Driving the Unicorn

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‘I’ve never bought a car. Not a new one, anyway.’

A couple of weeks ago I revealed to all and sundry that I have never, in all my grownup life, bought a couch. (See the aptly-named “I have never bought a couch” for deets.) Not buying a couch, I mused, meant that I’m probably not really a grownup.

Well, today I’m going to admit that I have never bought a car, either. Well, I have bought a car — an old Austin America, which I’ll tell you about in a sec — but I’ve never bought a new car. Where you go in a showroom and talk to a car dealer. You know, like that guy Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo”.

I remember going to the showroom with my whole family to buy this Ford station wagon. It was brown and cream and smelled amazing

I got to thinking about this whole new-car thing because we just got back from our annual Best-Friends-in-the-Catskills Visit. (See “Take me home, Country Road” for a nice tale about them.) Said Best Friends always have a new car — they lease a brand-new Mercedes every year. (Something to do with business or some such.)

Whatever the reason, they always have a new car — and each new car is more intimidating (at least to me) than the last. The current model has a dashboard that looks like a fighter pilot’s, with flashing lights and LED displays and GPS maps. It talks to you, this car. (“Fasten seat belt, please”) And it “helps” you. It not only has a rear-view thingie that “assists” in backing up, it can also parallel park itself. I am not making this up. Oh — and it has no car key; just this sort of fob thing that kept getting lost all weekend.

The part that really got to me, though, is how this car “corrects” you if you veer across the yellow line or onto the shoulder. Honest. If you stray, it steers itself back into the lane. It also brakes itself if an obstacle presents itself suddenly. (Think deer here). It will even drive itself — staying in the lane and keeping at a constant speed. But it “warns” you (with a jerk) if you take your hands off the wheel for 30 seconds. I guess even the Mercedes Makers think some civilities must be maintained.

Sheesh. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to drive a car that thinks it’s smarter than me. (Shades of “Christine”.)

Nope, not the Austin America. This was a Chevy Vega that I also did not buy. The Guy Before The Dude and I are getting ready to drive off in it on our honeymoon. Sigh

One car I did buy on my own was a definitely not-new brown Austin America, which was the shape and size of (and kind of looked like) a bus shelter. Sadly, I do not have photographic evidence of ownership of this car. I bought it for 800 bucks — cash — from a woman who was saving up to run away from her abusive husband. She tucked the cash into a Ritz Cracker box in the pantry and handed me the keys.

Me, around the time I bought the Austin America

This car was Trouble from the word “go” (or in this case, “no go”). For one thing, the engine was mounted sideways. Which meant that, when it rained, the alternator would get wet (are you surprised I know what an “alternator” is?) and the thing would, well, just…stop. This happened once at three in the morning on Interstate 70 halfway across Missouri. A trucker stopped to “help” me and offered to let me sleep in his bunk. Um, “no thanks”, I said and asked him to ferry me to the Truckstop up ahead instead. To this day, I shudder to think that I got in the truck with him.

Also, (less dramatic, but still) the driver’s-side window wouldn’t open. One day I needed to get gas right after having some fairly major dental work. When I drooled “fiww ih uh” to the attendant at the gas station through a crack in the door, he gave me quite a look.

Not the Austin America either. But somewhat reminiscent of the overall effect

Back to the New Car Thing. Though I haven’t bought one on my own, The Dude and I have bought new cars together. The first was a Honda CRX, which was a sporty little two-seater. The Dude’s Dad took one look and asked, “Where are you going to put the baby?” “What baby?” is what we thought (but did not utter aloud). Of course, as luck would have it, we did in fact pop out The Child shortly after buying this polar opposite of a “family car”. But we simply strapped her baby seat into the cargo hold with windsurfing bungie straps. I’m dying that I can’t find a picture of this work-around.

So what is this Unicorn for which I have titled this story? It was (and is) the last new car The Dude and I bought together: a ’98 Toyota 4Runner, which (pause for drama) we bought in the Fall of 1997 and is the same car we drive today. The Car Guy who takes care of it for us calls it a “Unicorn” because cars like this one are rare indeed and guys like him love to work on them. (Lots of mechanical stuff; very little electronic stuff.) Guys who look like they really know their cars actually offer to buy this car on the spot when we’re stopped at a light.

