Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Land Yacht meets Winter

I wasn't the only one who had problems adjusting to the move to a world of "real weather."

My old car was euphemistically called the Land Yacht. It was a typical car for rich people in the early 80s who'd decided that fuel efficiency was for fools and conspicuous consumption was the way to go, which I'd bought cheaply over a decade later with insurance money after my grad school lemon had gotten totaled by someone who thought stop signs didn't apply to him.

The Land Yacht was in most respects singularly great, but it was huge. I joked about painting a white X on top for emergency helicopter landings or offering a parking place in the trunk for people with small cars. I could start gassing up in synch with a Humvee and the Humvee would be full and driving off before the Land Yacht was sated. I slept fully stretched out across the front seat more than once.

The back seat belonged to my dog, who stood sideways, head out the window, braced against the seat back, in all weathers, hot and cold.

You could tell what the person who had first bought it thought was important: leather seats. The "stereo" was an am radio hi fi (no, I didn't forget the /fm), and the engine was small for the size of the car, so it didn't exactly surge forward when I accelerated. But it had leather seats, a soft, cushy ride for long drives across country, and a low price tag.

Like most older cars, it had its rattles and quirks. The air conditioner died before I got it, so I drove around in warm weather with the windows all the way down. The dog preferred things that way, and since the alternative was hot dog breath over my shoulder, I tended to keep windows down even in winter. And for some reason the windshield sprayer never worked, which wasn't an issue most of the time, but meant I stopped a lot to wipe the windshield semi-clear in mucky weather.

The Land Yacht may have originated in Detroit, but it had long since adapted to the warmer clime where I lived previously. That's not to say it refused to start or ran badly during cold weather. Nope, it was practically "Old Faithful."

But... At my first apartment, the Land Yacht lived outside in a gravel driveway. It was a shortish hike through the grass (or snow, depending) and up a hill to the front door; the apartment was laid out so that the bedroom was at the back. One cold and dreary night, after grading late, I went to bed in my usual brand-spanking-new-and-utterly-exhausted-looks-hungover-but-can't-afford-alcohol assistant professorish way, only to be woken at some ungodly hour by serious banging on my door. It took a couple minutes of banging before I became conscious enough to be more than mildly aggravated.

I fell out of bed, contactless (I didn't own other glasses at the time because I couldn't afford the luxury), struggled into a t-shirt and some sweatpants, and felt my way downstairs, followed by the always-ready-for-a-fun-adventure (but not much a watchdog) dog. At which point he realized the threat that loomed outside, and started putting up a ruckus, warning whatever danger there was that he was on the job. I grabbed his collar and opened the door to see a cop. Yes, I was about to be arrested in small town USA for?

I wasn't sure what, but between the dog barking and the horrendously loud noise of a storm siren blaring, I wasn't figuring out any time soon. The cop yelled; I strained to hear. Had there been an accident? Were they wondering if I were a witness? Did they have some kind of special personal warning system for winter tornados?

No. The dog finally decided that the cop could be his new best friend and quieted down, and the cop was finally able to make me understand, "we have a complaint about your car." A complaint about my car? Yes, as you've guessed, the storm siren was really the Land Yacht screaming for warmth.

The cop asked me to get my car keys and open the car up. I got on my Birkenstocks and what counted for a winter jacket, and followed him down to the car. We opened it up, whacked the horn thingy in the center of the driving wheel a few times without effect, and then he told me to start it. I did, and after a couple minutes the horn stopped.

So I apparently had a choice. I could run the car all night, or I could get up every half hour or so and run it long enough to get warm before it started howling again. I took the car into a mechanic the next day, and he said there was probably a short in the horn part of the electrical system and disconnected the horn for me. Yep, it's probably illegal to drive around with a non-working horn. But it's better than getting arrested for disorderly car conduct, right?

I drove the Land Yacht until it was just about old enough to legally buy alcohol on its own, but it still couldn't toot its own horn anymore.


  1. Anonymous3:19 PM

    I wonder if your Land Yacht used to belong to my family... in the late 70s/early 80s my dad drove a baby blue Lincoln Continental - because that's what successful executives did, right, got the big cushy car with the leather seats?

    Thankfully my parents' taste in cars improved, and they drove nice little efficient Hondas for years. Then when he turned 80, my dad went out and bought himself a Beamer. ;-)

    Anyway, a toast to your Land Yacht...

  2. Anonymous4:06 PM

    some of the best cars (or least the most endearing) are the lemons. my first car was an old mazda, and i ran that poor ting into the ground. thanks for the fun story :)

  3. Thanks for the comments, folks. I've been so lucky with cars. I'm on my fourth, and only one lemon so far, and I was lucky enough to get it totalled in a car accident that was someone else's fault, so I got the Land Yacht out of the deal.

    Nope, not a Lincoln, but we're definitely talking the same sorts of car.

    One of my friends had an old rotary engine Mazda that ran forever and was GREAT!