I talked to my car this morning after I picked her up at the garage. We’d been apart for a week, and the last time she’d seen me, I was abandoning her to the back of a tow truck. I spoke in the gentle tones one uses with a child, or someone who’s recently received a tough diagnosis, or someone one has recently argued with. The tones that convey “It’s going to be all right,” or “You’ve been through a lot,” or “It scared me too, and I’m sorry. Let’s keep going.”
“How are you?” I asked my 12-year-old Toyota Matrix. “You’ve had an adventure.” I felt low in the saddle after six days of driving a borrowed Mitsubishi Montero. It took a few miles to get reacquainted with the seat, with the mirrors, with my own position moving through space.
For weeks, the car had been shuddering when I’d accelerate lightly, and either shuddering or threatening to stall out at stops. Then it did stall a few times. Some days it was fine. Friends theorized a problem in the fuel line. The night it stalled out driving downhill on a curvy road, I called a tow truck.
The car behaved for the man at the shop the next day, but eventually did the same bump-bump-bump for him, like an arrhythmic heart. He prescribed a spark plug and gasket transplant. He could see a throttle something needed cleaning, and he did that too. Then he also experienced the stalling out. Then it drove fine for him for a few days. Deferred maintenance performed, symptoms gone … ailment still undiagnosed. It bugged him. “If it acts up again, bring it back,” he stressed.
Some car owners know when it’s time for new spark plugs. I’m not one of them. I give my car gas, and the usual oil and filter changes, and a bath once in a while, and a new hubcap when she ejects yet another. But infrequent work that some folks would consider routine maintenance, well, I don’t even know to fix it until it breaks.
Maintenance is the word on my mind, but it’s a concept; the verb, maintain, is the action. Maintenance is what things need. Maintain is what I do, or don’t.