Y’know the best part about young kids?
No, not the super huge tax deductions they afford their parents. Nor is it that they can slinky their way down a short flight of stairs unharmed. And no, it’s not, as a parent, being able to finally enjoy an indoor jump park without looking like an unshaven pedophile. Though that is a very close second.
The best part about young children, bar none, is how they’re too inexperienced at life to know when something they love is really, undeniably, a complete piece of crap.
“Here ya go, son, Daddy made you a bicycle out of old 2x4’s and rusty rebar! Your mother assures me your tetanus is up to date, so have fun! Mind the splinters, now!”
‘Cause you know that lil’ one’s face is just gonna light up with excitement at the first sight of damn near everything they lay their buggy little eyes on. That’s it! That’s the best part: they don’t know any better!
Well, for a while, anyway.
As they get older and observations of their environment expand beyond the velcro straps of their impossibly tiny sneakers to the world around them, they begin to compare things.
Things which once were perfectly fine things indeed seem to lose their appeal in the light reflected from the even shinier stuff next door.
Where once a child was perfectly content with carpet that had uneven lumps in it because it made the erratic movement of a toy ball fun and unpredictable, when compared to a friend’s house where the flooring has no questionable lumps or squeaks or mysterious stains and toy cars go exactly where they’re supposed to friggin’ go, the enlightened child then realizes he’s been living in complete squalor worthy of government condemnation. Condemnitude? Condemnability? Eh. Worthy of being condemned, anyway.
And, oh ho ho, how quickly their perceptions change then. Instead of peppering us with innocent questions born of pure curiosity about the world we live in, like Where the moon go? How you make the car go vroom? and Why no drink sul-frick acid from battery?, now they want to know why our stuff is all dented or missing parts or still has garage-sale price stickers on it.
Where was I going with this?
Kids’ questions eventually turn into blade-like interrogations the likes of which are only used at airport security terminals. And lately, my kid sees my expertise of having survived on this planet for thirty-plus years as nothing more than a printable certificate which permits me to justify our quality of living through meager explanations.
“Dad, why your car has dirt on it, right here?” my near-four-year-old asks me, pointing.
“That’s rust, kiddo, not dirt.”
“But why his car has no ruts on it?” he asks, now pointing at the neighbor’s two, fresh off the lot SUV’s parked in their driveway.
“Because rust is an expensive option, dude, maybe they can’t afford it like your dear old dad can. In any case, it would be best not to point out to our neighbor that we have rust and he doesn’t, okay? Might make him feel bad.”
“Oh. Okay. But what is rusts?”
Why won’t he just go to sleep?
“Well,” I begin, quickly realizing I did not pay near enough attention in grade 9 chemistry. Falling back on parenting basics, I knew I had to baffle him with nonsense. “Uh, well, rust is a chemical reaction that takes place when metals oxidize to the point where the molecular structure – IS THAT A BEAR?!?
When he looked to where I was pointing, I fled to the question-less sanctuary of the garage. It was the only way I could think of to get out of that conversation. Don’t worry, though. The bear just walked right by anyway.
Now, I know my kid was merely making an objective observation about my car and its corroded nature. Kids observe things. Sometimes too many things. But the truth is, he loves that car. To him, it’s Daddy’s car, and because of that alone, it’s friggin’ awesome. When he was a year old, just old enough to realize what riding in a car actually is, he would literally quiver with excitement at the prospect of going for a drive in my car, rust and all.
But in essence of his observation though, he’s right. My car is no spring clutchin’. It’s a ’98 Elantra, going into its 20th year of rusting, and it has more quirks and eccentricities than a retired high school science teacher.
It’s the first car I’ve ever owned, and it has served me extremely well. Oh sure, most of the exterior paint is peeling off and the front passenger door doesn’t work (actually, that’s a nice safety feature in bad neighborhoods, and it gives me a great excuse whenever someone wants a ride somewhere. “Sure, I’d love to pick you up from the airport on my only day off work! Well, if you don’t mind sharing the trunk with your suitcases, that is; door’s stuck. Oh, full disclosure, there was this red and yellow spider in there last week, y’know, one of those ones with the jagged legs and big butt? I’m 50% sure it’s gone now, though. Mm, 25. What time’s your flight? You sure? I really don’t mind, I could – well, okay then, if you’re sure… Remember to tell people how much money you have on you when hitchhiking! I find you meet the nicest people that way. Good luck!”) The wipers only work on the “hurricane” setting, the little plastic stopper that keeps the buckle from sliding down the seatbelt has long since been replaced with a safety pin, the right rear spring mounting bushing disintegrated years ago so it sounds like Death’s door knocker at the slightest vibration, the trunk key latch works about as reliably as a union worker nearing retirement, the washer fluid pump only manages to drool fluid onto the windshield like a sedated mental patient rather than spraying it on (don’t bother trying to bug-wash the window below 80km/h, it requires the airflow of highway speeds to spread the fluid around enough), the “brights” indicator light comes on to remind me my high-beams are on only after I’ve already blinded the majority of opposing traffic, there is no A/C or power windows (so I have to keep my upper body perfectly still when rolling my window at stop lights to maintain the illusion of having what are now standard features), the needle on the speedometer shakes like a syringe held by a seasoned junkie after one too many hits, and I’m pretty certain the car is also out of blinker fluid.
