I'm scared of my car.

I seem to thrive on stress. Always have. I don't know why exactly. I guess it stems from my inability to just let the world go on without me. I have to worry about things. I worry if there's nothing to worry about.

But if there *is* something to worry about? Whoa boy!! I pounce on that subject with all the voracity of a starving Chihuahua on a porkchop. I obsess. I wonder "what if?" I become consumed with the problem and my inability to handle it. In short, I mainline stress. And I'm always looking for my next fix.

But I digress.

While contemplating my recent sleepless, headachy state, I came to a surprising conclusion. I'm scared of my car. I'm a computer programmer by profession. I spent years of my life doing maintenance for apartment buildings. I can replace your toilet, rewire your ceiling fan and install your DSL line without blinking. No problem. But when it comes to cars... they run on magic. And my car is the most magic of all. Open the hood and all I see is wires and tubes and a big metal thing. There's a container filled with blue liquid and something filled with green liquid. And it's dirty. Really dirty. All these ingredients (plus the dirt, I guess) combine to magically transport me to wherever I want to go whenever I stick the key in the ignition and turn it, if the magic is working that day.

I bought a used 97 Saturn SL2 in August of 2001. 39,000 miles on it. Nice. They talked me into the 2-year warranty. I drove it off the lot and proceeded to get used to it. With every car I've ever had, it's taken a few weeks to get used to every sound the car makes. A squeak here, a beep there. What do all these lights mean? Look it up in the book. OK... everything's OK. I take the bus to work everyday and there can be days in a row when I don't drive the car. I'm gonna put very little wear and tear on this baby. From this point on, my car and I become one. I am in tune with the way the brakes feel. The way the steering wheel responds. When to shift. Life is good.

March 2002.

One day, I get in the car and proceed to drive up to the local supermarket. Halfway there, a light comes on. "Service Engine Soon", it says. "Why?" I say. No answer from the car. Everything seems fine and I'm at a loss to explain why the car would be telling me it needs service "soon". My finely tuned body-car connection is reporting no problems. Weird. During my next oil change (which I had performed at the dealer - because I'm a moron with too much money, apparently), the automotive sorcerer tells me that I've run low on magic. Actually, he said the computer imparted to him that there was a misfire in the engine and that my oxygen sensor had gone bad. Why the computer had not told me this itself, I never learned. It was required that he replace all the spark plugs and wires and install a new oxygen sensor. $200.00 (partially covered under warranty) later he tells me that my magic is back up to the correct level and I can leave. Hesitant, at first, I leave. I could swear that my body-car connection senses an increase in magic and I feel happy.

August 2002.

While coming home one night, I hear a squeaking noise coming from my front tires. Not the brakes. Can't be. It's kind of a squeak-squeak-squeak sound I hear only when coasting. I've had a car when the brake sensors started grinding and this was not the same sound. Sound goes away when I brake. Hmmm.... Everything seems fine. No alerts from the body-car connection. A mystery left to be solved another day.

October, 2002

During my next oil change (at the dealership, again), the automotive jester comes out and asks me - "You know that noise you've been hearing?" I think to myself "Yes. But I never told you I heard a noise. What the hell are you talking about?" But instead I just say "Yes." He tells me that the automotive wizard had imparted to him that I am in need of four new tires, as mine are becoming dangerously worn. I ask him how, after only driving 6,000 miles since I bought the car, I could possibly be in need of new tires. His answer is a shrug. This instills confidence in me. "And how much will it cost to replace these potential rubber land mines", I ask. After mumbling several facts about my car, which I already know, he relieves the suspense and says "Just under $400.00, including mounting and balancing".

I think I fainted.

When I awoke, my brain processed the things I knew I knew: 1.) Dealerships charge more than any place else for everything. 2.) All car repair facilities test your car knowledge by mentioning some ubiquitous part that needs to be repaired / replaced and then gauge how much you know about cars by the corresponding look on your face. 3.) Something about a penny and Lincoln's head and worn out tires. 4.) There was no way in hell I would pay almost twice my monthly car payment to replace something that should not have been bad in the first place. 5.) My car was clean because Saturn washes it after every oil change. 6.) I was due to be running out of magic again sometime soon 7.) I still have a squeak-squeak-squeak sound that may be the brakes or the tires or something else.

I drove my shiny car with bad tires home. Not so happy this time.

November 2002.

This time, my body-car connection definitely senses a problem. Car does not sound happy to be starting up. Grrr-grrr-grrr-grrr-GRRRUUUMMPPH! Finally turning over! Yaaay! That was weird. I drive away happily. Unfortunately, next time I start the car, it gets a bit worse... Grrr-grrr-grrr-grrr-grrrr-GRRRUUUMMPPH! No lights tell me to service anything soon so I am left to wonder about this new predicament. I drive away again. One sad morning, I am greeted by nearly thirty seconds of grrrrr's before the car will start. I suspect she's low on magic again. Magic doesn't quite last an entire year nowadays.

$85.00 and new battery later, the automotive apprentice tells me that my car was indeed low on magic and was nearly depleted. Luckily, the new battery will supply lots of magic, backed by a warranty, for years to come. I am happy again.

December 2002.

Coming home from the supermarket I gradually begin to notice the steering wheel pulling to the left. "What the hell?" Was my car trying to avoid making the right hand turn into my driveway? No. A flat tire. Pulling into the garage with the automotive wizards words sing-songing in my brain "you need new tires...you need new tires..." I got out and inspected the damage. Well, it was flat. There was no air in the tire. It looked pretty simple. Luckily, my father-in-law took pity on me and assisted me in patching the tire right there in the garage. The whole time, in my head, I'm seeing pictures of me and my wife and daughter singing happily along the highway with one patched bald tire and three regular bald tires, when the patch shoots out of my tire causing it to explode in a frenzy of torn rubber and sending me and my whole family off an embankment, plunging to our fiery deaths.

Present day.

Well, each and every time I have to get in the car has become a mini-adventure.

"Will I make it to the supermarket?"

"Is driving around with bad tires and a squeak-squeak-squeak only making the problem worse, thus costing me more money in the long run?"

I've begun declining invitations to go places unless I can get a ride because I'm scared that I won't make it there if I have to drive my car. I watch the dashboard with heady anticipation each time I start the car now, waiting for an illumination to tell me that the magic is running low again. I'm imagining things that are playing havoc with my once-perfect body-car connection. The dashboard has begun to rattle, ceasing only when I punch it, which is starting to feel pretty good. I fantasize about owning other cars that I see throughout the day. I find myself gazing lovingly at their tires with their deep treads and shiny rubber sidewalls. I imagine what it must be like to get into a car a drive it to a destination and only have to concern myself with the laws of the road. I wonder how bad it would be if I had to ride the bus everywhere I went. I fantasize about having a bunch of extra money and using it to fix my flaky car.

I try to keep my mind off the potential for problems but it doesn't work for long.

I'd go for a ride to take my mind off it, but...well you know...

I'm scared of my car.