Kicking Tires

So there we were in the used car lot, kicking tires and trying not to make eye contact with the salespeople.

When I worked for a historical society, our members carried on crusades to save stately old homes and grand hotels, but it occurs to me now that they should probably have concentrated on car dealerships instead. Walk into any dealership, and you're experiencing living history, a sort of automotive Jamestown. With the exception of the cars themselves, very little has changed in the past fifty years: you're still ambushed at the door by hungry-looking sales personnel with dazzling white teeth and carefully styled hair, who claim to have the perfect car for you AND a special price available only today.

I'm convinced that Kelly should have a badge to flash at them, maybe a picture of a bull inside a red circle with a diagonal red slash through it, to proclaim to the viewer, "I was raised in the car business. My parents read me bedtime stories from the Kelley Blue Book. And I'm still in the biz, fixing the cars you sell. Talking to me about easy financing or pre-owned vehicles is a waste of your breath. If I have any questions, I'll ask." Then the sales folk would note the secret sign of the car brotherhood, nod sagely, and turn away, leaving us to our own devices.

We were at the dealership not to build up our egos ("They like us; they really like us!"), but to research an addition to the Dicker collection of cars. Our vehicles, you see, are about to be passed down the food chain. The '82 Honda Prelude that Elder Daughter has been driving for three years is showing wear-and-tear from the four-hour round trips to her college campus, and Younger Daughter will be soon be acquiring her driver's license. So the game plan is that the Honda will revert to Daughter #2, my '87 Volkswagen Jetta will be passed on to Daughter #1, and we'll find a new car for me.

I love my Jetta so much that the only car I was interested in seeing was another Jetta, so we headed first to the VW dealership. We looked at shiny new '99 and '00 models -- fire engine red, black, white, and navy blue -- whose interiors were close enough to mine to seem familiar. However, I was disappointed to see that VW has messed about with the design of the large, accessible trunk, one of the best things about my car. The trunk in the new Jetta is still ample enough to handle a full Safeway shopping trip and then some, but for some weird reason, the deck lid is significantly narrower, so that reaching for an item in the back of the trunk is like crawling into a cave. If it ain't broke, folks, don't fix it! I was also put off by the painted bumpers, which give you no leeway for any (ooops!) scratches, but Kelly tells me that chrome and rubber bumpers are now things of the past.

After we'd kicked all the VW tires in sight, we traveled down the street to look at new Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. Both models were plush and comfortable -- kind of like big easy chairs on wheels -- with spacious back seats and the wide deck lids I like. They were seductively luxurious and had numerous attractive features, but something about them bothered me. It wasn't until we were driving away that I allowed the thought to creep into my conscious mind: They're old people's cars! They're the Cadillacs and Lincolns of our generation! (Apologies to my peers who drive Accords and Camrys, but that's my uncensored, un-PC opinion. . . ) Even though there's no way I can avoid becoming an old person, at least I don't have to drive an old person's car.

We left Car Row that day without making any momentous automotive decisions. What I really want, I'm afraid, is my current Jetta, magically made new. And thus far, there doesn't seem to be any such animal.

--Laverne Mau Dicker , copyrightę 1999


Laverne Dicker can be reached at