Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Out of kindness, I suppose...

It is time to tell the story...of Lefty.

Lefty is my new ride. I will tell you why I named her Lefty a little bit later on, but for now, there is a greater story to tell, and that is how Lefty came to be mine.

If you have known me for any length of time, you know that if cars were Vegas, I'd be The Cooler. It would be nearly impossible (solely for the sheer amount of energy it would consume) to list here all of the mishaps I have had in, out of, around, about or because of any one of my vehicles (or any one of my family member's vehicles). It all started with my very first car - a 1980-something Toyota Corolla. It was free to me, and it worked for about two days. Then it sat in the front yard. Then it sat in the back yard. It stayed there long enough for people to point at our yard and laugh as they were driving down our street, listening to Jeff Foxworthy on the radio.

Shortly after that, I got a 1984 Honda Accord. It was burgundy, had power everything, and even though it was 12 years old, I really loved it. But then this one day, I was at K-Mart, and there was this minivan in the parking lot...and anyway, the Honda ended up without a front bumper. And the Honda stayed without a bumper. Eventually even the bumper frame (whatever that's called) started falling off, and my dad had to duct tape it. Seriously, my driving experiences could have fueled the routines of stand-up comics for years.

My senior year, about two days before graduation, I struck a deal with one of my friend's dads and bought her 1988 Cavalier. I can still remember driving it to graduation and being soooo excited. This was my car! All mine, and it was shiny and pretty and didn't have any scratches on it. But then this one day, five months later, I was driving in my college town, and there was this minivan in the road...and anyway, the Cavalier ended up with a smashed-up front end. She never was quite the same again, and my sister Holly even started calling her the Crapalier. Clever. Eventually the strain on the Crap-o's radiator proved to be too much, and she went to her final resting place...none of us is really 100% sure where that is, though. That's another story altogether.

After the Crap-o crapped out, I just didn't have a car for a while. See, I was in college and because of rehearsals and my spring traveling schedule with Williams Singers, I wasn't really able to get a job. I was without a car for about 18 months, I think. Looking back now, I do not know how I did that. I'm thankful for the grace that God imparted to me during that time, and I'm also thankful for the humility that I learned. I don't ever want to be so comfortable that I forget what it is like to be without, even if it is something like a car and not food or shelter. As my mom would say, that's a little further up Maslow's heirarchy.

So when the car drought ended, I moved into my dad's 1994 Honda Civic. She was navy blue, and I named her Old Navy. I am telling you, the cleverness never ends with the car-naming in this family. (Probably because when it came to our cars, we just had to be able to laugh...) I drove her for several years, but then this one day, I was driving to work, and there was this pickup truck...and anyway, I ended up totaling Old Navy. That's right - straight up totaled her. When my dad called me after the accident to tell me that she was totaled, I couldn't believe it. It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. I was really attached to this car, and she was PAID FOR. Such a sad, sad day.

I didn't waste much time crying, though, because I was living in Cabot and going to school and working full-time in Little Rock. Carlessness, even for a day, was not an option. So I struck a deal with our Honda guy in Cabot (that's right, we have a Honda guy) and drove away in a 1999 Honda Civic. And I hated it. It was the classic case of getting a new puppy too soon after the beloved family pet has passed on. She made funny noises, and her seats didn't feel right, and she didn't handle well, and she just wasn't Old Navy. I took her back to Mahoney (the Honda guy) a couple time to get various things fixed on her until my inner Miss Priss completely took over, and I ended up at Gwatney Chevrolet, signing the papers on a 2004 Chevy Malibu.

I will spare you all the details of the ensuing months (it is recent enough that we all remember it well), but she turned out to be a bonafide, attorney-general-calling, Arkansas-lemon-law-enforcing L-E-M-O-N. AND I wrecked her. That story is, itself, about five blogs that neither I nor my parents nor Rob McBride nor Kim Roth probably care to recall at the moment. It makes me tired just to think about it.

So I got out of the Malibu and into a 2005 Chevy Equinox. She was one of the first Equinoxes in Arkansas, and I was proud - yes, that's right, actual pride resided - to be driving her. I named her Queenie, for obvious reasons. Now, even though I was working full-time, I still had no business buying a vehicle like that right then. After 8 months of making those car payments, insurance payments, and pumping inordinate amounts of gasoline into that tank, I began to wonder if I was going to have to move into my car. I was looking at a new place to live, but I couldn't even afford a studio apartment in Southwest because of how expensive my ride was. I made a very difficult decision and traded Queenie in.

