Commentary

Snow: A car is a car is a car

May 3, 2014 

Gertrude Stein said of the flower, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” I say the same about autos I’ve owned: A car is a car is a car, with a couple of exceptions.

Recently, Ford Motor Company made a big to-do about the 50th anniversary of the Mustang, one of the all-time favorite cars, with sales totaling 9 million.

I once owned a Mustang. It was one of two cars with which I became emotionally involved.

My favorite, of course, was my last bachelor car, Ford’s incomparable 1967 Carolina blue and white hardtop convertible. What a dream car!

When I occasionally pulled over to the side of the road to put the top up or down, motorists would park behind me, just to marvel. The salesman had told me that the car required 16 motors to unhook the steel top, open the car’s trunk, fold the top and then lower it into the trunk and close it. I was always on edge that something would malfunction and I’d be stranded with the top stuck in midair.

Friend Glenn Keever, who knows a lot about cars, says I should not have been allowed to own one because I have no respect for a car.

One morning at coffee, I told him someone had stolen the Mustang’s back whitewall tires. Outside, he pulled out a tissue, spat on it and rubbed one of the tires. The white came shining through. I’ll never forget his look of contempt.

I don’t worship a car as some do. Years ago, one of my nephews seemingly bathed and waxed his Buick almost every day. A neighbor said to me, “I wish he paid his wife half the attention.”

Some motorists will walk an extra half-mile to find an isolated spot to park to keep some driver from dinging the door when exiting.

I once parked in a tight space in Crabtree Valley. I opened my door very gently to avoid nicking the door of a shiny, new red pickup parked next to me.

Nevertheless, the truck’s owner rolled out of the truck like a grizzly with a sore paw. He wanted to fight me.

Since the fellow was twice my size and half my age, I summoned forth enough diplomacy to settle half the Mideast conflicts, and escaped with only a scathing lecture.

At least I don’t physically abuse my cars.

When I was editor of The Raleigh Times, I had an appointment to interview a UNC J-school grad seeking his first job. I was more than peeved when he was an hour late.

Years later, he told me that on that day he had had a flat tire. When, in the rain, he tried to change the tire, the jack kept collapsing on the rain-soaked shoulder of the road.

Finally, patience expended, he physically attacked the car, inflicting several dents and breaking a window. Meanwhile, his new bride stood by, weeping and wondering what kind of man she had married.

I think I kept the Mustang for five years. It was good on gas, maneuvered well and was almost maintenance-free. But, with only six cylinders, no air conditioning and a trunk the size of a suitcase, it wasn’t a practical car for a family of four.

When I advertised it for sale, several callers said it was overpriced.

Eventually, a Garner man came to see it with his 16-year-old son. As soon as the lad got into the car, I could see it was love at first sight. He checked it out from stem to stern, once resting his head on the steering wheel, listening to the engine’s soft hum.

“I sure hate to see it go,” I said sadly.

“I can tell that by the way you overpriced the car,” he smiled.

That night as I tucked my little daughter in bed, she said sadly, “Daddy, do you think we’ll ever see the Mustang again?”

“Perhaps,” I said. And for months afterwards, I foolishly kept my eyes peeled for a glimpse.

All I expect from a car is perfect performance, good mileage, no excessive maintenance and no flat tires.

Is that unreasonable?

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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