a good fit.

I decided a long time ago that for my next car, I wanted a Toyota Matrix. I am very loyal to Japanese cars in general and Toyota in particular. I loved Gypsy, my Corolla. She was the right car at the right time for me. Small, reliable, great mileage, peppy and a tight turning radius. That seems a weird thing to brag about, I know. But in the course of going to yard sales every Saturday morning, you do a lot of turning around on small neighborhood roads. Gypsy could turn on a dime. I wanted something like that, but with a little more cargo room. I wanted something that could carry a small freezer. Apparently, my life revolves around carting around old junk that I pick up from other people.

I became even more convinced of my love for Toyotas when on vacation in Kansas, where I drove a Chevy Aveo. It was my first extended experience with American cars, and after it, I could not understand why anyone would ever drive one of those things. The big difference was in the steering. When I turn Gypsy's wheel, she turns. The responsiveness was fluid and immediate. The Corolla did what I told it to do, like Officer Sulu following Captain Kirk's orders on the Enterprise. The Chevy, however, was like a mutinous helmsman. It did not respond as quickly or as well as my little car back home, and I hated it. If the Aveo is indicative of the kind of cars this country is putting out, then those companies deserve to go out of business.

When my car died (rest in peace), I set out to buy a Matrix. I was going to test drive it as a formality, because I don't even buy jeans without trying them on first. I was also going to look at the Honda Fit, just so I could say that I did a little research in the competition. I have a high opinion of Hondas, but I don't have the fierce loyalty that comes from being in the trenches with a Toyota. A Honda has never gotten me through a blizzard, nor has it ever carried home a day's haul of yard sale treasures.

As I mentioned before, test driving the Matrix left me thoroughly underwhelmed. The gas mileage was not quite as good as I had hoped. I'll just mention now that I am very disappointed with gas mileage levels that cars of today are getting. My car is eight years old and she consistently got 30 miles to the gallon, every single tank. So why, in eight years, have we not done a lot better than that? What was great eight years ago should be average now.

But the real problem with the Matrix was the acceleration. When I first got Gypsy, I was enthralled with how peppy she was. I'd been driving an 1991 Corolla, the Patty-wagon, who was steady and reliable, but had all but lost all her zip. Going to a new Corolla felt like putting jet engines on a skateboard. I was thrilled with the fact that I could pass other cars while going uphill. Clearly, my standards were very low in terms of accelerating. Over the past eight years, Gypsy has also gotten slower, just like the Patty-wagon before her. The last time I took her up the mountain to Boone, she was struggling noticeably on the inclines. I hated merging on the interstate, because I had such a hard time getting up to speed. I didn't look forward to putting Gypsy out to pasture, but I did look forward to accelerating again.

The Matrix did not fulfill my desires there. It was only nominally better than Gypsy, who was old and sick. Young and healthy cars should go faster than old and sick cars. Toyota, are you listening? You might want to look into that.

I guess when I test-drove the Fit, I was looking to be impressed. I had been disappointed by the Matrix, though I wasn't really admitting that to myself yet. And then once I did take the Fit out for a spin, I started noticing all the other lovely qualities. The gas mileage, the standard air bags, the turning radius. The Fit can't turn as tightly as the Corolla, but she could probably turn on a Canadian dime, which is slightly bigger.

I picked up my Fit last night. It is RED, the REDdest RED that ever was RED. What with the limited stock of fuel efficient vehicles right now, I told them anything red or blue. I have no problem with people who drive white or silver or black cars, but I am not one of them. I drove her last night to get celebratory milkshakes. I appreciated her sleekness, her shinyness, her many buttons. But mostly I noticed how fun she was to drive, fluid and responsive. I have no idea what method of transportation people will be using 100 years from now, but I can't help but think that there is a unique joy in driving a good car. Maybe we are missing out some pleasure derived from manning a Conestoga, but there is something very satisfying about being one with a powerful machine on a good North Carolina road, slightly curvy, with sunlight periodically breaking through the trees.

