A Love Letter to Crappy Cars and the People who drive them

Isn't it strange how some snatches of conversation, words another person have uttered somehow stay firm and fresh in your mind? Like our brains have a weird crisper drawer that houses seemingly random clips from years past?

There's one bundle of words in my brain crisper that come out every once in a while despite several years passing. Not only do I recall the sentences, I can also remember the lighting of the room, where I was sitting and the face of the friend who produced them.

We were in my friend's living room, it was early evening and dusk was just lurking. My friend and I were perched on her couch, bodies turned towards each other and eyes facing out the large picture window which faced the street.

Another friend of mine was pulling up out there, in her old car. I am not a motorhead so forgive me for not knowing things like makes and models. The car was old, no question about it. Tiaras of rust adorned the wheel wells, various dents and dings on the teal blue paint job cast a pebbled texture over the hood and the door panels. We could hear her before we saw her, the trademark sound of an overtaxed muffler announcing her arrival.

My couch friend turned away from the window, looked at me and said:

"That's her car?"

She said this with a look of shock, almost horror, on her face. Looking back now, it's almost comical. Almost. I shrugged in response, as I mentioned above, cars are not my jam so I didn't really notice or care what my friends drove. "I guess?" I question/answered. She grimaced. I smiled and said, "What? It works, right?"

This friend pursed her lips, raised a brow and spoke again, the words going directly from her mouth into my head drawer:

"I judge people by their cars. Sorry."

I guess it didn't matter that our mutual friend had just gone through a gross divorce from a rough guy. I guess it didn't matter that our mutual friend was just now getting back on her feet and also trying to get two small kids on solid ground, either. I guess it didn't matter that given the choice between no transportation and transportation that isn't pretty, most women in that situation would say "HAND ME THE KEYS, HOMIE. I GOT A LIFE TO REBUILD."

At that moment in time, I was also rebuilding a life post-divorce. The shitshow part of my divorce hadn't happened yet, I was still floating on CEO alimony and clinging to the vestiges of a marriage to someone who had annual bonuses and who also loved keeping up with the Joneses.

My ride at that time was the newest vehicle I'd ever driven. A 2000 Ford Excursion my ex had picked up one night after work, on a whim. A whim and a loan of 25k. It had all the bells and whistles and also a gas tank the size of a hot tub. Which was all well and good whilst riding the wave of spousal maintenance and the last bits of guilt from a husband who left.

When both the guilt and the support disappeared (at the same time, imagine that), things became a bit more challenging. Maintaining a vehicle took a backseat to maintaining five lives and before I knew it, that sweet Excursion with the all-leather interior and butt-warmers and spacious third row seating began deteriorating. It was too big for the garages at both our family home and the new rental home the kids and I ended up in after the foreclosure, so the Minnesota winters took their toll. I put off oil changes in lieu of feeding my brood and extravagances such as new brake pads and tuneups were delayed until rent was paid.

That truck was a beast in the snow, though, and it held all my kids plus a few extra. It had a cargo hold that was the size of a small powder room. It was the vehicle that carried our dog home from the Humane Society and the one I had a legit backseat makeout session in with one of my first post-divorce dates.

And then one day, it died.

I was freaking out, of course, I mean...here I was, a hustling single parent with sports-playing, job-holding kids, groceries to get and my own patchworked, pieced-together full-time work schedule. My angel landlord offered to buy the dead Excursion for $5,000. I accepted and began the frantic search for new wheels.

That's when I began my life as the driver of a crappy car.

Door handles are for decorative purposes only.

The glow of having transportation lasted quite a while. Just about as long as the spray paint that had been used to cover the rust on the new-to-me Ford Focus. And even then, I was just happy to have a car that started AND fit into a garage. No air conditioning? No problem.

