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V

MOTOR TYRANNICUS 


IN the dim days of a decade ago -- a generation might well have passed, for time is measured by the march of events rather than the procession of years -- I remember yearning for the possession of an automobile. It mattered not what make, or shape or size or year. I was oblivious to the merits of six cylinders as opposed to four. I laughed at the enthusiast who reckoned upon the length of wheel-base as deciding his comfort or the question of demountable rims as governing his decision as to which make to select. All I coveted was something on wheels (preferably four) of my own which might go or even might not go, for so rampant was the possessive desire in my heart that the chief thing in the world seemed to me at that time to be able to say "My motor" in an utterly casual, matter-of-fact tone, and back it up by nodding my head in the direction of the barn, which after the fashion of marriages had suddenly changed its name overnight by the possession of a master, and so became my "garage."

This ridiculous state of mind is easy to account for. In winter we lived in the suburbs where it seemed to both my wife and to me that every friend we had owned a car. In summer we sojourned upon Cape Cod, where the motor had replaced the runabout so completely that our old horse looked like a prehistoric relic of the Stone Age. Added to this was the ignominy of knowing that the Butcher and Baker both possessed machines and had that mythological person the Candlestick-maker abided in our town, doubtless he also would have honk-honked his way by our door:

In short, the thing got so badly on our nerves that finally, with full knowledge of the financial iniquity involved, I purchased one of those hopelessly plebeian affairs which travel under so many opprobrious pseudonymns -- a Ford. From that day to this I have owned some sort of a car and have thought myself a wise and a fortunate man, and subconsciously I have felt myself rather more of a person because of this possession, for such is the frailty of human nature.

To-day, however, marks a turning point, a milestone, a crisis in my career. Personally I consider this day one of triumph - I have sold my car. I have no independent means of transportation other than my own good legs - or; at least, they were so until I neglected them - and I rejoice in my motorless state. I feel a sense of exhilaration in my freedom from Fords, from the bondage of Buicks, from captivity in my Chandler Sedan. Such exhilaration is doubtless hard to understand because precisely the same conditions now exist which originally drove me into buying that first "Universal Car," only in a more exaggerated degree. My children (and now there are more of them) are always clamoring for rides, even for the short distance of a few blocks which separates our house from school. My wife (and I must confess there is now more of her too) still plies her trade of exchanging visits and buzzing about town all day long, never thinking of walking, and for myself, I have become mutely accustomed to the role of family chauffeur when not attempting that increasing impossibility, the attempt to make both ends meet.

And yet, "is it after all so hard to understand this relief? In the first place, the car, no matter what variety, either goes or it does not go. If by chance it goes, you must go with it. If it does not go, you must make it go or get some one who knows more about it than you do, and who costs more than you do, to mend It. That means that you go upstairs into your own room and change into old clothes reserved for this purpose, go down again and out to the garage, where you stand in contemplative mood for some moments before crawling under the machine. When you are safely landed in a dripping pool of oil, your children and your neighbor's children come trooping in from play and ask you why you are there and what you are doing. This in itself is disconcerting, for you generally don't know. Having successfully found that out you slowly emerge from your cramped quarters, which compare only with an upper berth, return to your room, resume the garb of a successful business man, and take the car to a garage and there wait until some one makes it sound all right. This individual vies with the tax collector in separating you from all excess cash.

This does not happen every day, I admit, but there is a sensation in the back of the mind of nearly every motorist which is more or less constant. You know that you worry when the car does not go. There is no ground for speculation upon this point. You worry about what the matter is, and when you find you can't mend it, and take it to a garage to be repaired, you worry as to whether you have taken it to the right garage, or the right man in the garage. You fuss over the cost and you continually wonder whether the repairs have been properly done or whether the blamed thing won't break out in the same place the next time you take the car out. And during this whole period you feel in the bottom of your heart that you could have mended it just as well yourself.

Then there are the worries when it does go. You wonder when the tires are going to give out, whether they are too flat or too inflated, whether you put in gas before you started, and how the water is. You are continually guessing whether you have too much or too little oil, and you generally guess wrong.