It is too soon to say whether the Fit is the right car at the right time for me, the way that Gypsy was. And I don't have a name for her yet. I mean, we just met (Josh suggested I name her "Firetruck"). But she looks like a car that I can be friends with. And she could totally tote a small freezer.


a night out with big rig.

"Hey. Can I borrow a lighter?" asks the guy called Big Rig. I don't know his real name. For all I know, his birth certificate could say Big Rig Jones.

"You can't smoke in here, man," Josh says for the third time.

"Who says I was gonna?" Big Rig answers, his Marlboro falling out of his mouth and onto the floor. He reaches into a giant bag from McDonalds, the contents of which are making the car smell like french fries. It could be worse. The car could smell like Big Rig.

It's 3:30 AM, and somehow, I have been dragged into playing chauffeur. It's Thursday night, and the band has just played at the Farmhouse. I don't much care for the Farmhouse. It's usually cramped with people. Large crowds in tight spaces make me anxious, and it's sometimes all I can do not to revert to my high school basketball days and start throwing elbows. Most of the people are college kids, some underage, but a healthy minority of them are Farmhouse regulars, which is to say, raging alcoholics. I enjoy alcohol, really I do, but I seem to have a lower limit than most of the people there, if they have any limit at all. It is no fun being the most sober person in the bar, which seems to always happen to me at the Farmhouse. But the beer is cheap, and at least I know what to expect. I find that unpleasant events are often made more bearable if I can just do a little mental preparation first.

We left the Farmhouse at 2:30, when the bartenders were starting to drop f-bombs to show lingering patrons that they were serious about kicking them out. There was an afterparty, but we were not going, because it was Thursday and I had to be at work in a few short hours. But since everyone else was going to the afterparty, someone had to drive the van back to the guitarist's apartment. Someone sober. No, it wasn't me, but instead the person who depended on me for transportation from the show: Josh.

I followed behind the van along the empty Raleigh streets. I had survived another night at the Farmhouse. I struggle with the partying lifestyle that seems to come with being associated with a band. Everyone else seems to thrive on staying out, getting trashed, passing out on the couch of someone you may or may not know. Even when I don't have to go to work the next day, that's not the scene that I seek. There is often tension between me and Josh. He wants to hang out with his friends, even make new friends and I want to go home. When I've been sitting in a bar for four hours, I already feel like I've done my girlfriend duty. Surely it's time to go home? Honey?

I have been disappointed to discover in the last few years that I am a terribly whiny person. It took a long time for me to figure that out and even longer for me to really understand it. Once I started to suspect, I asked Josh outright if it was true. He's a very generous person, and so he said, "Not really. Only when you're hungry. Or cold. Or tired or in any way uncomfortable." Now, you can imagine how uncomfortable I might be at three in the morning, after having spent an evening in the company of people who think I'm a stick in the mud. Misery loves company, and I do a good job making others miserable. When I think of all the stormy moods I've been in, it makes want to cower in the corner and wonder how anyone could ever, ever love me.

So I've been trying. So hard. I don't have to make others miserable. I don't even have to be miserable myself. People can remain cheerful even when they are hungry, cold, tired, and surrounded by intoxicated college students. As we left the Farmhouse that night, I was hungry and tired, ready for bed. But I had been good all night long, friendly and not complaining. No one should be rewarded for acting like a decent human being instead of a wrathful bitch, but for me, this was gold star behavior.

Josh parked the van while I waited in the car, the engine running. As I sat there, I saw someone else stumble out of the backseat of the van: Dan, who had decided to crawl in the van and take a nap at the bar. And then an SUV pulled up and parked. A portly Farmhouse regular fell out of the driver's seat, clutching a McDonald's bag. I cringed to think that this person had been operating a motor vehicle on the same streets with me; how nearly we escape death every day. I did not know it then, because I had never met him before, but this was Big Rig.

