Monday, December 18, 2006

Pretty Lady, Expert Mechanic

Oh, the gentleman was such a flatterer.

Really, all Pretty Lady did was shake her head, at the nice young gentleman whose car was creating its own weather system in front of her apartment, and say, commiseratingly, "That's not good. You need to get that checked out."

The poor fellow explained that he'd just bought the vehicle in question, on a payment plan, in fact, and suspected that he'd been had.

Pretty Lady commiserated some more, gave him the name and address of her mechanic, and commented, "You're burning a great deal of oil. It looks, unfortunately, like you might need a ring job."

And the gentleman, to Pretty Lady's everlasting surprise, said, "You sure know a lot about cars."

It is a sad fact that Pretty Lady knows more about cars than she ever wished. She knows a great number of things that can go wrong with cars; their symptoms, their temporary palliatives, and the cost of their ultimate resolution. She knows that when one's carburator is on the decline, a frequent and terrifying indicator of such is that the car stalls whenever one hits the brake. She is an expert twiddler of shaky electrical circuits, and drooping rear-view mirrors. She knows the sound and the feel of a clutch which is just about to give way. She is intimately familiar with the exigencies of a power-steering hose failure, as well as the word for 'hose' in Spanish. What she could tell you about fuel injectors, brake discs, tire rotation, front-end suspensions, head gaskets and oil changes could fill a novella. She has driven a vehicle with duct tape and plastic in place of a driver's-side window, and watched more than one small crack travel across the entire length of the windshield, over a period of a year or more.

She has hair-raising stories to tell you about how she came by all of this useful knowledge, as well.

For Pretty Lady has never put much stock in owning Flashy Cars. For her, a car is something to get you from one end of the continent to the other. One uses it until it will not run any longer; or at least until it starts generating its own weather system. Which is why she feels so sorry for that poor gentleman in front of her apartment. By the time Pretty Lady's old Honda started doing that, it had been paid off for at least a decade.

Pretty Lady tells you all this, confidentially, then, so that you will understand just how strange it was that she had a meltdown in the BMW showroom, waiting for dear Pierre to get his motorcycle back from its check-up.

(BMW motorcycles, by the way, are Where It's At. They are nothing at all like those dreadful blustering Harleys. You turn the ignition, and the hum of the motor is barely perceptible; certainly less than that of a vibrator on 'low.' This does not prevent this glorious machine from accelerating from zero to 120 in less than the time it takes for Pretty Lady to realize that she is travelling 120 miles per hour without even a seatbelt between her and the flashing asphalt, and be devoutly grateful that her boyfriend-before-last taught her how to do Zen meditation. Breathe in, breathe out. In, out. One is one with the night and the machine and the flashing asphalt. In, out. No fear. Ohm.)

So while Pierre was off conferring with the mechanic, Pretty Lady wandered idly around the showroom. She disinterestedly explored and interacted with various BMWs. She noted the features of the minivan, the lines of the sedan, the amusing squishedness of the sport model. They seemed friendly; they seemed suburban and accessible. Pretty Lady was not conscious of any particular feelings of covetousness, mania, or urgent need to change her entire lifestyle. Not at all.

She simply went home and had a Crisis of Confidence.

Sobbing, on the phone to her sister sometime later, she stated, "I never thought about Success in terms of flashy cars, or anything. I just thought I'd work really hard, and be brilliant at something, and someday I'd be able to afford one, as a sort of afterthought. I pictured myself casually saying, 'here, take the Jag' and tossing the keys to my gorgeous husband. I feel like a complete failure."

Her sister listened, with empathy and without judgment, and then replied, "You know, BMW hires psychologists and designers to create precisely this reaction in people who go to their showrooms."


Just because Pretty Lady is Counterculture, then, just because she has a Disdain for Capitalist Acquisitiveness, just because she avoids TV and shopping malls, does not mean she is not susceptible to crass commercial manipulation tactics. Quite the contrary, in fact; her avoidance of much of the media of commerce means that she is a wide-open target; her innocent psyche has not toughened itself with chronic exposure. It is no wonder that she melted down at the slightest touch of a perfidious Beamer. She cannot blame herself. And thus she relaxed.

You see, being able to name the disease can do a great deal toward curing it. This is why we must understand Context; this is why sociocultural analysis can be such a wondrous thing. This is why Pretty Lady is such a fan of those people who combine acerbic wit with insightful commentary, and call a spade a spade.

However, Pretty Lady cannot ultimately blame the automobile industry, either. She cannot blame the psychologists, or the designers, or her dear lovely boyfriend Pierre for dragging her into hostile territory, and undermining her confidence. Those people at BMW have their livings to earn, and they do a splendid job at what they do. Pretty Lady applauds them, at the same time as she warily skirts their showrooms in passing.

To go and burn down the showroom because it presented a threat to her fragile psyche, or even to idly suggest that such a thing was a good idea, then, would be a complete misuse of the knowledge she had so painstakingly acquired. It would somehow imply that Pretty Lady was incapable of perspective, and responsibility, and adaptability. It would imply that no-one, but no-one, on the planet was as significant as herself.


Anonymous said...

ummmm... You sure caved in pretty easily. Don't you know, you are defined by who is in you, not who you are with or what you drive, or wear... or what job you have?

And also.. I quit working on cars because they were no longer a challenge. I moved on to Turbine controls. Hydro,Gas,Steam... and for the past 20 years... Well, I haven't gotten tired of them yet!.

I feel old(er)

Anonymous said...

I drive an old car that has 220,000 miles on it, fifth gear does not work any longer, but dang it, it gets 35 MPG and still runs without any smoke blowing out of its tailpipe, its paid for, and insurance is less than $350/year (living in the sticks has SOME advantage). Some day the car will die and I'll get a car built in the 21st Century, but until then old crappy will do just fine.

Oh, your comments on the BMW bike are right on the money. While I was raised on Honda bikes, I heart is with the BMW.

Desert Cat said...

Let me guess: it's either a Honda Civic or a Toyota Camry?