Let me start with the excuses. We bought our first minivan in the summer of 1990. That’s twenty years on the nose. A brown, used Chrysler Town and Country with that charming fake wood siding. Then a couple of new Town and Countries – the white one in 1995 and the blue one in 2003. We’ve had some other cars over that period – but those were the “good cars,” which, as any other married male reader knows means “the wife’s cars.” So I’ve been driving minivans for twenty years.
Flash forward to this summer. The Daja’s been working hard at her country club waitress gig (you can check out the Ninja Waitress post on her blog if you like). And she’s saved up some scratch for books and other college expenses, but she also got it in her mind to buy a car. Says she can get an off-campus job that way. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the distance to the nearest liquor store, or the fact that her tater-head boyfriend is living off campus now. Nothing like that. Anyway, talked it over with her, and she had about $1,200 saved up on the car front. So she hops on Craigslist and starts shopping for $1,200 dollar cars. I even went out and looked at one with her. An antediluvian Camry. It seemed like the engine might run forever, as those Jap engines will, but the tranny was making noises, the tires were bald, the brakes hadn’t been done in 20K, and the body looked like it might disintegrate entirely the first time she hit a pothole on 294 on her way back to college. And 294 is nothing but potholes. You can’t send a girl up in a crate like that.
So I got this brilliant idea. Minivan number three, the blue one for those keeping score, it’s got a little over 100K on it, but the oil’s been changed on time, we just had the timing belt and water pump done a year ago, the tires are newish – that puppy’s got a few good years left on her. Plus the Daja’s used to driving it – not to mention, there is that small dent under the right front headlight the kid put there that I decided to leave because the repair wouldn’t have been much more than the deductible. With the two other dents she’d racked up her first couple years of driving that we had gotten fixed, I really wasn’t anxious to draw any more attention from our insurance company. The minivan bluebooks out for $4000 and change, but if I sell it to her for the $1,200 she’s saved, then she has a safe set of wheels.
And I don’t have to drive it anymore.
Of course, that means I need a car. Not a new one, that’s not in the budget. The deal is this – I get the Daja’s $1,200 and my $4,500 dollar tax refund and not a penny more. Hey, with $5,700 bucks, I should be able to find something, right? And I’ve never really been a gearhead. Just something practical, something in decent shape, something that’s not a minivan.
And then I see the Audi. This guy in Naperville is advertising a ten-year-old A6 Quattro for $6100. I was heading that way to look at a couple other cars anyhow, so I figure why not take a peek. I was sure there’s be something wrong with it, some reason to go with one of the six- or seven-year-old Hondas I’d found. It was just a lark, a little peek at the posters in the Victoria’s Secret window while I’m on my way to Sears.
But the Audi was perfect. The mileage on the thing is almost identical to the minivan I sold to the Daja. The Carfax report was spotless. In the guy’s ad, he said minor exterior damage, so I’m expecting a dent. There’s a chip in the paint on the rear driver’s-side door the size of the business end of a kitchen match. That’s it. And the guy had this accordion file with his service records in it. Receipts for 26 oil changes, one every four thousand miles pretty much on the button, all with synthetic oil. New timing belt in 2008. New cooling system in 2007. Front and rear control arms last year. Only 7k miles on the brakes. Jesus, this guy’s ten-year-old receipts were in better shape than the car I just sold to my own daughter.
“You’re very fastidious,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “I am. Ask my first wife.”
And my little boy lizard brain was drooling. Full leather interior, six-disc CD changer, sunroof, one of those Kraut autobahn-loving engines, plus the car just looks cool as hell. The grown up part of my brain is saying, “You can’t buy an Audi. You’re not an Audi guy. You’ll have to buy premium gas. When something breaks, and something will break, it will cost a fortune to fix it.”
“Shut up,” Lizard Boy Brain said.
“Do you want to drive it?” the guy asked.
“Don’t do it,” said the grown up brain. “Thank the guy and leave.”
“Yeah,” I said.
I get in. The seat adjusts about a zillion different ways. I slide it back a touch, raise it a bit, tilt it forward a smidge, recline it a notch, nudge out the lumbar support a pinch. It’s like foreplay. Like the car wants me to be happy. Very, very happy.
I start it up and there’s this soft, throaty purr, nothing ostentatious, but a teasing aural note, like the car was licking my ear. The transmission shifts into reverse like silk. Like lubed silk. Like lubed silk sliding up a well-toned German thigh. So we cruise around the neighborhood a bit, I try out all the controls, everything works, and everything works better than the controls in any car I’ve owned – they feel more solid, they click into and out of place with more authority and less effort. Even the plastic, where there is plastic, feels better. This car is like a Geisha schooled in the arts of driver love.
Then the guy says “You’ll want to take it out on the interstate.”
Of course I do. So I cut up Winfield Road onto I-88.
“Try the Triptronic,” the guy says. See, the Audi has an automatic transmission, but you can pop it over to the right and shift where you want, keep the RPMs up if you need a little more oomph for passing or merging, but without the bother of a clutch. And that was fun. The car had plenty zip in auto, but drop it down a gear at say 60, goose the RPMs up to 3000 or so and you can shoot around a semi like Sarah Palin chasing a speaking fee. Take the minivan out on the interstate and get it up around 80, the thing is panting and you got enough road, engine and wind noise to drown out Al Sharpton. Take this little bitch up to 80 and that throaty purr moves up to a low growl. That’s it. No road noise, no wind noise, just the Geisha car toying with your happy bits, letting you know that there’s plenty more where that came from Big Boy, and if you want to go all the way, she’s your huckleberry.
By the time I get back to the guy’s driveway, Lizard Boy Brain had beat the shit out of Adult Brain, tied it to the kitchen chair and slapped duct tape over its mouth. Only thing was the price. Deal was the Daja’s $1200 and the $4500 tax refund, not a cent more. So I tell the guy I’ll go $5500 cash, right now. I tell him that’s what I got. I tell him the Adult Voice is telling me to go buy a Honda and be done with it, and that, if I leave, the Adult Voice is going to get loose from the chair, find the Lizard Boy Brain and ground him until the car shopping is done. Basically, I tell him $5500 is all the midlife crisis I can afford.
So we make the deal. Last time I loved my car was in 1978 when I bought my first one – a 1964 Falcon with the 260 Sprint V8. And I love this one better.
The car’s not a Geisha, of course. It isn’t devoted to my pleasure. It’s a femme fatale. It sucked me in with its seductive lines and flesh-covered seats and its sultry purr. Sure, she let me slide right in, and it felt great. Still does. And she’ll do things for me the minivans never even dreamed of doing, things that would make them blush right through their rustproofing. And she’ll do them with a lusty alacrity instead of plodding, pedestrian acquiescence. She’s a hot little piece of automotive strange, and she’s making me feel like I’m eighteen again.
It won’t last, of course. I’ll forget to wash her some week and she’ll punish me by asking for some fancy little German part that cost more than the transmission we had to drop into minivan number two. One of the kids will drop a bike against the door, and I’ll be looking at the scar while I’m pumping premium into her bitch hole and I’ll be asking myself if it’s really worth it. She’ll need new shoes, and I’ll find out I’m looking at the automotive equivalent of Manolos. I’ll end up with a Honda, with stains on the cloth seats, and I’ll be listening to the steady, boring hum of its reliable little engine, and I’ll swear it’s all for the best.
And all the time, I’ll be dreaming of Audi, the She-Wolf of the SS.