I stared at the phone in my hand. My sister had texted me two words: MIDLIFE CRISIS. Because I sent her a pic of a convertible I saw while driving home with my seven-year-old daughter. But I bought one, anyway.A Brief History of Responsible Automobiles
My parents always bought cars with cash. I don't know if they still do, but when we were growing up there were never debts like car payments floating around. Never. I was fortunate enough to drive not one but two used manual-shift Chevy Novas during high school, and when I went off to college, my parents surprised me with a used but still I thought white-hot burgundy Ford Probe. Its doors were tank-like, and it had those headlights that flip up and the seatbelts that move over you instead of you having to buckle them. (If you're under the age of 30, you probably have no idea such a thing used to exist. It did, and it was so awesomely Star Wars I can't even begin to describe it.)
I kept Peg the Probe from 1992 until 1998, when she sadly began a rapid deterioration into Things Were Falling Off Every Day. My father let me buy his car, Priscilla the Prizm, off him for $4,000. At the time, I had this sort of money in my savings account (the young, houseless and childless can be rich) and off I went to move to Kansas City in Priscilla.
In 2005, Priscilla and I were T-boned on a busy street by a SUV that was much bigger than we were. I was pretty distraught, because her axle was bent and JUST LIKE THAT I went from having no car payment to needing a car, stat. By this time, I was married and my husband and I had replaced his Ford Escort with a Ford Explorer, which we owned outright. We liked the Explorer so much we decided to get another one, because the one we had seemed like it would die soon, and then when that car died, we'd just replace it with something more Prizm-like. It made total and complete sense to us at the time -- gas was cheap, we had a baby and a ton of baby stuff and we made road trips up to Iowa at least once a month with all our junk in tow.
In 2008, gas prices did that thing. You remember that thing? When none of us could afford to go farther than two feet? And my husband and I owned two -- not one but TWO -- gas-sucking SUVs. We were spending $150 a week on gas. I freaked out and demanded we right our wrong immediately, but when we went to buy a Corolla, the used ones didn't exist. No one was letting go of a small, fuel-efficient car. So we ended up with another car payment and a very sensible, new, very basic Corolla.
Which then got hit by a tornado.
This is what it looks like when the universe is trying to tell you something.
My husband travels a lot for work and has a rental car. We still had the Explorer -- yes, the original one we thought would die. It has 190,000 miles on it, the front passenger door won't open from the outside, the air conditioning no longer works, it's rusting and the leather seats are stained and ripped. But it still runs, so we had lots of time to think about what to do.
Then, last weekend, my daughter and I were driving home when I passed a for-sale sign on a ramshackle midnight-blue Ford Mustang convertible. I stepped on the brakes and whipped the Explorer around. My daughter's eyes widened as I pulled over on the side of the road and called the number soaped across the windshield. Then we drove straight home, grabbed my husband out of the driveway and drove him to see it.
He was understandably flummoxed by my move. Me, who made him return the convertible he rented last year at BlogHer '11 because it was too impractical for all our luggage. Me, who made him give up his beloved, tricked-out Explorer for a teeny tiny Corolla. Me, who once pinned a Debt-o-Meter to the refrigerator to remind us daily of our credit card sins. What the hell was I thinking?When Someone Almost Dies, You See Things Differently
I was thinking that we were lucky we only lost our car in that tornado. I was thinking I didn't want another car payment, and every sensible, responsible car he was showing me would mean another two- or three-year loan. I was thinking we made so many car-buying decisions in the past based on what the smart, right thing to do was in the case of any emergency, and then along came a tornado to blow up all our best-laid plans.
I was thinking about how we'd already gone through the carseat years.
I was thinking about how many years I have left to have adventures with my daughter.
I was thinking about how much time you end up spending in a car on the weekends getting your responsible adult errands done. And how much time you spend putting off little things that would be fun and not really hurt anyone even if they are a tish off the beaten path.
And I was thinking about my anxiety, and how I always try to plan for every single thing that could possibly happen, and how the older I get the more I realize I can't do anything but pray hard and row for shore. I told my husband all of this on Sunday night.
On Monday morning, he sent me a listing for a 1997 Chrysler Sebring with 71,000 miles on it that we could buy with the Corolla insurance payout, straight-up. No car payment. And the air conditioning works great.
We named her "Vicki."
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