“Karma” is a New Age phrase that has come to mean a kind of “deserved fate,” that we have somehow gotten ourselves into and can’t escape. We see it all the time in politics: Whenever some government official rails against sexual immorality, he (it’s usually a man) seems to always get caught a few weeks later with his pants down. I also see it in automobile mishaps: the many ways in which people’s cars can break down seem to reflect their personalities.

The first time I noticed this was with a relative whose cars kept exploding. This happened to him so often that he never seemed to realize that this wasn’t a common occurrence in EVERYONE’S life. He would call us up every few weeks in a dejected voice and say, “My car exploded again.”

My favorite incidence of this was when he was dating the daughter of a leading automobile dealer in a major city. Like most of these people, this father had a whole string of dealerships, representing every major make of automobile, so that if you were going to buy a car in that city, you were definitely going to buy it from him.

He had this little red sports car that he wanted to sell because the pop-up headlights sometimes did not pop up in a timely fashion when he turned them on, causing them to overheat and smoke. The car dealer kindly offered to let him park the car on his used car lot and (you guessed it), one weekend evening, when the lot of was closed, the car exploded and burned down the man’s entire Ford dealership (it also ended our friend’s relationship with the daughter).

I think this was definitely a case of “Carma,” because our friend is a rather repressed individual who has often been unlucky in love (although usually not so dramatically). My conclusion is that all his buttoned-up emotions come out through his cars, which then explode with a ferocity which he never exhibits in his personal life.

We once had a car that kept exploding, and this was a time when we had just arrived in Los Angeles and were involved in trying to sell one of Whitley’s books to the movies. We hadn’t yet realized how perfidious movies studios are, so we were appalled at the way we were being treated (while we would now consider this sort of thing to simply be business as usual). The radiator blew up twice when we were on our way downtown to see the same play (which I interpreted to mean that the play was not very good and the car was being a kind of “drama critic”). One time the radiator blew up RIGHT IN FRONT of the automobile dealership, while our manager was sitting in the passenger seat, discussing the film negotiations with him. It was almost as if the car was trying to do Whitley a favor, so he wouldn’t have pay extra to have the car towed.

I remember an older woman we knew who once called us up and said, “My car won’t back up.” Realizing that she must have a broken transmission, Whitley asked, “How long has this been going on?” Her reply, “Oh, about 6 months.”

We were fascinated by imagining how someone could GET AROUND and, especially, PARK without being able to back up: It would take an amazing amount of strategy. This was someone who had needed to back up and start over a long time ago, but had instead cruised stubbornly ahead, never looking back or questioning her decisions, for her entire life.

A good friend has a horror of buying new cars, considering them a waste of money, and although he is comfortably off, he prefers old jalopies and drives his cars into the ground. He is a person who is a bit haunted by his past, especially by a father who had unfulfilled political ambitions that this man felt HE needed to fulfill, in a kind of surrogate gift to his dad. But a few years ago, he jettisoned all these ideas and took up teaching, which he enjoys very much. He also bought a brand new car.

We once owned a car with a faulty parking brake that would let go without warning, sending the car drifting away down the road with no one in it. At the time, we were living in a place where we didn’t belong, mainly because we couldn’t find any other place to live at the time. Our car obviously wanted to leave and eventually we did too (although we traded it in for another automobile before we did).

After all this, I’ve come to the point where I consider the car to be a kind of oracle, pointing out things we need to know about ourselves, if we will only listen. You may have outgrown having Mom and Dad tell you what to do and may not utilize the services of a priest, preacher or psychologist, but there is still your car: sitting patiently in the driveway, waiting for you to finally pay attention to what it has to “say.”

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