Everything I know about cars, I learned from Springsteen songs. Help!

I know absolutely nothing about cars.

Okay, I guess that isn’t true, strictly speaking. I know how to drive them. I know that they run on gasoline. I know Bruce Springsteen likes to sing about them (even though he admits he doesn’t know that much about them either).  And I know that the second anything stops working in mine, I need to call my dad ASAP.

That is the full extent of my knowledge of cars.

I have no idea what goes on under the hood of my car. When I open it, it looks like an super-complicated game of Mousetrap, with lots of random doohickeys that make it run. But honestly, as far as I know, there could be little gnomes running on a hamster wheel who are REALLY the reason why my car goes when I push the gas pedal.

So when my “check engine” light came on last week, I did what any rational person would do.

I became convinced that my car was going to explode and began dictating a will to Siri. That’s legally binding, right?

Turns out, I just didn’t tighten the gas cap well enough the last time I filled my car up and apparently THAT causes a “check engine” light. But even once my father reassured me that no, my car was NOT going to explode (actually, his exact words were that it PROBABLY wouldn’t explode, which was somewhat less than reassuring), I still had to bring it to the dealership for them to reset the “check engine” light.

Luckily, I befriended the service manager at Toyota years ago, so that was a painless procedure. Until he reminded me that I need to get my car serviced before I drive it to Brooklyn to see the Gaslight Anthem in a couple of weeks. And unfortunately, it’s almost at 90,000 miles, which means that I needed to get the timing belt replaced.

I have no idea what any of that means. All I know is was going to cost me something like $1,100. Which is ELEVEN Springsteen shows! (Okay, not really. It’s three plus Ticketmaster charges. But in a perfect world, it’d be ELEVEN shows that I now can’t go to! Although in a perfect world, I’d be at ALL of the Bruce shows with no timing belt issues. I’d also be stick skinny, married to Leonardo DiCaprio, a world-famous author, and I’d have a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos’ look sparse. Clearly the world is not perfect.)

So, I cried a little, but agreed. Because I can’t afford a new car right now. And I DO love my car.

And in fact, I love my car more than ever now, because while it was in the shop, I drove my brother’s old Jeep.

Back in 1999 when my brother got the Jeep (from my uncle—it was already four years old then), he thought it was the hottest car on the planet. He pimped out the stereo system and you could literally hear him coming from about a mile away. Seriously. It was better than a LoJack.

Fast forward to Wednesday when my dad gave me the keys.

“We need to discuss a few things about driving it,” he said.

A few things turned out to be a lot more than I expected. For example there are warning lights on for parts of a car that I’ve never heard of. I don’t know what a rear cooling sensor is, nor do I know what it does or why it’s “bad.” Does it have tattoos and piercings? Does it need to go to the time out corner? And is it ACTUALLY okay to ignore it like my dad says it is?

The key fob works, he explained, but only if you’re trying to lock or unlock the rear passenger side door. It’s useless on all other doors.

The brakes are “slow,” he told me, “so leave about double the stopping distance you’d normally need.”

Air conditioning? Hah. That died years ago.

Planning to drive anyone else? Not a good idea. There used to be seats in the back, but they’re long gone.

Need to open the back hatch? Watch out because It doesn’t stay up. But there’s a pole in the back of the jeep that dad told me he uses to prop the hatch open with.

As he walked me through the basics of driving this relic of my brother’s adolescence, my eyes wandered to the spare tire holder, which looked oddly misshapen. “What’s wrong with the spare?”

“There is no spare. There are jumper cables and motor oil in there.”

“What happens if I get a flat tire?”

My dad just looked at me like I was an idiot. “Don’t get a flat tire.”

Needless to say, I was a little concerned by the time I got into the driver’s seat. Which wasn’t helped by the fact that I started the car, released the emergency brake, put it in drive, pressed the gas pedal and—nothing happened.

My dad knocked on the window and I rolled it down (THAT actually worked without me breaking out the 80s-style hand crank). “You have to put it in reverse for a second to go forward because the brakes lock up.” Silly me, I should have thought of that.

So, taking my life in my hands, I put it in reverse, then back into drive, and it mercifully lurched forward.

“This isn’t so bad,” I thought as I pulled away. It’s MUCH higher than my car and I DO like feeling tall.

That feeling of contentment lasted until I got it up to 30 miles per hour, at which point the car began to sound eerily like the Loch Ness Monster giving birth to a rabid elephant.

I quickly called my dad. “Is it supposed to sound like this?” I shouted over the car’s hideous cries of agony.

“Yup,” my dad said. “It’s fine.”

At which point, I realized that one of two things was going on. 1) My dad hates me and this was all part of a plan to kill me while making it look like an accident because there was NO WAY that this car was going to get me to and from school and the gym while mine was in the shop, or 2) the car ALWAYS sounded like that and we just couldn’t ever hear it over my brother’s subwoofers and ghetto fabulous music.

Right now, I’m leaning toward option 2, as the car DID safely get me where I needed to go. My hearing hasn’t quite recovered, but I’m pretty sure that old Nessie is either going to have that rabid elephant baby soon or else finally reach the end of her days. Nothing can make a noise like that for that long and live.

And my timing belt was replaced, so I’m back in my car with a new-found respect for the gnomes that keep it running so smoothly.

