I don’t admit it to many people, but it is, in fact, a personal life goal of mine to vehicularly embarrass Scott as much as possible. This has been going on for years, dating back to the Ford Tempo I had from the summer before my junior year of college, the bumper of which had been cracked one day in December. Parking at the mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where we were living at the time, was at a premium, and though I’d had plenty of room when I left my car that afternoon, some chucklehead Christmas shopper had pulled in not only too close to my car in a spot that wasn’t really a spot (it’s always hard to tell there, when the parking lot is covered in gray ice), but had also parked at an angle, making it nearly impossible for me to get out. As it was, there was no two ways about it: if I wanted to go home, my car was going to make somewhat prolonged and inappropriate contact with the other car. Considering it was 30 below, the fiberglass of my bumper was primed to crack when contact was made, and so it did. Whether it damaged the other car, I didn’t even care, nor did I get out to check; asshole who blocked me in deserved what he got. I was going home with a cracked bumper as it was.
I lived with that cracked bumper for years, driving it that way from Minnesota to Arizona, and through my first 2 years of living here. The car still ran fine, and being young teachers, we didn’t have money lying around for groceries, let alone cosmetic bodywork. And it didn’t look too bad, especially after I discovered that Home Depot carried duct tape in exactly the same shade of red as my Tempo. What are the odds? I taped up the crack, and I was good to go, retaping from time to time as the elements faded the previous layer of tape. Scott, however, was embarrassed by my duct taped car; he is, apparently, of a people whose sacred traditions do not respect the holy mystery of the duct tape, a substance that can fix anything, lasts forever, and yet still can be torn by hand. How does someone not count that a miracle??? He was ready to trade in my car far sooner than I was. I like cars, but I am very practical about cars. I want a decent stereo and I want it to run reliably. I don’t care what it looks like, and I get over dings in the doors and scuffs on the paint pretty easily because, you see, I travel INSIDE the car, and don’t see that stuff most of the time. It is generally my intention to drive a car until it canna go another mile, even if it looks like it’s been through the war at that point.
I got my Altima in 2000, finally trading in the old Tempo in one of those “we’ll pay off your trade-in” deals that exist purely to screw the naïve, and being naïve as we were, we totally needed a cigarette after those few hours at the car dealership, though we didn’t realize it until later. Live and learn. I’m still driving that car, though it has some problems, according to SOME people. I’ve already told you about the squeaky hubcaps, which are also a source of great mortification to my ever-lovin’ honey as I announce my arrival, loudly, in all parts of town. (Did I mention we rarely go out together in my car?)
And that was good, and I could’ve settled for that, but I must admit to a bit of glee as my nefarious plan of automotive shaming has recently reached new and somewhat unexpected heights. A little backstory is in order. Sometime in the last decade, probably about the time that everyone and their dog was buying big trucks and SUVs that, if there’s any justice in this universe, they are sorely regretting right about now, the people who make those concrete curbs to stop your tires in parking lots started making them taller to accommodate those vehicles with higher clearance, and woe to the sucker who was still driving a normal mid-size car, because all that crap under your engine, beneath the car? Kiss it goodbye. Maybe it’s just a Tucson thing, but no one I know who parks regularly in parking lots with those things in them has a car that is damage-free. A quick stroll through the parking lot at work confirms it. The trucks are fine, but the cars all have damage, despite the fact that those concrete curbs are there to stop your tires. It doesn’t help that no one here has a real driveway, either. What we have is a driveway and a sharp drop-off to the street that if you don’t do it just right, you will drag the bottom of your car against the vertex of that angle, to very bad effect. Even Scott, who is the most careful driver I know and who allows for the bad driveway, has gotten caught on it. Wincing and cussing usually follow directly after such an incident.
But back to my car. My car has been the victim of so many of those concrete curbs that at one point, the front fender was pulled right off its moorings on both sides. When I got it home, I carefully loosened the screw that was supposed to hold it in place, jammed what was left of the plastic into place, and tightened the screw to get it to hold a little while longer. This worked for awhile, and repeatedly, but eventually, the numerous yankings of the bumper broke the bit whither went the screw until there was nothing left to hold on to, and the the bumper sagged, sadly, on either side of the hood like a frown.
In January 2006, it had gotten so bad that I could barely drive the car, because the plastic of the bumper was scraping against the tire. So we dropped the car off at Maaco before I left for guitar camp and told them to replace the bumper and paint the whole car, and Scott was jubilant because my POS had become intolerable to him; my only real gripe was that I didn’t like dragging bits of my car along the ground or eroding them against my tires, and I had to take care of that.
