I bought a car last weekend. It’s black and low and sleek and shiny with chrome bits. It’s a two-seater convertible lowered to the ground, black leather interior, silver-low-profile-mags with a CD player. I bought it off of Craig’s List from a guy in Santa Cruz. Like some clandestine drug deal I had to go meet him with cash on an unnamed street, the last house on the left, off the frontage road, next to highway 1.
As we pulled up it was sitting in the driveway and I knew that it was the car that I wanted, it was the car that I’d been searching for. I didn’t even haggle the price, the guy had three more buyers on their way over to look at the car. I happened to be first one to see it because I had been the first one to get in touch with him when he placed the ad.
Buying cars on Craig’s List is a strange affair. People leave cryptic descriptions and sometimes pictures of their vehicles with only an anonymous email address to respond to. Instead of an immediate conversation you send off a message and then patiently wait for them to get back to you and in the meantime anything can happen. They can decide that they don’t want to sell, they can answer their emails in some sort of haphazard order and inadvertently leave you out even though you might have been the first to respond. They can even have a “for sale” sign on the car as it sits in front of their house and some next-door neighbor decides to buy it and you’re shit out of luck having never been given the opportunity to see the car before it’s sold.
Still you scan the ads on your computer screen hoping that at least one of them is going to be a good deal, pressing your mouse to open the email links, jotting down a quick note, sending it off, hoping. I answered this one guy’s ad by leaving my phone number and he called me. “Are you a buyer?” He asked, “because I’ve shown the car ten times already and all anyone’s done is come out and kicked the tires.”
“I’m a buyer,” I reassured him. “Can I come look at your car?”
“I’ll get back to you,” he said and then never called me back.
Admittedly it may just be some erroneous elements from my past that have me seeing illicit transactions in all of this. But I really couldn’t ignore what I felt were the drug deal overtones to this whole buying a car over the internet thing and because of it I was starting to get nervous just making the initial contact. Sweaty palms I’d type in my response and then hit send, only to wait, some times days for the reaction. The people selling know they’ve got what you want, You know that they know that they’ve got what you want – the whole deal reeks of a power struggle, like a crack dealer has over his clientele, like the dope man has over the junkies in the street and all I’m looking for here is my car fix – something to make my life a little better, something to help me along my way.
After I bought the car, paying the man the money in small unmarked bills, I turned the key in the ignition and left rubber burning down the highway all the way back to San Francisco. Seems that it’ll do a hundred and ten no problem. Seems like all the cars I buy want to go fast. When I told my dad about the car over the phone a few days later he said, “didn’t you learn from the last one?” He of course was referring to the last car I owned, the one that I slammed head-on into an embankment during a rainstorm in Marin County.
But this car isn’t nearly as fast as that one and slowing to what now seemed like a crawl I turned off of highway 80 before the Bay Bridge. Dropping down the elevated freeway to the streets of SF, hitting every pothole, getting air on the cable car tracks, I pulled into my garage and scraped bottom on the hump in the sidewalk – lowered cars aren’t meant for San Francisco. Getting out I stood there looking at my car, admiring the sleek lines, the fine gloss finish, happy that I’d finally got what I wanted. Walking out of the garage onto the street I watched the bits of litter and leaves swirl around in circles moved by the wind. On my apartment building’s front steps were a weeks worth of delivered newspapers that my upstairs neighbor lets sit. Sticking out of my mailbox were all the bills for the former tenants who must of left town without forwarding any of their mail.
When I got upstairs to my kitchen and finally sat down at the table I felt a bit exhausted, I felt like something was over. I felt like I had achieved what I wanted, but I still felt empty. Buying a car didn’t fulfill shit, at least not like I had hoped it would. I was still who I was, inside and out, just maybe not a pedestrian any more. Although all that time that I’d spent in these last few months looking for that perfect car didn’t exactly feel wasted. But I had this “now what?” sort of feeling running through me, and it felt strange. Dejected, tired, a bit confused I walked down the hallway to my room and went to bed.
The next morning I got up and drove my new car to Best Buy and bought a vacuum cleaner. It’s black and low and sleek and shiny with chrome bits. It’s lowered to the ground, a clear bagless interior – no silver-low-profile-mags, no CD player. It does suck dirt however and after completely vacuuming my entire house I can honestly say that I am happy with what it does. The salesman at Best Buy threw in a microwave oven for twenty-five dollars as an incentive for me to buy the cool black model. Like there was any doubt that I wasn’t going to.