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Shake, Rattle and Roll
I'm from Long Island, where the car aging process is so rapid, nobody drives a new one. The moment a car rolls off the lot, there's a big dink on the passenger side door, a small tear in the backseat, and a clanking noise under the hood, allowing it to join the chorus of other old cars. Every old car has its own voice. The incongruous high-pitched squeal of my father's LTD used to alert us of his impending arrival a half-mile away.

I've since moved to Northern Virginia, where noisy cars are discouraged (Article 11, Neighborhood Regs). So when a rattle seemed to come from my front right tire, I asked my husband to check it out right away. Thirty minutes into the process, the hubcap clip snapped off. From what I overheard, it was the fault of the stupid manufacturer, the idiot who put it on and whoever left their shoes in the middle of the garage.

We drove to the dealership and bought a new hubcap, which had to be special ordered for a whopping $50. For that price it should be white gold and double as a pendant, 18-inch rope chain included.

Two weeks later, new hubcap in place, I no longer heard the rattle. But by then the weather had gotten cold, and with the windows rolled up and fan blasting, I wouldn't have heard it if I had backed into my neighbor's garbage can (which ran another 40 bucks).

During a recent vehicle inspection, however, two more hubcaps' clips broke. Apparently 1997 was the year the clips were made of elbow macaroni. Not willing to spend $100 for dealership replacements, my husband bought four generic hubcaps for $30 at an auto supply store. Or was it a dollar store? Either way, he thought they were the bargain of the century and put them on my car so I could run errands.

Within minutes I heard the sound of a Frisbee roll down the street, except it was my back left hubcap. It had spun off and landed at the feet of Mr. Green, a neighbor who nurtures, primps, pampers, and I'm pretty sure is dating his lawn. Luckily the hubcap was so flimsy, it couldn't cut a blade of grass if it was attached to a miter saw. I pulled over, apologized, and took the hubcap from Mr. Green, who, remarking on its fragile nature, muttered, "I'm surprised you heard it come off."

I was headed back home when a second hubcap spontaneously disembarked. In my rearview mirror I saw Mr. Green watching, no doubt memorizing my license plate for the next neighborhood board meeting.

My just-about-had-it husband put the runaways on with wire, which looked better than no hubcaps the way a comb-over looks better than bald. It wasn't until I hit the parkway when a (wireless) hubcap sailed into a construction site. The fourth original bravely clung on until Target.

My tires now wear hubcaps from an Internet store that sells cheaper-than-dealership, stronger-than-Frisbee models. Funny thing is, my car still rattles. But I have embraced my noisy, old car roots. That rattle announces my arrival to self-acceptance. Besides, it gives Mr. Green a half-mile heads-up.

[May 10, 2006]

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