The reality of driving a junker hit home on a chilly spring day. I was driving along Hwy 169, my then-15 year old son Henry and his friend, Jack, along for the ride. Henry and Jack have been friends since kindergarten. Jack's dad was my second divorce attorney, the one who helped me get a portion of the income my ex hid during our first go-round. Jack and his parents live a bit larger than my kids and I, so what happened on that April morning was especially embarrassing.

Henry was in the passenger seat, Jack in back. Me, of course, driving. All of sudden we heard a cracking noise and then a vicious thump on the right side of the car.

The side mirror had fallen off, you see, and was now furiously banging against the door, attached to the car with a single wire. Poor Henry. He opened the window and grabbed hold of the rogue mirror and held onto that sucker until we got home. A cool spring breeze can turn into a skin mottling arctic blast when you're hanging onto a car part while cruising down a highway. Henry learned that lesson the hard way.

The mirror falling off was shocking, but not a complete surprise. I'd backed out of the garage a little too quickly a month or so prior to that, wrenching the mirror almost completely off, and had rigged a "temporary" fix with duct tape and grim determination. This was when we were in the thick of poverty. The food shelf days. You think I could afford to get something as non-vital as a mirror fixed? Nah. But I did have a nice big roll of tape. And up until that moment, the repair had held.

When we got home, I got out the handy dandy roll and fixed it. Again.

Like everything else in my life, the little silver car that had been the symbol of my new life began falling apart. Bit by bit. The passenger door handle broke. No biggie! I'd reach over from my side and open it for whomever was lucky enough to be riding shotgun.

Then the driver side handle broke. That was kind of a biggie. But I can do hard things, and that's when my car became the one with the perpetually open window so I could reach in and open the door that way. In super inclement weather I'd leave the window up like a normal human being who drove a normal car and just open up the back door, maneuver my fluffy body through the backseat and up into the front. People at work took to joking with me about it. I took to pretending they were hilarious. Because that's just what the broke-ass person at work loves, you guys. People hardy-har-harring over their piece of shit car they drive because they can't afford anything better.

Time wore on, and also wore down that car. Last fall, after several months of going to a nearby convenience store on an almost daily basis to fill up the tire that deflated almost daily, I had to suck it up and get all new wheels to the tune of $450. "Safety first!" I screamed in my head as I signed the charge slip at the repair shop. A week or so after that, the steering wheel began vibrating whenever the speedometer hit 50 mph. And not a gentle vibration. So I took it in again and the nice mechanic who had been kindly helping me keep the Focus running as cheaply as possible gave me bad news.

"Jenny" he said, pre-wincing. "We found a crack in the thingamajig that connects the doodle to the dandy (I don't remember the exact term and as I've explained before I don't speak car). It's fixable, and I found a used part online for you, but it's going to be around $2,000." Side note here: if you can, ladies, find yourself a good car repair place. Preferably one that's run by a guy who understands the single mom struggle*. 

Of course my first question was "but is it safe to drive like this?" and of course his response was "no".

At that point I had about $2000 in savings, the checking account was, as usual, beaten down to vapors. I also hadn't had a credit card since the divorce-inspired bankruptcy in 2010. Rock, meet hard place.

This is the difference between the haves and the have nots. One of the differences, anyway. And a huge one at that. The haves might sigh over this news. They might think "well there goes that weekend away in November" or maybe even "shoot I guess we don't eat out for a month". The have nots? LOL. We think "what the everloving fuck am I going to do now?" or "shoot I guess we don't eat for a month."

I told him I'd think about it and get back to him. His parting words? "Listen, I'm not going to lie. You could drive it like this for the next month or so, maybe. But if that thing snaps while you're doing anything over 25 mph, it'll be bad."

And so I did what I usually do in these situations. Nothing. Nothing, and also vent a little to my friends. I had done just that (the venting) in the private facebook group I run, when I got a text from a sweet young woman I'd befriended through trivia years ago.

It said this: "Miss Jenny do you still need a hooptie?" She's in the private group, and had seen my comment about having to find a new hooptie sooner rather than later. She also calls me Miss Jenny despite the fact that we don't work together nor have I ever been her teacher or school secretary.