When I got home from camp, I had a “brand-new” car, and I was thrilled with the results. I was surprised to find that others at work noticed the improvements. I had no idea anyone was observing my deteriorating bumper situation.
But nothing lasts forever, and the Maaco paint job started peeling after a year, and, incredibly, no one had gone through local parking lots and lowered the concrete curbs to a reasonable level, so despite having trained myself to park short of those curbs so as not to damage my car, (it’s an inexact science when you don’t have X-ray vision to be able to see through your engine block and determine your proximity to concrete doom with any precision), eventually I did it enough times over 2 years that one side of the bumper had been pulled loose again. So I put it back, just as I always did, and it was fine.
Until this past Monday morning, when I had the audacity to pull out of my garage and driveway perpendicular to the drop-off, and I heard a scrape that rattled my fillings and frightened my wallet right under the floor mat. When I got to work, I stepped out of the car to see that the bumper had, unsurprisingly, come loose on the driver’s side. Sigh. There was nothing I could do about it there, so I went into the office and forgot about it.
It wasn’t until lunch time, when we headed out to Scott’s car, that I realized that the bumper had been pulled off on the passenger side as well, and was drooping in a most infelicitous manner. Damn. After work, I tried to push it in enough to drive home, but didn’t do too well. By the time I got home it was hanging down on both sides, and there were plastic bits on the underside of the car that were distinctly limp and defeated and now resting uneasily against the tires. Scott was in the garage when I got there, yellow pages in hand. “Do you just want to bring it in?” I said, “I’m gonna have to.”
I got out of the car and lay down on the floor to ascertain just what I was dealing with. It should be said here that while I am capable of the gentle finessing of ideas and concepts and words and philosophies, I have a distinctly different approach to dealing with the physical realm. ‘Tis an approach where brute force is applied semi-discriminately to achieve immediate, if not necessarily optimal, improvement of the current situation, reminiscent of an enthusiastic chimp under the influence of a 12-pack of Coke and possessed of a crowbar.
I had already determined as I was driving home that the best choice at the moment, as DIY repair was now impossible, was to just take the bumper off entirely and get that flappy, flaccid piece of crap out of my way. A little research earlier in the day had twigged me to the fact that the bumper was the heavy-duty metal piece attached to the frame of the car, and that what was falling off my car was actually the bumper COVER. Therefore, removing it would not leave me without a required safety feature, and I could probably get by for a few days without attracting unwanted attention by the venerable local po-po.
“I think I’m going to just take the bumper off,” I said to Scott, who looked at me with what looked like a distinct lack of faith in either my plan, my sanity, or both.
“I don’t think you can do that,” he said. I explained to him that this was just the bumper cover, and that I still had a metal bumper underneath it and it would be fine. He worries a lot; I worry very little. On average, I suppose we average exactly the right amount of worry. But I still think he worries too much.
“Yeah, but you’re going to have to take the whole grille off and everything,” he said, hoping he might dissuade me yet, but knowing it was probably a futile hope.
“No I won’t; it’s already hanging off both ends” I said, wiggling the bumper like a loose tooth ready to come out. “I just have to figure out how it’s attached inside, and it’s off.”
I was headed back into the car to pop the hood as Scott went back into the house. Apparently, he was not prepared to watch the carnage at close range.
Turns out, the bumper was held in place in the middle by placement under two tabs of plastic, and it was released easily enough. I barely got my hands dirty. I pulled the bumper cover off and put it in a corner, and was already pleased that the car looked better.
Scott came back out at that point and said, “You know, if you painted the bumper white, you could probably get by with it as-is.” But then he pointed out the bits that were dragging and drooping underneath and commented that they would be rubbing against the tires if I drove with them that way.
“You’re embarrassed of my car, aren’t you?” I said as I started duct-taping the pieces out of the way.
“Yes,” he admitted.
“As bad as it looks now, it’s less skeezy than when the bumper was hanging off on both sides.”
Somehow, I don’t think I was winning him over. But the fact of the matter was that the most pressing problem was taken care of; the bumper cover had been removed, and there was no salvaging it. In the car’s current state, I could drive it and take my time finding a body shop to replace the bumper. Which seems like a pointless thing to do, given that I’ll be doing the same thing again in 2 years, as I doubt the concrete curb situation will have improved appreciably. I wonder if I can get the draggy bits cleaned up, and then just leave it like it is. It’ll save me hassle down the road (literally); I have the added benefit of not having to open my hood to check the level of my windshield wiper fluid; and my car will be a total embarrassment to my spouse.