Friday, July 29, 2016


I would like to think that in each battle between ideals and reality that there is always somehow some kind of happy synthesis, some way to gather together everything and frame it just so. I'm sure that could theoretically be one of many answers, given the right chain of coincidences and decisions, but reality is rarely so generous - to me, at least, and I would wager to most other people as well.

Especially with calendar pages turning and a budget being eaten away by everyday life in parallel.

So yeah. It's mine, at least for the next three years. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta S, 1.4 TSI motor, manual transmission.

No, not what I wanted. Of course not, But probably what works best for the current situation. Or that's what I keep telling myself as a defense.

It's a good car, decently direct and lively and usable, acquired in what seems like a really good deal. Volkswagen lease offers are ridiculously generous for some pretty obvious reasons right now. So for the money it was about as good as anything else I could have found, especially considering such necessities as upkeep and usability in potentially harsh coastal weather and so on.

(Yes, I leased it, which is even more out of character for me. I'm almost wondering who actually bought or owns this machine.)

And it's new, which resolved a number of nagging fears in my head whenever I thought about something else. And whenever I thought seriously about something else, a list of mechanical or situational neuroses tended to follow. Miata? Cooling system. RX-7? Apex seals. Audi A4? Terrifying maintenance costs. GTI or WRX? Tuning abuses. Honda? That plus theft. Fox Mustang? Same plus driving on icy roads. 944? Have a seat and clear your schedule. MGB? One big reality check required in every possible way.

Never mind deep-seated uncertainties about twentysomething-plus-year-old suspension bushings and potential crash damage and so on.

Do I even have to go into how it's so much easier to want than to have, to dream about the good stuff without feeling that stomach-tightening sense that something will inevitably go wrong? Especially given my budget ($5000ish) and the fact that whatever I get would be a year-round commuter machine between a couple different campuses in the region?

Both parts of that fed into the ultimate decision. First, getting something even remotely good was likely to just about clear me out; if anything even moderately expensive had to be done on top of the purchase I was in bad shape. And if anything went wrong later on it would not only be financially troublesome but also cause major grief on a professional level.

So yeah, reality. Reality in its dismal dream-grinding functionality now sits in the lot downstairs.

I tried. Drove an MGB which had (more than) a few needs. Tried a well-worn and hail-damaged NA Miata; first thing the seller talked about was how easy it was to put back together after the radiator blew up on the drive to New Jersey from Virginia. Spent I don't even want to know how long scanning ads trying to find something that would work only to find repeated abuses against both cars and the English language.

The Miata issue deserves its own lamentation, just because it seems that Miata sellers are weirder than the norm. Not more crooked, not more difficult, but definitely weirder. Tried to go see a weathered but still promising '95 M Edition while still in Ithaca - and had the seller accuse me of being a scam artist before she hung up on me, which is not how Craigslist usually works. Had another who never returned a number of polite calls. And so on. Probably gave serious effort to at least five, only really got to see the one, and ended up perplexed.

Time and patience ran thin. With Wonderful One starting her new job my ability to do test drives would be severely compromised. Was in for more repairs on the Passat (see "A4," above), wandered the showroom, sales dude mentioned the please-help-us lease offers. Deal done in a few days. Problem solved.

It's not bad for what it is. Excellent ride and handling blend, smooth and torquey motor which returns great fuel economy, pleasant environment even given the basic trim and so-so seats (really need more lumbar support). Gripes? The shifter is traditional front-drive VW in its less-than-machinelike feel, the sound system is super-fussy.

And it's not really what I wanted. But again, that's life.

I tell myself (and Wonderful One seconds) that having something like this frees me up to have a pure project situation, something to have and fix and tune and enjoy without forcing it to endure the indignity of everyday life. Something purely enjoyable and gratifying, right? Which is true, although fulfillment of this possibility is dependent on (again and always) my unexciting budget situation being able to manage it while living up to everything else, including those good-but-still-real lease payments. Something to think about and hope for as things take shape this fall.

But this somehow seems slightly corrupt in its indulgence, in its failure to provide that synthesis from earlier. Going in to this whole process there was the wish for some kind of Grand Unified Solution, one good lovable car that would have worked for everything - the daily drive, the weekend two-lane blast, the trip to Mom's, autocrossing, whatever. But such is an ideal - it ironically requires a certain reality.

And quite honestly maybe I need to put all of that aside for a while anyway. The pursuit of ideals has rarely been nice to me. Holding myself to act in accordance with some esoteric faith has usually caused me to miss out on any number of great whatevers in the course of providing what too often turns out to be a very attenuated and sort of hollow satisfaction.

Maybe I just need a good set of everyday wheels to help manage reality for a while.

I hope so. It's what I've got.