Jessie Raymond: Cupholder, engine, wheels … check

“Do you drive a lot?” he asked.
“About four miles a day,” I said.
“Great! Well, this model has cruise control, so that’ll come in handy.”
I sighed.
I hate car shopping.
That was two weeks ago, and in the end, I drove away from the lot in a new (used) car. I forget which kind.
Just a couple of weeks before that, I had taken my old car to the garage for a routine oil change. When I bopped in after work to pick it up, the mechanic met me at the door and said, in a subdued tone, “Your inspection isn’t due until February.”
“Good to know!” I said, commending his recall of trivia.
“What I mean,” he said, clearing his throat, “is, um, that should give you enough time to find a replacement.”
“Wait, what?”
My car needed a great deal more than an oil change.
I sobbed quietly into an oil rag as the mechanic ticked off the list of necessary, expensive repairs, many of them rust-related, that would be required to get the car to pass inspection.
Still hopeful, I said, “But then it will be all good and it’ll last a few more years, right?”
He shook his head.
And that was that.
So I spent the next couple of weeks looking into various used vehicles, carefully weighing cost against ratings, age and mileage. I test drove a few. The salesmen tried to wow me with horsepower, power seats and powertrain warranties, but all I could see was a new, unwelcome car payment.
I could have researched more vehicles. I could have test driven more models. But it came down to this: I just don’t care much about cars.
Salespeople always want me to look under the hood. Why? Nowadays all cars come with an engine, a battery and a reservoir for windshield-wiper fluid, right? I just can’t summon the appropriate awe for rack-and-pinion dual-slot power-boost hose clamps.
And I’m only slightly more interested in a car’s interior. I insist on a steering wheel and a cup holder. Everything else is just fluff.
I don’t want to “take ’er out and see what she can do.” I want a car that starts and runs and — unlike a certain 11-year-old vehicle I know — isn’t likely to crumble into a pile of rust powder in my driveway between now and February.
The poor salespeople try so hard.
“How about that handling?” they ask after a test drive.
“Yes, the wheels turn when I steer,” I say, hoping that’s the correct response.
“And look: The cruise control buttons are located conveniently right here on the steering wheel!” they say.
“I drive four miles a day,” I find myself saying, over and over.
I know they have to go through their spiels. I know they’d be remiss if they didn’t eagerly show me how the rear seats fold down, as if this is some revolutionary technology that previously was only available to the military.
And yes, I’m amazed by how complicated and slick cars are these days. But they don’t inspire in me the kind of soul-stirring passion I feel for, say, butter.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the novelty. So far with this new car — I think it’s a Chevy or a Ford, or maybe a Dodge, very shiny — I’ve spent a lot of time playing with the Bluetooth system and the back-up camera and reminding myself that the gas tank is on the passenger side. Change is good, right?
And I love that, unlike with my old car, this key fob works; now I can unlock the doors without having to insert the key in the driver’s side door. It’s going to take months to get used to unlocking the car with my arms full of groceries and not dropping a single bag in the parking lot.
I like that it has a remote starter and heated rearview mirrors, and that it will tell me how many more miles I can go before I run out of gas. (At four miles a day, I suspect it’s going to be sometime after Christmas.)
Tomorrow, for kicks, I’m going to try the cruise control. Using the buttons conveniently located on the steering wheel, I’ll set it to 25 miles per hour for my two-mile commute through downtown Middlebury.
I’ve never quite understood the point of cruise control, but as far as I can tell, if I blow through the stop signs and don’t hit any red lights, it should work.

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