84 that was a hand-me-down from my mom when she moved up to a ’96 purplish Civic. I drove that boxy little ‘84 (with standard transmission, thank you very much) until I hit a deer on a rainy night on my way to Towson to camp out for Tibetan Freedom Concert tickets in 1998. Thanks to the rain and fog, I didn’t see the deer at all until I was about 10 feet away, so I didn’t break or swerve. I just plowed into it, hitting it with the front of my hood and then it flew over my car, like a reindeer. The car sounded a little funny after that, but I drove it the rest of the 15-minute ride to the TowsonTown Center where I parked, surveyed the damage, and then found a pay phone to call my parents (yeah, there were still pay phones). We agreed there was nothing that could be done that night, so I continued to spend the night out for the tickets, scoring the maximum 4 tickets for each day of the concert, then proceeded to sell all but my ticket on the street closer to the concert date and made serious bank. If I wasn’t a 5-foot-tall woman without tattoos, piercings, or street cred, I might have become a professional scalper, so great was the high of making all that money for nothing.
The deer had smashed up my hood in such a way that we could no longer open it, so it was just a matter of time until I burned up all the oil and the car would be laid to rest. I went away to college, a carless freshman, but that was no big deal. By sophomore year, my uncle, who was a mechanic, had a friend selling a well-maintained ‘86 Chevy Nova and hooked me up. I bought the car for $500. Oh, how I loved this car. It was light as a feather and would drive 5 mph without even putting your foot on the gas pedal—that’s how much get up and go it had. I got 3 speeding tickets in one year with that car. After the third ticket, Josh, then my fiancé, freaked out and told me that we might not be able to get married (that year) because I’d be losing my license or have outrageous car insurance. But God smiled down on me, and the first two judges both gave me probation before judgement. I drove all the way to Salisbury to ask for mercy again with the third ticket—Salisbury, which is notorious for being hard on speeding—and my police officer didn’t show up because he had been called up in the Army Reserve post-9/11, and I got off that ticket too. I couldn’t believe it. And so the wedding was back on.
In mid-2001, my mom got a new car, a Saturn, and I was bestowed her ’96 Civic. It was roomier than the ’84, still a stick shift, and had slightly better air conditioning. My parents kept the Nova for when my brother for when he would be learning to drive. The Civic again became my workhorse, commuting me back and forth from Jarrettsville to Westminster for my first real job at the Carroll County Times, taking Josh and I on all our long road trips for beaches and backpacking, and it was really reliable. It made it to over 200,000 miles, and then I was still able to sell it on eBay for $1,200.
When we went car shopping in 2006, I was convinced I wanted to look at the Accord because I thought we needed more room. We were older and had more “stuff,” and I personally wanted the ability to buy a piece of furniture at a sidewalk sale without having to go home and get the pick-up truck. But when we went to the dealer and I checked out the 2006 Civics, I realized the new redesign really had made it a bigger car, or if not bigger, more usable in the interior. I sat in the Accord and it felt unreasonably large, and I couldn’t justify paying that much more and having all of that unnecessary extra headspace, legroom, backseat space and trunk space.
And as odd as the car’s name of “Civic” is, I dig it. To me, it’s a less-communist sounding word for meaning “of the people.” It’s a reasonably affordable, gosh-darn reliable vehicle, built for the masses. When I’m driving down the highway and I see other people in Civics, I really do feel like I already have something in common with them. It might just be that we need to turn the radio a little louder to compensate for all the road noise we have to endure, but there’s something there. And it’s not like we have a particular personality trait in common either, like you might think with some other cars, because there are so, so many of us that drive Civics. It truly is the car “of the people.”
BMWs, however, I do associate with some stereotypical personality types. They’re a little aggressive, driving-wise. A little privileged, looking. And their cars accelerate so fast that when they hit the gas to pass someone, it’s like they own the road and are taking what’s theirs. When I pass someone in my Civic, it’s like my little V4 is giving it all it’s got, huffing and puffing and making a big show of the fact that it got up the speed to overtake your slow-butt-car that is going 10 mph under the speed limit for heaven’s sake. And as for the more human personality traits of a BMW owner, well, I have to be careful about that because I have a couple of those in the family, including my husband.
Josh bought his ‘2007 BMW 328xi in 2010. He was about to change store locations and would no longer have a 1-mile commute, and the ‘94 pick-up truck seemed to be on its last legs (just as it still seems to be on its last legs now, 6 years later). He and I had gone car shopping together to the Toyota dealership and tried out the Rav-4, which I was kind of rooting for, but Josh wasn’t impressed. Later in the week he went out with his friend Chet and they went to a handful of dealerships, and then before I knew it, he bought the BMW. I hadn’t seen it, but trusted his judgement and gave him my blessing.
And that’s the last time either of us ever buys a car solo again.
