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March 4, 2011

Almost always, I prefer the old to the new: old fashions, old houses, old machines, old music.

I've been like that as long as I can remember. When I was a kid and the space thing was in vogue, all my peers wanted to be astronauts. I, on the other hand, wanted a top hat and walking stick.

Another vivid memory: My father used to take me and my brother to the train station quite a bit - big happenings for us baby rubes. For my first few years, the engines were the old steam locomotives, the ones that looked like they'd stepped out of some '40s movie.

Then, suddenly, the diesel locomotives appeared. They were everything the steam locomotives were not - sleek, streamlined, colorful and not belching thick, black smoke. They were "The Wave of the Future" and thus were greeted with the oohs and ahhs of the denizens of My Home Town. But not me. Of course, I was too young to articulate it, but somehow, deep in my Dopey little heart, I knew something important had just died.

And so it went. My friends all loved jets; I dug biplanes. Rock 'n' roll took my generation by storm, including me, but I still loved Glenn Miller, George Gershwin and Billie Holiday.

And so it still goes. I write with a fountain pen; I travel by train as much as I can; I love mom-and-pop businesses and loathe chain stores. My taste in cars is no exception either.

As I wrote last week, to me a car is transportation, nothing more. So while I like older cars, it's not like I'd ever be able to keep one in mint or even excellent condition; nor do I want to. Instead, I like to get an old one and then drive it into the dirt. And why's that? Simple: As far as I'm concerned, new cars are no fun at all.

Sure, a new car is totally dependable (lemons and recall-misfits to the contrary). It's also tres chic, if the latest look is your thing. And of course, since they cost a fortune, you get a bunch of status with your ride (and a whole lot of depreciation, but there's no need to spoil anyone's good times over it).

But with an old car you get surprises all the time, weird little (and sometimes big) "gifts" from the Auto God, Himself.

Vehicular adventures are always just around the corner when you've clocked more than 15 years and 150,000 miles on your jalopy. My latest happened only a few weeks ago.


Wiped out

I got up on a fine sub-zero morning to cobalt blue skies, a blazing sun, diamonds sparkling on the snow and dead windshield wipers.

Now, I'll tell you, I can put up with all sorts of vehicular dysfunctions and defunct-i-tudes. That's why, for example, I've got two electric windows that are as dead as Charlie Sheen's chances of being declared the Anti-Defamation League's Man of the Year.

But when it comes to safety, I'm scrupulous, if not obsessive. I don't slack with tires, brakes, steering, lights and, of course, windshield wipers. If I lived in Phoenix, I might let them slide for a while, but up here? Fergit it.

OK, so at 0800 on the dot, I called Evergreen Auto.

Dave, the service manager, was perfectly amenable and told me to bring it in ASAP and they'd work on it. Since I've got a big gap between my morning and afternoon classes, it seemed perfect.

Right after my morning class I tore off campus (hoping wet snow or freezing rain weren't the remotest of remote possibilities) and arrived at Evergreen unscathed. They then put the car on the lift and started to work their magic. In short order, Ivan came back in the shop, holding a mangled bushing or washer or linkage or something. It was the culprit, and all they had to do was replace it.

Dave rummaged around in some bins and then came back.

"Well," he said, "I've got good news and I've got bad news."

"OK," I said. "Gimme the bad news first."

"We don't have the same part in stock," he said.

"All right," I said. "So what's the good news."

"We've got something that'll do the job long enough for the real part to come in."

"Sounds great," I said.

I turned to Ivan and with a flourish said, "Have at it, maestro."

I think he smiled, but I'm not sure. No matter - he returned to the bay, and I returned to reading the mystery I'd shlepped with me.

Engrossed my reading, I lost track of time, and when I finally checked it, I realized my next class was less than 40 minutes away.

"Hey," I said to Dave, "I've gotta get back to work. You got a loaner I can take?"

"Yeah," he said. "Here."

He handed me a key and pointed.

"It's that green one over there on the side."

I thanked him and tore off to the car.

Having driven nothing but pre-'70 cars till very recently, and not caring about new cars anyway, I've no idea what year or model the loaner was. I only knew it was no newer than mine, nor did it seem to be any healthier. But having no time for such musings, I just fired it up and tore off to school.

After my last class, I went to the loaner, put the key in the ignition, turned it, and instead of the engine turning over and firing, it went Kakkata-kakkata-kakkata, over and over.

Or at least something did. If it wasn't the engine, then it was the starter or the solenoid or maybe even the Takahashi valve. Quite simply, I didn't know what it was.

In fact, I only knew two things.

One was I wasn't going to start that car, come hell, high water or the Return of the Messiah.

And the other was the boys at Evergreen were now about to have a vehicular adventure of their very own.



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