Posted by: justawriter | February 15, 2010

Far Afield – Starting the year off with a bang

Everyone would like to start the new year off with a bang. But that’s not always a good thing.
Especially not when it is a literal bang and it comes from under your vehicle.
I was driving back from some holiday vacation with my family and as I got a mile or two past Mandan I heard a sharp bang and then it sounded like someone was shaking ball bearings in a coffee can. The good news was that fourth gear still worked and I was able to limp back to Beulah. When the good news is “fourth gear still worked,” you know the bad news is going to be really bad.
I shouldn’t complain too much. I only had about $1,500 invested in the vehicle, most of which were for a new rear end and tires. Had the little truck lasted until April I would have gotten two year’s use out of it, which isn’t a bad deal. So I’m not too upset that it looks like my little truck is headed to the great junkyard in the sky. It’s just that the timing was really bad. My vehicles always seem to know when my bank account is a bit thin and take that opportunity to lay down and die.
I never was a car guy. If it gets me where I want to go, I am pretty much satisfied. So I am content to let others have their fancy rigs and big monthly payments. I’ve always thought the worst investment decision in America outside of sending money to a Nigerian banker who sent you an unsolicited e-mail was driving a new car off a dealer’s lot. Is there another major asset that loses so much of its value the first day you own it?
I let other people pay the depreciation on my vehicles. The money I’ve saved over the years I’ve put into cameras and computers. I probably would have been better off putting the money into savings, but I’m satisfied with the trade.
I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed by the results over the years. My truck was only the second of my vehicles to give out completely. Over the course of 30 years, that’s not too bad a record. Usually I can tell when the normal rattling of an older car becomes something more serious. Then it’s a quick drive to the nearest “pre-owned” car dealer and I have a new rattletrap to bop around in for the next couple of years.
I get the appeal of owning a new vehicle. I like new stuff myself, when I can afford it. But unlike a lot of the guys I grew up with, I never saw a set of wheels as an extension of myself. For many people, men especially, their car or truck is a way of telling the world who they are. To me, a vehicle is just a tool, something to get me where I want to go as quickly as possible.
In large cities, cars really aren’t practical. Forward looking cities try to develop neighborhoods where most of what people need is within walking distance and then create strong public transportation between those neighborhoods. North Dakota has too few people and too many miles to make that kind of development practical. I can make it through a few days without my own wheels but I will need to make arrangements for a new vehicle quickly. It’s one thing to walk a few blocks for your mail. It’s quite another to walk to Zap or Stanton for a story.
I must say, however, that my few days as a pedestrian have shown me that Beulah isn’t a bad town for walking, if you don’t mind the snowbanks and cold. Most of the necessary services are available downtown, so for someone living in the original townsite, things aren’t too bad. Still, when that early morning thermometer reads 20 below later this week, I will look forward to wrapping myself in a nice warm car instead of bundling up to hoof it to work.

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