A Car is Just a Car

by Malky Lowinger


It was on a lazy summer afternoon that Dad first broke the news to us all. There we were, assorted family members lounging under the big apple tree near Mom and Dad's bungalow. The kids were playing "ringolevio" and scurrying about. And the adults were shooting the breeze and passing the time. Dad had reached the stage of a true "patriarch" and was thoroughly enjoying watching his grandchildren running amok. None of us was about to spoil his fun.

During a lull in conversation, Dad decided to bring it up. "You know something?" he began, testing the waters. "I think it's time for a new car."

The feigned nonchalance didn't fool any of us. Eyebrows were raised, heads were turned, and a look of glee appeared on some faces. The unspoken but shared sentiment was simply: "What's in it for me?" or, more to the point, "What's he gonna do with his old car now?"

Trying to sound equally nonchalant, my brother-in-law Avi the lawyer solemnly inquired, "What type of car are you thinking of buying?"

"Oh, I don't know. I was thinking maybe a Lincoln..." (pronounced Lin-ko-len in a heavy Yiddish accent).

All attempts at nonchalance were now totally abandoned. My family was beside itself with glee. A Lincoln was a true luxury car and none of us had ever had one. Suddenly the vultures descended upon poor Dad shamelessly.

"Make sure you get automatic steering, power brakes, cruise control and all the extras...."

"Call me when you're ready for the alarm. I've got a great guy who'll give you a good price...."

"Did they talk you into the wrong colors?"

"Did they talk you into the insurance package?"

"Oh, you just have to get a CD player...."

"Oh Daddy, when can I drive it PLEASE?" This from my little sister, who was never one for subtlety. It was obvious that she wouldn't rest until that car, or rather its steering wheel, was safely in her grasp.

I was aghast. "It's only a car!" I pleaded. "It gets you from here to there and that's it. What's all the fuss?" My siblings turned on me with looks of total disdain. Obviously I was not one who was able to recognize the finer things in life, let alone enjoy them. Even my husband, Moish, who usually supports my unconventional views, glanced at me sadly.

I was not to be the only skeptic. Mom came running out of the bungalow to see what all the commotion was about. When she heard about the new car she threw her arms up in the air. "Cars, cars, cars...why such a fancy car? I need people should look at me? Let's keep our old car. It was good until now, it will be good always." And that was that.

But Dad had his mind made up and THAT was that. "Don't worry," we told him. "Mom'll come around."

Summer turned to fall, the kids were back in school and the car was practically forgotten (by me, anyway). Until one crisp October morning when Dad called each one of us to give us the news about the new arrival. "It's here! The Lincoln is finally here!" Needless to say, within the hour we were all lined up admiring the beautiful, sleek automobile parked in Dad's driveway. The men were checking the engine, the suspension system, and of course the sticker price. The women were checking out the color scheme, the plush, velour seats, and the passenger visor makeup mirror. Dad was proud as a peacock, but Mom was still unhappy. "Oh come on, Mom," I said. "It's just a car. You'll get used to it."

The weeks went by and Mom would refuse to ride in the car. Finally she succumbed and let Dad take her out, as long as she sat in the back seat. And then one cold winter day, my car was in the shop, the kids had to be picked up from school, errands had to be run, and Dad had conveniently left his keys on the kitchen counter. It was inevitable. "I'll have it back in an hour," I yelled, then I raced down the stairs to the driveway.

The engine purred, the ride was smooth, the stereo system was superb. I sat back and began to enjoy the ride. Waiting for a light on Thirteenth Avenue, I saw people glancing at the car and then, automatically, its driver. There was no doubt about it, people were giving me the eye. With one hand on the steering wheel, I began to search through my purse for my lipstick, then fixed my hair in the rearview mirror. It suddenly occurred to me that all eyes were upon me. When I reached the boys' yeshivah, Grishka the bus driver smiled broadly. "Fency shmency car, meesis!" I just threw my head back and smiled. The boys were thrilled. I had to drive through the bus parking area so all their friends could admire us as well. Everywhere we went people were giving us the royal treatment, and we were soaking it up happily. Errands done, I returned the car, slightly disappointed that my own car would be all ready by tomorrow and I'd have run out of excuses to borrow Dad's.

A car is just a car, I explained to Moish later that night. But Dad's car is a driving experience. I described all the attention we got in the street that day and he just smiled his old I-told-you-so smile. Three weeks later our friend Shmuel Duvid, the used-car salesman, called with an exciting new prospect. He just got in a Lincoln, he explained, fully loaded. Just like your father's, he chuckled. It's a dream, and we could get it at an incredible price. We'd be crazy to pass it up....

"Well?" asked Moish. "Up to you...." (Why do men always leave the critical decisions in life for us?) I thought about the smiles, the approving glances, and all the attention I received driving Dad's car. I thought about people stopping, admiring, and looking us over. I thought about the kids and me being the center of attention in every mall, shopping center or municipal parking lot we would be in. I thought real hard about all this and looked at Moish's expectant expression.

Give me the phone, I told him.

Moish handed me the phone. "Shmuel Duvid," I said, "how about maybe an Oldsmobile?..."



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