There was a nagging feeling in my mind, a sneaking suspicion that I was not going to be able to go home to my soft warm bed just yet. The suspicion grew as I waited in the car, watching Josh making calls on his cell, watching Big Rig try and break into the guitarist's apartment, hearing Big Rig ask where his friend Mike was at the top of his lungs. These people had to go somewhere and they needed someone to drive them. Someone sober.

Josh opened the passenger door and asked if we could give these guys a ride. It's not as if I had a choice here. I might be whiny, but I'm not irresponsible enough to leave a drunk guy alone with his keys. We cleared out the backseat, dumping all the stuff into the trunk. There was a little difficulty getting Big Rig into the car. Between his balance problems and my car's limited space, the process took an extra minute or two. We also had to convince him that we were taking him to the party. No, really, we are. Yes, Mike is there. Our passengers secured in the party coupe, Josh got into the passenger seat next to me.

"We need to stop for cigarettes, too," he said grimly. He knew the ice was thin.

"What's open at this time of night?" I asked with only a slight edge. I was calm, I was good.

"The Kangaroo."


I navigated down the street to the only gas station with its lights on. Big Rig ate fries. Dan tried to call someone on his phone. Josh rubbed my shoulder gently, unspoken pleas travelling from his arm to mine. Had I not been so preoccupied with feeling sorry for me, I might have felt sorry for him, as he tried to take care of his buddies and keep his girlfriend from exploding all at the same time. I parked and we waited while Dan went inside to get cigarettes. Big Rig asked for a lighter. Having been denied the right to smoke, he went back to his fries and McNuggets with no thought to manners. I'm not very prissy when it comes to eating, but there were some...interesting gastric-related noises coming from my backseat. It occurred to me that he might throw up. I realized that while I had been very patient and calm up until now, if I had to deal with the vomit from a guy named Big Rig, I was probably going to lose it.

Dan came out of the store, having failed to secure cigarettes because his debit card was not working. He got back in the car and asked to bum a cigarette from Big Rig. Josh explained that that he couldn't smoke in the car. Both passengers acted as if I had denied their right to a fair trial.

I think that was the point when I came closest to losing my cool: when my drunken passengers couldn't wait five minutes for a cigarette.

But no, I kept it in, because I could tell I was in the home stretch now. We had left the gas station and all we had to do was deliver them to the party. Kick their inebriated butts to the curb and go home to my pillowtop mattress. Have you ever had a nice pillowtop mattress? I recommend them.

Josh directed me to the apartment where the party was happening. Big Rig asked for a lighter again, which brings us back to where I started in this convoluted story. Having been denied the right to smoke again, he launched into a political tirade.

"It's the global elites! They're doin'...the global elites...eugenics!"

I have never been so surprised to hear the word "eugenics" in my entire life.

Because Josh is a glutton for punishment, he attempted to have a conversation as Big Rig shouted out buzz words. I'm not sure if they were even talking about the same thing, since I had no idea which elites Big Rig was talking about. There was no context to his side of the conversation. He was pretty upset about the global elites, though. Maybe they told him he couldn't smoke in their cars.

I laughed. Because it was funny. Because "eugenics" had surprised me so. Because otherwise I would have started crying.

We rolled up to the party. I could not get those guys out of my car fast enough. They thanked me for the ride. I told them to have a lovely evening with so little warmth that even Dan caught my tone. Big Rig told us to call him when we got home so that he would know we were safe, which was unexpected and bizarre.

I mentally awarded myself about eighty gold stars on the drive home. As I parked the car, I spied a bag of McDonalds in the backseat. I sighed, having already given my sighing mechanism a great workout for the evening. Remembering the sounds of Big Rig eating, I was a little grossed out, but I ate the last two McNuggets anyway.


hard wooden bleachers.

