I’ve become inured to the noise of my shitty car. The hole in my muffler, the rattle the car makes approaching 65 MPH. When inside a less shitty car, I get anxious and afraid. Hypersensitive. Like being in a storm’s eye, waiting for calamity to return. If I am not in my shitty car, with its CHECK ENGINE light always on and broken A/C, I have a minor panic attack. The shitty car is very shitty, but it is mine and only I understand its many idiosyncrasies, the right recipe to make it move, taking me to the gas station, to my job, to the many secret places I go to polish my brain. My car is tiny, a two-door hatchback, and I, a large man, look a rather silly driving it. I don’t care. People pass my car on the highway and flip me the bird for traveling so slow.
At a stoplight, on my way to a terrible fast food restaurant, I see another driver in the same car as me! He even has my whispery beard and overgrown eyebrows. His car is slightly more silver than blue, compared to mine, which is slightly more blue than silver. We nod. The light turns green. He accelerates hard. His shitty car is louder than mine. It feels like we are racing, but are, in fact, slowing nicer cars behind us. Drivers honk their horns and yell, which I see in my rear-view mirror. I move my hands to say sorry. This is half-hearted. Why should I be sorry for my shitty car? Why should I apologize it takes thirty seconds for it to get up to speed?
The other driver laughs as we maintain a neck-and-neck position. The exhaust from our cars combine into a single black cloud. At the next stoplight, the other driver and I look at each other again, wide grins and half-laughs. We motor up when the light switches to green and again race, never overtaking the other, never getting past 45 MPH on the short strip. We stop again at a light. The other driver signals me to roll down my window.
“Hey, pull over,” he says, a beatific smile scrawled on his face.
The light turns green and I turn into an empty parking lot. The other driver follows, slowly of course. He parks and we both exit.
“Niiiiice car, man!” he says.
“Gets me around. I like yours too.”
“Ah, well,” he says bashfully.
“I bet mine’s worse than yours.”
“No way, no damn way,” he protests. Around us, motorists zoom about their lives.
“Mileage?” I ask.
“232,000,” he says.
“Damn. I’m at 210,000.”
We round our vehicles, admiring the weathering, the rust, the cracks, the dents. His car is a manual and for some reason doesn’t have 2ND gear, 4TH gear, or reverse. I tell him my car has a hole in the trunk, which funnels exhaust into the car as I drive, making me lightheaded. He shows me how his right-side mirror is held on with a piece of chewing gum. I show him the F U etched on my car’s hood.
“Oh yeah?” he says, then repeatedly kicks the side of his car, denting the metal heavily, with satisfying crunches.
I retort with a swift kick to my right-side mirror, then left.
“Hmm,” he says. He walks the parking lot in a squirrely panic until he finds a cinder block. With all the might his chubby arms can muster, he launches the stone into his windshield. The glass crumples inward like a diagram of a planet’s effect on the spacetime continuum.
I wield my keys and scratch C K on the hood, finishing the word some asshole started. Then I pick up a loose pipe and smash all my windows. The other driver looks aghast. He considers his next move, stuttering in a tight circle.
He begins rocking his car from the side.
“Come here and help me,” he commands. Together we work to flip his car over.
Though we are big and his car, like mine, is very small, we struggle greatly in our task. Sweaty and breathing hard, we stop and look at each other. Laugh.
“Hey. What time it is?” he asks. I rotate my wrist and look at my watch.
“Darn. Late for work. Good meeting you. Nice car.” The other driver launches into his vehicle, kicking a hole in his pummeled windshield. It takes moments for his car to grumble to life, a choked mass of dirt plopping out the exhaust pipe.
“See you around,” he says. The car lurches awkwardly out the parking lot and into the street.
I open my door and brush glass off the seats. I climb in, turn my keys. The car whirls angrily. On the street, in my now shittier car loudly proclaiming itself and my presence, I am joyful. The wind flows through the broken windows and I make it in time to catch breakfast before the menu switches over to lunch.