if you’re looking for a car, go see cal

I just drove twelve hundred miles in a 77 MGB. It even nearly made it, only running out of oil once and requiring just one push start. Driving an old rattley car that you really have to concentrate on to drive has its pros and cons. On the plus side, when you’ve been really stressed out and overthinking things, it’s a required break from all of that. Your brain mostly sticks with “really big truck; I should stay out of its way. Do I still have oil? Wow, this car is damn loud. Oh, pretty hill.” On the not-so-plus side, the car runs out of oil, randomly decides not to start, has no air conditioning, and is really damn loud.

When sitting in the car at midnight, no mechanic or rental car or tow truck for miles around, turning the key to only a clunking noise, I remembered what I thought when I bought my first actual brand-new car. And that thought was, “I will never drive an old car again.” I had been stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere at midnight too many times.

My very first new car was a base model Mazda Protege. No air conditioning or power anything. It even had roll up windows. I don’t think it even had a cassette player. I walked on to the lot and said to the guy who came up to me, “I want the cheapest car you have.” He started walking away as briskly as he had walked towards me as he pointed vaguely in another direction. “Someone over there can help you.”

And I left the days of being stranded behind. Well, until now. Only this time, it’s because I wanted the car, not because it was the only thing I could afford, and I knew it might have a little engine trouble. The guy who was helping me at the gas station asked if I’d popped the clutch to start a car before. I said I had, but it had been years. “You don’t forget,” he told me. I guess he was right. As it started up, he ran behind me, “don’t stop!” I waved at him as I drove off. Fortunately, I was less than two hours from where I was heading. Twelve hundred miles would be a long way with only push starting.

My senior year of high school, I drove a blue Honda CRX. I loved that car with its stick shift and its sunroof and its non-horribleness. I’d driven a lot of horrible cars, starting with my first car: a green 76 Nova. The CRX broke down on me too, of course, but it also caused the truckers to honk at me as I drove down the 5. I haven’t had a car cause that since until the MG. The difference is that the CRX went a lot faster down the freeway.

I’ve been pondering the difference between courage and recklessness. How can you tell if your decisions are brave or stupid? Is taking a road trip in a car that requires a quart of oil every couple of hours an adventure or just dumb? I guess the reason a leap of faith isn’t called a leap of a sure thing is that maybe there is no way to tell.

You read these self-help books. Trust yourself. Listen to your inner voice. But look at Britney Spears. A few short years ago she was singing about being tired of listening to other people tell her what to do and to “be someone else but me.” So, she started listening to herself and end up shaving her head and running around proclaiming to be the anti-christ. Maybe when people talk about listening to that inner voice, they don’t mean Britney’s.

So, the courageousness vs. stupidity? I don’t know. Sure, I don’t want to end up with a shaved head, but if I’m faced with a dead battery on the 5, I can always get a push start. It beats staying home.

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