Yesterday, the first car I ever owned was towed out of my driveway and out of my life forever. It was a 1990 Volkswagon Fox that I bought in 1996. I drove it regularly for most of that time, though for the last year it sat at the back of our driveway with a dead battery while we tried to decide what to do with it. I can’t say that I’ve ever loved this car, but I do feel some affection for it.
I was working at a job doing high level tech support when I bought it and it was the first time in my life that I actually had any money.At the time, I was single, my rent was a low and I worked different hours from everyone I knew (1pm-11pm, Sunday-Wednesday). I wasn’t super stingy with money, but I didn’t really have anything to spend it on either, so I found that money just started piling up in the bank. Once I had a few thousand dollars I decided I should probably get a car. Knowing nothing about cars, I took the Fox to a mechanic to have it checked out before buying it and the guy didn’t have a lot of good things to say about it. There was a little crack in the windshield, and it needed some brake work. There were other problems too but I can’t remember what they were now. This is what the mechanic told me: “If you were my daughter, I wouldn’t let you buy this car.” I bought it anyway. The list price was $2700, but because the mechanic had so many bad things to say about it, I got the guy who was selling it to me to go down to $1900. I felt like a super bargainer.
I was the worst car owner in the world. It took me at least two years to get it registered and I don’t think I changed the oil in it for something like the first 5 years I had it. Seriously – it was a really long time. People would blanch and stutter and try to think of a polite way to tell me I was crazy and reckless when I told them I’d never had an oil change.
But that car was awesome and it just kept going and going and going no matter how badly I treated it. My high-paying job didn’t last too long after I bought it, so keeping up with maintenance was hard for me because I never had any money. Things started to go wrong with the Fox and instead of fixing them, I’d just live with them.
There were always weird problems with the battery and I often would go out to my car to drive it somewhere and it just wouldn’t start. No matter how poor I was, I never, ever let my AAA membership lapse because I never knew when I would need to call for a jump. I always kept some jumper cables in the trunk too. After awhile, the battery problem got a lot worse. The car would always pull power from the battery whether it was on or not, so I went through a really long period where I would have to open the hood of the car and disconnect the battery every time I parked, then reconnect it when I was ready to drive somewhere again. I didn’t even think it was too weird at the time, but looking back on it, I realize how completely ridiculous it was that I put up with it! I remember being particularly stressed out when I’d have to park at the garages in San Francisco because so many of them required that you leave the keys so they can move the cars around.
Then there were the awful noises the foxy Fox has made throughout the years! There have been several squealing belts. Squeals so loud that my friends could tell I was about to arrive at their houses when I was still several blocks away. The squealing came and went and it often would start when I was stopped at a light. I got very good at looking around at other cars like I was trying to figure out where the awful noise was coming from. Or so I thought. I probably wasn’t fooling anyone.
The worst thing the Fox ever did to me though was the random honking. There was some sort of short in one of the wires to the horn and sometimes when I started the car it would just start honking like I was laying on the horn. This typically happened when it was cold and damp outside, so if I left someone’s house late at night the horn would start going off. I can assure you that you feel really self conscious driving down the streets of a residential neighborhood at midnight with your car honking non-stop. I could sometimes get the horn to stop by wriggling the steering wheel back and forth, but only if the car was moving, so I was usually weaving all over the road while all this honking was happening. It’s a wonder I was never arrested!
In later years, the Fox was much more mellow. Switching to a better mechanic helped a lot because he managed to fix a bunch of the pesky problems with the car (like that horn). After awhile the car just started getting old and junky. The seats started falling apart and the foam inside them began to disintegrate. The faceplate on the stereo broke so I couldn’t listen to NPR any more. Someone tried to punch the locks to break into it (Why? WHY?) and failed, so the doors got temperamental. When we got the bigger, nicer and more solid Passat the little Fox started feeling more like a tin can on wheels and every time it went over a bump it felt like a part might fall off. Then I got laid off and stopped commuting to work so there really wasn’t much of a reason to drive it any more. When the battery died at the end of the driveway, jumping it was more trouble than it was worth and it wasn’t in the way so we just let it stay there. Moving to a new house was the push we needed to decide whether we wanted to keep it or not. After some discussion, we decided we haven’t missed having a second car all that much and decided to donate it.
The Fox was my main way of getting around for a very long time and thinking about driving it makes me think about the people who were in my life at that time. I have many, many good memories of driving places with my friends Allison and Lisa in the car and now that they’re far away, it makes me sad to let go of that tangible reminder of that time.
Oh, little Foxy Fox! You were a pretty good friend!
Well, maybe not a good friend. Let’s say you were an adequate friend.
Hmmm…Maybe more like a frien-emy?
At least the honking thing makes me laugh now!