Immediately, I didn’t like the Beamer. (Why do people call them that, by the way?) I had always thought of a BMW as a “luxury” car. I was wrong. Josh has since told me they are a “performance” car. Which is why the steering wheel is so tight it’s like an arm workout for me to drive it and why you can feel every bump in the road as it “hugs” the ground and curves. It also super annoys me that it locks us in while we’re driving, so that every time I try to get out of the car, I can’t. Or rather, I can’t until I pull the door handle twice. And then there’s the cup holders. Every car I have ever been in has had the cup holders in the center console. The Beamer has them sort of coming out of the dashboard to the right of each seat, so technically the driver’s cup holder is in the personal space of the passenger, and up until about a month ago, I was always the passenger, with both Josh’s drink and my drink in my face. Except that the cup holders are so small, they don’t hold either of our water bottles or the fancy coffee travel mug I got Josh for Father’s Day. So you actually have to hold your cup/bottle or let it roll on the floor. Luxury, my ass.
Just as Josh bought the car in 2010 for a job location change, about a month ago he proposed that we trade cars, because of a job change. Josh is now what they call a “flexible pharmacist,” previously known as a “floater,” which means he no longer works at just one location but is a fill-in pharmacist (still for Wal-Mart), traveling to whatever store in his district that needs him. He’s never been one for commuting, but podcasts have made that so much easier, and even somewhat enjoyable. But there was no denying that the Civic gets WAY better mileage than the Beamer, which has all-wheel drive. On long distances, my car averages 34 mph. The BMW seems to get about 25. So Josh proposed that with all his driving, often to faraway places like Hagerstown and Germantown, we trade cars.
At first this seemed crazy. We are not the type of couple that just trades cars. (I didn’t even know couples did that until my friend Marjorie told me her parents owned two cars and didn’t consider either of them to personally belong to either one of them. My parents were NOT like that.) The Civic was my car, snotty tissues and soda cans galore, and the spotless BMW was Josh’s. But I had to agree with the logic of a trade. So a month ago, I became the driver of a BMW.
At first, I was so self-conscious. I admit it, I have a negative stereotype of BMW owners, and I didn’t want other drivers, or most especially, pedestrians, to think of me in that way. I drove extra cautiously and graciously. I gave little waves to let people go (but I don’t know if they could even see me through those dark-tinted windows). When the roads were open, I completely took advantage of that V6 engine without any road noise. In the first two weeks of driving it, it was kind of a shock I didn’t get any speeding tickets.
I wasn’t thinking of myself as a BMW owner yet, and when a guy from the gym that Josh and I often chat with pointed out that I was driving the Beamer these days instead of my humble Civic, I was a little embarrassed. I know, that’s ridiculous, but it’s true. I explained the commuting situation, and then he told me about the Mercedes he bought for his wife last year. But I still didn’t feel part of the club. The Rich People’s Car Club.
And then, two weeks into our new arrangement, I really started feeling like a BMW owner. That’s when the car started giving me messages about how the oil was below the minimum and I needed to add oil so as not to damage the engine. I had driven all the way to Jarrettsville the first time I saw that message, and it would have really freaked me out, except I know Josh had just put more oil in it a few weeks ago, and the car’s computer has lied to us many times before. (Side note: BMW’s computer has some really scary warning messages. Sometimes in the winter it tells us that it has lost a stabilizing feature and could overturn at any minute.) (OK, that’s not what it really says, but I forget the exact language, and it’s something to that extent, and it has yet to happen.) I didn’t think much of it and drove home. But the next day when I started the car just to drive the 4 blocks to the gym (I know, I’m terrible), it smelled like it was burning oil, so I texted Josh immediately and told him about the message. He said it he knew it had a leaking gasket or something like that, but not to worry about it. When he got home that night, I told him I’d had that message for a few days. He added a quart of oil, and thought that would take care of it. But just 3 days later, the computer was telling us it needed another quart of oil. That’s when Josh decided we should probably take it in, because we weren’t seeing puddles of oil anywhere, so it was either lying or severely burning up oil. (The car’s oil system is such that you cannot do your own dipstick test with it, so you have to trust the computer or take it to a car shop that can run diagnostics to know if the oil level is actually that low.)
The day before Josh put the kibosh (I had to look up the spelling of that word—not what I expected) on either of us driving the Beamer until he could get it checked out for this scary oil situation, the window broke. I came out of a store and noticed the back driver’s side window was down 3 inches, and I didn’t remember lowering it like that (especially when all the other windows were up). I turned on the car and tried raising it, but it wouldn’t budge. It made a sound like it was trying, but nothing was happening. I tried pressing the down function to see if that worked, and it started going down, so I let off the button, however the window kept going down, down, down, all the way down. And then wouldn’t come back up. I turned the car off once we got home, waited a few minutes, turned it back on, and tried to raise it again. Nothing. I got out the manual, but there was absolutely nothing in there about window malfunctioning. I texted Josh and he sort of shrugged it off, assuming I was doing something wrong. When he got home, he couldn’t get it to raise either, and had to cover it with a trash bag and tape since we were going out of town for the weekend.
He tried to get an immediate appointment with his mechanic, conveniently located 2 blocks away, but the shop was booked up for two weeks. They did let him come in and the checked out the window situation right away, and were able to pull it up immediately but said it’s the inner mechanisms that are broken and they’ll have to wait until his appointment, now just half a week away, until they can fix it.
So now I really do feel like a BMW owner, considering I had always heard how likely they are to have stupid things go wrong (and how you have to pay thousands to get them fixed).
Now that I drive a BMW, I actually drive a Civic. And Josh drives a ’94 pick-up.
And our next car will be a Honda or a Toyota.