Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Maintenance: “The process of keeping something in good condition.” Maintenance has consumed my thoughts for the last 2 weeks, and on a trip consisting of more 7 days of driving (by the time it’s over with), that’s a lot of time to think.

One of the ideas behind the simplicity movement when it comes to material goods is this: Purchase price is only the beginning. What the object will cost to maintain is something else altogether.

Take bridges, for instance. As we have learned from recent news, bridges by their nature are high maintenance objects. When a community builds a bridge, it may spend several millions of dollars initially, but few people ever realistically calculate the maintenance. The maintenance line items built into every DOT budget do not begin to cover the necessary funds. It’s the maintenance that gets you.

Every time you buy a piece of clothing, you have to calculate cleaning (whether dry cleaning or laundry detergent, it all needs cleaning). Whenever you buy a computer (don’t we know, Matt?) you have to realize it won’t last forever and will require maintenance until the cost of maintenance outruns the cost of buying another new machine. Houses (don’t get me started) require endless maintenance, and the older and bigger the house, the more maintenance is needed.

So this leads me to our car, a 2002 Jeep Liberty. In the last couple of decades, we have been trading cars in on new ones before the old ones begin exhibiting signs of imminent mechanical difficulties. This year, I guess, we crossed over the line on holding onto a car, as the Jeep is now showing its age, and the 1500-mile trip to Tennessee didn’t help it, I’m sure. Some of you know we were stranded in Virginia after the transmission fluid line blew, and we spent over half a day sitting in a dealership waiting room, then shelling out $545 for the pleasure. I asked the mechanic to explain the origin of the problem, and he said it is just something that can happen because the car is aging. We assuaged our feelings by thinking things could have been worse - as things always can - and we paid the money (well, actually Mastercard paid the money) and with a mixture of anxiety and relief we continued on our journey.

We just mentally added that bill to the 4 new tires last month. Cars require lots of maintenance.

Turns out they sometimes require repairs even faster than you can take out your wallet and say, “Charge it.” Around the time we crossed the border back into Maine, the air conditioning started making funny noises; as Ed described it, it sounded like “a hair dryer on heroin.” We kept listening as it got louder and louder, and then after a couple of hours, the air conditioning was no longer cooling. We were planning to get it checked out once we got home.

Today we were at the Ellsworth post office and the car would not start. Thinking it might be the battery, Ed had a nearby mechanic try to jump it off, but that didn’t work. So, for the second time in 2 weeks, we had the Liberty towed to a Jeep dealership. This time it was not $545. It was over $800, because it needed a new compressor. I asked the mechanic if the record heat temps in Memphis had contributed to our compressor’s demise, but he assured me it was just one of those things that can happen as cars age. “They don’t last forever, you know.” Yeah, we know. Boy, do we know.

I’m upset about the money, of course. I’m also upset about losing time on our trip and having to find our accommodations in the dark that night. I’m really upset that we can spend more and more on just fixing things and don’t even have the enjoyment of having something new for all that money. If you replace a roof or foundation, for instance, after all that money you spend, you don’t have a new house - you just have a house with a roof and foundation that can perform their jobs adequately. You don’t really have anything exciting to show for it. In our case, we don’t have a new car - we just have an older car that will be functioning as it should in the first place. Maintenance again rears its ugly and expensive head.

But why should I be shocked? As Ed and I get older, our bodies require more costly ongoing maintenance as well. We never are presented with a new body - it just takes all the maintenance we can muster to preserve the adequate condition and functioning of the old. The more stress we put on our aging body, the more upkeep it demands.

That’s why 3 months ago I quit coloring my hair. That’s one maintenance expense I have control over. Now when you see me, you’ll recognize me instantly. I’m the gray-haired lady riding in the Jeep Liberty - the one with the brand-new compressor under the hood. We’ve both accumulated a lot of miles and show signs of wear and tear, but we’re still chugging along. We aging folks have to stick together.

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