2009 Toyota Camry

My dad’s got a Camry. It’s a 1997, with 135,000 miles on the odometer its second coat of paint. He had the gas filler door spring replaced and the interior cushioning has gone a little soft. It’s still on its original brakes. The On knob for the radio broke a while back and he hasn’t bothered to replace it.

And it will never die.

Sure, he could wake up tomorrow and decide to drive it into a tree, but barring some kind of catastrophic event, he’ll eventually have to decide which of my brothers to leave it to in his will.

Which brings us to the current model. By all accounts, it’s a better car than Dad’s. Bigger, more powerful, with a well-designed cockpit and the ergonomic efficiency one expects from middle management, i.e., the Camry’s natural environment.

It drives fine. Its range is good (almost 500 miles for a base four cylinder with a manual transmission). It’s available in several colors. If you ever need to tail someone, a tan Camry is the car for you. No one—I repeat no one —will even see you in traffic. It’s automotive camouflage.

Which is why I hate this car. Oh, sure, it’s reliable and comfortable and won’t damage your wallet with mileage of 21 city and 31 highway, but to be even mildly interesting you’d have to get the manual transmission.

I double-dog dare you to find a new Camry with a stick at your dealer. I couldn’t. Honda has the decency to keep a stick or two on hand at all times, but Toyota doesn’t. I was told that this is due to the fact that no one ever asks for one.

I did.


I clicked my seatbelt in place and waited. Nothing. I looked at the Generalissimo.

“Ready when you are, sir,” I said.

The Generalissimo stared at the steering wheel.

“More trouble at home, sir?” God I hoped not.

He shook his head, then he sighed.

“Okay,” I said, resigned to trying to get him out of whatever funk he was in this time. “Well, I promised the dealer we’d have the car back sometime in the next three hours, so we should probably go.”

He shook his head again. The key was in the ignition. His seatbelt was on. His mustache was glorious, as always.

“Sir, is there a—”

“We cannot test this vehicle.”

The normal tone of voice should have given me the head’s up, but I’m not all that bright.

“But we have to,” I said. “It’s, like, one of the most popular cars in the country.”


“I know, it’s a little bland, but so’s the food in the ARDVARC cafeteria.” He always enjoyed jokes about the Ant Hill’s pathetic culinary option.

Not even a smirk. He simply sat there, waiting.

“Did the car offend you in some way?” It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Then he sobbed. Ah, crap. He wiped what I assumed were tears from behind those mirrored aviators.

“Sir?” Uncomfortable isn’t descriptive enough for this one.

“I apologize, young Thurman.” Another sob. He balled his hand, then brought it up to his mustache, whereupon he bit into his knuckles.

“Did you take the blue pill this morning, sir? Because Doc Hanway told you that she was switching you to the red ones.” Like a change in his medication was going to help.

“No! My herbal supplementation is not the issue!” Herbal supplements my ass. “No, you have inadvertently discovered my secret shame!”

“Secret…um, come again? This time in English.”

“I…I…I cannot speak the words.”

“It’s okay; you’re among friends.” And anonymous blog readers. Like he’d ever find that out. Man thinks a computer is some kind of little person whose savant-like mathematical skills forced him or her to live inside a beige plastic case, where it communicates with the outside world through a strange television set that doesn’t get reruns of Sesame Street.

“I…I don’t know how to drive an automatic transmission.” He slumped forward in his seat until his head hit the horn. I pulled him off it before the sound scared the other customers or added to my burgeoning migraine.

“You’re kidding, right?” I begged.

“Alas, no. My father, as you know, was a journeyman racecar driver in his youth. He taught me to drive when I was twelve. He believed automatics were for communists and the French. As a result, he never taught me how to drive one of these.” He gestured at the gear selector.


“This is why I have asked you to procure conveyances with manual transmissions. My failure has dishonored you. I apologize!”

H pulled a ceremonial dagger from inside his tunic. I tore it from his hand.

“No seppuku!” I said. “They’ll never get the blood stains out of the upholstery, and I’ll have to pay for it.” I put the dagger in the glove box. “Okay, I’ll teach you.”


“It’s easy. A monkey could do it. Hell, the French obviously can.” Even though his counterpart was French, he had little love for their kind. Cheese eating surrender monkeys.

“No! Evil awaits! Time is of the essence! Let us be off!” He got out of the Camry and ran toward his parked LM002.

“But you haven’t evaluated the Camry yet!” I called after him.

“Not until it has a clutch pedal! My left foot might become bored! And as you know, boredom is Satan’s alchemy!” Yeah, I had no idea what the hell that meant, either.

I rubbed my face. For some reason, none of this surprised me.

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