Image by richardhod via FlickrHave you ever rid yourself of a car that turned out to be a total lemon? Have you ever experienced the odd mixture of feelings that roil within you as you watch the clunker being towed away for the final time? You know, the simultaneous feelings of relief and happiness that you are finally rid of that worthless wreck, coupled with feelings of sadness and anger because you know how miserable that car made you and how badly you were ripped off over the years?
Well, I know exactly how you feel. A few weeks ago, I went through that very experience.
Some years ago, I didn't even own a car. I went through life having a very difficult time getting through my journeys. When you don't have a car, you can be made to feel that reaching your destination is such a formidable task that at times you just give up all hope of reaching it. You end up looking down at the sidewalk, rather than gazing far down the road.
Most of my relatives and friends had cars. Whatever the make and model, they seemed pretty happy with whatever they drove. Somewhat childishly, I used to silently resent them. Because they had cars, they seemed so in control, so confident. Their journeys seemed so much easier than mine. Their worlds seemed larger, and their burdens seemed smaller. "One day", I thought to myself, "I'm going to be like them".
I finally decided to get my very own car, but really didn't even know where to start. At that point in my life, I knew very little about all the different makes and models of cars that are available, and had no idea what I even wanted or needed in a vehicle. I didn't even know how to start a car, much less drive one.
So, as often happens in life, solutions materialize to address problems you haven't even vocalized. People started telling me about their cars. They told me why they liked their particular brand of car, and all the good it did for them in their daily journey. I learned about several different makes of cars, but most of the people told me about the car they had chosen - the Christler Salvation.
The Salvation, they told me, was a special car. It was, I was informed, different than any other automobile out there. It was such a spectacular vehicle, in fact, that all other cars were deemed unworthy and false, and fit only for the scrapyard..
Skeptical but intrigued, I inquired further. What I found out was, quite frankly, amazing. The Christler Salvation, I learned, was the only absolutely perfect car in the whole world. It was the only model of car ever made that had never broken down, or run out of gas. As a matter of fact, it didn't even run on gasoline - it ran on something called "faithanol". Faithanol, I found out, is an invisible substance that one fills the fuel tank with simply by having confidence in the perfection of the vehicle. In other words, as long as you believe the car is perfect, it never runs out of fuel and you are guaranteed to get to your final destination safely.
So perfect was this car, that you were discouraged from looking under the hood. Why bother? After all, the car is perfect and never needs to be repaired. "You don't need to know exactly how the car runs", I was assured. "Just believe and your journey will be a joyous one". Therefore, the hood of the Salvation was tightly sealed with what I later found out were called "apologetics bolts".
Still a bit skeptical, but trusting in the words of my friends and relatives, I went to Paul Tarsus's Salvation Showroom on Damascus Road. I never did speak to this Paul fellow, because he had apparently died many years before. However, I did meet and speak with several of the showroom's salespeople. Though I knew next to nothing about cars, I had of course heard of the somewhat slimy reputation of car salesmen. To be honest, the salesmen there lived up to the stereotype, although they were all unfailingly polite, friendly and courteous. Of course, they were trying to sell me something, so I expected that. I did appreciate the fact that unlike the car-salesman stereotype of a sleazy-looking hustler wearing loud, mismatched clothes, complete with a plaid sports jacket and checkered tie, these salespeople were neatly attired in the showroom's standard black and white uniforms, complete with white collars. They looked a bit odd in that attire, but I liked that they were making an attempt to look professional.
Unfortunately, as the day wore on, the "inner used-car salesman" in my assigned salesman manifested itself. Like any car huckster worth his salt, he tended to avoid answering specifics about the car, like its history. I could not get the CarFax history on any of the vehicles on the lot, no matter how I asked. "No matter", he said. "The Christler Salvation is the perfect automobile, so there is of course absolutely no maintenance history on any of the vehicles on the lot." I also could not pin him down on a refund guarantee if I was not satisfied with the car, nor a warranty, nor could they even explain how a car can run on the intangible substance of faithanol. When I asked them "If this car is so perfect, why isn't everyone driving it? Why wouldn't the Christler be the only car on the road?" I was told that the Salvation wasn't for everyone, and that only the elect few were wise enough to seek it out. I was flattered by that, although in the back of my mind I knew that flattery of the customer is part of any salesman's schtick.