That, dear readers, is how I came to be the owner of my current ride, The Boo. That sweet young woman had just purchased a new car and GAVE ME her old one. That's right, folks. She not only gave it to me, no charge, she dropped it off and as she was giving me the guided tour of the 2007 Chevrolet Malibu she apologized for things like some dirt on the floor mats and a crack on the bumper and the trunk button that worked intermittently.

Isn't she lovely?

If you've known me for any length of time you know that I cry a lot. Sad tears, happy tears, oh girl, I weep them all. This incredible woman caused a veritable tsunami of salty eye water. I held it together while she showed me the inner workings of The Boo. It was later that night, as I sat behind the wheel of my new car, that the weeping started. You guys, I felt like Beyonce in a Tesla. The door handles worked. There were cup holders! The stereo sounded dope, the AC blasted out fancy chilled air and there was nary a piece of duct tape to be seen.

To the untrained eye, The Boo looks like just another beat up old car. To my eyes, it's a cherry red chariot. There may be 200k miles on it, there may be spots of rust and there may be a shaky bumper but this car...it's beautiful to me.

Being poor has taught me many things. It has left marks that will most likely never leave, even if the fates decide to bestow a more opulent lifestyle upon me someday. But one of the best lessons, the most priceless one, is this: appreciate what you have. Be grateful for kindness, whether it's a soft hearted mechanic or an unbelievable act of generosity.

And never judge a person by what they drive.

So. Here's to my fellow hooptie riders. To those who drive crappy coupes, janky junkers, rust buckets and jalopies...ride on, my friends. I see you. I know you. I know your struggles. I know what it feels like to drive the shittiest car in the lot. I know how the cheeks burn a little when the stroller pushing mom jerks her head at the sound of your old timey muffler chugging down the quiet street. I know the courage it takes to ask the car repair guy to just please try to make it drivable, to patch it up enough to get through the next few months.

I know how you hold your breath while turning the key, praying that today isn't the day that nothing happens. I know the thready strands of panic that shoot through you while idling at a stoplight and that all-too familiar chugging of a dying engine begins. I know how glorious the relief feels when it does start, when your tired tires get you through a snowstorm and when you have a safe, warm way to get your kids to wherever they need to be.

Ride on, my friends. Ride on.


Jenny and Boo.

* shout out to the repair shop that has treated me with dignity all these years: Golden Valley Tire & Service. 763-541-0569


50, Single & Not Really Feeling the Mingle: Why Dying Alone Doesn't Sound So Bad

Time was, the thought of being single forever and ever was the saddest thing I could imagine. Could there be anything worse? Not being part of a couple for an extended length of time was the stuff of cold, lonely spinster nightmares.

Turns out, there is something worse, my friends. It's called dating in your fifties.

Also, dating in your late thirties and basically the majority of your forties.

Hey, I know! Some of you have absolutely ROCKED the post-divorce dating thing and are living proof that love truly is sweeter the second (or third) time around. Some of my oldest and bestest friends are happily coupled up after surviving disastrous and not so disastrous splits. They are truly happy, and I am truly happy for them.

Also, kind of envious.

Because it's a jungle out here, folks. And not a fun Lisa Frank jungle full of neon parrots and mellow tigers. No, today's dating jungle is dark and dank and overflowing with ghosting snakes, married cheetahs (lol see what I did there?), dick-pic wielding sloths and commitment-phobic dung beetles.

I was starting to wonder if it was just me and my anxiety-tinged STAY AWAY vibes I seem to give off combined with my problematic and conflagrant dumpster taste in men, but in my little private hausfrau facebook group, we share our tales from the trenches and guess what? It's not just me. It's a lot of us. It's normal, everyday women who are attractive, kind, employed, smart, funny...and so completely over the dating game.