My mom came to all my high school basketball games that she could. Obviously, if she had to work, that took priority, or if the game was an hour and a half away, it wasn't worth it for her to drive all that way. But if the game was in town, she was there in the stands. Several other mothers did this, too; it's what parents do. Show up, clap, cheer, say, "Hey, that's my kid."

I'm having trouble imagining how I would have felt if she had not come. The idea of my mother not going to a sporting event in which her child was a participant is pretty alien. That's what moms do, right? I mean, they don't have to, but they kinda do have to, don't they? There's no law, they didn't sign a contract or anything, but if you don't show up to watch your kid, then who will?

It could not have been all that fun for her. She had to pay to get in and then sit on hard wooden bleachers and we never won. That is only a slight exaggeration. We won probably five games in three years. Most of the time, it wasn't even close. I guess it was worse for the parents whose kids were just as crappy at basketball at I was but didn't have the benefit of being tall. At least I got a lot of playing time. It would be hard to go to blowout after blowout to see other kids play crappy basketball while mine twiddled her thumbs on the bench until two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

After our games, the Varsity boys would play. They were good, and their games were exciting to watch. People who weren't even related to the players would come to the games, clap, cheer, stand up, say "Hey, that's my team!" Sometimes it was a blowout for our side, and the parents of the boys on the other team sat on hard wooden bleachers and were good parents when it would have been a lot more fun to be good parents for the winning team.

I was thinking about my mom sitting on hard wooden bleachers last night. I was sitting on a hard wooden bench at the Local 506, drinking a PBR. These were the people in the bar: three band members, one girlfriend, two employees, two roadies, one sister, and three friends. I didn't happen to see the sign where it said what the state fire marshal said what the maximum capacity for the bar was, but I'm pretty sure it was more than twelve. But I was there. I clapped, I cheered, and had anyone asked, I would have said, "Yeah, that's my boyfriend."

Depending on your inclination, it may be more frustrating to watch your boyfriend play the bass to an empty house than to watch your daughter play power forward to a sparse crowd. My mother's daughter, she was not good at basketball, and her teammates were not very good either. They didn't bring in the spectators because they lost and they lost because they sucked. My boyfriend's band does not suck, and sometimes they do play to packed bars. But sometimes you can flick your bottle cap across the room without hitting another person. It was discouraging to play basketball and not be good at it, but I understood why the stands were empty. If you play the bass and you are good at it, but still no one shows, where's the justice in that? Maybe they're not marketable or maybe they haven't met the right people. Maybe they haven't got the right sound or maybe they haven't got the right look, but they've practiced, practiced, practiced, so why isn't Carnegie Hall calling?

A girl I met at a show a couple of weeks ago asked me if I was "so over this," meaning was I over the thrill of seeing my boyfriend on stage. I mean, I still think he looks pretty hot up there. But it's been four years of packed houses and empty clubs, drunken house parties and cul-de-sac parties on the verge of being broken up by the cops, genuine music venues and pizza places with a spare corner next to an electrical outlet. Yeah, I'm over it, but I still go. I don't have to go to shows, but I do kinda have to, don't I?

At least at shows, there is beer. It seems unlikely that there will ever be alcohol at high school sporting events, but my mom would have been totally down for that.


to gypsy.

I didn't want it to end like this.

I knew my car was old, and I could tell that she was showing her age. A little less pep, a little more noise. Things had been replaced and other things had been allowed to limp along. I knew the time would come when I would have to let her go.

I had to give her a lot of oil. If I had been a good friend, I would have done it every week, because that was probably how often she needed it. But I was not a good friend, so I did it when I thought of it. I usually thought of it when the dipstick showed the level was south of low. This is why cars should talk, so mine could have said, "Hey, uh, I, uh, could use some oil? You know? When you get a minute?" Because Gypsy, my little Corolla, was not one to complain. Gypsy was, above all, a trooper.

