Love at first test drive

Tuesday, April 17, 2001 at 10:00pm

The gold metallic 2001 Buick Regal GS didn't seem all that unusual when it arrived at our house. It's an excellent midsize sedan in a market crowded with midsize sedans. Who could have known strange things were about to happen?

When the Regal first arrived, Love Interest had a hair appointment and asked if she could take the GS. Sure, why not? She was off with no particular drama and returned within a reasonable time frame.

Come Saturday, she wanted me to go with her to hit the malls. She wanted to drive, and she suggested a mall way far away.

"We've never been there. It might be interesting," Love Interest explained.

She bought some imprinted cocktail napkins from the Betty Ford Clinic. That was it.

Sunday summoned a drive in the country. Next day she wanted to drive all over town buying regular supermarket things from expensive specialty stores that charged a lot for not much. No sooner was she home than she said she forgot dental floss and had to run back out. Then she had to run back again for smoke detector batteries. When she returned and didn't get out of the car, her excuse was she wanted to finish listening to a CD on the eight-speaker audio entertainment system with controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. She had the moon roof open, too.

"What'll happen to the Regal when they take her back?" she wondered casually over coffee one morning.

"Oh, the usual," I replied idly. "It'll be circulated throughout the press pool then sold to some Buick dealer for resale as a used car."

She vacantly muttered, "And other bottoms will sit in those soft leather six-way adjustable, power front seats?"

"Yeah. So?" I said without thinking.

"I'm only concerned about what's best for her," she said.

I looked up over the sports page. "What's best for the Regal?"

"We can't just turn our backs on her. She'll be traumatized. I've heard factories chop up cars for research. Do you want that to happen to my Goldilocks?"

I've never known Love Interest to give a name to an inanimate object before. Even the dog and cat have ordinary names, Buddy and Kitty.

"Goldilocks? Have you been sniffing gasoline at the self-service pump?" I frowned.

Tears welled up in her eyes. "She wants to stay with us. It's our moral duty to give her asylum. No telling what'll happen to her if we just send her back to the press pool," she said.

"Get real. General Motors isn't going to let us keep that car," I explained.

She squared her shoulders and leaned forward. "I called Whiplash. His legal advice was to take her to independent mechanics for an examination. Three professional mechanics all agreed she'd be much better off if we kept her here. We'd change the oil and filter of her supercharged 240-horsepower 3800 V-6 engine every 3,000 miles. I got some silver polish for her matte-finish aluminum wheels. I bought a special little vacuum that plugs in the cigarette lighter for her carpets. Did you know the split fold-down rear seat is raised for improved rear passenger visibility, comfort and conversation with people up front?"

"Sure, the dual climate controls, if you can ever figure out how to use them, let us both be comfortable without fighting. But GM has some tough lawyers," I said.

"The girls in my club have Centuries, LeSabres, Park Avenues. They're family to Goldilocks, her relatives. They park in the same driveways. She's even asking if she can have a slumber party with the big girls in their air-conditioned garages," Love Interest said.

"The car talks to you? Have you been reading Stephen King?" I asked.

She got serious. "Whiplash got a psychologist to go for a ride with me. She agreed Goldilocks was happy and well adjusted in both city traffic and open country, carefree and fun and handled with glee. Whiplash wants to confront those GM lawyers, go on television with Goldilocks and appeal to the public for her release. Lovable cars shouldn't be passed around from journalist to journalist then sent to some dealership used-car lot. What if she wound up with some teen-age boy who tinted her windows and installed those thumping loud speakers? Is that what America wants?" she reasoned.

"OK," I said. "I agree she has a way about her; she grows on you

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