I'm compelled to write this in case any of you saw me. I need to clarify.
Everybody knows my car. There's only one like it our town, maybe the state. Maybe the nation.
And there are a number of people who know the ugly, scarred, somewhat odd 1976 Mercedes 280 CE belongs to an ugly, scarred, somewhat odd minister named Tim Logan. I'm not a preaching minister, I'm a behind-the-scenes minister. But I'm still a minister, and everybody who knows me in any way, or who attends our church, knows that car.
So I have to be careful. I was thinking that just yesterday on my way to work (while rudely nosing my way into the stream of morning traffic and experimenting with the subtle hues of instructive vocabulary) that I really should be careful how I drive, since odds are that the person I'm nosing in front of knows full-well who's behind that ostentatious hood ornament doing mouth exercises.
The car is a bit unusual in that it is a European model (meaning, not the typical import model that is a bit more usual in the U.S. - different bumpers, for one thing, plus a rather bohemian European trailer hitch that many people find repulsive). She was brought to the States by a former Mercedes mechanic who came here to buy old American autos to ship back to Germany. We want little German cars, they want big American cars. Go figure. I bought her from the guy several years ago, aware that she needed a bit of body work and some TLC. I haven't done any body work, however, and certainly wouldn't say I've given her much TLC, which is evident not only in her deteriorating shell, but by the fact that her mechanical integrity has slipped steadily, kilometer by kilometer.
I suppose it's a good thing that the odometer doesn't work. Cece (her pet name) will be forever young by that standard, boasting a mere 41,750 clicks. I'll never have to change the oil because she will never reach the elusive 44,750 kilometers printed on the oil maintenance sticker. That's how smart I am about cars.
I conjured a brilliant plan a few years ago, but never had the gall to act on it. I said I was going to take my mangled mess of antique car bones down to the local Mercedes dealer and propose that if they would give her a good spiffing up, I would let them put their dealership logo across my back window and then drive around town as a mobile advert for their company. And if they refused, I would then promise to put their dealership logo on my back window and drive around town as a mobile advert for their company.
If you are a Mercedes dealer, my offer stands. Lacking a taker, the plan is to drive her as-is until she refuses to go another inch (if you are not a Mercedes dealer, I'll make you a great deal right now: $500 and you can take her away. $500 is my limit. I won't give you a penny more).
But Cece is close to her final inch, I'm afraid. I know her limits, and I'm pretty sure the end is near. I've learned she'll only go as far as Schlotzky's ("funny name, serious sandwiches") in Rogers. I'm fairly comfortable heading off to a lunch meeting there or anywhere this side of there, but any farther, and we're in high-risk territory.
Cece is weather-sensitive, you see. She doesn't like cold days. Or hot days. Or rainy days. Or snowy days. Or any of the other days that have weather. Truth be known, she would prefer to remain all comfy and cozy in her nice, warm garage until her last rusty spark plug drops to the cement. My mile-and-a-half commute to work isn't much of a problem, but if I have farther to travel, I venture out cautiously. These are my best prayer times.
She's still fun to drive, though, when she's in the mood. With her four-forward manual transmission and low-slung, two-door body style, I enjoy putting the gas to her on the short interstate route I sometimes take for all those important lunch meetings. It's advantageous to put the gas to her, because she doesn't rattle and shimmy quite as much at exactly 73 kilometers per hour. But there's a downside. After peaking at her no-shimmy zone, I have to coast. That's when Cece asserts her authority by konking. "That's it," she says, "no more." And she konks. Thankfully, I'm usually able to coax her to start again with a gentle turn of the ignition key, and I'm merrily on my way.
Most times. That wasn't the case yesterday.
I hadn't had a haircut for a long time. Spring was on its way, and I was feeling youthful and free, and I thought I could pull off my old Seventies shaggy-do. Cece was born in 1976, after all, and she likes it that way.
The problem is that my locks tend to curl and billow extensively with growth and I look more like an aging bingo matron than a middle-aged behind-the-scenes minister. I knew the tresses had to go when I caught a glimpse of myself in a reflective window at church and yelled out "Mom!"
So I made an appointment.
