Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Orange VW Bug and Other Tales of the Terror of Buying a Car

Why did I wake up at 4:30 this morning in a panic? Because I bought a new car yesterday, and something about buying a car sends me into fits of anxiety. I can see that car from here, sitting in my driveway all bright red and shiny, tormenting me.

My parents bought me my first car, also red, when I was a sophomore in college. Even when they paid for it, the day I drove it home, I panicked. So much money! (and really, it wasn't so much money, just the most I'd ever spent for anything) And now I had to take care of the thing, put gas in it, check the oil.

After I hit a Jersey Barrier on a rainy night in St. Louis, I got a second car, one I hated as soon as I paid for it.

When I moved to NYC, I was happily car free for years. At some point, during Marriage Number 1, I bought a Jeep that lived at our house in the Berkshires, and for some reason with its four wheel drive and general utalitarian demeanor, it's the only car that did not produce the panic I am feeling this morning.

In April 1, 1993 I bought a used Volvo 240 for ten thousand dollars. Ten. Thousand. Dollars. I was nine months pregnant with my son Sam. I had just left my beloved Manhattan for Providence, RI. And now I had a new old car. I did not sleep that whole night. I liked that car. A lot. But for twenty four hours all I could think about was that money. Gone.

The Volvo was followed by a snazzy Passat wagon, bought for me by Husband Number Two. By that time, I had two kids and was making no money to speak of, so I accepted this gift gratefully and my anxiety level remained low.

One day, as I was waiting for the Passat to get its ninety thousand mile check up, a flash of orange caught my eye. There sat the cutest, brightest, VW Bug you've ever seen. I drove it around Seekonk, MA like it was already mine. But I didn't buy it. I talked about it though. All the time. I dreamed about owning it. And then one day, I saw an ad in my local coffee shop, for a used orange VW Bug. That's the one I bought. For twelve thousand dollars. I LOVED that car. Yet the panic struck. What was wrong with my reliable, cute-ish Passat? Why did I spend so much money?

(I actually wrote about that particular panic attack in the NYTimes:
"The Boys of Summer"

The Bug hit ninety-eight thousand miles and I sold it on Craigslist in like two minutes. Then I went and bought the cutest car I could find, a Mini Cooper Countryman, or as I like to call it, a Maxi Mini. It had four doors and a BMW chassis, a sun roof and a shiny blue exterior that was called Comet Blue. I parked that baby in the driveway and then tried to throw up.

Yesterday, I brought that car in for its thirty six thousand mile service and decided while I waited to check into re-financing. In the two years since I bought that car, my credit rating has improved dramatically. What did I learn when I checked on refinancing? That my credit rating had improved so much that for two thousand dollars I could get a whole new car and pay less for my monthly car payments? I had that check for two thousand ready to buy a warranty for the old car because I was miles away from the warranty expiring. I did some math. I gazed out at that Blazing Red Maxi Mini. Next thing I know, I own it. And just like that first car all those years ago, I'm in a state of panic. I don't even really like to drive! I like to walk. Or take subways. And now I have this new car...

I will love it soon. Maybe even by this evening when I drive it up the coast of Maine...