I never could understand people who hate owning stuff once it gets old. I know someone for example who bought a beautiful fancy car, drove it for a few years and loved it, but then traded it in. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the car. This person just wanted it off his/her hands before it got old and things started going wrong with it, decreasing its value. It’s a free country, so I have nothing against this person’s decision. But to me, there is a certain special joy in owning something old. I am thinking about this in light of this past weekend when we traded in the minivan we drove for seven years.
Except for some squeaking and rattling, it drove beautifully. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Mom and I took a trip to Virginia Beach with it. Dad wanted us to fly, fearing that our old car would give out on some treacherous mountain road in West Virginia, but Mom and I much prefer the pleasures of the open road over the inconveniences of airport security, luggage limits and flight delays, not to mention the outrageous costs of airfare and hidden fees that add up these days. There was a little more stress than we anticipated. When we drove through West Virginia, it was raining so hard that at one point, a state trooper was directing cars because part of the road had washed away and if you weren’t familiar with the area, you could drive right over the cliff! But that had nothing to do with the car. The car never once let us down!
Because of this, part of us thought it would be fun to see how many more miles we could squeeze out of it, but the last time Mom went to get tires, she was told by the mechanic that this was the last time he would recommend putting it on the lift because the underbody had rusted. And on our trip to Virginia, I opened the glove box to get something for my mom and noticed that everything was wet. My sister’s husband said it was likely because some firewall that protects the glove box had also rusted. It was starting to get pretty squeaky and rattly too, so we realized it wouldn’t be too much longer before repairs would cost more than the car was worth. But because of the car’s amazing reliability for its age, even when we did some pretty rugged driving, my parents and I dubbed that car Trusty Rusty.
Just like my parents, I would never buy a used car (or any other expensive appliance in my case). It is fun to experience appliances that are shiny and new after all, and of course when you buy a used item, you could be buying someone else’s problems too. But when your brand-new appliance gets old, I love how our family savors the joy of driving the old car until it is no longer practical, rather than rushing out to buy a new one.
Sure, it is fun to touch the clean, shiny unblemished finish of a new car, but on the other hand, you love its shininess so much you cannot relax in it. You feel like you shouldn’t park too close to another car whose driver might fling the door open and put the first ding on the new car. With every new car, we have found ourselves hesitant to eat or drink in it and risk spilling something and putting that first stain in the shiny new carpet or seats. My parents didn’t want Gilbert to ride in our new minivan until they bought a pad for the floor that can be easily washed so that maybe the car won’t smell like him, at least for awhile. But when the car gets to be a Trusty Rusty, you relax and park anywhere. Once it’s starting to rust, a ding is no big deal. And once the car is rusted and dinged on the outside, a little spilled beverage or dog puke incident on the inside is no big deal either.
Sure, it is fun to play with new features that weren’t available when you bought your last car. But once your car becomes a Trusty Rusty, you forget the frustration of trying to read the manual and figure out how the new features work. On Saturday for example, I took my first spin in our new minivan to the farmer’s market. All was going great until we got to the market, I opened my newfangled automatic door to get out, but when I pushed the button to close it, it just beeped at me and wouldn’t close. So for what seemed like forever, we sat in the car combing the manual, finally figuring out that for safety, it won’t respond if two people are pushing the button at the same time. At the same time I was pushing the button on my door, Dad was pushing it remotely from the front seat. When we couldn’t figure out how to cancel and start over, we collectively sighed and closed it manually, the Trusty Rusty way we had been doing our whole life. Sometimes I think driving around with a Trusty Rusty is less embarrassing than the first few days of a new car when we maybe could have been done buying our produce in the time it took us to figure out how to close the automatic door! But the good new is, since we parked far away from other cars, it is likely no one noticed.
I love that distinctive new car smell, and it is fun to break in the new seats. But I am never sad when the seats are broken in and the car starts to smell like us; a mingling of Gilbert, and the meals we eventually give in and enjoy on that first roadtrip. When the seats feel unfamiliar and the car hasn’t smelled like us yet, I have always had a strange feeling like I am riding in someone else’s car. But by the time that car becomes a Trusty Rusty, it smells and feels like home.
