Thursday, September 23, 2004
Part of me wanted Norm to die. But not like this.
He always was a bit of an embarrassment with those missing teeth, and he wasn't very fashionable. In Steamboat Springs, car couture demands a Subaru or a Toyota, not a 1985 Ford Tempo named Norm.
But it's never easy to let go of a car. By the time it's so loud and rusted that your friends refuse to ride in it, you will have become firmly, emotionally and irrationally attached to the thing.
Sure, the driver's door doesn't open all the way. Sure, everyone claims they can hear Norm coming from blocks away. Sure, the gearshift comes off sometimes while you're driving. But the radio works. And the heater is great.
And he starts every day.
Sometimes it takes the objective eye of an observer to make you realize that it's time to let go.
Picture Norm and I driving home from work last week. We were stopped at the intersection of Oak Street and Lincoln Avenue when a little boy pointed at Norm and said to his mom, "That car's been in a wreck."
Yes. Yes he has.
The latest wreck, which blended nicely with the earlier ones, took place on the highway.
As Norm accelerates, he gets louder. As he gets louder, I turn up the radio.
The combined sound of engine and KFMU were busy damaging my cochlea when a deer ran into the road.
Deer run into the road all day, every day. Correct response from the driver: Step on the brakes and slam on the horn.
Correct response from the deer: Run back into the woods. Avoid contact with Norm.
Incorrect response from the deer: Look at the driver, bewildered. Look at the woods, bewildered. Run straight toward the slowing vehicle. Sacrifice yourself on its hood.
Norm was almost at a complete stop when the deer ran right into him.
My window was rolled down and I heard it hit, even over the loud voice of Brian Harvey announcing the next Govt. Mule song. The impact was enough to smash my fender and seal the driver's door closed forever.
The deer threw up all over my car and ran away.
My driver's side mirror already was epoxied on from an earlier accident. Soon it was dangling like a pendulum from my door. I flicked some deer vomit off my windowsill and pulled the mirror in. It hung there with its broken neck, reflecting perfectly the spreading tear in my seat's upholstery.
Entering and exiting a broken car door is an acquired skill. It takes a certain poise to keep your dignity while maneuvering yourself into the driver's seat via The Slither, The Bacon, The Worm or The Dukes of Hazzard. I have perfected all these moves and use them without shame. Living with a car like Norm, this is my life.
I have never spent more than $700 on a vehicle, which means I always own cars for the last chapter of their lives. I am something of a scrap metal angel of death.
There was the Volkswagen Squareback whose battery needed to be disconnected whenever I parked.
There was the truck with the broken heater (just drive with an afghan on your lap and an ice scraper in your hand) and the truck with the heater stuck on, even in summer.
And there was Norm.
This week, when the brakes stopped working and I found myself in the middle of an intersection on the wrong side of a red light, I realized it was time to shoot the horse.
By the time you read this, Norm will be dead and, if all goes according to plan, I will be behind the wheel of a new nameless car; its full set of shining teeth beaming from the grill.