Free Willy made you cry and Elvis suffered from a heart attack at an early age of 42. Both my old cars were named after them and sadly suffered from similar fates. Needless to say, their mechanic bills definitely made me cry and if cars could have a heart attack, they’d sputter the same noises before seeing the light.
I inherited Willy from my older brother when I was 17. It was a ’96 Honda Civic Hatchback (EK for rice rocket lingo amiriiitte). To be fair, it was only 11 years old when I first started driving it, so I didn’t feel like that kid driving a junk car to school. That would soon change throughout college. Over the next four years, I began to witness my car’s gradual dilapidation. I became reluctantly innovative with each decline. When the knob for the windshield wipers broke, I had to stuff tissue into the space that allowed you to press down or else my dulled wipers would incessantly from sweep left right, left right. It was like watching a car frenetically waving its white flag on an 89 degree day in sunny southern California, crying tears of wiper fluids and overheating.
Overheating. The tubes in my car were so worn that they’d tear, causing all the coolant to leak. I used to be a novice when it came to handling overheating. One of the first times it happened, I was driving all 2.3 miles from my West LA apartment to Beverly Hills. On Santa Monica Blvd, I suddenly noticed the gauge kicking up from cool to an alarming red “HOT.” Kidding, that red was imaginative because my car was so old, it wouldn’t light up. Anyhow, I started panicking and pulled over to the far right where luckily, the road created a space where buses could stop without causing an Angeleno to choke on their Sprinkles cupcake and throwing harangues of honks. I was 19 and well-trained of what to do in this scenario. I popped the trunk, got out of the car, and lifted the hood. I then proceeded to kick my tires and yell at Willy. A man approached me and tried to help. He looked working class and had to be at least 40. He was waiting for the bus and despite all episodes of Criminal Minds I’ve seen, I drove him to his destination.
Aside from the windshield wipers, my rear view mirror also occasionally fell down. The plastic that connected to the rear view mirror was chipped, so the mirror basically clung to dear life. Speed bumps were not kind to me. It was like watching Scar eject Mufasa off that clip every time I hit a speed bump. On top of that, you had the thuh thuh thuh thuh thuh from the wipers going off too.
My driver and passenger windows were not automatic, so I had to manually roll down the windows. During senior year in high school, we thrill seekers would ditch class occasionally. (Students, if you’re reading this, remember what I taught you. You do not deserve to ditch unless you earn straight A’s and get into UCLA). By we, I mean me and my best friend Quynh, and by ditch school, I mean we’d drive to the nearest I-HOP and order our usual Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity where subsequently, I’d take a nap in their parking lot in the car. Real wild. Before we’d plan our getaway, Quynh would pull up to the right side of my car, which meant I had to lean over and exert all shoulder and arm muscle into rolling in that damn window down. Anything for I HOP.
Eventually, I learned that the “window regulator,” was broken on my driver side. I was suspicious as this term was too advanced for what seemed to have the same technology as a Fisher Price contraption. What this meant for me: my left window was poorly supported and couldn’t be rolled down. Even worse, it would gradually inch each time I drove over a speed bump. I couldn’t even go through drive thru with my dignity in tact. I would pull up at the McDonalds, open my car door, step out, and clamp my window with both hands and forced it down. I’d get back into the car and clasp my seat belt. Then I’d look at the attendant dead in the eye and ignore the horror on her face, “6 piece chicken nuggets, sweet and sour sauce, and a hazelnut McCafe.”
To the average citizen, speed bumps simply demand that you slow down and carry on. You might spill some coffee at the very worst, but not much mental preparation is needed for this feat. For me, the speed bump meant that on top of the wipers pounding left and right, the rear view mirror fell on your lap and may or may not indiscriminately hit you in the nose on the way down, and now, your driver window slipped down and there was no way to roll it back up. I lie. You could “roll” it back up if you got out of the car, clamped the window with both hands, and manually slid it back up. But what were you supposed to do if you were driving? Say on the freeway?
One of the fondest moments was driving back to Orange County from UCLA. I usually found my solo drives therapeutic since I could just mellow out with some music. Since it was raining, I felt slightly invincible with speed bumps since ha! I happened to actually need my wipers today. I lavished at this thought as I kept my right hand on the rear view mirror over that bump. Couldn’t get ahead of myself. I figured that once I got onto the freeway, it’d be a smooth drive and wouldn’t have to worry about my driver window falling down.
It was roughly a 40 mile drive with the Carson Ikea being the midway point. My R&B playlist on my 30 GB iPod video was plugged into my FM transmitter (WHAT’S UP?!) and ready to go.
10 miles in: Music is playing. Everything seems good. I’m scanning for all the things I was supposed to pack home.
15 miles in: After driving over some rough parts of the 405, my window opened a slight crack. The wind whistled and I could feel an occasional drizzle of rain. Nothing I couldn’t handle.
20 miles in: That crack now became an inch. Rain water began to hit my forehead but I saw that luminescent, Ikea yellow. Halfway point. I’d wipe the left side of my head and my hair absorbed the water.
30 miles in: The inch is now 2.5 inches and water is dousing my face. Not just the left side, my entire face. I now regretted this drive and it was anything but therapeutic. Actually, I think I just started laughing maniacally. If I were crying too, the rain made it difficult to tell.
40 miles / home: I was shivering in my coat. I mean, if someone dipped you into the dunk tank chest up, you’d be cold too.
In college, a good friend once asked if she could borrow my car. I hesitated but didn’t want her to take my silence for distrust. My roommate casually suggested, “Maybe you should uh, warn her about some stuff first.”