We share our experiences in there, complete with screenshots and we collectively wonder, WHAT THE EVERLOVING F*CK. WTF is wrong with these men? And please, people, don't @ me with the #notallmen. No, that's not "no tall men", it's "not all men" because guess what? It might not be all of them but sister, it's a scary number of them.

When I was first let loose out onto the singles prairie, I did what you're supposed to do. I took some selfies, wrote a poignant yet hilarious profile and began online dating. I dated quite a bit, in the beginning. Yes, almost all of those dates are chronicled here and they are pretty funny in my biased opinion. I met lots of men. Dating? HA. It wasn't so bad! I even met a couple of them organically (lol no, not at Whole Foods) and those were also easy breezy. Girl meets guy, numbers are exchanged, texting/calling happens, then the dating begins. It was simple, really. Because THAT'S HOW DATING SHOULD BE RIGHT?

After a while, I decided to put the search for true love on hold in order to be more present for my kids. This is what worked for me, I'm not advocating it for anyone else nor am I saying that if you choose to jump headlong into the search for love that you aren't an attentive parent. It's quite possible to focus on yourself AND your kids. I just had a few more fires to put out than most and decided my energies were best spent doing that vs getting my freak on. "i can wait. the men can wait. what difference will a few years make anyway?"

Oh Jenny. Oh you sweet summer child/woman.

The difference is insane. I feel like Sleeping Beauty (okay Sleeping "Looks Good for Her Age").

I woke up and learned that not only is Prince Charming NOT so charming, chances are real good that he's deep into playing games, playing the field and playing dumb.

What's that? Don't knock it til ya try it? Honey. I did try. Let me regale you with the brief tale of Blizzard 2018...

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually it was a bright and stormy day. It was December 1st, a Saturday, and a big ol' Minnesota blizzard was descending, fast. I took Walter out for a walk and when we left the house it was unseasonably warm and the skies were clear. An hour or so later, as we rounded the corner towards home, we were both coated in wet snow.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with midwestern blizzard mentality, it goes something like this: oh man all the weather people are saying it's gonna be a doozy. But they always say that. Let's wait and see. We'd been warned but it was really nice out, ya know?

Once it really sinks in that the meteorologists did indeed nail it, the blizzard panic sets in. Most people's blizzard panic is along the lines of "okay we need bread and milk and coffee" but for me it's always "okay I guess I need wine".

So I set out to get some wine. Blizzard Wine. Listen, I don't even really like wine all that much anymore. It gives me a headache and also, wine-drunk is THE worst kind of drunk there is, at least for me. Wine turns me into a melancholy-tinged Miss Havisham, only instead of wandering around a decaying mansion in a moldering wedding dress, I stumble through our rental home in worn pajama pants and a giant, pilly Netflix sweater.

Of course wine-drunk Jenny is also the one who decides that it's time to start dating THAT VERY SECOND. It's how I "accidentally" signed up for the Gold Membership on Tinder a couple of years ago (guess what you can absolutely cancel the next morning and they won't charge you)(fist-hand knowledge, LOL). It's also how I found myself navigating Bumble on a Saturday night in December, a box of Bota's finest rose' next to me and a snowstorm howling like a banshee outside.

I guess I chose Bumble because it's supposed to be the women-empowering-women app. Women call the shots, we get to decide if and when a conversation is initiated. Of course there are a few things that would not make sense to me even if I wasn't two goblets of wine deep, like if someone "hearts" your profile, and they also had some weird time limit after swiping left (or right my god who can keep all of this straight) which is not all that different from that horrible game where you had to get all those plastic pieces arranged before time ran out.

this is that game and I have a stomach ache just looking at it
Ugh, the Blizzard story is not as brief as I promised.

Anyhoo. Where was I? Ah yes. Snowbound and wine drunk, squinting at the screen on my phone. Super dignified as usual.

