My first car was a two door 1971 Toyota Corolla. I paid four hundred dollars for it, which in 1981 was, I believe, four hundred dollars. Even back then, for that kind of money you took your chances. Mine was gray in color, with a couple of dents here and there, some rust, beige over peach plaid upholstery, and the right headlight aimed strangely upwards and to the right. At night it looked as though you’d shined your flashlight in the face of Billy Ray Bob as he hunted bullfrogs in the swamp. Being at the time completely ignorant of east Asian language or culture, I named her Wang (this is a Chinese name, not Japanese; it was, at least at the time, a vague reference to one’s manhood, however, and so I thought myself most clever). Being also at the time very poor, in college and devoid of any sense of responsibility, I resolved to drive her maintenance free until she died.
Wang simply refused to quit. Sure, she had her idiosyncrasies. If she hit a bump in the road at a speed over twenty five miles per hour, Wang would start to shake violently and uncontrollably, as though she were having a grand mal seizure (judging by the horrified stares of fellow drivers, this was noticeable from outside the car as well). Once, while driving in a driving monsoon, she inexplicably turned three hundred sixty degrees, ending up in the same lane, traveling in the same direction and at the same rate of speed, as though nothing had happened; I was merely along for the ride . The gear shift shroud was torn; I didn’t notice until I hit a very large puddle at thirty five miles an hour and a two-foot geyser of water shot up between the seats. Soon after I got her, the upholstery on the driver’s seat tore; various springs and wires poked through like germinating weeds. On several occasions I was alternately gaffed scrotally or violated in other unmentionable ways; I regarded these incidents as Wang merely being playful. She was the beer-soused bar wench, drunkenly prodding you as you walked by.
Wang loved me unconditionally, though I treated her horribly.Trash soon filled the floorboards. Once, a friend pulled some newspaper from under the back seat and, pretending to read, feigned surprise and yelled, “Japs bomb Pearl Harbor!”… Well, I thought it was funny. Wang developed a nasty goiter on her right front tire; this blight seemed to exacerbate the shaking issue. It grew and grew until one day the tire exploded, right in front of a bus stop. Wang shortened the lives of at least ten bus passengers that day; I could see some of them encouraging me with shaking fists and extended fingers as I rode on the rim to a tire shop one block up (she would never have inconvenienced me by blowing her tire in the middle of nowhere). There I made the only equipment purchase in the four years I owned that car: A used tire, decidedly cheap and of a slightly different size than the other three.
One day I took Wang to the local “Iffy” Lube for her only oil change in the four years I had her; the mechanic came into the lobby. Strangely, he seemed to instinctively know to whom Wang belonged.