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Cars and Commitment

Cars and Commitment

Brinkmanship. I engage in it once a year. Perhaps you do, too.

During car registration season. 

I can’t be the only person who gets the warning from DMV that her registration is about to expire and then waits till the very last day to pay the bill online.

Yep, that’s me, driving around since August 1 with a temporary registration on the dashboard - printed out at home - while I wait for the stickers to arrive by mail.

Plus, for reasons I can’t explain, I never renew for more than one year, even though the state offers a discount for two and three year renewals. So this is an annual procrastination event.

Maybe this is the year I get a new car, I think each time. Knowing that this will most definitely NOT be that year.

In fact, if history is any predictor I won’t get another ride until 2030. I should renew for a decade.

I kept my last car for 14 years. The one before that for 15. My current car is a 2006, but I bought it two years ago. It has just 57,000 miles on the odometer. At this rate, it may outlive me.

Hanging on to cars until they’re ready for antique tags is in my DNA.

Doughertys change their oil every 3,000 miles and keep their cars till daylight shines through the floorboards and the neighbors petition to get the rust bucket off their street.

At family reunions we brag about the mileage on our odometers. Right now, the winner - my son - is closing in on 300,000. His trunk doesn’t open, the passenger window doesn’t work and the door locks are wonky. But that’s small stuff. Compared to the cars my family owned over the years, anyway.

One of my earliest memories is of my father stumbling through the front door, one hand on his lumbar region.

"Boy, you never realize how much you need a seat back until yours is broken," he said with genuine amazement.

For the next five years, anyone sitting in the back of his Chrysler sedan had to straddle the shovel Dad had propped to keep the front seat upright.

"Hey, if we get stuck in the snow, we're ready," he'd joke.

We had cars with toggle switches dangling from the dashboard, one with a steering wheel half moon that had been broken during an outburst of Irish temper, a clutch that had to be pulled manually with a coat hanger and a car that refused to go into reverse.

In the '70s, my dad kept an oven mitt and a fire extinguisher on the passenger seat of his Fiat station wagon. Periodically – for mysterious reasons – the engine would burst into flames. My father would stomp on the brakes, grab his potholder to open the sizzling hood and blast away with his red can.

Once the fire was out, he'd get back in and calmly drive away.

Our family stubbornly kept our cars till they sputtered and quit. Or burned to a cinder. Then we would stand on the curb, like mourners at a funeral, as the tow truck took them away.

We developed deep emotional attachments to our autos.

"I loved that car," my mom said, weeping when her 20-year-old 1964 Chrysler New Yorker convertible with the push button transmission was leaving in a sea of flashing lights.

I’ve written about how despondent I become when I see my 2004 VW Beetle, which a neighbor bought two years ago, parked on my street. That baby blue convertible was fun to drive and it makes me crazy to see the top down on a sunny day.

Yep, I waited until July 31 to renew the registration on my car. But I decided not to be a car commitment-phobe this time. I boldly renewed for two years.

And just like that, I have a new car itch.

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