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Wherever She Goes in L.A., Buster the Car Is a Big Hit (as in Target)

May 31, 2000|ROBIN TOLKAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I own a 9-year-old Nissan Sentra, but to look at Buster, you'd think she's brand-new.

That's because Buster has spent just as much time in the auto body shop getting make-overs as she has in my garage. This has nothing to do with me.

My car is a crash magnet.

A bad driver's beacon.

After more than 15 incidents, which have bashed, scraped, dinged and dented my car (many of which I did not even witness), I now believe I must add an entry to the list of things for which L.A. drivers are notorious (road rage, high-speed chases): hitting Buster. Please, people, stop!

My car first got to see the inside of a body shop almost immediately after leaving the lot. Stopped at a four-way light, I was minding my own business when an oncoming car ripped through the red light, rammed into a car that had the green and plowed it into you-know-who. Stuff happens, I told myself.

After two weeks in the shop and several nerve-racking calls to the insurance adjusters, Enterprise Rent-a-Car employees and the uninsured, unlicensed, under-aged girl who triggered this entire mess, Buster and I were reunited. She looked better than ever, and I promised her nothing like this would ever happen again.

*

That was until someone cracked her left taillight when she was parked on the street while I was out of town. No note, of course. That's when I began to suspect that Buster was different from other cars.

I can recall four separate times on Ventura Boulevard when Buster was rear-ended and two times when someone backed into her in a parking lot.

(And that's not even counting the most recent assault: On the eve of Passover, I was coming out of Ralphs and watched an elderly man back right into my driver's side door as he was pulling out of his spot. Maybe it was a mix of holiday festivity in the air and the fact that I've become numb to seeing my car pummeled repeatedly, but I didn't even fling my matzo at him.)

This is so much bigger than me.

I haven't even mentioned the non-motor vehicle accidents. How can I forget the cyclist who ripped off my side mirror, or the 9-year-old Little Leaguer who hit a home run right into my windshield.

As you can imagine, these frequent smashups have made me the butt of many jokes with friends, family, Tony the AAA insurance adjuster (wonderful guy, three kids, Dodgers season ticker-holder, really wants to paint), of course, the guys at the auto body shop: Louie, Ron, Mike and Big Ricky, who have dedicated a commemorative section to Buster, stocked with a supply of red paint and enough spare Nissan parts to put my chariot back together again.

*

You may be wondering why I don't just get rid of the accident-prone thing. Well, considering all the adversity my car and I have shared, getting rid of her now would be exactly what all those Buster-hating drivers--not to mention cyclists and batters--want.

But we won't quit. We'll never quit.

Every morning when I start the car, I put on the soundtrack from "Gladiator," stick my fist out the window and forge proudly into the battle arena that is the San Fernando Valley.

Last week, just when I was convinced that everyone on the road was my enemy, I ran into Michelle. Actually, Michelle ran into Buster, who was parked outside my office. When I walked over to the car at lunchtime, I found a note on the window:

"Hi, my name is Michelle. I accidentally hit your front bumper. Sorry! You can reach me at the number below."

Could it be true? An honest driver in L.A.?

Well, all I can say is I don't know. Buster and I have yet to receive a check.

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