Being Broke and Still Driving the Car of My Dreams
An Ode to the Cadillac
I’ve always loved me a big, unwieldy, fast car. As a kid, I still remember hearing the angels sing when I’d get to ride in some relative’s big old boat with the dimpled bench seats, speedometer that spanned a full 2 feet, and a steering wheel you could slide a beach ball through. Besides, I always seemed to get carsick in a vehicle with only two doors.
This love of the terra firma battleship was firmly cemented when I worked two jobs during a summer break in college in order to buy a 1984 Bonneville. That behemoth had Cookie Monster blue crushed velvet seats, electric windows, and was FAST. Don’t tell my parents or the police, but I got it up to 130 mph once (only once), and it wasn’t even shaking and would have gone faster if I’d had the ta-tas to make it so.
Fast-forward to about 8 years ago. I had just totaled my Honda (more on that citrus fruit later), and needed something to tide me over until I bought my very first new car for my 35th birthday. I was going to give in and buy me some sort of pimpmobile as a joke because that’s just the way I roll. I answered an ad for a 1993 Cadillac Seville, not really expecting much, as it had 169,000 miles on it. But with each passing moment of my test drive of that hunter green demon, I could feel my pulse quicken and my smile get so wide it was giving me a headache. My then-husband, however, thought me foolish to buy a car on a lark. Then he got behind the wheel. He punched the accelerator to hit the interstate and nearly knocked the wind out of himself. Poor guy had never driven an 8-banger before, and was in awe whether he would admit it or not. Sold.
My friends and colleagues couldn’t believe I’d actually bought it. I’d only had the car a couple of days when my coworkers revealed their true characters. They stole my keys and later sent me on some bogus errand across town. I get down to the garage to slide into my new ride and stopped, confused. What the….? I thought I had the right car – the keys worked, anyway. I didn’t recognize my own car right away because those SOBs had outfitted it with a furry steering wheel and light-up dice. Ha ha, guys.
My then-husband was no better when it came to poking fun at my purchase. It was a full two months before he had me go outside on a dark night and watch him drive my Caddie down the street. He’d put those goofy lights on the tire plugs; I’d been driving around with four illuminated red spinning wheels and had no idea. That was a pretty good punk. But even though he dissed that car on a daily basis, he made every excuse in the world to drive it, even though he had his own brand new SUV.
My 35th birthday came and went, and I grew more in love with my old Caddie with each passing day. I named him Big Boy and made kissy noises at him. It was a ton of fun, was paid for, and hardly required any maintenance. I’ll bet I never even spent a grand on it in three years, and that included full service oil changes. It was a 100 mph leather sofa and rode like a dream. Few things made me happier than cruising the highway with warm, golden sunlight from the moon roof flooding the interior while I floated along in my speedy marshmallow and listened to tunes on the still-perfect factory installed stereo.
Then one day it turned over 200,000 miles and needed expensive suspension work. I was sorry to see it go, but the 1995 pearl white Seville I got next softened the blow considerably. This one didn’t have a moon roof, and the stereo and A/C didn’t work, but it was otherwise cherry and only cost me $3,400. And oh, those heated seats. I often had to talk myself into getting out of it in the dead of winter after a long drive because those seats put me and my chronically angry lower back on speaking terms again.
For the first time since that old Bonneville I was able to appreciate having a good car. I could almost recover from the horror involved in owning a ’74 Maverick back in school. Dear God but that POS had me in tears at least once a week, once as a result of smashing up my hand on the dashboard because it wouldn’t start AGAIN after being in the shop for the third time in a month. The years of having that Honda were also quickly fading. I know a lot of people love them, but I guess I just had the misfortune of getting one of their lemons. Every repair, and there were a lot of them, would decimate my bank account. I’m no gearhead, but I can tinker enough under the hood of an old car to be dangerous. But every time I had to pop the hood of that Honda would leave me confounded and p*ssed off. Seemed like everything in there was glued together and tilted at a 45 degree angle. But these Caddies, like the Bonneville, had everything laid out flat and accessible, and they would start up every time. Even with a foot of snow on the ground and a wind chill of -27 F, they would roar to life on the first crank.
The only bad thing about those Caddies was that I was always volunteered to drive on our lunches out at work. Every single time, because Mama Pimp could fit four or five passengers. I’d cruise back to the office with a carload of post-pasta sleeping coworkers on my buttery leather seats. “Guys – we’re here. Seriously, guys, wake up – we have a deadline this afternoon. Guys?”
That second Seville eventually got stolen. Sure, it was recovered 24 hours later, but it had been completely stripped. They didn’t even leave the seats. This was over 3 years ago, and still evokes a vague nausea and a grinding of teeth. That incident will probably ultimately take 5 years off my life.
To this day I’m not sure what I was thinking when I got the ‘07 Sebring afterwards. Sure, it was cute, zippy, and even had a warranty. But it was no love affair. It just felt too small, did this weird jerky thing between the lower gears, and even though it was the upgraded Limited Edition, everything inside it just seemed flimsy and noisy. Pbbbttt. I spent a couple of long years trying to bond with it, but then it was time to go shopping.
I pulled up to the Cadillac dealership one day on my lunch hour and it was like I’d finally come home. I found a glorious silver ’04 Deville for just under $8K and did a little happy dance. This sucker is drop-dead gorgeous, has a heated steering wheel, and the interior lights up like a Christmas tree at night. It has heated AND air conditioned seats. How obnoxious is that? It has a four-gangster trunk. It’s a total powerhouse yet gets 25 mpg on the highway. It doesn’t turn on a dime, is roughly the size of your average master bedroom and therefore sometimes difficult to park, and has required the replacement of a window regulator, but I hold no grudge. It’s nice to be in love again.
I’m 42 years old now and have still never had a brand new car. And I don’t care. I’ve learned my lesson and will hopefully always be in a position for the rest of my life to always drive a Cadillac. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be in a tax bracket to buy a new one – they cost more than my first house. I’m totally fine having one that’s been lovingly broken in and has a scuff or two. My ride might be getting on in years, but it’s still the ultimate American luxury car and I still smile each and every time I get in it.
Shortly after I’d gotten this most recent car of my dreams, my youngest brother and I took a trip up the mountain so that I could show it off. I let him drive. My brother is a car snob of the highest order and makes a damn sight more money than I do, and I was patiently waiting for him to start making fun of it. And waiting. But as the miles passed, every 5 minutes or so he’d get a little crooked grin on his face when he found some new feature and would grunt, “Huh.” More fiddling with the bells and whistles. “Geez – that’s pretty cool.” By the end of the trip he admitted that it was a pretty awesome car and was talking about getting some old one just for giggles to tool around in on weekends. That’s how it starts, Bro.