Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On Turning 32 and Wanting To Not Be Car Illiterate



I always say your 30’s are when people start to take you seriously because you are no long an idiot in your 20’s trying to test your boundaries and do stupid things. Don’t get me wrong, you can still do that in your 30’s, but there is something about not being a 20-something that people just assume you have more life experience and maturity that will somehow constitute you to be a valuable resource. Granted, your 40’s are clearly where you are seen as expert.  You are also consulted for your professional opinion because you know what you do and you do it well. 50 plus is the level of mastery. People respect you. Bask in your awesome. You earned it. You know everything there is to know about what you do and have shared your wisdom with others, all the while continuing your pursuit for knowledge. 

What does any of that have to do with anything? Well, I turned 32 on February 15th. I am often consulted for help on how to do things, but even though a part of me is proud of the fact people look at me as a good source of information, I can’t help but feel like I am a fake when it comes to applicable life skills. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of great skills that range from cooking, driving a stick, tying knots, sewing, and such, but there is one thing I cannot do that I feel like everyone should know how to do: I can’t work on cars.

I am car illiterate. The most experience I have doing any work remotely on a car is vaguely knowing how to change a tire. I only had to do it once when I was in college and it was on my dad’s car I was borrowing to go to school and back. The front driver side tire blew out, I pulled over on the side of I-5 South between Valencia and the San Fernando Valley before the 405 interchange. I recall several cars driving by honking at me and a few hoots as I was in a skirt when I changed it. That was the only time doing serious car work. My other car disasters I was fortunate enough to have assistance with.

Fall 2001, 19 years old: The day after my first flat tire when my dad went to see the damage done to the tire. Yeah, I know, somehow I survived. There's the blue '94 Tempo it happened in behind me.

Spring or Winter 2010, 28 years old: My '76 Delta 88 Royale stuck in the mud up in the hills outside Sparks, NV. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I even tried to dig under the wheels with my bare hands to slip a towel under for traction. That didn't work.

I kind of know how to check fluids, but in reality, when I pull out my dipstick and look at the oil on there, I feel like I know how my husband must feel when he looks at text editing on websites  I build  and just sees rows of characters, but doesn’t really know what they represent. (I know, you’re thinking, “how does she understand tech garble but can’t comprehend what constitutes as good and bad on a dipstick?” Trust me, I’m just as baffled on this one!)

I've painted cars out of boredom before. But I don’t really consider that work because there was no involvement of bolting, screwing, or dealing with anything mechanical that would impact the drivability of the vehicle. Plus, I did break a lot of parts in the process, but in my defense, I wasn’t planning on putting them back on, so I didn’t really care.

Summer 2009, 27 years old: Stripping the vinyl top from the Oldsmobile (top.) Spray painting Jesse's '67 Galaxy (bottom.)

Somewhere in the maniac side of my brain, I believe now is the right time to learn basic auto mechanics. Partly because a knee injury has kept me from running as much as I’d like to, partly because I believe I’m on the verge of an early mid-life crisis, partly because I can actually afford to take on a project car at this phase in my life. 

My sister is the mechanically inclined one. She learned how to do a lot of stuff by spending time around my dad when he worked on cars when we were kids and hanging around a lot of car guys as a teen and an adult. She knows how to do things, I don’t. I feel like somehow, it is probably important I learn this stuff.

2001 or so, my sister, Lori, and her '73 Nova.

I have decided to commit to learning basic auto mechanics. Much like when I said I would run a marathon and registered to run the Los Angeles Marathon to commit to training, I am going to commit to learning to work on a car. I have already purchased the car and started the body repair. Now all that’s left is to finish the repairs and get to working on the rest. 

In the end, I hope to have a better understanding of cars. How my car works, or how to fix it if something goes wrong. Better yet, to pay attention to gauges and sounds. To not leave lights on and drain batteries multiple times in a month. To not let cars overheat and spit out the white cloud of death. To stop taking cars that aren't designed to go off road into the mountains and getting them stuck. I have learned how to do use and take care of computers and guns. Now is time to learn with cars. Just as I feared I’d never learn to drive a stick, I triumphed. I will not fear knowing about my car. There is no better time to learn than now. I will someday be able to embrace the joys of no longer being ignorant. 

 This is what 32 looks like. Eventually, no longer an idiot with cars and still full of bad karaoke and good times. Above with my '69 Satellite, below singing karaoke at Hangar's Bar & Grill on my birthday.

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