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So you think you can clunk? - Joel Hall

Every once in a while, an opportunity comes along that is just too good to pass up, or overlook.

For a somewhat-recent college graduate, with more ambition than cash, the federal government's CARS program, better known as "Cash for Clunkers," represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to move up in the world.

Last weekend, only two miles per gallon separated me from being able to move up in the world and trade in my '92 Mercury Grand Marquis for a brand new, fuel-efficient Hyundai Sonata. Apparently, my 4.6 liter engine is listed as getting 20 miles-per-gallon - two-miles-per-gallon more efficient than the government's 18 miles-per-gallon cutoff.

I'm blessed to have a vehicle that runs, but I have to admit that my heart sank a little when I was turned down by the program. In terms of major purchases, I've never owned a brand-new anything.

As the youngest brother of five, and the second-youngest sibling in my family, my life has been an endless marathon of used goods and hand-me-down items.

The first shirt I can remember being purchased exclusively for me was a Dallas-Cowboys-Tasmanian-Devil T-shirt I got in the sixth-grade. Prior to that, my wardrobe consisted mostly of striped tube socks, 1970s-era three-fourth sleeved shirts, and sweater-vest, dress-shirt combos, with lapels so long they would make J.J. from "Good Times" jealous.

The idea of being able to own a new car and make 150 percent profit on my current vehicle seemed really attractive. However, it appears my car wasn't "clunky" enough to make the team.

For argument's sake, I'm sure my car doesn't get 20 miles to the gallon anymore. A government helpline spokesperson, who told me my car didn't qualify, led me to believe that a car dealership could run a test to determine the true engine mileage of my vehicle. After calling three dealerships and visiting one, I realized that was not the case, and there was no such test.

Aside from the Ford Model T, how does one truly define what a "clunker" is? If it was left up to empirical evidence, rather than engine efficiency, I'm sure my car would qualify.

For some reason, my car doesn't like Gwinnett County. Gwinnett might be "great," but the check engine light comes on every time I drive to the Gwinnett County line. If I am driving north to Charlotte, N.C., the car will usually stop growling and regain its composure by the time it gets to the Tanger Outlet in Commerce.

As a violinist and a former Bluegrass band member, I've found Dahlonega to be the best city in the area to find sheet music and materials. Occasionally, if I am feeling lucky, I will travel up that way. While metro Atlanta tends to be generally flat, the road to Dahlonega gradually gets steeper. The higher the climb gets, the more my car wants to start going backwards.

I've experienced just about every electrical mishap you can have in a car. Two alternators, one turn signal console, one headlight switch, one windshield wiper motor, and four power-window motors later, I've realized the electrical functions on my car are less reliable than many fifth-grade science projects.

If I look hot when I step out of my car, it's because I am. While my car does have an AC unit that kind of works, I find myself using the OW (open window) function more often.

If any car needs to head to that big used car lot in the sky, it's my car. However, it seems like the government is more concerned with getting rid of cool classic cars that have more business being on the road than mine.

Perhaps, I'll have to wait another 20 years before another opportunity as good as the CARS program to trade in my car. Until then, driving through the sweltering heat of Georgia beats walking in it, any day.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.