These, however, are all mere trifles, the superficial maunderings of a sensitive organism. Your major worries may be classified under three headings:

First: the worry of changing cars. Every year the question comes up for family discussion, competing valiantly with the problem of when we are to move to the Cape. Shall we turn in the old car and get a new one? If so, what kind? -- and then follows a month of violent discussion in which my wife and the children take one side and I the other. By instinct I am a modest man and by habit cautious. I do not like changes, especially sudden changes, and so my inclination is either to stick to the old car for another year or buy a new one like it. My family -- why I cannot say -- seem to be oppositely inclined. My wife avers that So-and-So has had great luck with a            ------. Billy, my eldest, backs her up with several lengthy anecdotes told him by So-and-So's son, proving the excellence of that make above all others. I am sufficiently shaken in my opinion to consult with the garage-man from whom I bought my car, only to be shown a car of the variety mentioned in deplorable condition awaiting the mechanic's skill. Poor engine, inadequate something or other, -- I can't remember the name, -- and so it goes. My office is thronged with automobile salesmen so that work is impossible, while the evenings are passed in futile argument until the final verdict is given, resulting generally in a compromise -- a new car is purchased of a trifle better type at a considerable advance in price and the old car sacrificed for a song. Those days of budding greenness for which we have longed through all the cold, useless days of winter are utterly ruined by this fearful problem.

The second worry comes with breakfast daily. Who is to use the car during the day? The day being balmy, I had thought of going to town in it, especially as I wanted to make a call on the way home. My wife, it seems, had planned to go to the dressmaker. I should have guessed it. Billy, who has just arrived at the legal age which foolishly permits youth to endanger the lives and liberty of American citizens, had planned to take a number of his cronies to St. Mark's School to see a ball game. Billy, as can be readily imagined, wins out.

This daily observance takes the entire breakfast period and often leads to slight feeling. I say slight because I rarely ever secure the car myself unless it needs repairing.

The last worry may perhaps be more likened to fear. "What next?" I generally remark-for this third division concerns our friends. In that happy decade, now but a dream, we used to live in a delightful community, surrounded by friends who dropped in and then dropped out again, both happy incidents in our daily life. But now, who has time to see his neighbors when every one is frantically motoring to some distant acquaintance miles away? What can you do when some friend at the end of nowhere invites you to dinner because she knows you have a motor? You go because your wife explains that this sort of thing is what a motor is for.

Is this not a matter for worry? -- to work in an office until five; to journey home with the knowledge that in exactly thirty minutes you start out, in a car which needs oiling and when one of the tires should have more air, for a distant suburb, where you are to meet a number of people you do not know and never care to see again. That this sort of thing is going to increase just as long as you have a pesky car is more than a cause for worry. It is a calamity.

In a trice all this vanished, for I sold my car. I remember hearing the story of a Southerner whose property was taken from him during the Civil War and who later was robbed of all the money on his person. He confessed to a feeling of intense joy and relief, for with his loss of property went his feeling of responsibility, and care-free he entered the army and fought a gallant fight.

And so upon that day I walked with elastic tread, head up, chest out, delighting in the discovery of freedom. I care not that my friends all possess cars. I've had one -- several in fact -- and I can afford to buy others, but I am not going to. That is, not yet (and here I remember my family, somewhat dubiously). I plan to renew the pleasures of daily rambles over the beautiful hills of my own town. I plan to renew old friendships with my neighbors near by. I look forward to an occasional Sunday at home. In short, I picture the joy of being without a motor.

As a matter of fact, however, this vision was short-lived. In the first place, the ramble over the old familiar hills made me so beastly lame that my Sunday at home was a painful one, and the day was punctuated by the complaints of each and every member of the family over the loss of the car. I ventured out, still painfully, to call upon one or two of my old neighbors, just for a run in and out again, but they, it seemed, were out in their motors, and so I returned dejectedly to the sad-faced group in my own living-room, where we managed to exist until bedtime, conversing upon our prospective move to the Cape, and what it meant to the various members of the family to be -- as my daughter puts it -- a million miles away from every one with no means of ever leaving the house. And so it was the Cape and its appeal which broke my defenses, for I must confess our seasonal trips there were a delightful part of our existence, to say nothing of the joys of our summer life.

The next day I took an early train to town, and I came home that evening somewhat sheepish, but reasonably happy, for I came in a new car, which bids fair to be the best one yet; it is certainly the most expensive.

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