Running on entropy

My whole life is falling apart. Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration, but part of my life is falling apart: the automotive part.

I’ve had 10 cars since 1982, and I paid a total of $41,500 for all of them, which works out to an average of $4,150 per car. This is astonishing arithmetic, especially in a day and age when two specialty drinks and a croissant at Starbucks can run to nearly half that. Call it frugal or dumb, but that’s a remarkable amount of rust and anxiety for very little money.

I once had two identical 1998 Nissan sedans ($8,500 for the pair), which I nursed in parallel for 486,712 miles. I referred to them collectively as “The Vector,” which seemed to have a haughty and slightly superhero ring to it — a name NASA might have wanted to use for a space shuttle if I hadn’t already taken it. Since they were nearly identical (year, color, dents, squeaks, disgusting emission), my friends thought there was only one of them (hence the singular moniker), and I just traded parts back and forth to perpetuate the ruse. Water pumps, alternators, spark plugs, solenoids, light bulbs, cables, filters and the like flew opportunistically back and forth between the barn and the garage like teenage girls at competing shoe sales.

Eventually, I ran out of tires and the whole charade settled lightly to the ground with a pathetic hiss. Two cars, spent and worthless, on their way to the junkyard. Still, nearly a half-a million miles for $8,500 works out to less than two cents a mile. Frugal, right?

My current nightmare sedan, “The Green Hornet,” has 243,411 miles on it and won’t pass inspection. My mechanic, as optimistic a man as you’d ever want to meet, just said “no.” Hinted to my wife that he could put his fist through the frame just about anywhere, and that was it. Now, if I had a twin tucked away in the barn, I’d consider the whole trading-parts-back-and-forth scheme, but I don’t; and besides, something tells me that swapping frames is trickier than swapping wiper blades. So, I have to buy a new car…well, a new old car.

Anyway, this whole automotive mess reminds me of the second law of thermodynamics, which states in layman’s terms that within a closed system organization cannot spontaneously result from chaos, that all systems trend toward disorder and decay, that rot and rust and anarchy and disarray are the order of the day. This law, among other things, lops the head off the myth that the complexity and obvious design of the universe resulted from mere chance and time (nothing plus nobody equals everything), takes all the mystery out of how they determine college football bowl games, and also explains why I’ve never seen the floor in my daughter’s room, why my knees creak more each year, and why my hair is falling out.

So here I sit, idling roughly and not firing on all cylinders, living proof that the second law is firmly in force, running down like the universe and in desperate need of my 11th rust-bucket. Scientists refer to the tendency of all things to fall apart as entropy — which isn’t a bad car name, now that I think of it. It sounds mysterious, intrepid, peripatetic, and most certainly fast. I need something soon, and as usual, I’ve got just over four grand to spend.

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