Wednesday, December 7, 2011

MINI Problems

The first picture of my Mini after getting it in November of 2006.

Saturday night I ran a quick errand.  Little did I know that it was the last time I would be driving my beloved Mini Cooper.  The transmission died as I was exiting a parking garage at Hollywood & Highland.  I was hurrying because I didn’t want to pay more than the already overpriced $2.  Later, the mechanic would estimate that a new transmission would cost around $7,000.  With not even seven hundred dollars in the bank, seven thousand was going to be impossible.

While the Mini is obviously just a car, it has however, been a dependable friend throughout my five years in Los Angeles.  I could always count on my ‘Silver Bullet’ to be there for me and get me where I needed to go.  It was security.  It was freedom.  It was also the first thing in my entire life that I handled completely on my own from the initial purchase to payments and insurance to gas and repairs.  I was always proud that regardless of my money troubles over the years, I managed to remain responsible in my decision to buy and care for it.

I bought the silver 2003 Mini Cooper slightly used from a Lexus dealer in November of 2006.  I had just moved to Los Angeles in September to focus on acting and comedy while finishing my library degree.  I’d been driving a rental car while I figured out if I wanted to stay.  After swearing that I would never do PR again after 2003, I caved and accepted a position working for a man who was paying me a ridiculous amount of money to take him to red carpet events so he could be “famous.”  I hated it, but I was making good money and knew it was temporary until I got a librarian job.

I remember that first test drive in the Mini.  It was dark, probably around eight at night, and I was speeding down the PCH.  The windows were down, the sunroof was open, and the whole time I was thinking, I did it.  After leaving NYC in 2004 confused and disappointed, I spent the next 2½ years repairing myself and getting out of debt.  I had accomplished a great many things and was enjoying the moment.  I knew the car was just the beginning of the many successes I would find in LA.  I knew this time, I would find lasting success and happiness because I was a different person now.  I was grounded.  I had experience.  I was going to be a librarian who told jokes.

That Mini took me to places I never imagined: countless jobs that didn’t last; auditions where I didn’t get the part; comedy performances where nobody came; and moved me in and out of five different residences.  There were several road trips too, the most important being in November of 2009 when my brother and I drove it back to Florida so I could finish my Masters degree, where a year later, my dad and uncle would then drive it back to Los Angeles, because I was too busy with jobs to do it myself.  The battery would die along the way, perhaps an indicator that trouble was on the horizon.

I met the love of my life in that Mini, where two years later he would also break my heart, ironically just before he was going to drive it across the country without me.  It was like the Mini knew before I did that my relationship was really over, and the time spent repairing myself hadn’t made a difference to him.  Perhaps one day when my heart heals, I will once again be open to driving in the carpool lane.  Sometimes traffic is easier to take when you have someone to ride with, but until then I will enjoy cutting off men in Porsches.  I mean, if you are going to get in an accident, make it a possible love connection, right?

So you can see that the Mini was never just a car to me.  It was a symbol of freedom and protection.  I call it the ‘Silver Bullet,’ not because I like Coors Light, but because I kind of thought of the Mini as my protection against the many monsters in Los Angeles.  No matter how many times they tried to take me down, I could fight them off by putting up the windows and taking a few deep breaths.  The Mini was also my way out.  When things would get to be too much, I would drive down to San Diego or over to Big Bear and see friends who would tell me I was strong and should keep fighting.

Sadly, the damages to the Mini are just too large for me to repair this time.  Like that car, I will finally admit that I too am broken.  The body looks good but under the hood is years of wear and tear, resulting in a much bigger problem that can’t be fixed so easily.  At this point in my life, I just can’t afford any more bumps in the road no matter how clear that street seems to look on certain days.

It’s like when you are on a road trip and you know you should stop for gas but keep telling yourself that if you can make it 10 more miles, you get the exit with the Wendy’s.  Then you see a sign for an In-N-Out, which is only 20 more miles, even better, you think.  Then there’s a sign for Red Robin in just 40 miles?  Jeez, you are caught up in so many reasons why you should keep going that you ignore the reasons you shouldn’t – YOU ARE OUT OF GAS! 

Most of the time, your procrastination doesn’t really change the course of your trip in a major way, but once in awhile fate steps in and your car slows to a stop.  You are now in the middle of nowhere and there are coyotes approaching the vehicle.  You kick yourself for liking hamburgers and seeing the signs but not paying attention to what they were really saying.  A burger would be awesome but there is no guarantee you will ever taste them.  And of course, sometimes in life, we just run out of gas.

Had it been another nail in the tire, a dead battery, or coolant hose, I would fix it and probably continue down this same road that I have been driving for the past five years.  Seriously, this road has a ton of potholes but I keep driving and buying tons of crap I don’t need from stupid gift shops thinking it is going to make the trip more exciting so when I finally get to my destination I am going to look fabulous!  Listen, nobody needs 75 T-shirts when you never leave the car.  

Anyway, I think my Mini is trying to help me one last time.  It is saying STOP. 

Without a transmission, a car cannot go backwards or forward, it just sits in neutral until somebody is annoyed and pushes you out of the way.  You can make the decision to remain in the car knowing that you won’t be going anywhere, or you can turn the car off, open the door, and get out.  I am choosing to get out while I still have the strength to continue the journey on foot, or bus, or rickshaw, or whatever. 

As usual I have no idea where I am going.  It might be a rest stop, it might be a racetrack, and it might be back to NYC, a place I have always regretted leaving (that also doesn’t require a car.  Hmmm.)  What I do know is this - the higher power I am trusting to take the wheel of my life will not leave me stranded on the side of the road.  That's why I have AAA (and something called faith.)

***In addition to the Mini, my library studies were the only other stable thing I had during my time in Los Angeles.  I thought of quitting on numerous occasions, even took a semester off or two, but it was in graduating with that Masters degree that gave me the confidence to try Los Angeles this second time.  I think it is fitting that my Mini was in Florida so I could drive it to graduation - probably the most important trip of my life.  I am therefore thankful that the two things that cost me the most money – my car and my Masters degree - ended up paying off in some great adventures and many life lessons.  Plus without them, I doubt I would have lasted this long.  I also want to mention that while a car only loses value over time, a college degree will do the exact opposite.  Invest in your mind and you will truly have the freedom to go anywhere…

Taking the Mini down Lombard Street
in San Francisco, November 2008.

My brother and I just before we drive the Mini
back to Florida, November 2009.
Using the Mini to move out of a bad living
situation, November 2010.

The Mini's transmission dies and is hauled
to the garage, December 2011.