Apr 26, 2024

Does Love Mean Never Having to Replace a Water Pump?

Auto-eroticism or motor-headedness?

By Ed Goldman

While it’s probably premature to announce that my decades-long love affair with automobiles is kaput, my own car and I are currently undergoing a trial separation. 

What may have sounded to most mortals like, “You need a new water pump”—especially when spoken by the owner of Frank’s Automotive, a repair shop that’s been in business 50 years—to me sounded an awful lot like my car saying, “Maybe someday we could still be friends.”

Edgy Cartoon

A primrose path has many Benz

As I sit one recent dreary afternoon in my home office I reflect on how, just a day ago, the room had been filled with, if not my car itself, at least the knowledge that it was nestled comfortably in my garage, 50 feet away, protected from the elements. Cozy, even. 

I wouldn’t say that in my 22 years of ownership I’ve been lavish in caring for my Mercedes E-320—but I definitely wasn’t withholding, emotionally or financially, reliably getting its oil changed, tires rotated and registration renewed.

I also made sure it got regular exercise. For example, during the darkest days of COVID I’d frequently take it for high-velocity spins, often changing lanes and even freeways repeatedly just because we could

I won’t deny this exercising also did my own psyche some good. Driving near-empty roads at near-warp speeds while imagining “Born to Be Wild” or “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees” playing in my head had a definite therapeutic effect. But it benefited both of us—and isn’t mutual caretaking what loving partnerships are all about?

I also admit that I haven’t been without my flaws as a partner. My car’s steering wheel cover (which, to my credit, I’ve replaced twice) looks like a feral cat mistook it for a chew-toy. Three minor side dents somehow escaped my scrutiny, especially when I squinted. And when its metal brand emblem was torn in half by someone doubtless seeking access to my trunk—where he could have found such treasures as a boxful of my most recent book, the never-consulted owner’s manual, my dad’s wool “car-coat” circa 1958, an ill-sized spare tire, an unplugged cassette player and a leather newsboy cap I always meant to slap on my head when my car and I took those high-velocity COVID drives—I confess I did nothing.

My feeble reason for not making these cosmetic fixes was always, “You look fine, years younger than your age and besides, nobody will notice”—whereas if candor had ruled the day, I’d have explained that the cost of replacing a metal emblem at a Mercedes dealership is prohibitive. Yet, to my credit, I wasn’t about to go to a third-party emblem seller who had no references, wasn’t bonded and kept changing his mailing address. My car deserved better than a backstreet accessory.

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Once my car was in the shop, reality began to set in. Every time I sat in my office dreaming about groceries, cigars and vodka, I realized I had no way of obtaining them unless I took a cab, which somehow would’ve felt like cheating. You know the old story: You’re dumped and the first thing you do to pay back the dumper is take up with someone, anyone, else and make certain you go to all the places frequented by your ex- so you can be seen as Someone Who Moves On, Baby. 

But do you know how much it would cost to pay a cab driver to take me back and forth past Frank’s Automotive repair shop in the hope that my car would be out front at the exact moment we sailed by, honking the horn in a display of faked revelry? Let’s just say about as much as the groceries, cigars and vodka.

I pick up my car in a few days. It’s going to be a large bill but I’ll embrace it. I’ve learned that heartbreak can be so much more expensive than making up.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).