January 11, 2016

One For the Road

photo via James Vaughan
Guest Post by Jan Bono

Crabby McSlacker and her intrepid spouse, known here as"The Lobster," are currently on the road. Regular readers may recall that they are heading from Provincetown Massachusetts to Austin Texas to spend the winter.  They are not flying (or walking or biking for that matter), so they find themselves spending many, many, many hours every day scrunched up in their perky but diminutive Honda Fit. Alas, it takes quite a bit of unscrunching at the end of the day to be able to walk again.

But anyway, it seems fitting that this week we have a car-related excerpt from Jan Bono's inspirational book, Back from Obesity: My 252-pound Weight-Loss Journey.” Enjoy! --Crabby

Singing the car buying blues

My car was nine years old and had over 130,000 hard-earned miles on it. The trips to the repair shop had become alarmingly frequent. On Thanksgiving eve my vehicle had refused to restart after I shut it off at the gas station.

It was time to buy something new, but I was dragging my feet. I had purchased my Honda Accord in 1991 simply because it was the only car I could find at the time I could fit into. Now I was 30 or 40 pounds heavier. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to find anything I could safely drive and stay within my budget.

“Get a Toyota,” said my friend Pat. “You’ll fit in a Camry, I’d bet on it.”

I didn’t want a Toyota.

I didn’t want to have to buy any car at all. I didn’t want to go through the humiliation of pulling onto a new car lot and having all the lean and hungry salesmen look me over and run the other way, sure I was there just to waste their opportunity to make a sale with a more…uh…“viable” customer.

But I also didn’t want to put any more money into the car I had. It was time. And when it’s time, if we are paying the least bit of attention, an opportunity always presents itself.

My opportunity arrived in the form of a flyer enclosed in the newspaper I’d purchased to check out the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday sales. Naturally, because there is only one Divine Mind at work in the entire Universe, the flyer advertised a Toyota sale in Longview— a neighboring community 75 miles up the Columbia River.

I took a deep breath, then located the title to my car, emptied the trunk and glove box, wiped off the dashboard and vacuumed under the seats. When I arrived in Longview I ran it through a car wash.

Pangs of separation anxiety began to take hold as I neared the car lot. My hot little metallic cranberry red Honda had served me well for nine years. I loved this car! The tales it could tell! And yet, I knew there was very little “get up and go” left in it. Still, I balked at the thought of giving up that part of my youth.

Once at the Toyota dealership, it went pretty much as I’d envisioned. As I got out of my car, a dozen circling sharks huddled and conferred and shoved from among them a very young and obviously inexperienced salesman. He cautiously approached me, wiping his clammy hand on his slacks before extending it. He asked what kind of car I was looking for.

“Did you lose the coin toss?” I couldn’t help asking.

He looked bewildered.

“The joke’s on them,” I said, motioning to the group of salesmen next to the office. “I am here to buy a car today. Do you want to sell me a car?”

He laughed nervously. “I haven’t sold a car all month,” he confessed.

It was November 28.

“Then today’s your lucky day,” I said. “Show me a car I can fit into without having to wedge my stomach against the steering wheel and I’ll buy it.”

He thought I was kidding. I wasn’t.

I figured I’d need to get a 2-door because I thought the wider door would give me easier access to the driver’s seat. I also wanted a 2-door because a 4-door was indicative (at least in my mind) of middle-aged people with families, who naturally needed a 4-door car.

But for some unknown reason, taking away two doors adds a great deal more to the selling price of a vehicle. And the first few cars the salesman showed me were much more money than I could comfortably afford. In other words, all the 2-door Toyotas were way beyond my budget. Reluctantly, I asked him to show me a 4-door model.

The first 4-door car he showed me was not any color I ever would have chosen. Not in this lifetime. It was gray. Secret Service gray.

 A plain, nondescript, milquetoast, conservative 4-door Camry, and certainly not representative of the woman inside me who was screaming her head off for a fire-engine-red corvette convertible or some equally bright color of a hot Mustang GT.

But this was the car listed in the newspaper sale flyer. He called it “the ad car.” I called it “the bait to get me here car,” since there were no other cars of this make and model and price available. So gray it was. Take it or leave it. It fit my budget, and with any luck, I would be able to fit inside and still manipulate the steering wheel.

