.

I also realized that the next time AK drives us somewhere in her sporty, slightly dinged but still badass Subaru and gets a little tipsy, I won’t have to hem and haw about my out-of-practice stick-shift abilities and suggest we just hang out and get a cup of coffee. I can confidently take the wheel and drive off into the sunrise, because I trained on The Donkey.


Bonnie said...

I can't believe that's your dad's car! That's not the Chris Klein I remember. I want one of those navigation thingies.

abby said...

As one "car guy princess" to another, I say you are super lucky to still be in driving range of dad's tinkering. Now that I live far away, I notice repair places take a lot less time and do a lot less "rigging up" of things, but are definitely not as affordable ;) I do have to drive an embarrassing, quirky little purple car when I go home, though -one he keeps for loaning out purposes. He says it's the car tht keeps on giving.

Claire said...

Cool. Reminds me of when an old gf was trying to teach me to drive stick. She was very into cars (and so was dad- go figure, eh? ;) I should write that up one of these days...

Claire said...

her dad was into cars, that is

Cheryl said...

Thank goodness for quirky cars and nice dads, right?

Bonnie: Yes, it's true, my dad has gone yuppie in his late-middle-age.