Sunday, September 07, 2003

The car

I was going through a box of papers, and came across this piece I wrote for a magazine class in college. The funny thing is that I'm still good friends with Brian, and he's perhaps even more eccentric now.
As we sit in my living room, my friend Brian keeps glancing anxiously out the window toward the parking lot where he parks his car. He is checking for tow trucks -- he is convinced that the parking company is out to get him.

He is obsessed by this.

Of course, his concerns are not totally unjustified. He just mailed a late payment, and the last time the company was convinced he owed money, his car was towed. But when you get right down to hi, there's something a little odd about Brian's relationship with his car.

"I think parking lot attendants are automatons," he tells me. "They're an unwitting part of the system." The "system," in Brian's world, includes parking attendants, the police, tow truck drivers, meter maids, and anyone else who tells him where he can park his car. (Or for that matter, how he can drive it -- he says he doesn't "believe in 'no right turn on red' signs.")

This is no idle pursuit. Brian spends an almost frightening amount of time coming up with ways to foil tow truck operators.

"If you park your car," he says, "leave the wheels turned in such a way that if the two truck pulls it out, the car will turn and smash into something!" And woe betide the poor schlub who does succeed in towing his car. There is a scrape on one of the doors left when his mother ran into a snow bank. "If my vehicle is ever towed," he says, "I'll have something to hold up against the towing company for damaging the car!"

I wonder if perhaps this kind of fanaticism runs in the family. Brian says that his uncle removes the starter from his engine whenever he parks it. And although he boasts that this technique once foiled a thief, you have to admit that there's something a little, uh, weird about taking a wrench to the engine every time you pull into a parking lot.

On top of everything else, Brian's car has a name. Baby. "I think of my car as feminine," he says. And by anyone's estimation, "Baby" leads a pretty sheltered life. Her oil gets changed religiously every 3000 miles, and her fluids are checked on a biweekly basis. She gets a wax job every time she heads for Syracuse. And Brian refuses to move the car, turn on the defroster, the radio, or any other accessory until the car has been running for at least 45 seconds. ("It puts strain on the engine.") And if Brian has to avoid hitting something or someone, Brian says he tries not to slam on the brakes. ("It would cause them to wear.")

Despite all this rationalization, you have to wonder if there is something else to this whole car obsession. For most people, a car is simply a device that gets them from point A to point B. Brian's car seems to fall into the category of loved one.

"Have you ever considered," I ask him, "that you might be using your car as a surrogate for a woman?"

"Shut up," he says. "I'll tell you when I have a girlfriend."

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