A friend of my mom's recommended that I see a friend of hers at a Suzuki dealership. Apparently some people have Suzuki guys. So I went. And I drove away in a 2004 Suzuki Forenza that I pretended real hard to like. And then this one day, I was driving to meet some friends, and there was this curb...and anyway, Old Blue really never recovered. I put a crazy amount of cash into that car, and my insurance agent is about one and a half claims away from sainthood for not dropping my policy like a bushel of scalding hot potatoes.

But see, here's the thing. Way back, when I traded in the not-good-enough Civic for the Malibu (neither of which I named, by the way), I was instantly upside down because of some "negative equity" from the Civic that they had to tack on to make the numbers work (I'm still not sure what all that means). I was a naive car buyer then, so I didn't read all the numbers. I was too excited about the keyless entry and sunroof. And then, when I traded in the Malibu, I was a little further upside down with some more negative equity from the Civic and now, the Malibu. I knew it, then, but I rationalized it by convincing myself that the deal I was getting on the Equinox was worth it, and it all really balanced out in the end. And THEN, when I traded in the Equinox, I took a full-fledged tumble into UpsideDown Land with negative equity from the Civic, and the Malibu, and the Equinox. All total, I was paying $3k more than what that car was worth, not to mention the $3k it lost the second I drove it off the lot. Talk about feeling trapped. And you know, as unpleasant as that was, it taught me a very valuable lesson. It helped to teach me patience and gratitude (when it's hard to be grateful).

I had fully intended to drive the Suzuki into the ground, mainly because I would be upside down in it until two months before it was paid off, and who sells their car when they have two payments left? But then this one day, I was meeting my dad for breakfast, thought I was going to tell you I had another wreck, didn't you? But I did not! I did, however, have a random thought on the way to IHOP that morning, that I needed to have him take a look at my tires and make sure they were looking good.

After breakfast, as if on cue, my dad said he wanted to look at my tires. My heart sank - I hadn't even asked him to look at them yet, but I don't believe in coincidences, so I had a pretty good feeling what was coming. Let me just tell you - the tires on that thing are ridiculously expensive for the kind of car that it is. On top of that, the way that the tires were wearing seemed to indicate a more serious problem in the car's rear end. So we dropped it off with our tire guy in Cabot and waited for an estimate. After a couple days of back-and-forth deliberation, I set a number in my head and told myself that if the estimate to fix the Suzuki exceeded that number, I would start shopping. Sure enough, I started shopping. Shopping made me nervous, so I prayed a lot. I prayed against spontaneity and impulsiveness, I prayed against foolishness, I prayed against materialism and stubbornness. I prayed for wisdom, I prayed for peace, and I prayed for the strength to be content with whatever outcome God saw fit to provide.

Eventually my search led me to - you guessed it - my dad's Toyota guy in Searcy. It appears that I'm a lot like my dad. Something about having "a guy" makes me feel safe when it comes to my car. If it made me nervous to shop, I was in a near panic over going to a dealership. I have never driven away from one of those places with true peace in my heart, so it seemed like a bit of a risky move. Just the same, Michael (our Toyota guy) was insisting that I needed to see this Highlander he had on the lot, and that if I made it to Searcy, he would sell me a car that night. I was not trying to hear that. And I wasn't really all that interested in looking at a Highlander. When we got there, it was dark outside, and Michael had very cleverly pulled the Highlander into the service area, where the bright lights make all the cars look really shiny. The Highlander was no exception. She was so cute and sparkly and sporty. Naturally I hid my excitement, as any well-versed car shopper knows to do.

We took her for a drive, and I noticed she was pulling to the left. Not just a huge deal to me - I mean, she is five years old after all. She handled fairly well, was very comfortable (I'm all about the front seat arm rest) and had just enough pep in the engine to get us on down the road. After the first test drive, I wanted to try out a Rav4 because I'd really been eyeing those and the CRVs. Did NOT like it. Apparently the McSmokersons had previously lived in this vehicle. Besides the horrible smell, it just felt really tiny and bouncy...two things I am not looking for in a vehicle.

