Friday, February 6, 2009

The Loser Drives a Car

The Complete and Total Loser has owned cars. He got his first just before his senior year in college, a ten-year-old 1971 Ford Torino. Not a Gran Torino like in the Clint Eastwood movie (that was a '72) but similar in most ways. They were always pea green. It was a monster, the Complete and Total Loser's first car. Four doors, a V-8 engine that took regular gas, which was still at the pumps in '81. Friends once tuned it up with nothing more than some simple tools, a timing light, eight spark plugs and new filters. They charged only for parts, enjoying the easy access the old engine granted.
His second, and last car, was a used 1990 Toyota Tercel he needed for his job in 1995. Horrible. They made half of them with carburetors, half with fuel injection systems. The Loser had the former. It had nothing but problems and he sold it for $100 a few years ago.
While he's never been able to afford good cars, he drives them sometimes when he housesits and he isn't a bad driver. This is because knowing he's a loser he drives carefully, eschews cellphone use, learns to operate radio buttons without looking, keeps his speed with the majority of traffic's, wears his seat belt. In the early 80s, in the Torino, he blanked at a traffic light and just missed hitting a couple on a motorcycle. The Loser can't imagine how he could have ever enjoyed a sunset, a child's laugh, a good joke if he had permanently injured -- or worse -- innocent people through his stupid carelessness. He hasn't let it happen again.
He has figured out road rage. Everything he sees written about it talks of the general decline in civility, busy, impatient, angry, selfish people. All true, to a degree, but what the Loser sees them leaving out is important: The traffic never stops. In his early years of driving, in the late 70s, suburban roads were largely empty by eight and in the wee hours you could, as he did, see if you make a common three-mile drive at night without turning on your headlights. Fun! The traffic would get bad sometimes, but there would be relief.
Now, it's different. The Loser's former home turf is ringed by roads connecting larger roads that office workers, working for companies that long fled the city and its high wage tax, use to get to their condominiums. The night roads teem with parents driving their over-scheduled offspring home from play rehearsals, sports practice, study sessions, music classes. Later the legions of service workers with shifts ending at night hie home from jobs in restaurants, supermarkets, community centers. The number of cars, many of them far longer and at vision blocking heights, has ballooned while the increase in paved roads has risen only slightly over the last 30 years.
When the Loser pulls out of his old driveway now even at midnight on a weekday he has to look both ways lest he be broadsided by someone zipping along while talking on a cell phone.
Earlier this decade, an old friend of the family's was walking her dog at night, around eight. She was killed by a car as she did. They never found out who did it. The Loser has proposed that it could have easily been a college student in an SUV, a little tipsy, music blaring, cellphone in hand, who thought only a pothole or debris had been hit. TV news didn't pick up the story and college students don't read the local papers.
The dog was fine.

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