It is comforting to drive a car with the latest and greatest safety features, and while there hasn’t been much difference between Trusty Rusty and our new car in that regard, I remember how fun it was when I was younger and we lived on the edge for a while with a not-quite-as-trusty, and probably much rustier old car.
In 1999 when my grandpa’s health had been failing for awhile and he could not drive anymore, Grandma gave us an old car of his. I think it was a 1984 Eagle, but our family affectionately referred to it as the Ghetto Cruiser. Sorry for the lack of political correctness, but the name was fitting. I don’t know what the car looked like of course, but it must have been pretty embarrassing since my teenage siblings forbid Dad to pick them up from extra curricular activities in it. And Dad said he never feared for his safety driving through bad neighborhoods in it because it blended right in. If by some strange chance someone stole it, it would not have been a hardship because in its condition, it wasn’t worth much.
On the inside, I guess it was trusty in that it was reliable. I don’t ever remember hearing that it died on the side of the road. But I remember finding it strange when it was time to drive it back with us from Indiana, but both parents insisted I ride home with Mom in the minivan rather than with Dad in the new-to-me car. In fact now that I think about it, I only remember riding in it on short trips to school or the grocery store. I later learned there was a reason for that. I don’t understand car mechanics, but there was something wrong with it where if the car was driven too fast, it would bounce all over the road and it was all Dad could do to control it. He didn’t mind living on the edge and driving it on the freeway to work every day, or by himself to Indiana and back, but it wasn’t a risk he was comfortable taking with his precious children in the back.
For awhile, Dad was even reluctant to allow Mom to drive it. Eventually, Mom convinced Dad she could handle it and he gave in and let her drive it a little bit. But I will never forget how before handing over the keys, Dad gave Mom a firm warning on the bouncing issue, and the importance of using pliers to turn on the windshield wipers, or else the car could catch fire!
A couple years later, my parents decided that while the car had served us well as a cheap means of transportation across the city to work for Dad, they were getting tired of putting their lives at risk, so Dad sold it to a work buddy for $500 and bought an inexpensive, safe new car. But I don’t know if it was because I am blind and had no idea how awful the car looked, or just the fact that when you are little, Daddy is cool no matter what he drives, but I loved the distinctive old smell and feel of that car. Of course, being blind means I will never need to buy a car, but the nostalgia and laughs that still come to mind when I think of that car make me think that if I were sighted, I would be the kind of person that would get a thrill out of buying a brand-new car or procuring an old car from a trusted family member, and proudly driving it for twenty years to ghetto cruiser condition and beyond.
To the extent my parents put up with it, I already do this in a figurative sense with other things. I will continue to wear gym shoes, even when they have holes forming in the soles and are giving my feet blisters, until my parents notice and drag me kicking and screaming to the shoe store. Just like with the seats in a new car, I feel like I am wearing shoes meant for someone else until I break them in. Unlike most people, I have always brushed my teeth with my mouth closed. (Maybe I was traumatized from gagging on toothpaste that slid to the back of my throat or something when I was really little.) Anyway, this quirk means that as it is, my toothbrushes get worn out faster than they do for normal people. With my mouth closed, I cannot help chewing on the bristles until they are all bent. But bent bristles never bothered me. I only get a new toothbrush when Mom happens to see it on the counter if I forget to put it away and says “You need a new toothbrush,” as she simultaneously chucks it in to the garbage can, allowing no opportunities for argument. That new toothbrush never feels right the first week or two.
