"Get Your Motor Runnin'"

It all started when they made me drive the Kia.

It all started when they made me drive the Kia.
I’d been in Connecticut about three weeks when the rental car company called and told me I couldn’t keep the Toyota Corolla any longer. “It’s almost been a month,” the serious desk clerk said. “We have to check it out.” I had been in a pleasant state of denial, feeling the warmth of September in New England, feeling cocky about this move across country. California? Connecticut? Piece of cake. The rented Corolla was brand new and very cute. It got great gas mileage. It made me happy. It made me happy to deny I needed to buy my own car and accept I was really, truly living here.
I pulled the Corolla into the rental car lot. “Amber,” as her nametag read, did not look pleased. “We do short term rentals, a couple days. You got away from us.”
“Trust me,” I told her, “I’ve just been using it to get to work.”
I arrived in Connecticut on Thursday, the moving van brought all my belongings on Monday and I started this short-term job on Tuesday. I really had no time to think about buying a car.
Amber took me outside and inspected the car. When she got to the rear bumper she pointed at some white stuff I’d assumed was dried dirt. She leaned down and scratched at it with her pen.
“Just a minute,” she said, the way Sister Elizabeth used to say “Just a minute,” when she caught you side stepping down the hallway a half hour after classes started, bathing suit straps peaking out of your Peter Pan collar.
Amber returned with her manager, who apparently had ascended to the ninth ring of rental car land and was not required to wear a nametag. “Looks like it hit something,” he pronounced.
“I have been driving this car to a college campus, leaving it in the parking lot and driving it into my garage. That’s it. That’s all. There is no way—“
“Ma’am,” Mr. Ninth Ring of Hell interrupted my rant. “No one is saying you hit anything.” My shoulders relaxed about three feet and so did my voice.
“Well thank you,” I offered, still not ready to let go of the ‘ma’am’ thing.
“But you’re still responsible,” Amber said.
After negotiations that spanned weeks, the bumper issue was resolved. After rationalizations, accusations and a growing feeling I was not in L.A. anymore, that day in the gravel parking lot was the beginning of my descent into the dark side. There it was; four spaces down and overshadowed by a neighboring Suburban.
Amber walked me over to it.
“What the hell is this?” I asked.
“A Kia,” Amber answered as she circled it, inspecting.
Reeling with righteous rental car rage, I tapped the roof. “Was this used as a driving range?” I asked, pointing to a tessellation of golf-ball sized divots.
Amber mumbled, “Dings on roof.” I scrutinized the minutiae of that car’s exterior with the penetrating eye of a forensic geologist. Finally, I grabbed hold of the door handle.
I opened the door. The light didn’t come on. They weren’t pinning anything on me this time. “Write down the light needs replacing,” I told Amber.
“No, the light doesn’t come on; it’s supposed to be like that,” she responded. I was readying a lob of airtight, seamless logic about how I’d be fumbling in the dark for the ignition and the eye-socket-ripper-outer-killer would of course target me and the RENTAL CAR COMPANY would be liable when I was overcome by the smell. I stuck my head deeper inside the car and really took it in. What was that? It made me think of a hooker. A wet hooker. A wet hooker smoking garlic cigarettes. I yanked my head out.
“I can’t take this car. Someone—some thing is decomposing in it.” Amber didn’t even look up.
“It’s all we’ve got.”
This may have been when the uncontrollable crying began. I know it was the inciting incident that finally impelled me to visit the Toyota dealership.
It was dark and a light rain was falling but the amiable car salesman walked me around the white Highlander in the lot. We went inside to discuss terms.
Sitting across from him at his desk, I waited for it. The question asked at the bank, the pharmacy, the Stop N Shop. “You just moved here?” He asked. I nodded. “You moved from California to Connecticut?” I knew it was coming the way you know the flu is coming by the fact that suddenly your cartilage hurts. “Why?” he asked. And there it was. Hanging out there. I needed the brilliant reply. “The sensitive nature of my work for the government prohibits me from explaining.” No. I was a terrible liar and all I had was the truth: Love. I moved for love. Mr. Toyota Salesman of the Month looked me straight in the eyes, “No one loves anyone that much.”
I did get a Highlander, but a silver one from a different dealership and I made it through a mild winter and almost a whole year without authentically greasy Mexican food or 18 dollar pedicures. And last week, I had my first check-up with my new physician. As he was inputting my medical history he looked up from his flat screen monitor and right at me. “You moved from California, southern California, near the beach, to Connecticut?” I felt the paper gown rip as I clutched. Here it came. “Why?” I didn’t even hesitate; what was the point?
“Love,” I said. A beat. He smiled.
“That’s great. It’s a gift finding someone to spend your life with; it’s rare, it makes you more whole and it’s completely worth it.”
Yeah, I thought. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

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