Sometimes you’re the windshield…

I did the twenty-first century equivalent of tearfully smashing my piggy bank, transferring all the money we’d diligently saved since I started my Big Girl Office Job into our checking account and waiting for it to disappear. I thought of all the meals we could’ve eaten out, of the gear I hadn’t splurged on, of the airfare I’d resisted booking with $2,600. Instead of all that, we were buying a head gasket.

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Last week, our trusty 2007 Subaru Forester hit 182,000 miles. The week before that, it needed $2,600 in repairs.

“That’s practically a down payment on a new car,” people kept telling me, as if I weren’t painfully aware of all the more-fun things I could be doing with $2,600.

When you still owe money on your car, though, you can’t just tell your mechanic where he can put his $2,600 bill and leave your car in the lot to rot while you find a more reliable mode of transportation. We are, for better or for worse, committed to this particular hunk of metal, whose innerworkings are as endlessly mysterious and preposterously expensive, as far as I’m concerned, as those of the Hubble Telescope.

I didn’t take the news of our car repairs well. I never do; I hate surprises. Bix called to tell me the mechanic’s estimate, bracing himself for my usual gnashing of teeth and melodramatic pledges to get a night job.

“Shouldn’t we get a second opinion?” I wailed, but Bix had beaten me to it. Knowing I’d demand answers, he’d first called three other shops to ask them what it would cost to replace a head gasket and timing belt at once. One shop had laughed and told him, “Bummer, pal.”

I did the twenty-first century equivalent of tearfully smashing my piggy bank, transferring all the money we’d diligently saved since I started my Big Girl Office Job into our checking account and waiting for it to disappear. I thought of all the meals we could’ve eaten out, of the gear I hadn’t splurged on, of the airfare I’d resisted booking with $2,600. Instead of all that, we were buying a head gasket.

I don’t even know what a head gasket is. I Googled it and it doesn’t look like much: a glorified six-pack holder, those flimsy plastic things you have to cut apart before you throw them away so sea turtles don’t get caught in them in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—but made of steel and apparently absolutely crucial to the function of a Subaru Forester.

This is a thing with Subarus, actually. PSA (because I bet you drive a Subaru): Your head gasket is going to blow any day now. Okay, I don’t know if it’s going to blow. It might just crack and cease to function, but that’s bad too. You won’t be able to leave Lander, Wyoming without it—trust me on this.

The thing about car repairs is that, after it’s all said and done and your savings account is left with only pennies and some wayward bellybutton lint, nothing exciting happens. Your car doesn’t look any different; it doesn’t go faster or suddenly have enough room to comfortably sleep two adults and a medium-sized dog. It’s just your same old car.

Before this latest round of repairs, though, our car made the trip from Milwaukee to Denver a half-dozen times, including the fateful drive that brought Bix to our mutual employer, where we met three summers ago. It’s driven the Alcan Highway twice, from Denver to Anchorage and back again, through remote British Columbia and still-remoter Yukon Territory. It’s run out of gas two miles from nowhere on I-70 in southern Wyoming. We’ve slept in it at highway rest stops all over the American West. The hood’s full of dents from a bout of golf ball-sized hail; it’s perpetually caked in mud. It’s been left at countless trailheads all over North America while we ran or skied or hiked or biked or paddled; it’s braved hundred-degree days and forty-below nights.

At 182,000 miles, this car has driven the equivalent of 7,538 trips around the equator, and when you look at it that way, $2,600 isn’t too steep a price to pay, especially because Bix swears that now we’ll get another hundred thousand out of it, easy. I don’t know if I believe that, but I don’t have another $2,600 lying around, so I guess I’ll go with it.

These are the things I tell myself in the wake of an unexpected bump in the metaphorical road. Pun intended.

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