Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I'm sorry, Max

I drove my car to work today. My car - the Maxima - with its five beautiful, manual-driven gears.

See, since the wife and I started our new jobs, we've been carpooling. And her Santa Fe - as our "new" car - is the vehicle of choice for the commute, as well as all of our "together" driving. So the Maxima sits alone in the garage all day, begging to be driven.

I didn't realize how strange it would be to all of a sudden have "my" car sitting there, largely unused. Sure, I take the opportunity to drive it to Ghetto Kroger when I run out for groceries, and when the wife's out of town it gets used, but I doubt I've put 100 miles on it in the past month.

The Maxima is the first car I've ever had that I got brand-spanking new. And I've now had it longer (5 years, 4 months) than any of my previous rides. In fact, I have a pretty spotty past with cars. To review:

• The Crispy Cutlass: My first car - 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (bought in 1984 for $1000). Burgundy with a burgundy velour interior. Fabulous. It met its end - and earned its posthumous nickname - after I let Big Head Bubba put a stolen Trans-Am carburetor in it. Tragic.

• The Z: Thank God for Pell Grants - Once in college (fall, 1985), I had a new source of income (grants and student loans) and bought a beat-down 1973 Datsun 240Z for $1500. The thing looked horrible (dusty yellow with rust spots), but absolutely flew. Ten minutes after picking it up, I took my boy Lee out on a nice, flat, empty road and got it up to 135. Nice. The Z took a shot in the right front from an unyielding asshat, and his insurance company paid me $1850 and let me keep my car. I got the radiator fixed at Shorty's and bought a parts car for $300. That kept the Z running for about two years. It finally just died.

• The Vette: I've heard that beggars can't be choosers. When the Z died (late 1987), I was forced to accept my stepfather's 1980 Chevy Chevette as a temporary ride. My first "wife" [editor's note: quotes provided as recognition that this "marriage" never actually existed, at least as far at the Catholic Church is concered] dated me despite my driving of the Chevette. I should have taken that as a very bad sign for the relationship.

• The RX-7: Thank you again, Mr. Pell. When the fall 1988 semester began, I found a black 1981 Maxda RX-7 for sale for $2750. I wanted an RX-7 because that was the car I was planning to get (new) when I got my driver's license back when I was a spoiled rich kid. I loved this car, and it took me from LSU to Atlanta. Thanks, Rex.

• The hand-me-down: Once we got to Atlanta, the first "wife" wanted a new car (early 1993), so we got her an Accord and I got her car - a hunk of white crap known as the 1987 Nissan 200SX. She'd gotten it new from her rich, raging alcoholic of a father. Apparently he was drinking a lot at the time, because he bought her this instead of the Honda Prelude (great late-80s car).

• Max, Mark I: As expected, the 200SX went down hill fast. By 1995 it was toast (no a/c, interior falling apart, etc.) and I'd had enough. I was still a journalist at the time, and therefore couldn't afford another new car, so I bought a charcoal-grey 1991 Nissan Maxima for $7000. Ahhhhh. Sure, the thing had 91,000 miles on it when I bought it, but what a car. Leather seats, 5-speed (of course), the same engine as a Z. I put another 100,000 miles on it over four years, and by the time I brought it in to trade, it had - as the salesman put it - "the death growl." But a great car.

• Max, Mark II: And that brings us to my beloved and now-ignored black 1999 Nissan Maxima SE Limited. I got it new in early 1999. I spent many hours driving around Nissan dealer lots looking for this specific car - black, no leather (because of the Big Brown Dog), 5-speed SE. You would not believe how hard it was to find a 5-speed Maxima in Atlanta. I finally called Troncalli in Decatur and they said they had one. I hustled over there, got the keys from a salesman named James Brown who'd won the dealer sales award for literally 18 months straight and gave it a quick test drive. I came back in, told James I liked the car and what I wanted to pay. He said "fine" and I drove out with it an hour later. I think he sold six cars during that hour.

And now the Max sits in the garage all day. It's got 119,800 miles on it and has never given me a moment's trouble. Its starter dying last year was the first mechanical problem I've had with it.

Is it wrong that I feel guilty when I leave it parked in the garage?

[editor's note: I met the great and wonderful Kara just about a week after buying the current Maxima. Great car, great girl. Coincidence?]

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