A week ago after more than 15 years of loyal service my car died in the Arizona desert. My boy, who was 2 when I bought the car, was driving it when it stopped for good. He'd been camping at the Grand Canyon – part of a long-planned road trip across the continent and back in the company of his bright beauty of a girlfriend.
It did feel, as he said to me on the phone, that his whole childhood had taken place in that SUV: The sleeping bags not quite muffling the clinking of metal plates in the summer happened in that car; the swimming lessons begun in the fall were arrived at in that car.
Fifteen years of Christmas trees, chosen after much discussion between us, were tied to the roof of that car with festive string, bits of which stayed attached to the roof rack until at least June.
My boy sitting on my lap and driving in empty places happened in that car. The desert was, we agreed – there he was far from where he'd begun and on another, separate journey – a poetic end to the little SUV he'd first come with me to pick up at an out-of-town dealership, travelling on the Go Train, which he then called the "Goat Train."
I recall his disappointment with our fellow (all human) passengers was palpable at the time.
Since that call, I've been looking to buy a new, at least to me, car, and the now six-foot-tall son currently enjoying train travel is far less an indication of how much has changed in the past 15 years than how different buying a car has become in that time. I wander the vast acres of car-review websites in awe. It's like some continent of the Internet I'd never explored has opened up before me.
I'm impressed at how many people write car reviews, often for free. Thousands and thousands of them, each with a thousand comments, almost all of which hate the car in question and wonder why you'd buy X car when Y car is "eight grand cheaper" and "doesn't have a pod growing from the rear-side glass! There's nothing sexy about it like other offerings."
Click on over to Y car and there are posters there saying the "designers seem to have missed the subtle nuance inherent in a successful aggressive front clip and gone full-on rage face" or "only an idiot would buy it" when they could get X or even Q car and on and on they go, so many words, so much emotion, so much disappointment, so much advice.
Car-review sites are like Man Thought Catalog. And how do I know they're mostly men? Because if you post as "Jon" to describe something as a "MILF car" it's a good bet, and the average poster will mention his wife's usually "sensible but soulless" car one sentence into his passionate, often sentimental, aesthetically attuned excoriation.
It's as if, liberated, as they clearly feel in these spaces, these men still need to say "I'm very manly, I have a wife" before they're at ease using words like "delightful" and "disenchanted" and "drab," which they do.
You could put five dozen men in a house made entirely of brown corduroy and maybe one of them would call it "drab," but put those same men on a car-review website and they not only say "the dashboard's drab," they'll say, "No one in their right mind puts all those buttons on a steering wheel! It's too busy. It made me want to cry."
Yes, they'll rage about a car manufacturer no longer offering a manual option but they'll also say, "I'd have named it the JU-35. For Just Ugly" and, "I tried to look at the interior on the manufacture's website but I kept falling asleep."
Hello, Oscar Wilde, you gearhead. Nice to meet you.
Yes, I've visited a few real-life dealerships, test driven a few cars and met some car salesmen, one so attentive and desirous of making me happy – by selling me a new car – that I now feel like a married woman cruising OKCupid every time I punch up Autotrader.ca – and that's what I do.
I read about cars on the Internet but learn only about people. I become less and less qualified to choose a car every time I click and yet I keep doing it – as though the paralysis wrought by information, option and opinion were seductive.