I bought my first new car in 2008 after several years of proud shitbox ownership. I was coming from a $500 Honda CRX that was missing most of its interior trim and a bumper, alluding to some unknown past that probably had something to do with Grand Theft Auto. Not the video game.
The CRX’s replacement was a brand new blue Mini Cooper that was so shiny and perfect that it felt like the only nice thing I had ever owned. No crumbs in the seats, no dust in the cracks, no spray-painted fenders held on with bungee cords. The Mini felt impossibly new. Inconceivably nice and unattainably clean.
For one week.
Traveling south on the interstate, I was enjoying the relative lack of traffic at midnight on a Tuesday when I noticed an object ahead. I gently changed lanes to avoid said object. At the same time, an old, lifted SUV decided it would be hilarious to cut across two lanes to drive over the object, kicking it up in the air and into my lane.
It was a lawn chair.
Enter super slow-mo. My car was perfectly flawless for the following 0.8 seconds. The radio was quietly playing Bowie and the seat heaters were on low, gently warming my impeccably clean faux-leather seats. The windshield was so clean and clear that it looked like there was nothing between me and the lawn chair traveling towards me at 65 MPH. In that peaceful moment, I wanted nothing more than to be driving my CRX.
The following months were filled with less severe but still disappointing events: door dings, spilled drinks, and dents on the roof. How are there dents on the goddamn roof?
After a short few years, the Mini was far from impossibly nice. It was just a regular-ass car. I sold it for a $10,000 loss and replaced it with a salvage title Dodge Viper.
That car was the best. And the worst. Highly recommended, but that’s another story.
I enjoyed the niceness of the Mini, but not as much as I was bummed out by the repeated degradation and descent into mediocrity. At first, it seemed like I wanted to go back to shitboxes. But after weaving in and out of various qualities of vehicles, I realized that I wanted nice cars, I just wanted to not care when they got damaged.
There is an often-told story about a Buddhist monk who had a favorite teacup. He enjoyed it and used it every day. “Yet for me,” he said, “it is already broken. When my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
We live in a universe of entropy, where the cost of existence is degradation, and the price to pay for movement is the occasional lawn chair on the 405. I’m glad there are people who park their cars in plastic bubbles and rarely drive them, because I like going to museums and seeing what a Cadillac looked like 100 years ago. But I don’t own anything rare enough to be in a museum, and there is an awfully high chance that every vehicle I ever own will end up being crushed into a cube and melted down. I have put a ridiculous amount of work into my Honda S600, but someday, probably in my lifetime, it will not exist. It is a reality that I would have resisted a few years ago, but one that I enjoy now.
I change my oil, I wash and vacuum my car, and I check and replace parts according to the maintenance schedule, I take care of my vehicles so that they last a while. A few weeks ago I backed into a tree. It didn’t ruin my weekend. It didn’t even ruin my minute. I ordered a funny sticker for it, shrugged it off, and continued my off-road adventure.
Absolute best case scenario is that every part of my vehicle gets scratched, dented, and worn down to the point that they all simultaneously fail at about 250,000 miles. A placid 15 to 20 year stroll towards destruction sounds more enjoyable than fruitless worry and inevitable disappointment. Your car is already broken. Go have fun breaking it.