The Toyota has a nice plain ole car key. But no bells, no whistles, and definitely no voice that talks to you. It doesn’t help you back up, can’t park itself and wouldn’t dream of scolding you if you took your hands off the wheel. The Dude and I plan on driving this puppy till it won’t drive anymore.

Maybe, instead of a new car, I’ll buy me a can of new car smell. (Somebody told me you can do this.) Because that’s the only thing I miss when I get behind the wheel of The Unicorn.

Off into the sunset with The Unicorn

New York City. October 2018

 

A match made in heaven

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‘A Road Trip and a Wedding. Who could ask for anything more?’

We’ve gotten to the point where we are no longer going to the weddings of friends; we are going to the weddings of friends’ children. Oh, I suppose it could be worse — we could be going to the weddings of friends’ grandchildren.

Say “blind date!” The Dude captures Dad and Mom of Bride, at left

We went to a particularly satisfying wedding last weekend. This one was of note not only because the Parents of the Bride are friends of ours, but because The Dude had actually introduced them to each other. Dad of Bride had been The Dude’s college roomie; Mom of Bride had been a cute hospital nurse. The Dude fixed them up on a blind date — and bingo! The rest — and two gorgeous daughters — is history. Of course we got invited to their weddings. In a way, Dude Man is responsible for their existence.

Future Mom of Bride, center, with Fixer-Upper Dude at right. Not sure who the heck the Blonde is, but I didn’t see her at this wedding. Or at least I don’t think I did

Regular readers of mine (bless you) know that not only am I inordinately fond of weddings (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for deets), but that I am an absolute sucker for a good road trip (some of which you can read about in “Drive, she said”.) Well, this event featured both. We not only got to go to one of the best parties ever (I mean, what’s not to like about a wedding?), we got to go there by car.

Well, there is one problem with a road trip — traffic. Here’s some that was at least going the other way. Sadly, this was not the case on the day we drove to the wedding

Let me point out that we live in New York City and that this wedding was in Williamsburg. (No, not Hipster Williamsburg, which is in Brooklyn. But Colonial Williamsburg, which is in Virginia.)

We could have flown, I guess. But Smartie Me did some math and figured that by the time we got to the airport and did all the Airport Nonsense, then flew to Wherever The Nearest City is, then rented a car and drove to C. W’burg, we might just as well drive. So that’s what we did. Got up at 5:30, hit the road by 6:00. Easy-peasy! I even packed us some snacks (granola bars left over from Uganda) and some turkey sandwiches (not left over from anywhere, thank goodness).

Well, we’d zipped on down to the D.C. area and were happily sipping away on some rest-area Starbucks while discussing the Fate of the Nation when, suddenly, GPS Girl goes into her Stern Mode and suggests an alternate route.

Quick GPS Girl Note: have you ever noticed that when she says “There is currently light traffic on your route” it means the opposite? That all of a sudden you are in traffic? Though my all-time favorite GPS Girl Thing is when she says “Drive to higher ground”. (She’s actually saying “highlighted route”, but even The Child once asked why she was telling us to get the hell to higher ground. Was there a tsunami?)

There was no tsunami, unless you count the waves of traffic we had encountered. Apparently I had failed to figure in the hordes of first-weekend-of-summer-after-school-is-out beach-goers who would be sharing our route. I’ll skip the sturm und drang and cut to the fact that we did make it to the wedding, though not with much more than a minute to spare. Lesson learned for the next time we have a wedding to go to in Colonial Williamsburg.

Two wedding belles. And a beau. That’s the Bride’s Dad’s Sister (she who forgot her Maid of Honor dress many weddings ago) stage left. The Lucky Guy in the middle? Her hub, I-Forget-His-Name

Speaking of weddings, The Dude was Best Man when his “fixees” got married. He famously forgot his shoes, which is one of the reasons that he has never appeared in a wedding party since. (You read that right; The Dude and I are married, but we didn’t really have a wedding. You can read about our non-event in “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.) Incidentally, there must have been something in the water around the time of The Dude’s Best-Man debut; the Maid of Honor forgot her dress.

The one time I appeared in someone else’s wedding: as a B Maid for my Favorite Sister. Note that I did not forget my dress

Anyway, we had a whale of a good time — The Dude even danced! — and were up early the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and rarin’ to hit the road. For the way back, we picked a different route, across the will-it-ever-ever-end Chesapeake Bay Bridge and on up the Delmarva Peninsula. (It’s called that because it contains bits of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia — it’s that dangly bit on the map that looks kind of like an appendix.)

