February 2, 2012

So, You Change Your Own Tires?

I was thinking this morning about how I used to only buy cars with stick shifts. Can you guess the reason? If you’re from a poor background, you probably can.

You see, you can’t push a car and pop the clutch to get it started on an automatic. This is something you know only if you perpetually have very old broken down vehicles. You have old batteries and engines with shorts. All kinds of other reasons.

One time, I was driving late at night on the interstate, and I got so tired I just couldn’t drive anymore, so I stopped at a truck pullout and slept, diesels rumbling all around me. Well, the car was packed to the brim, so it left a back light on and my battery ran down. Luckily, I was parked on a slight hill. Unluckily, the hill was against traffic. So, rather than an 18-year-old gal knock on some trucker’s semi door at 3 a.m., I waited until I couldn’t see a truck coming for a long ways, I let the car coast backward until the momentum carried me back and turned around, then I let it coast forward (backward on the interstate), popped the clutch, it started, and I flipped back around and was on my way.

God, I hope my daughter or my son is never in a situation like this.

You also buy very cheap tires. Which means it doesn’t matter if you’re a “lady” you change them, unless you want to be doing a lot of walking. And certainly someone in this situation never had the money for AAA. One summer, I was in our old Ford irrigation truck and got a flat tire on a dusty side road. It was one of those tall ones with the long beds. The tires hadn’t been changed in forever, so I jacked it up and put on the star tire iron and it would not budge, no matter how hard I tried to get the nuts to break. I ended up finding a can of WD-40 in the cab and squirting them all and then, literally, standing and jumping on one end of the iron while I pulled with the other. Finally I got it to work and changed the tire. And I swear I changed a tire a day on my old Chevy Impala when I was in high school.

But this indicates something in a larger and deeper sense. (One thing that got me thinking about this was this page at Cracked, semihumorous but also very real.) Imagine only buying vehicles with stick shifts because you don’t trust all the newfangled stuff to work ~ cuz, you know, it doesn’t after that amount of time. Heck, I didn’t even trust power windows because they so often didn’t work. It may seem silly to you ~ why don’t you just buy one that works? ~ but I assure you it’s not silly at all. If you have to choose between a car that’s reliable and say food, you’ll probably choose food. You say, well, go without insurance for a month or something like that, make it work. Well, again, you probably don’t even have insurance. I have relatives who, within the last couple of years, are living on $10,000-$15,000 a year.

But back to the deep and abiding ways poverty changes you. When you go to the grocery store, you only get the cheapest and barest of necessities in small quantities and you feel guilty about that. The small quantities and cheap thing are definitely a problem because what you buy breaks or isn’t at all good for you and you’re always running out of everything, and so you actually may end up spending more for something because you can’t afford to buy a good one all at one time.

This is a small-scale indication of something much larger. You do not allow yourself to dream. At all. You just don’t. When my husband and I got together, I did even conceive of the idea that we would own a house ~ or that we could ~ whereas he took it for granted. He could dream it and believe it because he was from a better background (though his father was not). Because you know, if you can’t afford to get enough groceries, you certainly are not going to be able to afford a better car or college or even to own a house. You do not dream the American Dream.

And it is a platitude and a reality that if you do not dream it, you cannot achieve it. This is where it comes back to creative things. You don’t just hold back on things related to money. You also hold back in other ways large and small. I can say that I would not be a writer today, had my husband not shown me the way to dream.

I love you, honey.

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