There are approximately 2 million cars inside the city limits of Los Angeles – a car for every two people. An absurd figure when you take into consideration that it includes infants, middle-schoolers and people in retirement homes. For my first month living in Los Angeles, it also included me.
“How have you been living here without a car?” one peer asked, scratching his head and looking me up and down as if trying to figure out if I was real or not. The simple answer is I don’t know. As per usual, I am figuring this all out as I go.
People here drive everywhere. The cashiers at Trader Joe’s would give a confused look when I turned down the assumed parking validation service they provide. “Did this guy walk here? HA!”
I felt something like the proverbial cowboy stranded in the desert without his horse might’ve felt. Well, minus the looming threat of death by dehydration or rattlesnake. But you get the point. This is a driving kind of town, and I had nothing to drive.
Furthermore, I felt a little left out sometimes. I didn’t get to join in with everyone else and complain about traffic, or how hard it is to find parking. “Ugh. Bus was real crowded this morning,” was my best attempt at joining in the fun, but it never seemed to take.
So, I searched and searched … and searched. Power windows? Didn’t care. Dents? Whatever. Cracked windshield? Eh, I’ll manage. What exactly was I looking for? Well, what does someone who’s broke, in debt, and barely employed look for? The cheapest car in southern California.
If I had arrived at a shady, Fullerton used car lot 20 minutes earlier I’d be driving a ’97 Geo Metro. What’s a Geo Metro? Great question. This particular piece of wet dog poop had a manual transmission. I’ve never driven stick, but it was selling for $900. So, I said “Screw it, I’ll teach myself on the drive home.” Luckily for me, the car was purchased by another buyer, probably saving me from a roadside ditch.
Left with no other options, I found the only other vehicle within 50 miles that fit my budget – a 1987 Acura Legend. What is an Acura Legend? That’s a great question.
There’s something so damaging to one’s pride that occurs when he or she deals with a shady, used car salesman. I knew it was a crap car. He knew it was a crap car. I was buying it because it was all I could afford. But STILL, he felt the need to try and schmooze and seduce me into buying the thing.
I mean the car sputters around, and has a transmission that’s essentially bleeding out, and this guy is sitting in the passenger seat talking my ear off about the friggin’ sunroof. You have me bent over a barstool already. Why must you insist on insulting my intelligence, sir?
I took it to a mechanic before buying. What you need to understand about me is that I know nothing about cars. I had never owned a car. I’ve never lubed a piston, or jacked a socket, or monkeyed a lugnut – or whatever it is that car-people do. The only question I had for the mechanic was, “Will this thing run for a year and a half?” He laughed and said, “Yeah. Probably.” Sold.
So I bought the ‘ole turd sandwich. And what do you know, that week my boss ended up asking me to chauffeur several young actresses around LA. No amount of formal training could get them to act as terrified as they did when they sat down in the Legend and watched me start her up.
Every time I approach the Legend, I can hear Luke Skywalker’s whiney voice from A New Hope, “What a piece of junk!” It literally could die at any minute. I’ll be crossing my fingers every day for the next year.
But you know what, Luke? It’s my piece of junk. It’s my first car. Ever. And I think it’s got some character. It’s got a lot of grit and determination. I like that. And you know what else? I do like that sunroof. It’s a nice touch.
Frank Marasco is a first-year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com.