Love my car, love me (but in that order?)

Times Staff Writer

It figures that in Los Angeles, the love you get depends on the car you drive. When I first arrived in Southern California four years ago, I drove a rental. A snazzy Mitsubishi Eclipse with which I almost clipped a cop -- three weeks after arriving. Driving down Pacific Coast Highway one evening, I changed lanes, just missing the law on my left. He pulled me over, cussed me out, wrote the ticket and then invited me for coffee.

Excuse me?

After the ticket?

In any event, I realized I needed my own car (perhaps something less agile than the Eclipse), and I bought my first: a white 1987 Nissan Sentra.

I wondered, what did the Sentra say about me?

"Hot!" the guy in the car next to me yelled during a 405 freeway logjam. Pleased, of course I ignored him. What did he think, that he could pick me up on his morning commute?

"Hot, hot," he insisted, pointing to my car where smoke billowed above the hood. I took my bruised ego and busted radiator to the mechanic, realizing the Sentra had to go.

I admit, there was overlap. I hadn't quite parted ways with the Sentra when the Z came along. But how could I resist?

The Nissan 300Z taught me about love.

My brother, leaving the Bay Area to go back to Europe, generously gave me this black and tinted wonder. On our first drive, we explored the coast, taking every bend in the road together. On weekends, we'd hang out together at the car wash, and I would admire its T-bar roof glistening in the sun.

But the Z also taught me the continuum of love and loss. The fear that the object of your affection will be gone in the morning, stolen by someone who -- unlike me -- would know how to jump-start an engine.

Of course, like any passionate affair, it was bound to end. And did, six weeks later on La Brea Boulevard when my car met another, almost head-on. (My brother, hearing of this, through a family snitch, for months would innocently inquire how the Z was doing, sadistically enjoying my squirming, heart-broken equivocations.)

After the Z, I wasn't ready for another car. For months, I relied on the companionship offered by the Blue Line.

But then the Saab 900 came into my life, introduced by a friend. It was right from the beginning.

Sure, there's a difference in age and appearance: The Saab is 13 and green, I'm 30 and blond. But we have so much in common. Both Scandinavian, the Saab traveled across the country in '97. I followed two years later. And the Saab makes up for its age with experience -- 153,000 miles, to be exact.

We've been together for two years now. We've had our ups and downs, burnouts and breakdowns, but considering my history, two years is close to a lifetime. It's a relationship based on trust and the indulgence of little quirks. (I know not to worry when the engine light goes on. It's just a signal for attention.)

Just the other day, we went to the car wash, and afterward, I found myself stroking that green roof with a certain gratitude. It may not be the hot, six-cylinder passion of the Z. But I'm older, and this is what I want: a mature and loving connection.

Still, I was surprised when other drivers tried to come between us. There was, for example, the guy in his black Mercedes-Benz G500 SUV. Both were kind of square-jawed and scary looking. Sidling up at a downtown light, the driver leaned out the window, asking me for lunch. When I declined, citing my commitment elsewhere, he insisted. "I have a girlfriend, too." We could, he suggested, "just hang out."

What was he imagining, a "menage a car"?

A few weeks later, there was the driver of a white Rolls-Royce -- really -- who cruised for a while on Santa Monica Boulevard, trying to make car-to-car small talk: "So, what do you do?" "Oh really, a journalist?" "You should come work for me," he said. "I own a paper."

But I knew. He wasn't interested in my mind.

He only had eyes for the hubcaps.

Louise Roug can be contacted at

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