June 11, 2007
Goodbye, Friend: Oh,
the Stories You Could Have Told
She died on a Monday in Cottage Grove, Oregon. I put her down because of
all the pain I knew she was in.
She was with me on every trip I made since I was a teenager. But this
time, I left her old, fading frame with a kiss and finished the journey
first car was a silver 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon. My
family had used it for summer trips across the country, faithfully
towing our comfortable, yet modest six-sleeper trailer. When my parents
handed her down to me, she had already lived a full life, accumulating
mileage and more than one vehicle’s share of bumps and bruises. But as I
later discovered, that was all, merely a beginning.
Anything or anybody is a bit nervous in the hands of a new owner. Will
he feed me well? Exercise me? Take me to the doctor when I’m sick? Will
he speak well of me when I’m not around? When my father told my old car
she would soon be mine, I can only imagine her begging for
reconsideration. I was seventeen and stupid with nothing on my mind but
surviving my last year of high school.
my beautiful new car had prejudged me as reckless and irresponsible, she
would have been correct. Almost before our relationship even started, I
made a right-hand turn from the left lane and crashed her into a
Cavalier. The physical damage was minimal, but the emotional damage – my
guilt, her broken trust – was considerable. It was a rocky start for
both of us.
was three years before my next accident. In the meantime, we had the
opportunity to strengthen our relationship by taking a trip from Philly
to Pittsburgh, just the two of us. Pittsburgh involved a horrible
experience with a girl, but the trip there and back was very beautiful
and permanently grafted into my memory. My trusty station wagon and I
got along famously – no tickets, no flats and no nagging complaints from
the engine. Due to its ability to comfortably accommodate at least six
college students – eight when necessary and nine, or even 10, when
desperate – my car became the primary vehicle for midnight diner runs.
Piled inside, we pushed my car to its limits, adding nearly half a ton
of weight. Minutes later, we would emerge from my sleek, silver
companion like clowns, one after the other, my car quickly reassuming
her actual height. But I must admit that, over time, her original
stature was permanently lost due to my incessant, selfish demands. But
she kept on.
second accident took place in downtown Philadelphia. This one was not my
fault, and I think my car understood deep in her gears that I was not
responsible. When the settlement check arrived in the mail a few months
later, I think she understood that using it for college was a sign of
trust, not neglect.
2004, I moved from Philadelphia to Seattle. She was 11 at the time,
which is about 77 in Oldsmobile years, and everyone agreed that it would
be crazy to take her across the country with me, absolutely nuts. But
they never knew her like I did. I couldn’t just leave her. I would be
crushed, and deep down, I think she would too. My father made the trip
with us to keep me company, and reflecting now, I can’t imagine two
people my car cared about more than the only owners she ever had. That
can be the only explanation for how she got us there, past Pennsylvania,
through the windy city, north, across the vast expanses of Montana and
over the breathtaking Cascade Mountains of Washington. Four days, 2,900
miles, a flat tire and more than a few groans later, my father, my car
and I arrived safely in Bothell, Washington, from where I would commute
to Seattle Pacific University for over a year.
should have told her before we left, but I’m afraid if I did, she would
have refused to make the trip with me, that Seattle is replete with
sloppy driving. We’re talking every lane is the slow lane, use your turn
signal only when driving in a straight line, slam on the brakes when you
see a pedestrian anywhere, which way is left, color blind drivers, which
is why their cars hate them. In Philadelphia, my car enjoyed a yearly,
comprehensive inspection. In Seattle, all that is required is an
emission inspection. It is no wonder the beautiful air is polluted with
automotive ignorance. Needless to say, in our two-year stint in Seattle
(which I do love as a city, by the way), we were crashed into. And once
again, I chose to spend the settlement money on tuition. I really hope
my car understood.
had not flushed her transmission in years, and yet she had always run
beautifully. I was pretty faithful with oil changes, air filter changes
and general upkeep throughout the course of our relationship, but I was
highly encouraged to flush the transmission before my journey from
Seattle to East Bay, California – the journey that would take me to my
soon-to-be wife. It seemed like a fairly wise idea, and although I had
very little money to my name, I put $325 into the vehicle before I
embarked on what would be our final trip together.
When the transmission burned and turned black 320 miles later in Cottage
Grove, Oregon, a humble farm town, I was crushed. With sadness in my
eyes, I transferred all of my belongings from the greatest mechanical
friend I’ll ever have to a U-Haul, and left her and a chunk of my heart
with the manager of a towing station. At that point, she had a busted
front headlight, a ripped panel on the front passenger door, a dent near
the gas tank that looked like it was struck by a softball, a glove
compartment kept closed by duct tape, a grill that tied in place with
wire from a computer mouse, a ceiling that hung like a tent, a hood that
barely opened and only three operational doors. If only my old car could
speak, what stories it could tell.
spent six months in Walnut Creek, California without a car because I
couldn’t afford one. But in hindsight, it was only appropriate for me to
take some time away from the world of motor vehicles for a while, to
spend some time on foot, looking back with reverence on the most
faithful, unconditional friend I would ever drive.
© 2007 North Star Writers
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