To Beater…Or Not To Beater

dobie_WOOD_PANEL_2By Dobie Maxwell

There aren’t many areas of life in which I am clearly above average, so when “one” does happen to come along I need to pump it with a trumpet. I read an article recently that said on average the typical American will own a total of 12 cars in their lifetime, and the typical Brit will own 9.

I tried to get an accurate count of how many I have owned before age 50 and came up with the grand total of 127. I may have even missed a couple, but as far as I can tell that’s the accurate up to the minute running count. The key word is “running,” which most of them didn’t do for long.

The reason I owned that many vehicles came out of necessity. I spent the entirety of my adult life touring North America as a standup comic, and I needed to get to work. My work happened to be scattered throughout the continent while most other people worked in a single location.

According to a different survey, the average American drives 30-45 minutes to work an 8-10 hour shift at a typical job. Being an entertainer is exactly the opposite. I typically would drive 8-10 hours to work a 30-45 minute “shift.” Either way, the amount of time used up was the same.

What caused me to go through so many vehicles was the fact that for the longest time I couldn’t get a car loan. I didn’t realize it then, but it makes perfect sense now. Most names of comedy clubs are closely associated in some way with mental illness like “Zanies,” “Wacko’s,” “The Nut House,” and “The Loony Bin.” Providing this list of names to potential creditors is a death knell.

As I was coming up the ranks in the comedy business, my civilian friends were all scoring car loans and rubbing it my face. On average their monthly payments were somewhere around $300. For that amount of money they were able to have the peace of mind and security of a reliable and fully functioning product – even though they only needed to travel a short distance every day.

I on the other hand was forced into a position of tempting the fates. I too had a $300 budget for my vehicle each month, only I was forced to purchase an entire car for that price hoping beyond hope it would last me at least 30 days – which more than a few did not. It was ultimate gambling.

Those rattle traps were at the end of their lives, and I tried to milk as many miles out of them as humanly possible. It would be like the equivalent of entering one’s grandparents in a kickboxing tournament. Something important IS going to break. It’s just a matter of what, when and where.

And break they did – from sea to shining sea. I can’t think of a part or system on a car that I’ve not had go out on me, and at the worst possible time. Not that there’s ever a good time. Nobody I ever met jumps out of bed on a sunny day and says “This would be a fine day to drop a tranny.”

It just happens – and then it has to be dealt with. Can the car be saved, or does it need to be left at the side of the road as a gift of scrap metal to a particular state? I’ve done that way too often.

Sometimes I would luck out a little, and have a car I paid $300 for last me several months. This was not always beneficial, as I would tend to get cocky and avoid maintenance thinking I’d take my chances and maybe be able to save a few bucks. Sure enough, not long after…they would die.

One thing I seriously regret was having a long time policy of buying American. Yes I love my country, but we didn’t build the best cars during the 70’s and 80’s – which is mostly the era that I was choosing from. I was a rescuer of stray pets that all were born near a nuclear power plant.

When I first started with my theory, I wasn’t particularly partial to brand or maker. I’d buy any and all cars I could afford at any time. Mistake. I quickly learned that GM, Ford and Chrysler all produced duds and that I was a magnet for acquiring them. I was usually the second to last owner of a car before the junk yard, but I had to get to work to chase my dream so I kept on doing it.

I owned a Chrysler Cordoba for a while. That was quite the prestigious car in the ‘70s. Unfortunately, I owned mine around 1992. That’s like dating a Playboy centerfold 20 years past her prime. The only thing to do is close your eyes and try to remember the glory years, but that’s a stretch.

The Cordoba had commercials by Ricardo Montalban that touted the “rich, Corinthian leather” of the car’s interior. I have to say those were the most comfortable seats I ever sat in as I waited for the tow truck to come and get me. Looking back, I should have saved them and used them in my apartment.

I also owned a Ford Country Squire station wagon. I never understood the design strategy that was used in designing this particular car. It had fake wood paneling down both sides of the car, and I never understood why. Who was it ever supposed to fool, near sighted woodpeckers?

Another car that stands out is the Chevy Citation. Now there’s a great marketing idea – let’s name a car after a traffic violation! The new Pontiac “D.U.I.” should be a big seller as well. It always amazed me that a company that could come up with a Corvette, Camaro and Chevelle also trotted out the Chevette, Citation and Corvair. Maybe they should try another letter than C.

Driving a beater vehicle causes one to possess a completely different mindset than a “normal” driver. There are always extra perils to consider. First, a beater driver has to be aware of smells. If there is any kind of odd odor it may mean something under the hood is about to malfunction.

Parking often becomes even more difficult for the beater owner because not one but two spaces are needed for secure parking. One is for the vehicle, and the other needs to be right in front of it for the tow truck. Trying to push a car out of a parallel parked spot can result in serious injury.

Also, the driver of a beater can never afford to give the finger in traffic because any one of the other drivers may have to be called upon for a jump start at any given time. One needs to make as many friends as possible for future reference. Courtesy takes on a much higher priority.

I still haven’t decided if I’m proud of the fact I have owned that many vehicles, but I have, and that’s that. My fantasy always has been to someday drive a car built in the same decade in which I live.

Dobie Maxwell is a stand up comedian and writer. To see him on stage at his next hell-gig, visit

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