Eventually, despite my ongoing doubts and skepticism, the salesman won me over. I told him I was ready to purchase one. Beaming, he congratulated me on "the best decision you have ever made or will ever make". I asked him how much the final cost would be, and to my utter astonishment he replied "Oh, this car is absolutely free. All you had to ask, which you did. And now that car is yours forever". I couldn't believe it. I said "How on earth do the automaker and dealerships make any money if this miraculous car is free?" He told me "Don't worry about it. Oh, and by the way, we hold weekly meetings for Christler owners, on Sunday mornings, and we pass the basket for small donations towards dealership expenses at that time." Blinded by the magic word "free", I said "Sure thing!", and drove off the lot a new man - full of joy and hope for the future for perhaps the first time in my life. Finally, I had what so many other people had - something that would take me to the most glorious of destinations.
For a short time, all was seemingly rosy. I received many congratulations and slaps on the back from friends and family for making such a wise purchase. I started hanging out with other Christler owners and attending the weekly dealership meetings, joined Christler internet discussion groups, and felt like one of the "elect" that the salesman had told me I was.
I say "seemingly" rosy, though, because in the back of my mind I still had some nagging doubts about the wild claims and stated superiority of this car. The salesman had told me that was normal - that when I felt these worries and doubts, I should just read the car's owner's manual for guidance. As a matter of fact, he told me to read at least some of the manual every day. He also advised me to call the CEO of Christler anytime I wanted to, and he would be available to talk to me any time of the day or night. So, I started doing just that.
While I did receive some reassurance from reading the words of the automaker's CEO (mostly from the latter half of the manual), many things struck me as odd. First of all, the manual was huge, and divided into two main sections. There seemed to be a lot of things that didn't even relate to automobiles or the specific car in question - i.e. the Salvation. The first section of the manual, especially, was full of arcane history of the automobile industry and innumerable antiquated traffic laws. I also found out that the Christler CEO could be a downright cruel and nasty person at times, seemingly motivated to ruthlessly eliminate competition from other automakers as well as mercilessly punish those who violate seemingly trivial traffic laws (for example, driving with a pig in the passenger seat). I discovered in its pages a lot of history that did not jibe with the history outside the world of Christler, and many of the statements in the manual flat-out contradicted one another.
The second section of the manual did relate much information on the car I now owned. However, like Section One, it contained a lot of erroneous and contradictory statements. I also noticed that the astounding claims of the Salvation's miraculous abilities were mostly made by that Paul guy, the man who had founded the dealership I got the car at. Interestingly, the CEO, who allegedly wrote or approved every word of the manual, wrote some of Section Two as if the car itself could "talk" (silly, I know - anthropomorphizing a car!). Reading the car's "words", which are in red ink for emphasis, I got the distinct impression that the car did not make such grandiose claims about itself, as dealership founder Paul Tarsus did. The car "spoke" much more humbly about itself than that. Indeed, it spoke much more about the importance of being a responsible car owner, respecting the safety and rights of others on the road, and revering the CEO of Christler, than about itself or its magical qualities. It all seemed so contradictory and confusing to me. I was left with many more questions than before I had cracked open the owner's manual.
So, per the salesman's advice, I decided to call Christler's CEO. No luck. To date, I have called him thousands of times, and I have yet to get anything but his voice mail. I have never received a call back, not even from his secretary.
Now deeply concerned, I drove back to the dealership and confronted the salesman with all I had gleaned from the owner's manual. "No problem, son", he said. "Let me give you these." He reached upon a bookshelf and handed me a stack of books written by various people. "Take these books and read them. They will tell you how to understand what the owner's manual is saying". I asked him "Why should I need books to tell me how to understand another book? If the Christler is such a great car, and so easy to drive and maintain, why is the owner's manual so damned complicated that other people have to tell me how to understand it? Shouldn't the owner's manual be as simple and straightforward as the car itself?" The salesman, now visibly flustered, just told me to keep the tank full with faithanol, read the automotive apologetics, and just believe.