But on the plus side, it’s got a manual transmission and a really bitchin’ hand brake, so it’s a load of fun to drive in the winter time.
Overall, yeah, ok. Fine. It’s a complete piece of shit. But, it’s my piece of shit.
And, like my son, I really love that car.
It was with that car that my (now) wife and I moved out together to a new town away from home and enjoyed many road trip adventures together over the years. It was with that car that I came into adulthood, discovering freedom and excitement not unlike that accompanied with a boy’s first bicycle.
But, like my irritatingly observant son pointed out, my car is a bit long in the tooth, and it just can’t meet the needs of our human and pet-filled family. Size is one thing, and though reliability hasn’t been much of an issue especially considering the quarter-million plus km’s marked on the odometer, I’m basically driving it on borrowed time. Safety’s another biggie; without airbags, if I get hit by a semi in that thing, I’m toast. And even though I took care in lining all the interior surfaces with bubble wrap (the heavy-duty, I-need-to-ship-this-priceless-ming-vase-overseas kinda bubble wrap), my wife still won’t let the family in it for a highway drive.
Now, we’ve got my wife’s sporty little SUV for family travels and her day-to-day errands, but we need something that can also have room to haul some toys, help with yard and home projects, and make the most out of tantalizing little backroads in the woods.
Enter the truck market.
I’ve always wanted a pick-me-up truck. We just couldn’t justify the need for one before; I always had access to work trucks from a previous job if we ever needed one. But, dammit, it was high time our family joined the ranks of most western Canadian families and started contributing to global warming properly. With mileage rivaling that of a Sherman tank, we felt like we could really stick it to them dumb liquefied dinosaurs at a rate that would please a cigar lounge full of mustached oil barons right to orgasm.
I won’t bore you with the minutia that is always a part of purchasing a vehicle, but in essence, after negotiating with the salesman about which kid we could use as a down payment (turns out they just can’t accept children over two years of age, provincial law, whadda ya do?), I finally had my dream truck.
You can bet our remaining child was thrilled at the site of that little expenditure. He was vibrating with so much excitement at the sight of the truck I thought he might lapse himself into a particle of quantum energy.
But did that cause his affections for my t(rusty) car to stray even a little bit?
Oh you better believe it did. Car? What car? It was like they’d never met before. Once the truck was parked at home, my son walks around my old car like you would a leper, no longer patting it affectionately along the way. He started making up any excuse he could think of to go anywhere in the truck. “Dad, I think your truck needs gas. We should get some.” Well, yeah, it’s a truck. It exists in a perpetual state of always needing fuel. Nice try, kid.
For weeks, that little imp was vibrating like Aunt Edith’s nightstand at the mere mention of the truck (Which is normal, I get it. New is exciting for kids, that’s all. Shoot, I remember being totally stoked when my folks brought home a Ford Aerostar minivan. Aw right, back off, it was something new, okay?!?!) But as time went on, and our shiny new vehicle began to lose its lustre in the eyes of our child, he began to feel nostalgic for my car once again.
The car is still here, continuing to serve as my commuter vehicle, and so it could never be completely forgotten anyway. But, one day, possibly because he grew tired of riding around in the smooth, spacious comfort of the truck and secretly yearned to hear the rough comments of roadways through the Morse code-like rattle of my car’s undercarriage, my kid, my darling son, surprised me with a request.
“Can we take your car to day-care tomorrow, daddy? Pleeease?”
I’m man enough to admit it, my eyes welled up at that. Just a little.
Yeah, it’s not much to look at anymore. And if I do try to lay my eyes upon it as would a random passerby, I suppose I do feel a tad embarrassed by it. But so what? Love and affection, even towards an old, rusty, yet reliable and enjoyable Korean-made sedan, knows no bounds. As long as she instills in me enough confidence to keep the fuel tank topped up, I’m going to keep driving that car with pride, and a grin with every flip of the gears.
Thanks for the memories, old girl. Keep ‘em coming.
Got a steely, rusty love in your life that's worth more than it's actually, well, worth? Share your story below, we'd love to hear it. Unless it involves the wrong kind of "loving your car", in which case there are probably some forums out there for you sickos.