“Are you excited about your new car?” friends asked me for several days. It wasn’t that I wasn’t, it’s just that for more than a week after I’d chosen it, I’d yet to see the car I was hoping to buy.
Boy, buying cars sure has changed since I last purchased one in 2003. That was my five-speed Toyota Matrix that, even in its jalopy latter days, drove like a peppy horse who seemed forever excited to have me hop behind the wheel.
I completely anthropomorphized my Matrix. I spoke to her when I drove, when I was a passenger and when walking by her in the garage. She also regularly received love pats on her dashboard, roof and hood.
Nor was I alone in fetishizing that little car. My first two sons, Claude and Hugo, each had a tour of duty with the Matrix, both learning how to drive her stick shift when they were 15. Claude took her to Ann Arbor his last year at the University of Michigan; Hugo took her to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, when he worked there.
But none of us get out of here alive and that includes our beloved Matrix, whom I donated to WKSU in 2019 after she needed yet another round of repairs that would cost more than her value.
Since moving to my own house last summer, I have continued to retrieve my possessions from my former partner, Max. We were nine years in the same house and my middle-age brain isn’t so clear on what’s mine and what’s his. Other things I didn’t think to collect until I needed them, such as gardening equipment this spring.
Meanwhile, I continued to drive Max’s Toyota Sienna while he drove his Prius. My plan was to buy a car of my own in the fall after my teaching gig at the University of Akron resumed, along with the paychecks.
My schedule was fast-tracked, however, when last month Max was in an accident in which nobody was injured, but his Prius was totaled. He needed his minivan back, which meant the time had come for me to buy a car.
I loathe car shopping. In fact, I’m not a fan of shopping at all. You’ll never find me spending an afternoon wandering in and out of mall stores. I know what I like and don’t need to squander a day looking for inspiration. Most of my clothes I buy online and used.
I guess it should come as no surprise that that’s how I bought my car.
The Matrix left big tires to fill, but that was my goal. Last summer, when my son Claude bought a 2019 VW Golf (manual transmission, you bet) with only 3,000 miles, he told me it reminded him of our Matrix.
Looking online at Golfs, I quickly realized I wasn’t so much beholden to a particular make and model as I was to a four-door hatchback with a manual transmission.
Rather than spending ungodly amounts of time in dealerships, like I did 18 years ago, I chatted online with a representative at CarMax, a national used-car sales chain. In short order, I was introduced to a vehicle I’d never heard of: a Hyundai Venue. It sits a little higher than the Matrix, which I like, but is otherwise very similar.
CarMax located a 2020 Venue with a six-speed manual transmission and only 1,100 miles (methinks the first owner struggled with the stick shift) in Kenosha, Wisconsin. No matter, CarMax will ship a vehicle to a store near you for a reasonable fee.
But I didn’t commit right away.
First, I drove another 2020 manual transmission Venue at another dealership in the area. Even driving conservatively, given the salesperson seated next to me, I liked how it handled. I made an offer, but the dealership barely budged on the price.
So I pulled the trigger and paid to have the Venue in Kenosha shipped to Cleveland. As soon as it arrived, a friend drove me to CarMax to meet what I hoped would be my new car.
“The people in the car next to us looked at you with fear as you peeled out of the stop light,” my friend told me as I checked my new baby’s peppiness.
And like the farmer in the movie “Babe,” I whispered to my eager new girl, “That’ll do, love, that’ll do.” We drove home soon thereafter.
Name suggestions are welcomed.
This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on July 11, 2021. I’ve since named my car “Emma Peel.”