My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of American Freedom

When the transmission went haywire on my rusty 1993 van on the day after Thanksgiving 2015, it marked the end of a beautiful seven-year relationship. The ol’ GMC Vandura cost me $1,400 to buy, and while it needed some work here and there, it was a major-league transportation bargain. My average annual cost of driving during those years was $2,200.

To clarify: From mid-2008 to the near-end of 2015 I drove wherever I wanted at an annual cost of $2,200. That number includes fuel, insurance, purchase price, repair and maintenance costs and all other fees. Six bucks a day to go anywhere – basically the same price as a daily pint of craft beer at the trendiest joint in town.

For many months after the tranny crapped out on the van, I continued to drive it short distances on flat roads, shifting into neutral when it fell out of gear, then shifting back into drive. If I needed to go somewhere involving hills or highways, I took a bus or arranged to use my wife’s vehicle. I just wasn’t eager to go car shopping. I figured I’d wait for a car to come to me.

And then a car came to me.

There was a post on Perfect Duluth Day featuring a guy bitching about how the Duluth Police Department ticketed him for parking a car on the street with a for-sale sign. Yes, there was a law about that.

Section 90, Chapter 33 of the Duluth City Code, 1959:

Parking vehicles on street for sale prohibited. No person shall place any vehicle on a highway to display the same for sale or exchange. A vehicle shall be deemed to be displayed in violation of this Section when found standing upon a street and bearing indications that it is for sale or exchange.

The purpose of the law was to prevent people from parking cars on the street marked “for sale” and leaving them there for months or potentially years at a time. So on that level it made sense. However, since there is another law requiring cars parked on city streets to be moved at least once weekly — or more often depending on the street — the no-selling law had no useful reason to exist.

When I read the PDD post, I took a moment to be appalled by someone getting a ticket for parking a car with a “for sale” sign, then noticed the guy linked to his Craigslist ad. He had a 1986 Mercedes-Benz sedan in visually perfect condition — with just 114,000 miles on it — for $3,500. When I found out the original cassette deck was still in it and functional, a test drive was only hours away.

I brought a neighbor guy with me to check it out — one of those smart people who knows about cars. He looked it over, nodded, and said, “It’s clean. Buy it.”

So I bought it.

The whole thing felt weird immediately. Like I suddenly became Rafe Hollister, the scruffy hillbilly in overalls who Andy Griffith tries to put into a clean suit and spruce up so he can sing for a snobby ladies-group function. Here’s me, the lifelong owner of rusty heaps, in a Mercedes driving down the alley to park next to the housing projects. Granted, it’s a 30-year-old car bought for three-and-a-half grand … but it is pretty sexy when you pose it on Park Point in the sunset.

Another thing I immediately liked about this car, at least on a cheesy level, is remembering when I was a kid in the 1980s and some guy with his hair slicked with Brylcreem would drive by in his old Ford Thunderbird listening to Elvis. Now I’m like that guy, but driving a 1986 car in 2017 while listening to Steve Winwood and Van Halen.

Of course, it would only be a few months into the ownership of my sex machine that Louis C.K. would release a comedy special in which he slams tan-colored cars and their owners, essentially calling me a “fucking loser.” That brought me back to my humble self.

There is a cool fact about this Mercedes, however, that swings the prestige pendulum back a bit in my favor. In addition to being a low-mileage almost-classic car, it is also a vehicle of historical significance in Duluth.

Remember that ticket the previous owner was tagged with? He fought it. The city attorney promptly notified him the fine would be waived while the statute was reviewed. In March the Duluth City Council voted to repeal that section of the City Code, noting: “Developments in First Amendment jurisprudence make the continuing validity of the section doubtful.”

So now my car is a traveling symbol of American freedom!!!

But this is all background to another story about how my car has become a symbol of my idiocy. So consider this the “pros” part of a pros and cons series. Next week, the cons begin.

Mercedes Trilogy Index
Part one: My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of American Freedom
Part two: My Fancy Foreign Car is a Symbol of My Idiocy
Part three: Positive Thinking Meets Bad Car-ma

1 Comment


about 7 years ago

Great story. My guess is that that ticket came from a third-party company that the city contracts with for parking enforcement. Apparently they're combing the regulations for any excuse to give someone a ticket, because that means more money for them. Good for the owner for fighting it. And congratulations to you for acquiring a sweet ride at a discount.

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