So I started reading the books he had given me. Sure enough, they were basically step-by-step instructions on how to read and understand the owner's manual. However, I noticed that the authors' interpretations often differed not only from mine, but from each others'. This wasn't helping at all.
To make things worse, the more I found out about my fellow Christler owners, the less I liked most of them. Many of them showed up at meetings mainly to prattle on about things other than their cars. All too often they spoke badly of people who owned other, non-Christler cars. This un-Christler behavior was most obvious in online discussion rooms. Cloaked in the anonymity of the internet, Christler devotees could unleash their full hatred of anyone who dared to drive a different brand of car. People who drove cars fueled with petroleum by-products were routinely condemned to the "gasoline section" of automotive hell, and many Christler owners gleefully and openly salivated at that prospect. This behavior originated mainly from the most militant "true owner" Christler owners, who are often referred to as "minivangelicals" or "sedandamentalists". These people believe that the CEO of Christler speaks to them from within, and allows them to unerringly divine his owner's manual.
However, that is a blatantly false (and narcissistic and egomaniacal) notion, as I soon learned. When two minivangelicals find out that they each have even minuscule differences of interpretation of the owner's manual, they will more often than not get into vicious fights and tell the other that their beliefs are straight from the pits of The Yugo Factory Of The Damned. It became obvious rather quickly that either a different Christler CEO speaks to each owner, or, much more likely, that each person reads and interprets the owner's manual through the filters and perceptions of his or her upbringing and past experiences.
So, more confused than ever, I went on with my life, not holding my car in nearly as high esteem as I did before. And then the damned thing started breaking down. The more I learned about the car, its owners, the manual and the CEO, the more trouble it would have starting in the morning. Of course, it started running out of fuel as well - I guess I didn't have enough faithanol to move a mustard seed, much less a car.
During this time, I encountered online a diverse group of people who were former Christler owners. They welcomed me warmly, even though I still referred to myself as an owner. They had all gone through all the things I was currently going through. They taught me the difference between apologetics and actual scholarly research, and encouraged me to read up on the true (historically accurate) origins of Christler and its CEO. I did just that, and found out that the owner's manual was not written by the CEO, but instead was a hodgepodge of overly imaginative and historically inaccurate musings contributed by many different anonymous authors. I found out that what was included and what was left out of the manual was decided by committees who were more concerned about the bottom line of the various dealerships than they were the satisfaction of their customers. I even found out that the CEO, as described in the manual, doesn't even exist - he is a fictitious amalgamation of several CEO's of car companies that existed before Christler was formed.
I had taken the wrench of history, loosened the Christler's apologetics bolts mentioned at the beginning of this post, looked under the hood and saw a jumbled mass of apologetics tubing and wiring of Rube Goldberg proportions. But there was no motor, no drivetrain, no transmission. This car indeed had moved only on faithanol, because there was nothing factual or real to provide any substance to the vehicle. The anonymous authors and conjurers of the fictitious CEO lied, the late dealership owner Paul Tarsus lied, the salesman lied, and too many Christler owners are so enslaved by the car's mythology that they are both too terrified and too proud to look under the hood and see that for themselves the automotive fraud that has been perpetrated on them. The car itself may have cost nothing, but the contributions at the weekly dealership meetings over the course of a lifetime, combined with the mental enslavement to an empty lie, are a terrible price to pay to delude yourself into thinking you have something you actually don't. The people who think that, because they own a whacky magic car, they are on the one true path to their destination, are instead being driven down a dead-end street. And all the while, the car manufacturer, dealers and salesmen are laughing all the way to the bank.
I recently, within the last few weeks, ditched that worthless car. I called Sheol's Towing Service and had it hauled to Gehenna's Scrap Yard, where it belongs. And I felt that relief, happiness, sadness and anger that I mentioned at the very beginning of this post. Still do, as a matter of fact.
Does that mean I have given up my journey? Not at all. I just won't be traveling by car. Liberated from the artificial construct of a false and manmade "journey fullfillment machine", and no longer forced to hurtle headlong down a one-way interstate to nowhere, I am now free to meander on the highways, byways, winding country roads and avenues of my choice. I have a feeling that the right destination will be waiting for me, no matter which path I take.