This is mostly a repeat from 2007. I still need a few glorious summer daze off here and there.
Like many good things in life, it happened both on purpose and by accident. I consider it a side effect of being a father, more than anything.
After years of car-free bliss, riding the bus where I had to, my (now ex) wife told me it was time to have a car. What with the baby on the way and all the running around like scared gophers that goes with it, something had to happen. Like many of her announcements, it came with a plan – did I mention we aren’t married anymore? This plan involved a friend with a 1985 Escort that had been parked for a while. The deal was this – $100 if I could get it running. In about a half an hour I did (ignition wires were shot, is all).
I didn’t know it then, but I was joining a Most Noble and Sacred Order. I call it “The Junker Brotherhood,” because membership comes to anyone with a lousy ride. The privileges are simple – if you have a junker of a car, other crappy cars wave you on. They let you merge on the freeway. You go ahead at a 4-way stop. If you are on the side of road and stuck, another Brother will stop. We look out for each other with simple gestures and brief moments of our lives.
Why do we do this? I don’t know. Those of us who drive junkers are either poor or really don’t care what other people think. We are a certain kind of outcast, the ones not usually celebrated in movies and songs. All we have is each other, and all of us are just a few loose bolts away from disaster. Sticking together is obvious.
I call this “The Brotherhood” because it is, sadly, not a sisterhood. Women who drive crappy cars seem to either not care about the comaraderie or are deeply embarrassed that they have to drive a heap. It appears that generally men have an interest in embracing their lot in life so fully.
As time has gone on, my status has changed. In 2000 the 85 Escort had all of its life finally squeezed out of it, and it went to the junkyard as $28.73 of scrap. No longer could I tell people I picked up a $100 Escort to await the obvious joke that it was either a cheap car or an expensive date. I upgraded to a 1993 Escort Wagon, which was also driven to the dump on its last ride.
I now have a 1998 sport model, which is less useful but somehow quite a lot of fun to drive – and gets 34 MPG routinely. That comes after 3 years of driving the $950 heap over 20k miles per year, mostly to southern Minnesota and back. But it has its signature appeal in its color. I remember when my Amish colleague Eli first saw it:
Me: Yes, it’s purple.
Eli: I couldn’t help noticing.
Me: It was the cheapest car on the lot. You know why?
Me: It’s purple.
Eli: That makes sense.
And so my place in the Junker Brotherhood is not only complete, it is extremely visible to the point of being obnoxious. And, like all of my junkers, it has a manual transmission, which I absolutely insist on. It’s a small slice of heaven for those of us with very little taste – or pride.
I believe that the freedom that a car supposedly brings is no match for the great freedom of not caring at all what people think. The whole “Freedom” trip isn’t anything more than what’s going on in your head. When you’re in the Junker Brotherhood, freedom is a sense of security in knowing that others out there have your back when things go horribly wrong – as they eventually will.
There are many clubs you can join in this world but few demand as little as the Junker Brotherhood – and I mean very little. The ticket to ride is nothing more than your pride, plus a little scratch on the side. In a bad economy, it’s a good club to be in, all in all.