The Compound Irony, or Ministry of Transport
So. As you’re probably aware from earlier traffic – ha! See what I did there? – I’m commuting in my school adventures. I live about 70 miles from the University, once you take into account all the fiddling around on access roads and whatnot that it takes to get from my front door to the parking lot at school. Once the time spent on those access roads and so on is taken into account as well, it’s about an hour and a half each way.
You might be thinking at this point that I ought to be getting quite tired of that by now. And I am! But not entirely because of the driving itself. No, part of the reason for my fatigue has to do with the equipment I have to work with.
For most of this semester, I’ve had regular access to three cars, which sounds more than adequate given that I have only one ass, be it ever so sizeable, to haul back and forth. They are:
1) My own 1997 Saab 900S convertible. This is a fine car which has served me well for the nearly ten years I’ve owned it, and to which I’m quite attached, but it’s getting old and arthritic now and has developed a couple of problems. One is that the roof leaks, but in a particularly strange and esoteric way that has stumped the service departments of three Saab dealerships. Another is that the clutch has begun packing up, probably because they were cable-operated in 1997 and the cable is wearing out. This means it doesn’t reliably disengage with the pedal all the way to the floor, which makes shifting into certain gears e.g. reverse somewhat… noisy.
2) My mother’s 2003 MINI Cooper. Again, a fine car, and very entertaining to drive. On the other hand, the ride is a bit rock-hard, it doesn’t have cruise control, and it has recently suffered the single strangest design-flaw-inflicted injury I’ve ever personally known a car to have. A few weeks ago, as I was driving home in the pouring rain after dark, the electrical system went into complete meltdown, causing the absolute strangest behavior I’ve ever seen an automobile exhibit – for instance, a complete disregard for the position or even presence of the ignition key, and, a bit more immediately worrisome on the Interstate at night in the rain, a disinclination to have the headlights and the windshield wipers engaged at the same time. This turned out to have been caused by – I’m not making this up – a moon roof drain which was so routed that, if the internal tubing became disconnected, all the water it should’ve been conveying to a port on the underside of the car was instead directed as if by design to the car’s central fuse box. Repairs have just been completed, in time for the car to be removed from the equation completely in a little while. More on this in a bit.
3) My father’s 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix. This car is the most mechanically reliable of the three, but makes up for it by being the least economical and least comfortable. The ride is better than the MINI’s, but the cabin geometry is woeful. In an effort to make it sporty and rakish, Pontiac’s designers gave it an extremely low roofline, which makes it difficult to get into and out of and means that, in a side impact, the driver’s head will be smashed against the beam running along the top of his door window, which is padded, but in the same way as the arms of an office chair. Also, until last Saturday, the rear struts were worn out and leaking, which means that the rear tires are now roughly octagonal. Now that the struts have been replaced, the noise and vibration they create must be experienced to be believed. Dad, ever an economy-minded soul when it comes to automobile parts*, assures me that shortly we will take all four of them off and replace them – with two brand new snow tires on the front and two that – and I’m quoting – "probably have one more season in them" on the rear.
So we have one car that appears reliable but is costly to run and uncomfortable (and which Dad would really like back because it still gets better mileage than the other vehicle he’s driving while I have the Pontiac), one that’s entering that end-of-life stage when things start to go wrong in ways that aren’t easily diagnosed, let alone remedied, and one that’s probably fine now that it’s been to rehab for its drinking problem, but is being sold. Why, you might wonder, would my mother sell what is probably, on its face, the best of my three options for school transport? Well, she isn’t really. See, it’s actually in her husband’s name owing to some abstruse technicality of the insurance or something, and just yesterday I learned that he has decided, unilaterally and without consultation, to sell it and buy a pickup truck for himself. In his plan, Mom can drive the hideous Cadillac station wagon he bought last year and then decided he didn’t want, and which has now depreciated so staggeringly it’d actually be more financially rewarding to burn it for the insurance money, get caught, and do the jail time than try to sell it or trade it in. And I can, I don’t know, walk, I guess.
I’ve been confronting this conundrum for weeks, considering what would be the best way to handle it, and finally I decided that what I needed to do was track down something well-made, old enough that it wouldn’t be too expensive but still a few years away from senescence, not too thirsty, and – most importantly – equipped with all-wheel-drive to get me through the long, long years of commuting to school that I have ahead of me before I can, allegedly, get a proper job and buy that new Jag I’ve been promising myself. The only problem there was that I had no income, and it’s difficult to pay for a car – even a cheap old one – without one. So I shelved that plan a couple of weeks ago and resigned myself to the merry-go-round.
But then, out of the blue early last week, I got an email from the Student Aid office saying, in effect, "Hey, remember how we told you you weren’t eligible for workstudy? We lied, here, have some. Good luck getting a job on campus with four weeks to go in the semester, one of which is mostly Thanksgiving break."
Hmm, I thought, and poked around the Student Employment office’s website to see if there were any workstudy reqs still open at this time of the year. And lo, there were a few, one of which was at the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium. Now, I like a planetarium. I like a planetarium quite a lot. The idea of being a planetarium operator appeals to me the way little kids used to want to be locomotive drivers. So I fired off an application to that one like a shot. A quick mental calculation of the pay scale advertised told me that I could easily afford a modest (and I’m talking very modest) car payment on that sort of income, if I got the job.
And I did. Well, sort of. I got a job at the planetarium. Unfortunately – and this is where the compound irony comes into it – the regular shows at the Jordan are on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. When I’m nowhere near campus. So I didn’t get the job of presenter. Instead, I started today as the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium’s student computer tech III.
Yes. That’s right. After all these years and all these attempts to get away from anything to do with the field, I’m the PC support monkey. I spent this afternoon reinstalling device drivers in an effort – successful, I might point out – to help one of the planetarium office’s PCs recover from an ill-advised printer install and regain its ability to write CDs and recognize USB flash drives.
Still, I thought, OK, that’s a disappointment in your life, but on the other hand, you’ll at least be able to get out of this car hole now. Except that’s not the case either, because it turns out that, even in the eyes of the university’s own credit union, workstudy is not employment enough to constitute eligibility for even a small car loan. Six grand, say, over 48 months at 12 percent – right around $160 a month? Easily done according to the pay scale figures (or even, and I’ve worked this out as well, with the overrun on a couple of semesters’ worth of financial aid), but sorry, it’s just not on.
So there we are. I have a job I don’t particularly want, which I was offered because I don’t qualify for the job I did want because I’m a commuter, but which I took anyway thinking it would at least help me to make the commute more tolerable, only to discover that it won’t. And that’s why this long-winded whinge is called "Compound Irony".
* and anything else