The Fishers' Shmedifying Guide to Van Maintenance

A few years ago, my kids were very excited about getting ice cream at Friendly's. They were so excited that they weren't careful about how they opened the door to the van, and wham! It whacked the car next to us in the parking lot, leaving a small mark.

Being decent people, we immediately got out, apologized to the car owner, and offered her our insurance information. She, being an absolute lunatic, got hysterical, called the police, and reported us to child protective services because our kids were out of control.

It turned out that she was not just an overprotective car owner, but a certifiable crazy person; and since the insurance claim went nowhere, CPS refused to investigate, and the policeman showed the woman that the "damage" to her car could be rubbed off with some spit, it was pretty easy for us to just shake our heads and drive away.

But it really hammered home how happy I am that there's no chance that we'll ever own a vehicle we care that much about. Having a gorgeous, shiny car does something funny to your brain, and you do things like cry because there is a scratch in your paint, or call somebody obscene names because they put a ding in your bumper. What piece of mind there is, on the other hand, when you don't exactly know what color your car is supposed to be, under the grime and the peeling paint. Nothing can compare to the interior freedom you can gain by acknowledging that the rear bumper is not so much attached to your van as stalking it, and that some of the seats were not only designed for another another make and model of car, they seem to be grieving over the separation.

I have such a van. And I fully claim the serenity I've earned by claiming it as my primary vehicle. If someone (if!) runs over and starts hitting it with a gravel rake, the only thing I worry about is if anyone's favorite Elsa sticker from the dentist is going to get messed up. Because then we'll have some trouble.

It may not be precisely healthy to behave as if your car is disposable, but it sure does simplify things. For your shmedification (that's schadenfreude-mit-edification), I've put together a short list of the levels of car troubles, and what your response ought to be, as the owner of a genuine, American-made POS. 

Doesn't even register: Drips, smells, rumbles, squeals, groans, blinking lights, shudders, tremors, mice, hiccups, spasms, heat that won't turn on, heat that won't turn off, heat that smells like dolphin meat, the unpredictable squirting of fluids, and the occasional refusal to acknowledge who's in charge here. This is just what it's like having a car that you aren't making huge monthly payments on, and if you can't live this way, then you're overdue for a fancy pants check, Mr. Fancy Pants. 

Mild concern: The doors do not close. This can be solved by threading one of the unused seatbelts through the door handle and yanking it taut. If you worry that this system is somehow "unsafe," just remind yourself that your grandpappy used to drive all around God's green earth in a rattly old tin lizzy, and he went on to father sixteen children before they all died a horrible death in his tin lizzie.

Irritation: alarms that don't stop. This is not a safety issue, unless you take into account what it does to the human psyche to hear "Bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . " for three hours every day. Optimistic drivers may try to make lemonade out of lemons and search for songs that go along with the bonging -- the Anvil Chorus works pretty well -- but eventually you'll realize that you don't know as much Italian as you thought you did, and that's the end of that. Get the wire cutters.

Serious frustration: Gauges which work fine, only you have to reset them with a pencil every time you turn the engine on. Only an issue because nobody ever lets you have a pencil for more than a day or so.

Despair: When you finally break down, either literally or mentally, and go to the garage, where the mechanic treats you like a big idiot just because you assumed that changing the oil was something that only wealthy elitists do, like paragliding in Hawaii or using a napkin. So the mechanic gives you a number for how much it will cost to repair your vehicle, and then you are faced with one of those cost-benefit analysis questions: What makes more fiscal sense? Should I take out a small loan so as to sink more money into a vehicle that will only last another six months, tops, assuming the load-bearing rust holds and the water don't rise? Or should I just kill myself?

Then you remember that you traded in your life insurance policy for a packet of coupons to Friendly's. So that settles that. 

Alta Fixsler

Alta Fixsler Dies in Hospice

Doctors had previously believed that Fixsler would only live for hours after her birth due to the severity of the injury.