Kicking Love Into Gear: A Journalist And Her Volvo
MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now we open up the pages of The Washington Post Magazine for the second time this week to find another interesting story about the way we live now. Today we dig into a love story of sorts: the romance between a journalist and her 1995 Volvo station wagon. Washington Post staff writer Brigid Schulte could not bring herself to part with that ailing car. Who cares if the power steering wasn't reliable, the odometer was broken and it smelled like rotten milk? The point was it had character and a lot of memories.
So despite disapproving looks from her neighbors, she continued to pour money into it at the mechanic. Brigid Schulte knew there were a lot of people who felt the way she did. So she decided to find out why. Why do we love our hoopties so much? And she's with us now. Thank you for joining us.
BRIGID SCHULTE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: And it's actually kind of sad because the fact is that the car is no more - at least no more with you. And how did the breakup happen?
SCHULTE: Oh, it was so sad. It was totally unexpected. I had had this car, like I wrote, for years. And one day I was out on an assignment driving around, not talking on my cell phone, a car sailed out without looking and smashed into the front part of the car. And by the time I talked to the insurance company, it was a cold, you know, slap in the face when they just said, well, you know, it's going to cost more to fix than it's worth and we're totaling the car and that was it.
MARTIN: You said you felt dizzy with disbelief, that you tried to argue and plead carefully. It's like the stages of grief. You're, like, please, no, don't break up with me. No.
SCHULTE: I was thinking about that. I went through anger. I went through denial. Yes, I did. I went through bargaining.
MARTIN: You actually did bargain.
MARTIN: In the course of your reporting, you figured out that there were, A, a lot of people who feel this way and that there are some interesting psychological reasons behind it. So tell me about that.
SCHULTE: Well, that was what was interesting. Once I found out how crazy I was, I just - you kind of wonder, am I alone? Am I the only really insane person out there? And so I did a call out to people. It's, like, have you ever loved a car too well? Tell me your story. I want to hear your story. And the stories just flooded in. You know, people who had held on to Mercedes for 27 years. And, you know, the names of their cars and, you know, Black Beauty and Betty and Maybelline(ph) and all this, you know, this incredible, these stories would come in and they were full and rich and they'd had these long relationships.
It really felt like people were talking about real people. And I found this wonderful woman who just has done a big study. And it's called "Truly, Madly Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love." And what she did, she and her co-author spent many years, you know, talking to people like me and going to car shows and trying to understand this connection people have. And they really described for the first time that people can feel for their autos the way people can feel for other human beings.
MARTIN: Well, the other thing about this piece, the article that you're citing which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people can love other objects that way: guns, bikes, other inanimate objects, other material possessions, but that very little compares, or nothing really compares to the affection that some people have for their cars.
SCHULTE: That's right.
MARTIN: I do want to ask, though, whether girl thing or boy thing? Or is this both men and women feel that way?
SCHULTE: That's the interesting thing. Both men and women can feel this way about their cars. You know, and they - in the journal that you cited, they found that people can be friends with their bikes. You're, you know, sort of a buddy relationship. You're friendly with your computer when it works and you hate it when it doesn't work. It's sort of more of a fair-weather friend kind of relationship. But, really, nothing came close to cars and it was across the board. It was also (unintelligible) economic levels. It's, like, everybody has a story.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We're talking about the strong affection some people have for their junky old cars. Our guest is journalist Brigid Schulte and she wrote about this for this week's Washington Post Magazine.
When you figured out that you were not alone and you were not the only person who had these really - a really deep attachment to a particular car, what did you figure out about why you love this particular car so much?
SCHULTE: Well, you know, it's funny. I didn't ever really think about it while I had the car. It was really only through that experience of losing the car that I had to really - finding out how crazy I'd been about trying to repair it that I really began to think about it. I had to go up and clean it out. And my son, who was 11 at the time, he wanted to come with me. And he said, you know, I love that car too. I should come too.
And so I took him out of school, which, again, is another thing. I realize that. And, you know, we were taking out my daughter's hula hoop and all the Mad Libs and the crazy McDonald's toys and the dog-eared maps and everything - putting it in a big box. And, you know, I always thought that I would have that car until my kids turned 16. And then they would - it would be their car. It would be this really safe, you know, steel-reinforced car.
And so figured we'd have it forever. I thought Volvos would run forever. This would be it. So he was driving it, pretending to be 16 and that this was really his car. And then he sort of surprised me. He went around to the front of the car and he laid his head down on it and it's like he gave it a hug. And that's when it hit me - that we bought the car when I was six months pregnant with him and this was after many years, after going to many specialists after I'd been told I would never carry a child and he was really a miracle baby.
And then we bought this car because I was going to have a baby, which I, you know, had been told I would never have. And that's when it finally hit me that that was my attachment to the car, is that finally I was going to be a mom after years of heartache when I thought I never was going to be one.
MARTIN: And that was your mom car.
SCHULTE: That was my mom car.
SCHULTE: And I loved it. And everybody in the neighborhood knew it was me, you know. And I - you know, they would all wave and they knew, it was the lady in the green Volvo. That was just me. And, you know, I have a perfectly fine car now. But it's really funny, it happened the other day, nobody recognizes me when I drive by. Even my best friends, you know, I'm waving madly. It's, like, it's not the green Volvo.
MARTIN: Well, maybe you should get a Maserati.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: That'll fix that.
SCHULTE: Right. Right.
MARTIN: Brigid Schulte is a staff writer for The Washington Post. She wrote about her love of her car - her old car. I'm sorry to bring up a painful memory.
MARTIN: And other people's mad love for their cars - for their junky rides. And she was kind enough to join us from NPR member station WCAI in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. If you want to read her piece in its entirety - and we hope you will - it's titled "Crash and Yearn." We'll link to it on our website. Just go to NPR.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE. Brigid, thank you so much for joining us.
SCHULTE: Thanks so much for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.