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El Camino

The first thing one will notice on reaching Birmingham is the absense of people on the roads. Or the footpaths. Or the... never mind. The point is, coming from a place like Pune or a country like India, it throws you off. Your equilibrium, or whatever is left of it after a 30 hour journey, is not really equipped to handle the mausoleum-like atmosphere. Your alleged knowledge of 'Amreeka' is based on a a strict diet of Hollywood movies, which show lots of people hustling and bustling squawking "Time is money, people... chop, chop, chop!" or a bunch of attractive, scantily clad women strolling about the beach. You quickly realise that you have been cheated... that there are no people around, much less semi-nude dames. No, in the real U.S, everyone and their dog drives some sort of auto-mobile. Walking is an exotic form of exercise only beaten out by Yoga and Tai Chi. Effective public transport is relegated to places like New York, Seattle, Chicago etc. so the only thing left to boast about in Birmingham is the crime rate. 6th most violent city in the country, people !!

Naturally, we guys didn't have a car when we first got here. Fellow Indians who had been here for a while and did own cars were nice enough to drive us around, but strictly as a last resort. We walked everywhere, which is fine if the weather is pleasant. Unfortunately, no one had thought to warn us that the temperature in summer is around 38 degrees. Celsius, that is. Ofcourse, summer 2006 was the hottest in 5 years. It had to be. It's like being toasted to death and our complexions at the end of 3 weeks could only be described as a nice dark oak finish.

Although beggars can't choose and all that, living very close to campus meant that getting to class wasn't a hassle. What was troublesome was getting anywhere else. Privacy is very important in this country so practically everyone lives a good distance away from everyone else. This would be acceptable, were it not for the fact that the grocery stores also follow this principle and are therefore located in the middle of nowhere. Or 4 miles away, give or take... It was quite plain that we needed a car of our own.

Luckily for Grandpa, another Indian student was leaving town and was anxious to sell off his car for practically nothing. Or at least, that was the reason he gave anyway. Everyone including Grandpa could hardly believe his luck when this paragon of generosity sold him the car for $1. Yes, one dollar. The transfer papers were signed quickly in case the bloke changed his mind and Grandpa got the car registered soon after. The old owner, mission accomplished, slunk away.

As expected, the car began to give problems almost immediately. Various parts, which had been held together by chewing gum and prayers decided to protest this abuse and broke down one by one. As I write this, Grandpa has spent about $1200 to ensure that the car actually moves. Anyway, this experience made the rest of us leery about buying a car on the cheap and Batman's car, which came next, cost about $4000. Apart from the battery quitting on him permanently 1 month after he bought it and the coolant tank leaking continuously even today, the car's just dandy. A couple of months after that, I decided to get in on the act as well. My classes were scheduled late in the evening and I was not enthusiastic about the prospect of being mugged as I made my way home. So, I asked around and was told that a friend of a friend was selling his car. A bottle-green 1992 Toyota Camry. When I went to see it, I found that the external body pretty much screamed out that it was an old car. The sides were rusted and peeling, the wind-shield had a thin crack across it and the tyres looked a bit tired (hehe). But the interiors were in great shape and and the engine was running well and had been serviced recently. Or so I was told anyway.

The owner of the car was not really interested in making a profit on the sale which got me quite suspicious, but there were really no other affordable vehicles on the market. So, I asked him how much he wanted for it and he in turn asked me to name my price. I brooded, examined the situation from all sides and decided that it was 50-50. I could end up with a decent car or with a wreck. With my rather infamous luck, the odds weren't looking so good, but I had to take a chance. So, with my heart in my mouth, I made my offer.

He accepted, we signed the papers and I got the car registered soon after. On the 7th of July, 2007 I was the proud owner of my first car. It hasn't given me a problem till today either. I guess the devil does take care of his own.

As for the price ?

There's a legend among the Indian students in Birmingham about a guy who bought a really good car. A '92 bottle-green Toyota Camry, to be exact.

For $200 dollars.

That guy is me.

Song for the moment: Faith in something bigger - The Who


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