No Fixed Abode: How Do The Fools Survive?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode how do the fools survive

Sometimes when you hear hoofbeats it really is zebras.

I was in Bowling Green earlier this week, visiting the NCM Motorsports Park and watching Danger Girl grind through a five-day SCCA license school. On the second day of this odyssey, I saw a final-form Saab 9-5 parked up front, all slab-sided purity and mascara-black facial menace. There’s something profoundly depressing for me about those cars; whenever I see them I think of the narrator of Susan Minot’s “Lust” who, in a moment of shellshocked profundity, says, “I could have loved that one.”

On DG’s final day of school I decided to walk from the hotel to lunch. That’s when I saw it; a Saab 9-3 with a temp tag. You will laugh, dear reader, but this one stopped my heart for a second. Not because of the car itself; I never much cared for GM’s tepid-trunked take on Saab-as-Audi-alternative. No, it was for the owner, the man or woman who possessed the kind of boundless optimism and blissful ignorance of reality necessary to pay any kind of money for a car that was a piece of shit when it was new but went on to lose its dealer service network and any kind of guaranteed access to replacement parts. You can’t have contempt for that person. This isn’t the same as buying a used Range Rover or Aston Martin because your parents went to community college and you’re unclear on the subject of a social register. No, this is a genuinely human accomplishment.

Still, I can’t help but channel Michael McDonald for a moment. At the end of Minute By Minute, as Skunk plays this kind of hippie-Wes-Montgomery octave line and the Yacht-Rock-era studio arrangement skips along merrily behind him, he gathers up his energy and asks the listener, “Oh, how do those fools survive?”

Ironically, the day after I descended like Satan from the paradise of the chiclet-lined racetrack to the Sheol of my occasional office job, one of my co-workers prairie-dogged his head over my cubicle wall and began a stream-of-consciousness diatribe about his concerns regarding the 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder now found in the upper trim levels of the Honda Civic. He’s currently a CR-V driver and had been planning on getting another CR-V before I made my Jehovah’s Witness pitch to let a sedan, or possibly a hatchback, back into his life. It’s the closest thing I have to a religious calling at the moment, this strident discouragement of CUV purchases. And he’s been kind of excited about the idea of buying an actual car, but now he’s worried.

“There’s a recall on the new Civics,” he said. “It’s not for the turbo, but… the guy at the service department said that sometimes you have to replace them at 150,000 miles?” As a former custodian of two VW Phaetons, not to mention multiple Land Rover products that I bought brand-new but which quickly became ephemeral in their quotidian availability, I thought he was saying that having to replace something at 150,000 miles was a good thing.

“Yeah, can you believe they last that long?” I said. He looked at me like I’d used my tongue to snag a fly off the office wall.

“Think about what that costs!” he wailed. “Maybe a thousand dollars.” Earlier in the day, I’d paid $784 to have the wheel bearings and spark plugs swapped out in my 50,750-mile Boxster, so that still sounded pretty good to me. But I am not deaf to my fellow man’s concerns and we eventually started reading from the same page in the hymnal as I commiserated with him about the idea that a CVT might require a fluid top-up at the five-year mark.

Can you stop for a moment and consider the different worlds, both physical and spiritual, inhabited by that used-Saab buyer and my Honda-fretting friend? I wasn’t kidding when I said that I admired the optimism of the 9-3 temp-tagger. That’s a person who really believes in the possibility of having something good happen to her. I’m going to come down on the side of “her” for the Saab owner because that kind of cheerful trust in futurity is, by and large, a female characteristic. I’ve known women like that, ascended Thetans of positive thinking who honestly believed they could “manifest” anything from a free drink to a timely rent payment if they just wished for it hard enough. If a man said something like that, his own parents would 5150 his ass into supervised care.

I know that my own father has often viewed my own optimism regarding everything from mistresses to spleen removal with profound distaste. “You can fuck with whatever you want,” he once told me, “except the percentages. You can’t fuck with them. If you do enough stupid things, something stupid will happen to you.”

“Oh, yeah, totally, Dad, I get you,” was my response. Then I closed my Motorola flip phone and dropped into the Cloud 9 ramp at Woodward. Two days later, as I sat there and idly contemplated the pieces of my knee that were visibly moving around under my skin, I reflected on just how smart the old man could be sometimes.

The percentages say that my friend who anguishes over the reliability of a brand-new Civic is probably going to make choices that result in low cost, low drama, and predictable occurrences. I think he has high future time orientation. As far as I know, he’s never broken a bone, missed a payment, or had to talk a former Marine sniper out of killing him over some wife-related misbehavior. The road ahead looks smooth for him.

By contrast, that Saab buyer is probably like the last girlfriend I had who believed in “manifesting” things. She was always in crisis mode. Bills were left unpaid, doctor visits were skipped, parking tickets were ripped up, cats fell into open heating vents, children were shamelessly neglected. Yet every moment with her was a genuine adventure, a window into a world where possibility and probability were only distantly related and every morning could be the morning that the miracle occurred. You could feel magic in the air, although I know that no such thing as magic exists. Her belief was gravitational in its ability to distort mine.

I can close my eyes and see her behind the wheel of that Saab. It is day three of her ownership. She has called all of her friends, enthused over the worn leather and the inadvertent Black Panel performance of the center stack. She has driven it at full throttle down the freeway. She has named it. They will be together forever. This is the third morning. She turns the key and nothing happens. She turns it again. The engine catches, coughing. There is a wisp of smoke from the left seam where hood meets fender. A cataclysmic noise occurs, shaking her lungs in her chest. Every needle on the dash falls to rest. She screams, beats the wheel, opens the door, strides away without looking back.

There is a CR-V on the road next to her house. It is driven by a quiet man, quietly enjoying his 182,253rd trouble-free mile. He sees her, looks at her storm of red-tinted black hair, her unbuttoned blouse, her dirty bare feet. He shudders involuntarily. There’s a green light ahead. It looks like it could turn yellow. He slows down. God is in his heaven. All is right with the world.

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2 of 184 comments
  • Cprescott Yawn.
  • 28-Cars-Later Wrangler people are crazy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Transition" to layoffs, this guy is the Bob(s) from Office Space.
  • Vap65689119 As a release engineer I also worked in quality, if they are serious they should look at Toyotas business model which has their suppliers as genuine partners, thats how you get a quality product
  • Mike-NB2 I seem to have landed in an alternate universe. $12,000 for a Jeep that's going on a quarter-century old and with an automatic transmission? Wow.