About Four Hundred-Two

I married into a car business family. Prior to that, I knew a little about cars: I knew how to drive them, I knew that they were powered by gasoline, and I could recognize Mustangs and Barracudas. (The latter, I was told, had a fold-down back seat, but because I wouldn’t go out with the young owner of said vehicle, I was never able to test his veracity.) I was even familiar with Avantis, because Beck’s Dad let her drive his to school occasionally.

I thought that was pretty comprehensive knowledge until I met Kelly and his friends, who waxed poetic about dual overhead cams and wheel bearings and actually understood the workings of the internal combustion engine. These were guys who lived and breathed cars; some of them made their living as mechanics. They were appreciative of a good-looking model and had been known to pull over to give nubile Porsches and succulent Bimmers the eye. ( "I wish he’d look at me the way he looks at that car," one wife complained.)

To say that I experienced culture shock would be an understatement. It was like being plunged suddenly into one of those Total Immersion language courses Berlitz used to offer. G’dyeh bibliotyeka? and Ya tibya kak zevoot made as much sense to me as their car talk did. In those early days, I often found that I was the only woman at their evening hangout sessions, so there was no one else to talk to. I worried about my auto-impaired state and about being able to contribute to the conversation. In self-defense, I started collecting "car items," bits of trivia I read in the newspaper, and waited anxiously for the chance to use them. Sometimes it worked, and the guys were impressed for about five seconds, and sometimes my little item fell with a splash into a well of indifference. "Yeah, I heard that. Anyway. . ."

The breakthrough came one evening when I was sitting with John Dom, a fellow auto-impairee. The two of us were very, very bored. Then another outlander, who had been vocal about his plans to buy a BMW, said, "Hey, Kel, what’s the difference between a 1600 and a 2002?"

John and I looked at each other and chorused, "About 402!" We burst out laughing, and I realized that we had stumbled upon the quintessential car item. I’ve never needed nor used another.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that it really isn’t necessary to be a car business moll. My function, as I see it, is not to become immersed in the internal-combustion culture, but rather to supplement it with the things that I’m curious about -- books and people and events. So that’s how I envision View from the Sidecar: a slightly different interpretation of the same experience, which I hope will be...well, about 402.

Laverne Mau Dicker

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