Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Theory of Hubris

I would like to meditate on hubris at the moment.

Those of you who read this blog with any regularity whatsoever probably know that I have a car named Loki that I love dearly. Loki* was a present to myself when I sold SHIVER, finally becoming a full-time writer. He is also, for tax purposes, my business car.

In theory, this is the best idea ever.

In practice, having a vehicle made in 1973 as your business vehicle presents some problems.

*moreover, you'll notice I named him after the Norse god of mischief. This, in theory, seems like the best idea ever. In practice, however, it presents some problems.

Here is a diagram with some details of Loki:



And a close up diagram for finer details:



Sometime last year, while I was on tour for LINGER, I was sitting in my hotel room in Los Angelos and looking out the window and thinking. And that's when I saw this parked outside of my hotel.

And I had a great idea. That great idea was that next year, instead of flying to all of my book tour destinations, I should do a great American road trip. In Loki.

Sleep-deprived, high on sweet tea, and gazing at the Wienermobile the entire time, I stared at a map of the United States and drew a looping, 3,700 mile road trip on it. As I stared at it, I remembered Loki's foibles, the weather in July, and how crucial it is to arrive at events on time. This is insanity, I thought fondly.

Then I e-mailed it to my publicist.

Let's fast forward a few months. By this point, Loki has been to joint author events in Richmond (and broken down), to parade in front of NASA engineers (and broken down), and to numerous school visits (and not broken down, to mix things up a little bit). My publicist calls.

PUBLICIST: Maggie, this is insanity.
ME: yes.
PUBLICIST: However, insanity seems to be your "brand." Let's do it.

The map had just become one step closer to reality. Loki headed into the shop to have wiring replaced and air-conditioning put in. For my part, I picked out jeans that would match Loki on tour. Lover built me a model of Loki to sit on my desk while I meditated. My publicist spent long hours with a phone in one hand and Google maps in the other.

Now, I had grown up with old cars — my dad infected me with an affection for the smell of gas leaking — and so I knew that it was always a bad idea to travel alone in a car you didn't trust entirely, especially if you were a young and tender girl wearing jeans that matched your Camaro.


I needed a co-pilot. Someone who I wouldn't kill after three weeks, and someone, more importantly, who wouldn't kill me.** Who better to ask than my best friend and critique partner, Tessa Gratton?

**I can be somewhat highly strung.

You see Tessa in this photo (left). That is Carrie Ryan on the right. I feel this photograph adequately expresses both of their personalities.




She said yes. My plans were finally coming together.


Meanwhile, after four months in the shop, Loki was supposedly a new man, free of the . . . inconsistencies . . . that had troubled him to that point. Plus, air-conditioning. I do not feel I cannot emphasize this enough. I was delighted when, a few days ago, I got a phone call from the mechanic (who is French. With a heavy accent. This makes all of our technical conversations slightly obscure, like so:

FRENCH MECHANIC: I have finished your car, but zer iz a problem.
ME: oh?
FRENCH MECHANIC: Ze door panels, I can find ze top two parts, but not ze bottom.
ME: which part is that?
FRENCH MECHANIC: Ze part wi ze glove box. Wi ze cavern. Wi ze trash pocket! You know zis word, what is ze TRASH POCKET?
ME: I . . . okay. I just want air co and running car. Everything else is cool.
FRENCH MECHANIC: You need to come into ze shop! So I can stop trying to think of word for TRASH POCKET!

)

I picked Loki up. Apart from the Trash Pockets, the car ran and sounded like a million bucks, or at least like the $11,000 I had claimed for him on my taxes when I bought him. I was excited, but I was also beginning to feel that possibly I had misled Tessa as to the full extent of what it was like to ride in Loki. With a sense of duty and doom, I pinged her in chat.


Tessa was still game. My evil plans really were falling into place. French Mechanic urged me to drive Loki as much as possible before the tour, in order to "iron out ze bumps." 

With a sense that I had the best ideas in the world, I decided to take Loki to a fairly local event in Fredericksburg on Thursday. The organizers had arranged for me to have a parking space right by the building, and in my head, I could already see my triumphant arrival. Bright orange-red muscle car belching smoke and roaring proudly, license plate shouting my novel, me cool as a cucumber in my newly air-conditioned front seat. Everyone would have to walk by it to get into the event and oh would they see how terribly cool I was.

I was riding high as I left the house that evening. The sun was as low and red as my car, and I was feeling pretty smug. Loki tore out of my home town, engine thrashing enthusiastically, speakers pumping. The miles careened out behind me. One mile. Two miles. Four miles.

Five.

Six.

Somewhere around seven miles from home:

LOKI: >cough<
ME: I know that was just an accident. Clearing your throat. You —
LOKI: >coughcough<
ME: If you ever want to be let out of the house again, you —
LOKI: >die<

From the side of the road, I noticed that the spring flowers were super pretty and considered the idea that, possibly, there was still more wrong with Loki than the trash pocket. It was probably time to have another chat with Tessa. As Lover sighed over the phone and packed up Things 1 & 2 to rescue me, I pondered the meaning of the word hubris.

Forty minutes later, I pulled up sulkily at my event in my diesel Volkswagen. It did not belch smoke. It was not bright orange-red. The license plate did not say SHIVER. Really, the only thing it had going for it was that it ran, and really, that is the least important thing a car can do, right?

I have loads of time before July. And at least I have air conditioning in Loki now. Which, turns out, is slightly better in theory than in practice.
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