Surprise, surprise. It was a shitshow. My profile was so cringey I took a screenshot of it because even in my vino-impaired state I knew it would be the most effective deterrent available if I ever found myself attempting to mate online again. Don't you love when Drunk You looks out for Sober You? Sometimes it's cleaning the kitchen, sometimes it's screenshotting the dumbassery.

Luckily only one poor soul endured the Jenny Experience that night. I mean, it was late and there was a blizzard so it could have been so much worse. The next couple of days, though? Oh honey.

I lasted less than a week on Bumble.

It's all the same. I know, yes, believe me I KNOW. I know there are decent humans out there, even on the apps! But for the love of cheese- there's so much bleah, too. And not new, fresh, somewhat intriguing bleah...nope. It was pics of guys semi-naked in beds, in bathroom mirrors and restaurant booths. It was the ones who stated, in their profiles, that they were married and just looking for quickies (yeah, high fives for being upfront and honest but come on). It was guttural, semi-literate caveman messages followed by either a request for a pic of my boobs or, lucky me, a picture of a penis.

Because this is me, one of the first faces I saw on there was that of the couch-surfing Lothario I'd taken a chance on a few summers ago. Panic set in. oh shit, if I can see him, can he see me?? GAH. Hard pass. Like, James-Franco-in-127 hours hard pass.

I saw a guy who is one of those local NPR kind of quasi-celebrities. Of course I had swiped whichever way means "interested" and so we had a little conversation wherein I told him I'd followed him on twitter for ages. Which was followed by me deleting the ever loving shit out of my twitter profile.

The conversations were stilted and forced and goddammit, men, stop with the pretending, okay? Stop acting like you're interested in getting to know someone when all you really want to do is fuck them, please? Life would be so much easier if we all just put it out there, you know?

Maybe some of us do just want to find someone to screw. In fact, I know some of us women want precisely that kind of deal. That's literally all I've wanted out of "dates" for the past several years.

And I get that things have changed. This is how it is, according to my kids and coworkers who are single and in their twenties. Some of them will gently remind me that there are age-specific sites/apps, for geriatric hopefuls and middle-aged love seekers. I mean, isn't there a dating app for everyone now? Farmers, furries, the adult-onsie crowd? You got it.

But what about those of us who are wedged solidly in between the boomers and the millennials? And even more specifically, those of us who have zero interest in these modern day reindeer games, the ones where it's okay to just stop communicating, boom, in the middle of a text/message conversation? The ones where it's the norm for a 50 year old dude to be casting his net downwards in hopes of snagging a 20 or 30 year old woman but a 50 year old woman is lucky to get a hello from a man her own age?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's all of those Meg Ryan movies I absorbed in the 80's and 90's, the movies where a quirky gal who wears turtleneck sweaters and loves to read stumbles across her sweet soulmate while listening to the radio or in an AOL over-30's chat room (this is the point in the post where I for real wonder if I need to translate this shit for the youngsters).

I realize this post is dragging the menfolk a little. In my defense, I have exactly zero experience dating women so for all I know there is a female equivalent to these guys. Do women do this, too? Are there guys out there somewhere, commiserating over beers at happy hour with tales of woe about the ladies who won't respond after coming on strong or who pepper every conversation with stupid lines like "omg u are srsly so handsome i bet you dont get lonly" or "I can be at your front door in under an hour" 😱

Someone in that facebook group posted about a guy she'd encountered on Tinder. He seemed okay, except for the fact that he'd been single for 12 years. Someone commented, "I bet there's a reason he's been single that long" and that froze me.

Because I've been single that long. Yeah yeah, there have been a couple semi-serious relationships and a few not-so-serious, but I have been single since December of 2006. Like, kids who were born then are now in middle school. I have friends who have been divorced, remarried and divorced again in that time and here I sit, repulsed at the thought of submerging myself into the murky dating pool once more but also, content with 99% of my life right now.

It's that 1% that trips me up. That, and the occasional wine-infused blizzard.

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