The kid, despite his lack of years, was no dummy. He reached inside and adjusted the steering wheel as high as it would go and then moved the driver’s seat all the way back before he held the door open for me.

I got in. So far, so good, but I couldn’t quite reach the pedals. I tentatively moved the electric seat forward until I could just touch the accelerator with ball of my right foot.

I laid my hand flat on my stomach and rubbed it up and down. The back of my hand rubbed against the edge of the steering wheel. I tried to move the seat back just a little, but found even the slightest adjustment left me pressing the gas and brake pedals with only the very tips of my toes.

I moved the seat forward again until there was less than a half-inch of space between my stomach and the steering wheel; I could barely breathe without bumping against it. The young salesman gently closed my door and got in on the passenger side. He began pointing out the various dials and functions on the dashboard.

The trunk latch and gas cap release levers were on the floor next to the driver’s seat. I couldn’t begin to reach either of them without opening the door and leaning more than half way out of the vehicle.

“Before you go any further,” I said, “I better see if I can actually drive this thing.” I started the car and drove it carefully off the lot and onto the road. I had lived in Longview years before, so I didn’t need him to tell me where to turn to get to the freeway. The car handled fine, and I returned to the sales lot without incident.

Then, and only then, did I reach around me for the seatbelt. I pulled the strap out as far as my arm extended and attempted to wrap it around me.

“Do you want a little help with that?” asked the salesman.

“Do you come with the car to help me fasten the seatbelt every time I drive it?” I replied.

He blushed and sat still while I blindly wrestled with the buckle. When it finally snapped into place, I heaved a great sigh of relief.

“Now let’s see if I can get out of here,” I said, fumbling for the release button. “And we can go sharpen up that pencil of yours.”

He grinned, and I grinned back.

I drove almost halfway home in my plain, nondescript, 4-door conservative gray Camry before I took a good look in the rearview mirror. The woman who looked back was a middle-aged, morbidly obese, milquetoast middle-school teacher. I pulled the car over and sobbed like I’d just lost my best friend.

I allowed myself to sit in my grief and fully experience it. Then I got out my pen and added a hot, racy new sports car on my list of ultimate weight-loss rewards. I’d forgo the idea of a red Corvette for another Mustang. I’d had three Mustangs in the past, and I fervently hoped there was still at least one more waiting in my future.

Post Script: And in 2014, for my 60th birthday, I bought myself a Mustang to celebrate!!!


  1. Sending hugs to your former self. I'm finding it interesting how much more motivating I would find a car-fitting problem than a clothes-fitting problem. (Probably because I can sew, but I can't build a car.)
    My take on two-door cars is different from yours. My first car was a two-door. After twelve years of wrestling objects (and occasional humans) in and out of the back seat I swore I would never have one again unless it only *had* two seats. Of course, what I really want (and have had several of) is a hatchback.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  2. It's not exactly the same, but they don't think about us very short people when designing cars, either. Like many, i've given up and gotten myself a "booster seat" to help (a back support with extra pillows to lift me even higher).

    1. Yes! I'm not particularly short (5'6") but my arms are shorter than average in comparison to my torso. A prime consideration in a car, right up there with mpg and cargo space, is can I reach everything?
      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  3. Congratulations Jan on your monumental achievement! Thanks for sharing your painful story. I love the mustang! I bet you look great in it! :)
    P.S. Crabby hope you enjoy your cross-country trek - Welcome back to Texas!

  4. Wow - I "felt" that story. What an awesome 60th birthday present.

    Crabby and The Lobster are going to Austin for the winter??? I lived there for 11 years - LOVED IT!

  5. Jan,
    Great story! Car buying is a real anxiety producer, but I see that it was much more so in your case. I admit that we're Camry drivers - yes, they're totally normal and reliable (yawn), so I try to make up for that by being totally bizarre! ;) I don't even really want a hot car, unless I get it for free!

    Glad your personal journey has led you to a pleasing auto destination!


    PS: Crabby, hope y'all are having a great time in warmth! It's totally freezing here all of a sudden!

  6. Great story - and every time I see your contributions, I am in awe of all you have achieved - including the Mustang!

  7. Whoa! That mustang is beautiful. I need to crank out my own list of ultimate rewards -- now that you've shown me how the game is played. Heck yeah!


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