Friday, January 10, 2014

No. 146 – Aqua Marine

Performer: Santana
Songwriters: Alan Pasqua, Carlos Santana
Original Release: Marathon
Year: 1979
Definitive Version: Viva Santana!, 1988.

As 1990 turned into 1991, I knew the Tragic Mazda was going to go away, but what would replace it—aside from anything that wasn’t a Mazda, of course? As I mentioned, I knew my next car would be a stick. I also knew it wouldn’t be a Detroit. After I saw Tucker, I vowed I’d never buy a car from the Big Three.

So I did my research. I wanted a car that didn’t cost a lot, like the Mazda, and wouldn’t break down, unlike the Mazda. It also had to have great gas mileage. My choices quickly boiled down to the Honda Civic and … the rest of the field.

OK, so it was time to start looking, and that meant test drives. Fortunately, my driving experience was more than just the one day around Christmas when Jin took me out to the abandoned factory in Columbus to drive her car (good ol’ No. 180).

I’d left the News desk for Sports a few weeks before, so I still was on good terms with everyone there. Sue knew of my car problems and my desire to buy something with a bit of a sturdier transmission, so she volunteered to let me use her car, which had a stick, to practice while she worked.

I’d go out right after my shift at The Journal ended. I’d leave her the keys to my car in case an emergency came up and drive around for 15 minutes or so. As anyone who has driven a stick knows, the real trick is first gear and getting the car to not stall while you’re at a busy intersection.

So I practiced starting the car from neutral over and over, because the last thing I wanted to do was stall while I was on my test drive. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did the first time I test-drove a Civic—several times, in fact—as flop sweat poured down my face like Robert Hayes in Airplane!. I explained that I still was fairly new to manuals to the shaken dealer. No kidding.

I didn’t have that problem when I went to the local Nissan dealership to try out a Sentra. I was leaning toward the Civic, but I owed it to myself to at least check out the competition. I went in the evening, and that worked to my advantage. The dealer, who was as nonchalant as any car dealer ever, just gave me the keys and said come back when I was ready.

Really? You’re just going to let me drive this car around by myself? Yes, he did—the only time I’ve ever taken a test-drive solo.

Well, I’m taking advantage of this. I drove the Sentra around town for 20 minutes, maybe longer, practicing my start/stops on empty country roads where I wouldn’t be bothered by traffic. I could stall it, start the engine, stall it again, restart and finally get moving to my heart’s content. Eventually I took the car back, and that was the last they saw of me.

And then, to my own surprise, I went to Mazda. Why after having nothing but trouble with my current Mazda did I go back and try out the Protégé, which was essentially an updated GLC? I couldn’t tell you, except it must have had something to do with “the devil you know.”

I had a salesman with me on that test-drive, and although we just drove around a large block, I stalled it once, much to his consternation. But I stalled it only that one time, so I was improving.

But more important, the transmission was by far the easiest to shift of any of the three cars I’d driven. Suddenly—in an unlikely turn of events—Mazda was back in the picture and not faring as badly as one might think.

I continued my student driving in Sue’s car and plotted my next move. So far, I’d been noncommittal about buying when I showed up at the dealerships. But I had to start the process of making a purchase—the Tragic Mazda was liable to break down again at any moment. I decided to go back to Honda first.

(To be continued, again)

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