My father-in-law was right. Andres said we should get a Volkswagen Sharan. But we didn't, we got a Mercury Villager, an Ameerika auto as they call it here. We've paid for it ever since.
Ameerika auto in Estonian doesn't have the negative connotation you think it does. If you drive one, it does not necessarily mean that you are obese or prone to support any war your government presents for your approval. What it means is that if some hooligans decide to rip off your windshield wipers and do damage to your antenna, as they did to our car during the pronksöö in '07, you'll have to order spare parts. From America.
Had we listened to Andres and bought a Volkswagen, we wouldn't have had that problem. There are VW service centers all over Estonia and Germany isn't as far from Estonia as the US. If the Saksa Kultuuri Instituut on Kastani Street in Tartu can be stocked weekly with fresh issues of Frankfurter Allgemeine, then it's fairly easy for an Estonian mechanic to fix a Saksa auto. But we didn't listen to him because the Villager was such a good deal. Plus it had been shipped here from Staten Island by some Estonian-American international car merchant. It still had the dealership's label of Freehold, NJ, on the back. I took it as a sign.
I shouldn't complain. The old red caboose, which I nicknamed "Zhou Enlai" on account of its color and license plate letters and numbers, was fairly reliable, zooming across South Estonian country roads for years, hauling books from Tartu print houses to Tallinn warehouses. But even good things must come to an end, and this winter Zhou froze to death. He's been sitting in a lot in Ülejõe ever since as we contemplate either getting him a new engine or putting him and his rare spare parts out to pasture.
And so now we hunt for a new car, something a little more reliable than Zhou. One of our friends, an Estonian mechanic named Akko who came to Tartumaa via Tajikistan, recommended a KIA, a Korea auto which sounds nice when you say it, but, having seen too many Vietnam movies as a kid, reminds me of a certain dreadful acronym. We were contemplating the KIA, when friends and family came out of the woodwork to point us in other directions. Supposedly the new KIAs are better than the old ones, and the reason why this KIA is such a sweet deal is because that's all it's worth. But it's hard to make decisions when one know-it-all is telling you that a car is a great deal and the other know-it-all is telling you it's a shitbox. What to do?
Looking for cars is a disorienting experience. If you spend enough time looking, you can't help but notice how ridiculously they are all named. Only the drug companies, with their Nolvadexes and Removabs and Jantovens, can beat the car companies with their Fabias and Cordobas and Mondeos. They sound like minor characters from some long lost Shakespearean production. But in this forest of names and numbers, we will find our next ride.
This new car must be energy efficient, we've determined, smaller, but with enough legroom for big people like me, popular enough in Estonia that it is easy to find spare parts, not too expensive, have five seats and preferably four doors (though two doors might be ok), and be automatic because even though we've given up on Ameerika autod, the guy behind the wheel will still be an ameeriklane and in America 75 percent of cars on the road are automatics (in Estonia, it's the other way around). I am writing this post now because I need your help. I am also writing it because I know how passionate people are about vehicles.