It was one of the good days. Beautiful weather, not a cloud, perfect temperature, but I got cocky. The hair parlor happens to be a good two miles past Schlotzky's. In my spring feverish reverie, I forgot Cece's limits. She balked just as I passed the deli and its serious sandwiches, which probably broke character and giggled their buns off as Cece sputtered by and konked.
Traffic was fairly heavy, and I felt a slight panic a-welling. I gave the ignition a twist. Nothing. Another twist (and a prayer). Nothing.
She was mad. You've gone too far, this time, buddy.
Thankfully, I had been moving fast enough to siphon a good coast out of her. I was in the right lane, heading toward a series of storefronts lined close to the street with plenty of nose-in parking available. I took the first entrance and rolled to a stop, landing perpendicular across three vacant spaces. Out of harm's way, I gave Cece a pat, stroked the dashboard a couple of times, and said, "Okay, Dear, I know I pushed it. I'm sorry. Yes, I know you like my hair curly, but I was getting winks from the geezer bench at Walmart."
But she wasn't having it. No response to my pleadings, not a hint of fire as I massaged the key. I was getting the full-on silent treatment.
My wife answered her cell and promised to be there shortly to pick me up and chauffeur me to my waiting hair artist. We would deal with Cece after my shearing.
"Where are you," she asked.
"I'm in a parking lot on Walnut, just past Schlotzky's." Duh.
She knew the area. "Are you in front of the fabric store? They're having a sale on trim and maybe you could go in and..."
I cut her off. "No, dear, I'm not in front of the fabric store." I didn't know that for sure, but if I was in front of the fabric store I would push the car down a few spaces. Truthfully, I hadn't even looked to see.
So I looked. "I'm in front of...let's see. Some place called 'Salome.'"
"Yes, Salome. The place with the..." I hesitated as my eye caught the store's display window. "Um, the place with the very scantily-clad female mannequins in the window."
My very recognizable 1976 bronzey-gold Mercedes 280 CE with it's repulsive trailer hitch had come to rest in front of the only adult novelty store in town. Which is right next door to AAA Tattoo, by the way.
I contemplated pushing Cece back down to the fabric store and shopping for trim. I didn't, because the lady who apparently owned and/or operated Salome Adult Emporium was standing out front, enjoying a Winston and grinning as though thinking, "I really like that trailer hitch."
So I stayed. I certainly didn't want her to think I was embarrassed to be there. By no means. Haven't I seen her at church?
As I waited for Leslie in full-on embarrassment, I tried my best to keep my face turned away from the street, but that brought the scantily-clad mannequins directly into view. I imagined church members driving by, pointing to my car, and commenting, "Isn't that Tim Logan's car sitting in front of the adult novelty store?" Yes, I believe it is. "But who is that old woman with the curly hair sitting in the driver's seat, staring at those scantily-clad mannequins?"
Leslie arrived after what seemed like half a day, but was actually only fifteen minutes. We tried to jump-start Cece, but no go. Lady Salome flicked her ashes and offered to help us push Cece out of the main path a bit, closer to the storefront. Certainly. I for-sure want everyone to think I'm inside shopping instead of just stalled.
So on we trekked to the hair parlor. I received my shearing, and then we went to dinner. We didn't talk much about the car. We've volleyed the subject of what-are-we-going-to-do-about-Cece ad nauseum since about three months after I bought her. After dinner, we gave the jump another shot, and this time it took. Lady Salome was still out front, Winston in hand. She waved and coughed as we puttered into the street.
About a mile from home, Cece started konking again, but I managed to caress her back into action until we finally came to rest at home, where I immediately connected the battery charger and sang her a nice little song. Everything would be better in the morning.
It wasn't. She refused to start. Her headlights seemed to be sagging a bit. I believe the end is near. As her final inch truly approaches, I mull over the options: take her to the auto repair shop and hope for the best, consign her to the want ads and await a sucker --um, I mean savvy and dashing Car Collector who has the time and money to restore her to her (imagined) former glory, or put her up on blocks in my side yard as a monument to my ever-expanding stupidity. Right now, the third option seems most likely.
We'll see. Maybe Lady Salome would like her as an ornament for her store. She could pose scantily-clad mannequins... Well, the imagination goes wild.