Four years ahead … but feeling so far behind…

Winter Chevrolet. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I checked my bank account this morning.  Good.  The check for $300 I received for helping someone out with a project finally cleared.

A quick transfer … and I’m $300 closer to paying off Dracourage, my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze.

I also checked the status of my car loan.  In June 2016, I purchased this “certified pre-owned” Chevrolet, along with a vehicle service warranty from DePaula Chevrolet, for $18,000 and change.  I took out a loan with my bank for a six-year term to pay off the car.

According to my notes … with every time I’ve placed extra money on the car, every extra cent … I am four years ahead on my car loan.  I could sit back and wait for the Olympics to take place in Beijing before I needed to make another payment.

But that’s not me.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s not fast enough for me.

Let me explain.

For new blog readers, I have to explain that I am extremely attached to my car.  Whether it was a 1991 Pontiac 6000 that I took from my sainted Grandma Betty to make sure she didn’t get on the highway with her cataracts … to a 2005 blue-green Saturn Ion when the Pontiac finally died … to a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS when the Ion developed a nasty electrical issue that could not be fixed … to my current car, I associate my vehicles with travel and freedom and independence.

For many years, I did not have a car, and relied on public transportation or asking friends for rides.  In my second marriage, I often relied on whatever car my wife had bought – which, by the way, were often subcompacts that were perfect for her 4’10” frame, but very uncomfortable for a 6’1″ man.

Acquiring the Pontiac in 2004 allowed me to control my own personal independence.  Sure, it was the quintessential “beater with a heater,” it got maybe 20 miles to the gallon if the car rolled downhill, and the suspension found every single pothole and road rut it could … but for me, it meant a non-reliance on having to ask my wife to borrow the car and readjust the seats and the mirrors and the steering column and suck in my gut and hold my breath so my tummy didn’t jam into the steering wheel on long trips.

The “6” was a chariot for me, and no one could tell me differently.  But when the car showed signs of its 19-year-old existence – and on the day when the radiator, the fuel line and the EGR module all crapped out … I took out a car loan for the Ion.

Replacing the 6 with my Ion (“Cardachrome”) was more than just swapping out one GM car for another.  By signing up with a credit union for the car loan, I could now control my finances.  I needed to add my paycheck to the credit union to pay for the car.  And having control over my finances allowed me some much-needed emotional independence.  When the divorce came in 2011 and we went our separate ways, I considered my car – and the financial institution that provided the loan – as my rescue.

Fast forward to 2012.  Cardachrome’s suffering from a nasty electrical issue that’s affecting the car’s operating ability.  Turn the key and the speedometer doesn’t work.  Turn the key again and the radio doesn’t work.  Drive on I-787 and the car just quits.  And restarts two minutes later.

This wasn’t a sign that my car was dying … it was a sign that I needed to take that next step, and to not rely on an emergency purchase to escape a toxic situation.

Careful shopping … comparison shopping … and a letter of credit from my credit union, stating that my credit score had actually risen in the past few years to a point where I didn’t need a co-signer for a mirror-dangling air freshener … and I had my third car.  A 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, naturally aspirated, jet black, with the high-end performance package.  The Blackbird.

The Blackbird was the first car that I purchased – and completely paid off.  It was a great car.  And then, in June 2016, it gave its own existence to save me when I was involved in a four-car accident on a North Carolina highway.  And thus began the search once more.

I found the next vehicle in my life … at DePaula Chevrolet … a cherry-red 2013 Chevrolet Cruze.  Like the Blackbird, it had the personal amenities of a well-tuned vehicle, and this time I had a full vehicle service contract with DePaula – most repairs were covered.  And outside of a couple of paint scrapes and minor nicks and twicks – the car still looks showroom fresh.

And it earned a nickname of Dracourage – a portmanteau of the words “dragon” and “courage.”  You need the strength of a dragon … and the courage to take that strength forward.

It’s why, on Black Friday of every year, I schedule an appointment with DePaula Chevrolet to check my car -whether it was the 6, Cardachrome, the Blackbird and now Dracourage – from fender to fender, checking and correcting and updating anything needed.  It’s the day I set aside as a commitment to vehicle ownership and safety and comfort and care.

I signed up for a six-year loan with my credit union to pay for this car.  Every time I received extra cash, I threw it on the car loan.  If I won any green at the casino … car payment the next day.  If I won money playing competitive team trivia … car payment the next day.  Every art sale of my works – whether at charity events or through my etsy site – car payment the next day.

Every car payment I make now is an emotional distancing from that 2016 North Carolina car crash.  Every payment means that I don’t have to be reminded about WHY I’m making this payment.

Every apple I earn goes into the bushel basket.

And when the bushel basket is filled … it’s time for applesauce and apple pie and apple butter and baked cinnamon apples.  Yum-o.

No, it’s actually that moment when I can truly, once again, say with confidence, “This is my car.  I own it.  I am a proud owner of a General Motors sedan, manufactured in America by American men and American women who earned an American wage and kept our country strong and free.”

That bushel basket is almost full.

This personal challenge is nearly complete.

Because, for me, this isn’t just a car.

It’s an evolution into freedom and financial stability and personal confidence.

What, you thought it was all about four wheels and SiriusXM satellite radio?

Well, yeah, there’s that…

And so much more.