Lord, Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz?

26 Jul

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During my mom’s final incarceration I took over ownership of her car. Initially, I was just going to watch over it, as I didn’t want to pay insurance and registration fees for two cars. But I realized that if I didn’t move her car from her apartment to my house, it was going to be towed and even in my neighborhood, I was probably going to have to occasionally move it. So, we arranged for her to sign the title of her car over to me, I bought it for the blue book price so she would have some cash, and I suddenly wound up having two cars on my hands.

My mom drove a little white Hyundai. Although she typically took relatively good care of her cars over the years, when I came into possession of this one, it was at that point in mileage where significant maintenance needs to be done. So I also ended up sinking a fair amount of money into her car that she was never going to be able to drive again due to her license being revoked and later, her death.

It was one of the many hassles I incurred when she was in prison. Prior to acquiring her car, I’d been happy with my Ford Taurus. That car had been a gift to me from my previous step-father, Chuck. He’d purchased it used with 113,000 miles on it. Everyone balked at the high mileage saying that Taurus’ were lemons. Not this one. It was still going strong at 250,000 miles when I decided to put it on Craig’s list and simply own one car – my mom’s.

Selling the Taurus was hard for me. It had been a good car and I was reluctant to give it up. I also worried that my mom’s car might be haunted, as that had been the vehicle in which she’d driven behind the wheel intoxicated on one too many occasion. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I thought about smudging it with Indian sage to get rid of any residual toxic energy it might contain and imagined it with a golden bubble of light around it protecting me. I also put a religious icon in the glove box.

The Hyundai drove like a little tin can. Small in stature, the vehicle was not very solid on the road. During storms it would jostle a bit on the freeways but thankfully, San Diego doesn’t get bad weather that often. And if anyone ever hit me on the highway, I would be surely demolished. It got great gas mileage though and I came to like the car. It was little and compact like me. When my mom died, it was all I had left of her other than a few of her possessions.

When I learned to surf I bought soft racks for the car. Soft racks are not permanent fixtures on the roof of the car. Instead they strap around the vehicle and can be taken on and off each time you surf. The man at the surf shop described to me how to use them and I figured I understood well enough. Yet the first time I tried to assemble the racks myself, I was in a quandary. Nothing about the way I’d tied them looked right and I worried the board would go flying off the roof of the car, crashing into someone else’s windshield. On top of that, as I drove down the street, I heard this horrific wailing sound that apparently was the wind pulsating through the straps. Then to my horror the surfboard nose and tail kind of bobbed up and down. I saw the nose dancing a bit through my windshield and began sweating profusely praying the whole way to the beach.

The board never fell off the top of the car. I eventually came to trust that the soft racks worked just fine despite the way the board bobbed around when I accelerated on the freeway. And I learned that if I twisted the straps as I wound them around the car roof, the terrible whining sound of the wind abated.

I knew my mom’s car was eventually going to need to be replaced with a newer vehicle but I also thought, “Why fix what ain’t broke?” The majority of my work took me teaching out of town and I didn’t have to do much driving when at home. My office where I maintained a small psychotherapy practice was only ten minutes from my house and I basically only had to drive to get there and to the grocery store. The only substantial driving I did was to Orange County for my seminary courses at the Fuller satellite campus but even that didn’t demand daily commuting. It was my plan then to hang on to my mom’s car as long as possible and not accrue the expense of a new or used car.

Yet out of the blue, Chuck and and his wife, Cindy mentioned that Chuck’s business partner was selling his Mercedes. If I were going to buy a used car from anyone, he’d be the person to, as he’d kept meticulous care of the vehicle and had all the maintenance records. I felt like I couldn’t be bothered but I knew that it was always wise to sell a car when it still had value and to buy a vehicle when you had the luxury of time versus having to buy one on demand. I agreed to look at the Mercedes, as Chuck and Cindy were also worried about my safety in the Hyundai and wanted me in a bigger, more solid car.

For me, a vehicle was something you drove to get from point A to point B. I was never one caught up on status and from graduate school on had lived on a frugal budget. But I’d learn to drive on a stick shift 733i BMW so I knew a thing or two about German cars. Like wine, I know the difference between what is good and what is cheap. I knew it would be silly not to invest in the new car, which came at a steal of a price. It was also time for me to have a big girl car.

A lovely young couple moved into the house in front of me and as we were introducing ourselves, they happened to casually mention that they were looking to buy a second car, as they only had one. I happened to casually mention that I was selling mine. They bought it on the spot. It took no convincing. Thankfully, I had taken meticulous care of the vehicle plus sent them to my mechanic to ask any questions they might have about its condition. I could in good faith sell the car to them for if anything happened to it, I’d be seeing them almost daily. But when I handed them the keys and title I felt such a hesitant feeling within me. I knew I was giving over something much more significant than a transfer of ownership. I was surrendering a piece of my history with my mom. She and I had ridden in that car together many times and I’d had the car while she was still alive. After she died, it was my connection to her.

The sleek sophisticated Mercedes sat on the street looking good but my eyes would turn longingly towards the little white Hyundai parked in my neighbor’s driveway. It took me weeks to figure out the gadgets in the new car, as everything was electric whereas my mom’s car operated manually. I then went to therapy and cried and couldn’t believe I was crying over an object. But with the relinquishing of the car, I was letting go of more pieces of my mom and of a specific time in my life. The chapter of her incarceration and suicide was closing. I knew that the new car would become the marker of the next phase in my life but I wasn’t certain what would unfold in the upcoming years.

On top of that, I hadn’t given a second thought to surfing when I bought the Mercedes and suddenly I had no way of transporting a board. The Mercedes had a sunroof so it wasn’t a good idea to put the soft racks and board directly on it. The last thing I needed was to damage the sunroof and then get leaks when it next rained. I was going to need to invest in hard racks, an item I didn’t have a clue about and that could be relatively pricey. Plus, my new car key was electric so it wasn’t going to be safe in my wet suit. I sat with these realizations as I watched my neighbor, who also surfs, drive away to the beach daily in my mom’s car.

It took me seven months to move forward. Finally, I googled “Thule racks – San Diego” and a shop came up that specializes in roof contraptions. I called the store and gave them the model of my car. The next day I went in and talked with the clerk. After discussing options, I purchased state of the art racks from a warehouse in Connecticut of all places. I picked racks that suited the car aesthetically and that had good aerodynamic design so there would be no noise. I also picked bungee cord straps for the surfboard that the man convinced me were his best sellers due to how easy they were to use. We then set up a day for the install once the materials all arrived.

Next I spoke with my Mercedes mechanic and he showed me how the metal part of the key slips out of its electronic capsule. It could safely be put in my wet suit while surfing and used to lock the car although without the alarm. After surfing, the metal part of the key could be put back in the electronic capsule and the engine turned on.

It took me a number of times to figure all this out. But I did. Then I went to pick up the car. Instead of looking ridiculous, the roof racks made the Mercedes look kind of hip and sexy. And then I headed to the beach once I figured out how to strap on the board.


I no longer look sadly at my mom’s car. I have moved on and am driving into the next chapter of my life. I don’t have a map but I’m back on the road. With the sunroof open, the air feels good and the car handles well.

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