Friday, October 11, 2013

Altima Interlude

Today we take an unscheduled break from the Eagle saga to talk about a different project, that was never properly recorded. A less extensive one, but in some ways a more significant one, even so.

Around Christmas time in 1999, I was in the market for my first car. It started, as it always did back then, with the obtaining of a paper-and-ink copy (right?) of Auto Trader magazine, and ended in the driveway of a house in Temecula, CA. There was a dude named Ruben, he wrote us a bogus bill of sale to skirt a few Golden State tax laws, the money changed hands, and so did … the Altima.

Fast-forward almost 11 years, and the Altima had seen it all. Endless commutes to and from high school, college, and everywhere in between. Serving as not only my first car, but that of all my siblings, the Altima was put through its paces and then some. It had stayed in California while I went to Arizona, but fate brought us back together in August of 2010.

After years of abuse, alternating weather extremes, minor collisions, and the relentless march of mileage, the Altima had one foot in the grave, but still managed to reluctantly cough to life when you turned the key. Three years later, and thanks to many man-hours and numerous replacement parts, the Altima has a new lease on life. This new life, though, is likely to be shorter than the first. A few days ago, the odometer clicked over to 179,000 miles, and though the car runs far better than it did at 160K, the big two-hundred is not far off.

The Altima is on the cusp of its twilight years. It’s not hard to see why. A few examples… It’s burning a quart of oil every 1,000 miles; its junkyard bumper is held on with zip ties, right next to its bent-up junkyard fender and junkyard headlight; there are mysterious rattles and vibrations that come and go, and will probably never be fixed. It turns 19 next month, and has already led a long, hard life. Like many fellow retirees, it will probably never leave the Valley of the Sun again, even in death… which I don’t think will happen soon (at least not before the Eagle can take its place), but I’ll be here to report it when it does. 

There is some reason to think that it may have been trying to leave this world for some time. There was the time last year when it started voiding its coolant all over the road via a bad water pump bearing, in the middle of the summer. Then several months later, a front tire developed a high spot which over a short time caused some of the suspension and steering components to be shaken to pieces. In the last six weeks, there have been two minor collisions. One was from an ill-advised left turn, and the second from another driver inexplicably backing up into the rear end in a nearly-empty parking lot.

I say “inexplicably” but I think we all know what’s going on. It’s tired of life, and it’s trying to end it. Even my young son can see the writing on the wall; "Dad, I think this car is giving up on you," he said yesterday. Sometimes it draws other cars into its feeble suicide plots, but nothing seems to work. But I try to look at it this way: if you don’t feel you’re succeeding at life, failing at dying is the next best thing, right?

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