by Diane Hoover Bechtler
When I married the first time, I unwittingly started a career. Decades later I am celebrating my fourth first anniversary.
For me, men are like cars. They have to be traded often. Cars depreciate from the moment you drive them off the lot. I did manage to trade up a couple of times. I got close to a Rolls, but I don’t see a golden chariot in my future.
Before buying cars, the test-driving happened. Early on, I test drove tractors and old pick up trucks mostly. They smelled bad, they smoked, hay stuck in my hair.
I traveled in a Lincoln Continental but it was borrowed. I rode in that Lincoln occasionally for two decades – always borrowed, finally bought by someone other than me. By then it had fat tires and water in the gas line. The bottom became pitted from driving over rough roads. It was okay that I didn’t buy that car.
I see it once in a while still. Usually at the airport on its way to other towns. It stops for fuel, says hello, then motors away. The Lincoln and I have a long history. I’m fond of that car with its roomy backseat and its piston, my first piston. It has had two owners and many test drives.
My buying of cars began early. My first car was a Chevette. I made the decision to buy quickly. I was very young and needed transportation. A rusted dirty Chevette with four flat tires and no spark plugs sat on the lot. I bought it around Christmas. Pistons wouldn’t work most of the time. I patched the tires and painted over the rust with two gallons of sky blue Glidden. I put new spark plugs in it, but the engine threw a rod and the pistons would not pump. Mostly the car sat in the driveway going nowhere, not working, guzzling gas all the same. The Chevette was always dry. It drank and drank. And the damn thing would not work. It may as well have sat on cinder blocks.
I trolled through car lots checking out other vehicles.
I found a used red Camaro and test drove it. Damn did its pistons work. Spark plugs fired constantly. The Camaro belonged to someone else. She demanded it back. I had learned there were better cars than Chevettes. I test drove many cars while the Chevette languished: Some of the cars belonged to other owners and went home after my spin with them.
After years of it not working, I abandoned the Chevette. It probably sits in a driveway to this day. It never found a gear other than park.
My next car was a zippy little Italian sports car, a Fiat. It broke often and mostly lived in the shop. I decided a Ford was a good idea, a compact economic Ford but I saw another sports car, an MG. I liked that car so much; I drove it all the way from Charlotte to Los Angeles. A van kept it company – an ancient Ford van. I was back to having rust in the driveway. The driveway was on another coast where the constant sunshine made even rusty vans look good. I kept those cars for more than seven years and drove them from Los Angeles back to Charlotte. The MG and the Ford van combined some parts to create a little scooter. I brought that scooter back to Charlotte also. Of all my modes of transportation, the scooter has lasted the longest. I’ve had it for 30 years although it has its own garage and will soon choose an owner. It will begin its car-buying career. I hope it buys only one to keep forever. I read the manual to the scooter, maintain your car; keep it tuned; inflate the tires when they need air; use only premium gas in it; change the oil often; and rotate the tires. Keep it in good working order and it will transport you anywhere you want to go.
The Van went to live in another driveway while a green Maverick with a lot of dents and three on the column spent time in my garage. I test-drove many cars for years before I bought again. Saabs, Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes. I slipped a red Ferrari in the batch. The clutch was stiff and it drove like a truck. I took a break and for a couple of years. I didn’t drive at all.
One car hauled fine art to and from galleries. One hauled photography equipment. Several went to bad owners after me. One test vehicle was an odd three- wheel device. Being a third wheel didn’t work for me. One car crashed and was rebuilt. One spawned four more scooters.
Along the way I met a concept car. It was just as it would seem. It was a dream. Dreams are fantasies. But I owned the concept car for nearly two decades. As well being a fantasy, it created fantasies. It had gull wings to fly across the Atlantic. It flew across the ocean several times a year for the seventeen years I owned it. It was a European concept car, the color of midnight with a shimmer. It was a combination of German reliability and Italian sexiness.
It was imported to Switzerland after which it winged its way to America then to my garage. It had one owner before me. It grew apart from that garage and drove away. It wanted a little scooter but one scooter was enough for me. It wanted to drive to the far coast but one Los Angeles had been enough.
I could have been happy with that car forever but the darn thing broke. Its diagnostic computer went kaplunk. It started looking for another owner and parked itself in her driveway for two years. The concept car wandered, as did the MG. I was unlucky with cars in that way.
All I could do was remember the fantasy and wish it had wanted to stay with me. When I bought the concept car I intended it to be my last car. I wanted to be buried in that car. When it left I really believed it would come back but it didn’t. I reached a point of not wanting it back. It began using regular gas. It no longer got tune ups. It hung out with common cars such as Vegas and Pintos. Water seeped in its gas tank. The oil became thick and dirty, as black as clotted blood. It corroded from the inside out. I see it sometimes from a distance. I hear it has another owner now, hopefully not as common as the one after me. But I no longer care. Concept cars are imaginary. The wings fell off the concept car. The beautiful work became so tarnished as to be unrecognizable. It continued to try to fly, and like the Titanic it sank in the ocean. It didn’t hold its value. It was a concept car. It had no value other than that placed on it by its creator.
After the concept car drove away, I found a service that matched people to the vehicle they think is the correct one. I’d done such a poor job choosing on my own,
I felt I needed help. I signed with the car-matching agency.
The agency sent me a one-owner Ford 150 truck. The car is solid. It drives in snow, hail, lightning, flood, or tornado. It has a rust proof coating. I will keep it until it is incapable of running any longer. I love my truck. My F-150 stays put. I always know it’s in my driveway. It is reliable.
The F-150 does not wander. It is happy in my driveway. If anything ever happens to my F-150 I’ll give up driving forever. No more test-driving or car buying. I’d use taxis and buses to transport me.
My driving started early and has lasted half a century. I’ve had enough cars.
Oh but the beauty of those gull wings like gossamer floating across the ocean haunts me.
But God knows, I never got near another Chevette.
Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, poet Michael Gross, and their cat, Call Me IshMeow. As well as writing short work, she is looking for an agent for her memoir, which is about learning to live with brain disease. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Queens University where she graduated summa cum laude and subsequently earned her MFA. She has had short work published in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Thema, Literary Journal, Pangolin Press, Bewildering Stories, Everyday Fiction and The Dead Mule, School of Southern Literature.