I’m poor. But I’m back in a hot car that actually works like a car is supposed to. Whatever that means.

And as my dad pointed out, if I ever DO want to run over that goose that stalks me in the mornings, I’m free to borrow the Jeep any time.

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All workouts and no soda make Sara a cranky (but skinny!) girl…

It’s official. I’ve become one of THOSE people.

You know the people I mean. The ones who exercise with freakishly religious zeal. The ones who ONLY fill their shopping carts at the grocery store with organic fruits and veggies. The people who can, without needing to do any quick math, tell you IMMEDIATELY how many calories they’ve consumed so far today, as well as what their total daily caloric intake will be.

Yes.  I have become a skinny health nut.

I didn’t become one of THOSE people because I wanted to feel morally superior to the people who don’t work out, buy processed foods, and don’t know their daily calorie intake at this exact second—although don’t get me wrong, I DO feel superior to all of you who aren’t like that.  Massively so.  All of THOSE people do.  You were right about that.  We judge you. 

No, I made this lifestyle change because I promised myself that I would be a size 4 by summer. And I’m actually almost there. I’ve got probably another 5-7 pounds left to go, with another two months of school left and a month-and-a-half until the pool opens.

3 days before I got on the exercise/healthy eating wagon
Me last week… see the difference???

Yay me!

But I’m also finding myself at that dreaded plateau, where those last 5-7 pounds don’t seem to want to budge.  I’ve tried reasoning with them, I’ve tried yelling at them, I’ve even tried offering them a trip to Disney World (hey, it would work if someone wanted to get rid of ME!).  But to no avail.  Clearly, drastic measures are necessary, so it was time to give up my last remaining dietary vice.

Yes, boys and girls, I’m talking about my diet soda addiction.

For years, I ignored all of the articles/tv shows/doctors/health experts/random busybodies (cough Angela cough) who said that any soda, even diet, is bad for you. Because I love me some Diet Coke. And it has zero calories! Nothing with zero calories can be bad for you! (And no, no one who speaks German could be evil either.)

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that CALORIES are the enemy, not the artificial sweeteners and other delicious, cancer-causing ingredients.

Right?  I mean, why would they put the word “diet” in the NAME of the product if it wasn’t going to help you lose weight?  Who would do something like that?

And I NEEDED my soda.

Because if you know me at all, you know that I don’t drink coffee. (And if you don’t know me, but still know that I don’t drink coffee, that’s really creepy and please stop stalking me!) But I’m an inveterate insomniac and have a day job that starts at what I believe should technically still be termed “The Middle of the Freaking Night for God’s Sake.” Literally. When I rule the world, that’s what 7:25am will be called.

So for years now (never mind how many!), I’ve relied on two (okay, three or four) cans of Coke Zero to get me through until the time when normal people start their days. You know. Noon.

For me, that was the perfect amount of caffeine to keep me functional, but NOT enough to cause further sleep problems.

But coffee drinkers don’t understand that, as I learned when I went to the Meadowlands to see Bruce Springsteen with my dad last week. I drove both ways, as it was my spring break and my dad had to work the next day, but after hitting a mysterious traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike that Google Maps claimed didn’t exist but that lasted for an hour, and with three hours left to drive at 1am, I realized I was going to need some kind of a stimulant to help keep me awake on the road.

So we stopped at the Walt Whitman rest stop to get me a Diet Coke.

Perfectly confident in my abilities to make it safely home with that 32oz soda next to me, I got back in the car. My dad called my mom to give her an estimate on when he would be home, and I spoke to her for a couple of minutes as well (a little bit about the concert, but mostly bragging about how healthily I had eaten that day.  My mom is the skinniest person on the planet, so she was proud). And when I went to take a sip of my delicious, life-prolonging, energy-giving Diet Coke, I got only ice.  And that horrible watered-down soda remnant crap that you get when your soda is gone but you try to drink it anyway.

While I had been on the phone, my dad drank the whole soda. And because he single-handedly keeps Starbucks in business and literally has pure coffee running through his veins instead of blood, the caffeine in my soda did nothing for him.  Thirty seconds later, he was asleep.

At which point, I decided to kill him and leave his body in the swamps of Jersey.

Because if I learned anything from The Sopranos, it’s that that’s a pretty common occurrence in New Jersey and shouldn’t really raise any eyebrows.

But I love my dad. So even though I spent the next hour of the drive plotting his demise in gory detail, I didn’t act on it. Instead, I drank half of my emergency 5 Hour Energy that I keep in the car for just such situations.

And I haven’t slept since.

So, because I’m pretty sure I’m still hopped up on the caffeine from a week and a half ago, I realized that the time had come to lay off of the soda entirely to help reach my weight loss goals.

(Plus, the soda habit was getting expensive. I need to save my money for the really important things, like clothes that actually fit now that I’ve lost weight and tickets for when Bruce comes back around in the fall!)

And I have to admit that in addition to cutting out all of the additives that were going to kill me, cutting caffeine out as well has left me feeling…

AWFUL! All of those experts who said I’d feel so much better, what the hell are they smoking? I mean, yes, I get to feel that sense of superiority over all of those coffee and soda addicts out there, but…

Actually…hmm….

Never mind. I feel great.

You just might want to stay out of my way if you happen to see me before noon for the next couple of weeks. I’m still a little grumpy in the mornings.

But bikini season, here I come!