I am still running JAWS 9.0–I think the rest of the blind world is up to version 13 now–and an outdated version of internet explorer on what people these days would call a Trusty Rusty four-year-old computer. I often get pop-up alerts that I would have a better web experience if I upgraded my browser, and some sites I cannot access at all. But I don’t want to upgrade! For one thing, the few times I have attempted upgrades, the upgrade process never went smoothly. I have tried several times to upgrade my brailleNote from keysoft 9.0 to version 9.1 and 9.2, but every time, I am told the installation failed, despite doing EXACTLY what the directions said! The last time I attempted and failed last Sunday, I decided I am not wasting another minute of my life on something that always ends in defeat and frustration. Some of the features available with the upgrade would be awesome, I admit. Supposedly, Keysoft 9.1 could recognize files with the .docx extension and version 9.2 can convert PDF files. It sure would be wonderful to have these features on my BrailleNote rather than having to use JAWS to read these files. But unless I happen to meet someone with a magic touch who can do the upgrade successfully, I would rather be stuck in 2003 with .doc files than waste any more time being frustrated. Who really needs the newfangled features anyway when the old ones work just fine? And with my luck being so bad just upgrading my simple blind-friendly BrailleNote, there is no way I am attempting an upgrade on the much more complex desktop computer. And don’t even get me started on how much I hate Windows 7 which my college upgraded to my senior year. Maybe it has some cool features for sighted people, but for me, it made processes that were once simple, such as opening e-mail attachments and saving documents, much more complicated. Every time I had to work on an assignment at school, I came home with a renewed commitment to take extra good care of my Trusty Rusty, easy-to-use Windows XP, so I can put off upgrading as long as possible.
But the best example of my loyalty to old appliances is my first treadmill. In eighth grade, I wasn’t very diligent about healthy eating, but I was at least trying to take better care of myself by exercising more regularly. When my parents noticed me doing jumping jacks or marching in place every day, they got me an inexpensive treadmill for Christmas which I loved.
One day the summer after my sophomore year, the part of the emergency stop pin that hooks to me broke. My parents and I had no idea if or how it could be replaced. Mom thought about improvising with duct tape, but I assured her I would be careful and that this wouldn’t be necessary. I kept my word and never once fell. Then one day during my junior year of college, my dad came down to the basement to do something else and came up concerned because he saw the treadmill belt slowly moving even though I wasn’t on it. This wasn’t news to me though. It had been doing that for awhile. I don’t remember exactly when, but one day I remember finishing my workout, unplugging the other end of the pin (there was an actual stop button too, but on that treadmill the pin was easier and safer for me to find), taking my shoes off and then casually plugging the pin back in for the next day as I always had. With my workout done, my guard was down and I wasn’t holding on when the motor started humming and the belt started moving slowly. Fortunately I have excellent reflexes and I grabbed the handle before I fell. I knew if I told my parents that in addition to the broken safety pin, the treadmill had started moving when it wasn’t supposed to be, they would freak out and I didn’t want to get rid of a treadmill that was just starting to have a few quirks but “drove” just fine. So I just quietly adapted. Instead of plugging the pin in to have it ready for the next day right away, I would either drape it over the handle, or hold the pin while I took my shoes off and then plug it back in once I was safely off the treadmill. Either way, I would make sure that at least one hand was holding on to a handlebar at all times until both feet were safely off the treadmill.
On the days I draped it over the handle, I would have to remember to be careful the next day because the belt would sometimes, but not always, jerk to life before I set a speed. Even though the speed lever was on zero, I was always able to stop the belt by calmly pulling down on the lever. Since it didn’t happen every day, the start of each treadmill walk was suspenseful. On the days when the motor started humming before I was ready, I would just hold on tight and pray, then laugh about how much fun unpredictable old appliances are once I was safely walking.
Once Dad found out the treadmill was doing that, he went treadmill shopping right away and both parents gave me a firm “be careful!” as I headed downstairs to work out on the old treadmill until the new one could be delivered.
I have had my “new” treadmill, complete with a new intact safety pin for a year and a half. I don’t mourn the old treadmill because for one thing, I love the new features of this one like the ability to set an incline for even better workouts, and nice big blind-friendly buttons for setting speed so I know exactly what speed I am walking. (If Mom or Dad set my speed on the old treadmill, they could see the speed the lever was set to on a print display, but when I set it myself, it was less scientific. I would just gently push the lever up until I liked the pace.) But more importantly, I have had it long enough that it feels like home now, and it won’t be long until the minivan will too. And the way the years seem to fly by, it won’t be long before my family and I will get to relish the joys and advantages of owning a Trusty Rusty once again.