I don't know that it was the oil. When she suddenly stopped responding, like losing your cell phone signal in the middle of a conversation, she was out of oil. But the mechanic said it was the wiring. There was a short, which caused some overheating, which caused some melting and just general frying. He fixed one wire, only to find out that they were all extra tasty crispy. He offered to fix it, but told me that if I had the finances, it might be time to move on. When someone tells you it's a better course of action to let the car go than to pay him $1400, you should probably listen. He couldn't say for sure what had caused the short. It could have been the lack of oil, a situation caused by me, the bad owner.

I started thinking about replacements, realizing that previously, when I had thought about letting Gypsy go, I had always assumed she would still be running somehow. Running, but maybe not well enough to be my primary vehicle anymore. I'd assumed I'd be able to sell her to someone else who could get to know her. I had hoped it would be like deciding to put down an old cat. This was like having an old cat get run over and then having to shoot it myself. In all likelihood, Gypsy will go to a junkyard, where she will live on as spart parts. A mirror here, a door there, but not a wiring harness anywhere, because dude, that thing was fried.

Is there a place where old cars go? A place where they might be allowed to frolic in the places they loved best? Would Gypsy go to the mountains, where she could once again pass the Buicks? Maybe she would go back to the late night drives on back roads. Or would she prefer a long stretch of highway on a sunny day, her radio volume turned up to 11? Gypsy loved to rock out with her exhaust out.

I was feeling pretty rotten Friday night, knowing that I had killed a good friend who had gotten me from countless points A to countless other points B. But then I continued in my ridiculous pattern of anthropomorphizing my motor vehicle and decided that she knew me well enough to understand that I was forgetful and slack and stupid, and she loved me anyway. Gypsy didn't think that 160,000 miles of passing Buicks and backroads on clear nights and sunny interstates was anything to be sad about.


(not) having fits.

Maybe I shouldn't write blog entries when I am INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATED, but I'm going to take advantage of the therapeutic benefits of writing. Will you be my sympathetic audience? Can I imagine you clucking disapprovingly, raising skeptical eyebrows, and even throwing your hands up in the air at the outrage? Can I just assume that every time I tell you more of my frustrated tale, you'll go "You're kidding!" And then I can go "I KNOW!"

My car did not consult me at all about the timing when it decided to conk out. Okay, you could argue that the reason my car conked out at all is because of poor care, and you would have a valid point. But this isn't the time. I thought we had an agreement here. You are sympathetic to me.

So had my car given up the ghost a month ago, things would have been much better. Or two years from now, that would have been fine, too. But now is just an awful time to buy a car unless you have a clunker. I feel like a car that doesn't run at all is definitely a clunker, but we have to go by the government's definition. And stupid me, I went and bought a fuel-efficient car eight years ago, so the government is not interested in my plight. So I have to go and find a car now, when the lots are empty and the salesmen are laughing at the idea of haggling, and I don't even have the benefit of a federal rebate.

I do not exaggerate when I say that the cars lots are out of cars; they are not car lots, they are car fews. The first two dealerships I went to did not have the cars I wanted to test drive. They had lots of empty spaces instead. And I wasn't requesting a 1957 Astin Martin with bulletproof glass or a time-travelling DeLorean, either. Just regular ones with an automatic transmission and glass that you could shoot right through.

After driving (or being driven by my patient and helpful sister) all over town, I managed to test drive a couple of cars and decide that I didn't want a Toyota Matrix after all, I wanted a Honda Fit. You can tell just how much more I liked the Fit, based on the fact that I'm going with a car with a dumb name over a car with a mathy name. Math! In the name! It's just too bad it didn't have any Go! In the accelerator!

So now that I've decided what I want, familiarized myself with the different colors and option packages, I can call around and find out who has the best price. Except "What's your best price on a Tidewater Blue Honda Fit, just the Base Model with Automatic Transmission" soon became "I will take any color Honda Fit you have at any price. I would probably even take a dented Kia that you spray-painted 'FIT' on."

