Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Identity Is All Tangled Up In My Wheels

The guy who towed my vehicle in March of 2007 surely had no clue, but my piece-of-crap 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan has a name and a gender.

Yes, she is called “T-Bone Dream” because of the memorable night that vehicle was filled to its very ceiling with boxes of salvaged meat, mostly T-Bone steaks. Somebody in the meat department at The Store I Won’t Name must have messed up BIG TIME and ordered way too much, because there was no recall of beef (and pork) happening that week.

Heaven knows me and my brother checked before we ran out and bought another freezer, secondhand, and spent an entire afternoon wrapping stuff in butcher paper.

It was a miraculous fluke, and came to be known in my big, colorful family as The Mother Of All Dives, which led to that delicious and golden era known as The T-Bone Summer. But never mind about all THAT.

In law school I learned “a vehicle is a cage which keeps you from your civil liberties.” Vehicles are not like my house or my body, and vehicles are not legally treated the same way. But tell THAT to anybody living in this country, who intuitively and instinctively feels strongly about their vehicle.

These are my wheels. My identity, my livelihood, my whole life is inextricably bound up in my car. You take my car, and you take a piece of my soul. If I deserve what happens, I will have a sense of balance, of justice; even if I am the recipient of something negative. But if I feel wronged by how the system treats my wheels, forgiveness may be out of the question in this life.

I was struck by the melding of identity between humankind and automobile during the tragic I-35W bridge disaster here in Minneapolis, when a woman said in a television interview, “That was me. I was the red car.”

My mom always gave quirky names to our various vehicles. (Buy ‘em cheap, run ‘em into the ground, strip the valuable parts, and sell the rest for scrap is how we roll in my family) My earliest memory of a family vehicle was the one mom called The Green Caterpillar. It was slow and icky green, but kind of cute.

Technically, I still own T-Bone Dream, though she is parked on my brother’s farm near Starbuck, Minnesota. Now I drive my mom’s curiously rusty 1988 Celebrity, dubbed The Vernie Mobile. (My mom’s name is LaVerne)

You’ve heard of Altoids? The mint which is “curiously strong?” Well, the Vernie Mobile is curiously rusty, like it was dipped in a vat of boiling hydrochloric acid, but then covered over with spray paint.

It is a piece of crap, and yet I feel about my car the way I feel about our little family farm near Forada, Minn., population 197. When the American forefathers talked of liberty, of property, of the right to be free of unreasonable search, seizure, intrusion, deprivation…in some ethereal and idealistic way, they had my body, my home, and (oh yes) my vehicle in mind.

Searches do not bother me so much. I learned about that stuff in Constitutional Law I and II, and this complex body of rules seems sensible enough, though I’ve been known to refuse searches just on PRINCIPAL. (If you want to meet a German shepherd, this is a great way to pull it off)

No, what bothers me is grabbing my vehicle off the street on some bureaucratic whim, taking it who-knows-where without so much as a ransom note, and holding my vehicle hostage while I cry to the very heavens, “Dude, where’s my car?”

There is a great imbalance in The Force which needs to be rectified. And that is why I started Towing Utopia.


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