It was scenic and all, but our plans to “stop along the way and grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee” were thwarted by the fact that this was Sunday morning — and we were deep in the Bible Belt. I have never seen so many churches, with their parking lots packed. They were open, but all the “cute little diners” were closed up tighter than drums. We were able, finally, to stop at a Stuckey’s which had been advertised for miles with those billboards that say things like Only 6 Miles to Stuckey’s. Famous Pecan Candies! And Just 2 Miles to Stuckey’s. And Breakfast All Day! 

Boy, were we ready when we pulled up to what looked like a repurposed double-wide trailer with a Stuckey’s sign stuck on it. True, we could get pecan candies. Also fireworks and hams and “cheap cigarets”. But we settled for breakfast. A girl took our order, then gave it to the fry cook right behind her. You helped yourself to coffee (the milk was “in that little fridge right there, Hon”. Locals kept pouring in, ordering breakfast — and passing around the one bottle of hot sauce — before “fixin’ to go to church”.

Our Stuckey’s stop added at least an hour to our time, but overhearing the guy raving about the “mess o poke chops” he had “t’other evenin” was worth every added minute. We finally pulled in to Home Sweet New York City Home around 5 that evening. I did some more math and figured we’d spent as much time getting to (and coming home from) Williamsburg as we did in Williamsburg itself.

Oh well. It was some Wedding. And some Road Trip. I can hardly wait for the next one, which is in October in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I’m already mentally packing my road snacks.

I can’t end this story without showing you the Beautiful Bride. Sigh

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

One from Column ‘A’

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Astoria. Free Schmeeg lesson included’

No, I didn’t climb the Column. Nor did I hike up the Head. (I have done both — the Column climbing and the Head hiking — but being deathly afraid of heights, believe me, once was enough.)

But the Peeps who tagged along on my recent Visit to Mom and Sis were more than game, so up they went, a-climbing and a-hiking. (The pic at the top of this post shows said Peeps peeping over the top of the Column. Which is in Astoria, Oregon. In case you’re craving column background, you can read all about it here. )

Me. Not climbing the Column (seen looming in background)

My Head. Next to the Tillamook One. (Which I am most def not hiking)

View from the top of Said Head. (Photo not taken by me)

Turns out that abstaining from heights can have its dangers too. I was pooped on by a seagull while not hiking the Head. I swore the darned thing laughed at me afterward but The Dude says there are no Laughing Gulls in the Northwest, so I guess it was my imagination. Though the icky white streak on my track pants was definitely real. Good thing I learned from previous Birding Adventures to always carry Kleenex in my pants pocket. Continue reading

The Cave of Our Marriage

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‘Or, How deep is your love?’

First, let me say that The Cave of Our Marriage was and is not the cute snow cave pictured above. (Though that is The Child of Our Marriage gleefully playing inside.)

I’m showing you that snow cave because last week I promised cute-kids-in-snow photos if I could get my scanner to work. (More on that later. Or not.) But mainly because no pictures of the Marital Cave exist. (It was waaaay too dark in there for any to turn out, if we had thought to take any.)

Why a story about a cave? See, this week is The Dude’s and my wedding anniversary — the latest of many. At this point, we’ve been married more years than we were alive before we got married. Or something like that.

But about that cave. Continue reading

“Drive,” she said.

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‘On the glories of the Open Road’

Last week’s tribute to my Male Parent and his napping powers included a memory of Dad piloting us on those long drives up to Gramma’s house. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott remarked that Dad was the only person he knew who could ‘simultaneously nap and smoke a cigarette while driving.’)

So true, Scott, so true. But I failed to mention why Dad would get so sleepy on those drives. It was because it was at least six hours to Gramma’s — on charming-but-small-town-clogged two-lane highways — and we wouldn’t start the drive till he got home from work. Sometimes, I remember, we would pull over to the side of the road so everybody, not just Dad, could sort-of-safely sleep. I remember that when we lived in Memphis, and the trip to Gramma’s was more like twelve hours, we had a mattress in the back of the Ford station wagon for the kids to crash on. Very Joad-like, but that’s the way it was. Continue reading