When you don’t have money it is a challenge keeping a car on the road, all you can afford is the cheapest, oldest rust bucket which won’t pass inspection without repairs which you can’t afford or you would have bought a better car to begin with. You could try to fix the car on your own but unfortunately you don’t have the right tools or expert knowledge. This is why duct tape and Bondo were invented. It’s funny all of a sudden becoming a poor car person when you’ve grown up comfortable with brand new Buicks every three years. It’s not sad exactly, it’s more like coming into a new world of anxiety where your electricity can be turned off or you can’t afford orange juice, just an added layer of worry that you didn’t have before. But you don’t really think like a poor person, one born into it as it were, you’re just playing at being poor, that’s what I think we were doing, entertaining ourselves with these decrepit cars.
When Karl and I first go off on our own we buy an international Scout for $100, a Jeep-like boxy four wheel drive, but this particular one has experienced better days. The floor of the car is rusted through so that we can see the road as we drive, like a glass bottom boat without the glass or the water or any interesting fish. It isn’t inspectable even at the gas station in town run by Frenchy who will give anyone a sticker in exchange for a bottle of whiskey on the front seat. Even he draws the line here.
After the Scout we drive three pickup trucks in a row. Each lasts about a year which isn’t too bad, and by this time we live in the woods so we just park the dead ones down the hill and leave, two Chevys and an F150 Ford. Karl teaches himself how to fix most things that go wrong, once even puts a new engine in, really gets his hands dirty. I specialize in going off the road, not on purpose but the trucks aren’t easy to handle in mud or snow or ice, which is Vermont about ten months of the year. I keep a winch in the truck for minor detours but have to call a wrecker for major problems.
Once, Caitlin and I are driving up our logging road in the rain, you have to take the road at very high speed in order to get enough momentum to get past the jog halfway up. Too bad, I am not going fast enough and instead of making the jog and climbing the hill, the truck slides backwards into the stream. Caitlin gets out and stands in the rain, I get the come-along out of the back. A come-along is a winch with a hook at either end. I fasten one hook to the car and the other to a tree next to the road, and I crank. I crank and crank and the truck is slowly inched out of the stream, eventually close enough to the road so that I think I can drive away. I release the come-along and as I watch horrified the truck slowly slithers back into the stream. Caitlin sighs and gives up standing in the rain and walks up to the house and I start winching all over again. This teaches me to always block a wheel.
Another day, this one is sunny, Caitlin and I go to an auction on the road from Randolph to Brookfield. A big crowd has gathered and dozens of cars are already there, parked on the side of the road just enough off the traveled portion so as not to be a menace to traffic. I park behind the last car but pull off the road a little too far, my excuse is that the grass is so long that I can’t tell that the bank falls away sharply right there. The truck tilts sideways, steep enough so that Caitlin and I slide across the seat into one another. We are terrified and barely manage to climb out the high side. We look at the truck, I pick up Caitlin and we walk over to the auction. Six big men immediately volunteer to help us, five of them stand on the high side running board and hang off the bed, and the sixth drives the truck out.
Eventually my record improves, Karl gives me a running critique whenever he is a passenger. He is so annoying that I yell at him, I’m getting out and walking home, you fucking drive. I get better in spite of myself.