Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Exploding Cars, or the Fear Thereof

There's a car in the parking lot of my apartment compex right now with water pouring down out from underneath the hood and huge clouds of something that I think is steam but that might also be mixed with smoke pouring upwards from underneath the hood. It looks really disturbing, as though it might catch fire at any second, and there's no one anywhere around claiming ownership or appearing to notice it. I decided to report it to the lady in the rental office, although I doubt there's anything she can actually do about it, and she certainly didn't suggest that there was. She said perhaps someone had just brought it home barely in time as it was overheating, and that it would cool down now. Is that what cars do when they overheat? When I was a kid, my parents often owned old cars that would overheat on a regular basis, but since I was a kid at the time, I have no clear memories of the technical details like whether there was steam coming from under the hood or water leaking from beneath the car. All I remember really is that we would get stranded at random locations and my parents had to find a place to refill it with water. The two cars I've actually owned myself as an adult have been quite reliable and never stranded me anywhere or even particularly threatened to, even though the first of them was 12 years old when I traded it in. And even when I lived with my parents and drove their cars, one of which was decidedly unreliable and its engine would die every single time I stopped at a stop sign, I never saw any steam pouring out from under the hood.

When I was in elementary school, for years my parents had a car where anytime the temperature was under 50 degrees in the morning (which was pretty much all winter long), my mother would have to open up the hood and tell me to get out of the car and stand next to the hood holding down a little button while she tried to start the ignition, and there would be five minutes of suspenseful pleading with the car every single morning, never quite knowing whether or not it would actually get around to being willing to drive me to school that day. Now I can't imagine living that way. (Actually, I can imagine living without a car as an adult, because I did so for several years after graduating from college; but I can't so much imagine living with a car that I continually feared being stranded by.) Did my social class really increase so significantly, or are cars in general just better made or more cheaply priced these days? It seems to me like there's a significantly higher ratio of shiny new cars to ancient fragile-looking cars on the streets these days than there used to be, and it can't be the neighborhood because I definitely live in a poorer neighborhood now than the one I grew up in.
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