Okay, that was an exaggeration. I would sit in my existing car and make vrooming noises before I ever bought a Kia. But most dealerships didn't have any base model Fits with automatic transmissions, much less Tidewater Blue. They had Fit Sports, which is what you call it when you spend $1500 more to get a couple of speakers, chrome wheels, and a spoiler. This is the package for people who are not confident enough to drive a hatchback in the first place. And it's true, the word "hatchback" conjures up images of the old Toyota Tercel my parents used to have, but I'm over it now. I'm ready to own and drive a hatchback and I don't need a stupid Sport package.

I called dealerships four hours away. Mind you, I don't even have a car. No matter what kind of vroomy noises I make, my car won't get me to Alexandria, VA, and to ask it to do that so I can buy another car...well, you can imagine the sulking then. I was going to take the Amtrak. Until they told me they were going to charge me $600 for floor mats, mud flaps, and a racing stripe. Apparently, that is not an optional package, but they will be kind enough to take the racing strip back off for free.

Finally, I talked to someone local, who said that there were two Honda Fits who were not ashamed to be hatchbacks and that we had a possibility of getting one transferred to me. It would take a couple of days to find out and then another day or two to get here at all. I would be able to choose between Silver and White. By this time, which was four dealership visits, two days navigating websites that were built on shininess rather than usability and a day spent calling people and not getting any answers, I was worn down. I don't want to drive a silver car or a white car, but I do want to be able to go places without having to rely on the goodwill and scheduling gaps of friends and relatives. And I do really like the Fit. It's a neat little car, with great gas mileage, the Consumer Reports seal of approval, and enough room to carry a small freezer. And a dumb name. But you can't have it all.


every woman's greatest fear.

I got AAA because I was terrified of being stranded on the side of the road. That's just asking for trouble. Hi, I'm a single woman, sitting alone here in the middle of nowhere. Did I mention that I'm incredibly vulnerable right now? All you'd have to do is pretend to know something about cars, I'd turn my back to pop the hood and BOP! Right on the head. Then you could take a Sharpie and write all kinds of political slogans that I do not agree with all over my face. It's every woman's greatest fear.

I was thinking of every woman's greatest fear last Friday. I was sitting in the grass, eating bing cherries leftover from my lunch. It was a lovely afternoon: warm, but not hot. The work week was over and the weekend stretched out in front of me. I had a yard sale plan in my pocket and some homemade potato bread dough in my fridge. Except for the fact that my car was sitting dead, blocking a lane of traffic at rush hour, it was quite a pleasant way to spend the time.

A truck pulled up behind me, the fourth such vehicle to offer assistance. Guys, Southerners are so nice. Out climbed a sherrif's deputy who looked like a grown-up Boy Scout, a man who had gone into the force to protect and to serve, and here I was, a little lady who looked like she could use a little protection and service. With the help of another passerby, we pushed my car a little further up the road to improve the traffic pattern a bit. Our helper got back into his van and drove away while I waved enthusiastically in an effort to communicate my immense gratitude. Do-gooders everywhere.

While we waited for the tow truck, the deputy directed other, more mobile vehicles around my silent machine. I wasn't really sure what to do. I felt like I should have the hood up, so I would at least look like I was trying to get out of the way. Most people avoided looking directly at me, no doubt feeling annoyed at the inconvenience and yet embarrassed to not stop and see if I needed help. It would be pointless for me to look under the hood. I'd already looked there. I was hoping that I might open it up and discover the Car Talk guys sitting there, bickering jovially and arguing over whether it was the solenoid or the fuel pump. But all I saw was the inside of a car. Even if I knew why the car had suddenly flatlined, I'd have no idea what to do about it.

So I sat in the grass, ate cherries and thought about how being stranded on the side of the road wasn't all that bad. Provided it's a nice day, you're in a safe neighborhood where helpful people frequent, you've got a cell phone and a AAA membership, a cop happens to drive by, and you have a healthy snack. I mean, really, what are we women so scared about?