At first I was going to back out of this article. Does the whole world have to know what type of car I drive? However, after a recent funny experience, I thought what the hell. Who cares? Obviously I don’t, at least not enough to do something about it.
That car in the picture above is mine. It’s the car I learned to drive in at 22, and I haven’t looked back for three years. It’s a clunker. A beast. It has a bench seat, and, after an accident, it makes a loud thump-crackle-pop when you open the driver’s side door. Recently, out of nowhere, the driver’s side lock stopped working. So I have to crawl through the passenger side to get to the steering wheel.
However, it works, surprisingly, really well. It’s never broken down, the air-conditioner always runs and my husband and I own it. Insurance is also pretty cheap, and in the three years I’ve driven it the ‘Check Engine’ light has only gone on once.
Let me give you some backstory on Billie Jean—Billie for short—my affectionate name for my ride. I did not buy this thing. After my husband returned from Iraq his bank account was flush with cash (for a 20-year old) and he rushed out to buy his first car while on leave. He briefly asked his father what type of car he should get and his father casually responded, “I had a truck when I was your age, and I loved it.” So my husband went with his grandfather (a former engineer with questionable vision) to the local Toyota dealership and picked it up.
However, what he got was, in actuality, a clunker. I guess the dealer saw the naïve boy and his elderly companion coming from a mile away. Immediately there was a problem with the alignment. Fortunately, my husband is a cautious man and purchased an extended warranty.
Once he got that fixed he got into not one, but two minor car accidents that beat Billie up good. The front bumper had to be strung together with a piece of twine to stay in place, and, like I said, the driver’s side door now announces us when we arrive places. Also thanks to the accidents, there is a minor dent on the right-hand side that random people on the street often offer to fix for us with their suction devices. Oh, and the best part is this car cost as much as my other friend’s brand new Kia SUV. This wasn’t a deal. With that same amount of money I would have found a really nice luxury car on auction.
When I met him, less than a year after he bought the car, it was not a selling point. In fact, he kept the air up in the car even though the LA night was cool because he didn’t want me to open my window. You see, the old-fashioned wind-down handle frequently pops off on the passenger side if not handled with care.
On our second date, when I pulled down the sun visor, I was surprised to find a huge face staring back at me—there was an extra large mirror glued clumsily to the inside. He chuckled nervously. At first he wanted to buy another car after meeting me. However, after quickly assessing how expensive a girlfriend could be, decided against it. Thank goodness: we would end up needing that money for our wedding.
I won’t lie—this car is a bit embarrassing. Going out to nice places is always a little awkward. One of my friends makes up every excuse not to ride in it, and even refused to valet it with me one time. However, I live in Los Angeles. Any nice or even semi-nice restaurant has a valet. It doesn’t bother me. I know that I’m paying them, and paying to eat in the establishment. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get looks of pity sometimes when I drive up.
The funny incident that prompted me to do this story happened at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood. At a dinner with my advertisers, I rushed from a previous meeting to the restaurant.
When I pulled up everyone in the courtyard stopped. There was a group of silver foxes smoking cigarettes that stopped puffing for a second to stare, and even the valets looked shocked. There, amongst the Porsches, Beamers and Benzes was a pretty young girl in designer heels, a Celine bag, a mini dress and my truck. One guy tried to pass the car and accidentally touched the bumper with his elbow. He jumped back and recoiled as if he had just touched hot coal. I believe he even hissed.
Oh, and then there’s parking and the fact that I am a relatively new driver. I need A LOT of space to park Billie Jean. She’s long and slender like a model so I can only park at end spots, never parallel; and since I’m short have to hop in and hop out frequently as I can never see how much room I have left until I hit the red or another car.
So why don’t we get rid of the truck? It’s not like I don’t want a new car. I do, I swear. It’s not even that we can’t afford a new one, especially when I was working a regular 9-5 and making a decent salary. It’s just that I don’t need a new car—even if some of my friends, and now maybe you too, don’t agree.
Los Angeles is a car city. People live and die by their rides. People who cannot afford nice cars lease and loan to have their dream vehicle. I’m not judging, especially since I didn’t enjoy being judged for a recent purchase of mine. But cars cost a lot more than big fashion purchases. Plus, they depreciate in value quickly, even though the amount you owe on them usually increases. My mother once gave us some money to put towards a new car, and we shamelessly pocketed it. My husband wasn’t into hunting for our new ride, and I quickly got disenchanted with the search too. That’s another thing about buying a new car: it’s hard work.
We live in a nice neighborhood and a lot of my neighbors have really nice cars. These are cars that I want, cars that you can really luxuriate in. But before getting envious I remember something really important. I own my car, it has minimal maintenance and I’m not dying tomorrow—there will be plenty of time in my life to get the car of my dreams.
Why people go into any type of debt over their vehicles is a mystery to me. However, what people spend their money on is their own business. Part of the reason I don’t push harder for a new car is that I’d rather use my money for other things. Like graduate school, or my unpredictable health condition. Plus, I enjoy shopping and traveling, my guilty pleasures, so I like having the extra cash on hand that would otherwise be taken up by a car payment.
The one friend of mine who does have a nice car frequently has to service it, and, financially and emotionally, it’s draining. My mom has been through three BMWs and after a pricey repair finally gave up and bought a Toyota (she’s been happy ever since). My father always says that cars are meant for one thing: to get you from point A to point B. It doesn’t have to be fancy. And as a native New Yorker who actually enjoys the subway (urine, dirt, rats and all), I am, despite how this article might make me seem, just not too particular.
For now, Billie Jean is here to stay.