So it was back to the Highlander. Michael didn't really have anything else I was interested in even looking at, so he led us into his office for the dreaded wait. Now, I had been kind of smart about this and had managed to secure financing through my credit union before starting my shopping. I wanted to have the reinforcement of saying - this is all I can spend. Just the same, I was anticipating rolling in some negative equity from the Suquimalicivic, so I was braced for at least one sour note in the deal. Michael went outside to see what he could give me for Old Blue, as she was affectionately - although never officially - called in her last days. Without going into boring details, my preliminary shopping had given me firm reason to believe that I would owe at least $3000 more on the Suzuki than anyone would be willing to give me for it. This meant that whatever deal I made needed to be really, really quite sweet.

The Highlander was priced at $15k, but earlier in the evening he had come down to $12k. Even though it was a good deal, I didn't feel like it was good enough. I was letting various combinations of down payments and loan terms bounce around in my head while we waited for Michael to finish giving the Zuki her once-over so he could come back in, tell me I was crazy for thinking anyone would buy that thing and ask me to go home at once. After ten minutes or so, he came back in with my keys. He did not give them back to me.

He sat on the edge of his desk, and he said: "This is what I am going to do for you. I am going to pay off your trade and sell you the Highlander for eleven thousand dollars."

I just stared at him. Then I looked at my dad. Then I looked back at Michael. And in the classic don't-do-this-at-a-dealership move, my eyes got really wide, I started beaming and practically screeched, "Are you serious?" He had to have known it was hook, line and sinker from that moment on. But he was indeed serious. My next question was, "So is there something wrong with the Highlander?" He assured me there was not and started working on the papers. My dad had just bought his second truck from Michael, and after I expressed my disbelief for about the fifth time, he said that he wanted to give me a good deal and keep my dad's business. I can live with that.

After about an hour, we were driving home in a shiny new (to me) 2004 black Toyota Highlander, with an appointment in a few days to bring her in and get that whole pulling-to-the-left thing taken care of. My head was still spinning, and I was still waiting for the catch - you know, for the bumper to fall of on the interstate or for the headlights to quit working or for smoke to start billowing out from under the hood. Instead, it was a smooth and easy ride from Searcy back to Little Rock.

There is a verse in Proverbs that says the Lord "adds no burden" to His blessings. My last three car purchases had produced major burdens, so it is no wonder that I expected the same here. But driving down I67 that night, I felt light as a feather. My burden here was the Suzuki. I had been carrying (driving) around a couple years of guilt over having made some poor decisions. Every time I made my car payment, every time I had to have something repaired, every time I even washed the thing, I would think about what got me into that ride in the first place. And you know, I had finally made peace with all of that and had decided that yes, some yuckiness got me here, but I learned from it. And I intended to drive that thing until its wheels fell off to prove it. Actually, if you think about it, the wheels literally were about to fall off. Still, God did not let me get to that point before providing me with an amazing way out. I must confess to you that for several weeks, I was secretly afraid that the Toyota dealership folks were going to call me and tell me that they had made a mistake and I had to come get that thing and take it away.

Even now, when I think about this whole thing - my history, my need, my desire, my search and God's provision, it feels so much like the story of us - of people and our Maker. We make horrible decisions - sometimes spontaneous, sometimes premeditated, that keep piling up on top of each other and we find ourselves driving around in something we never wanted in the first place. Eventually, when the thing that we ended up settling for, whether by choice or not, finally breaks down, we are faced with our need. We start to search. Sometimes we know the search needs to be different this time, and sometimes we go back to the same places we looked when we got saddled with that old jalopy. But the beauty is, it doesn't matter how or where or why or when we search because all the while, He searches for us like a shepherd going after his sheep. When we are found, and He satisfies our desires with good things, the psalmist calls it the "richest of fare", we are whole. Then, if you're like me, we step right out of that contentment and wonder what the catch is. We wonder when He's going to take some - or all - of it back. The great thing about God goes on being that He won't. Even if we expect Him to. When Jesus said, "It is finished!" from the cross, He really did mean - this is finished. It's done. Jesus would not have gone to the cross if He had not intended for His grace to stick. I pray for the courage to believe that more every day.

If you are still reading, you are my I dare...heroes. Thank you for hanging in there. I love to tell this story, and doing so in its entirety can wear a folk out. So I will leave you with that for now, and soon I will tell you why the Highlander is called Lefty. That is a very good and much shorter story. Good night all.


Sharla said...

you didn't even get to why it's named lefty! i was really looking forward to that explanation.
your hero

Melissa said...

Loved reading this. Was it an eye-straining commitment, yes. But. well worth it! Brought back some good memories.