Anxiety wears many masks. Sometimes it looks like a car shopper. Sometimes the car shopper is like his Dad.
I’m at a new stage in life. Our income will be cut by 40% in 27 days when we are both retired. We are excited by the freedom to enjoy life together without the obligations and distractions but are also anxious about finances and the unknown.
So what am I doing at a car dealership, trading the 11 year old Toyota Avalon for a nine year old Audi?
I rationalize laying out $9,000 with reasoning that I “know” is convoluted and self-defeating. It goes like this.
We’ll be on the road for two months. The Avalon has 120,000 miles on it. Can we trust it?
The Avalon needs $1,000 worth of body work to repair the damage done when it’s getting-older driver swiped the side of the garage.
But… we could leave the scrape the way it is and save the $1,000. After all, it’s 11 years old, and we don’t even know whether we will need two cars in retirement. We could sell the Avalon and pocket the $7,500 to add to our small nest egg.
The Audi has only 83,000 miles on it. It’s All Wheel Drive, great for driving in winter conditions. It gets better gas mileage. Sure it takes Premium fuel, but that’s only 30 – 40 cents more than regular.
But it is an Audi. I’ve never owned an Audi.
It’s confusing for a guy who loves cars, a guy addicted to car shopping. My brother does it too. It runs in the family.
When my father could no longer walk without a walker and long after my mother had (sort of) prevailed to stop him from getting behind the wheel of the 12 year-old Buick Skylark, Dad continued to insist he could still drive. He suffered increasing dementia as the Parkinson’s wore on. He also continued to insist he could still play golf. “Ken,” Mom would say, “You can’t even stand up. How are you going to swing a golf club?” “Just take me over. I can still hit the ball.” He also never gave up his role as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, wanting to preach until a few months before he died.
Despite the very limited financial resources which my mother managed like a cookie-baker who hides the cookie jar from kids on sugar highs, Dad always wanted to buy a new car. “Skip, let’s run over and look at that new Buick. I saw it on TV. It’s a beauty!”
Dad dropped by car dealerships as naturally as a sex addict drops by the adult store. Maybe there’s a relationship. The both sell toys.
Tom, the Audi dealer, is a very nice guy. No pressure. “Take it home and show Kay. She’s going to love it. It’ll be the perfect fit for your retirement road trips. Keep it overnight. Just bring it back tomorrow. We can finish up the paper work in the morning.” I leave the Avalon with Tom and leave with the Audi.
Driving the Audi home I begin to notice that the suspension is sportier, which makes for a great driving machine – the Germans make the best – but also means that the ride is stiffer. I remember how I’ve always come back to an Avalon because of the seat and the soft ride. But this is an Audi. I’ve never owned an Audi, and it has all at the bells and whistles. Like the Audi guy says, “You’re retired; you deserve a great car! You goin’ to feel really good in this.”
On the way home, it dawns on me: “So…that’s what this is about.
As of November 10 I no longer have a position. I no longer have a public roll. I am no longer capable of confusing public standing with personhood. I’m anxious, unconsciously fearful. “Retirement” means old age. Loss. Hearing loss. Teeth in a cup. Memory loss. The road to the loss of everything.
The next morning, I take the Audi back to Tom.
Buying an Audi has its own kind of logic, but it makes no good sense, given our finances. Even with an extended warranty. Because we, the drivers, don’t have “extended warranties”. Getting older can also mean getting wiser. Getting more comfortable being ourselves without status or position and their sex symbols. It’s time to practice what I’ve always preached: We don’t own a thing. We wear out beyond repairs and maintenance. It’s all about anxiety.
I chuckle and imagine a smile on Dad’s face. God doesn’t need an Audi or a Buick. Neither did Dad. Neither do I! I’ll ease on down the road in the Avalon.
– Gordon C. Stewart, Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 2014