Have you ever had a car that you loved? I don’t mean one that you just appreciated and relied on. I mean one that got under your skin. That was a huge part of your life. That you couldn’t image giving up. (Yeah, yeah, sounds like what you’d say about your guy. I’m single. The car will have to do.)
I did, once. It was a 1999 Toyota Solara. It was the first car I bought on my own. No husband or father to tell me what was sensible or practical, what I should or shouldn’t buy. I did the research, got the loan, went to the dealership, bought the car. And for 12 years, it was my constant companion. For seven of those years, I almost lived in it. (No, not that way.) I spent more time in it than in whatever house I was renting. Often I’d stick everything I owned in storage and we’d take off on the open road for a few months.
I loved that car. It never let me down. Always started. Never was in an accident. Never left me stranded by the side of the road. Never ran out of gas. Never had a flat tire. People stopped me on the street and complimented me on how beautiful it was. Which it was, when it was freshly washed. But, being a black car, that lasted five minutes. But boy, those five minutes were worth the rest of the not-so-shiny ones.
Anyway, my Solara and I traveled over 250,000 miles together. Each year, I studied the mileage and thought about buying a new car, a convertible, a not-black car. But each year, I put it off – I just couldn’t face giving it up. Until the time came when the cost of needed repairs tipped the scale, and it didn’t make sense to put new parts into an old car any longer. When I wasn’t confident that it coud take me safely around the country. And since my life was a series of road trips, that was important. So, I let calmer, less emotional heads prevail, and convince me to replace it.
I went shopping. I found a new one. Well, not new – they don’t make Solaras any more. But it was a gently used one. White, all the bells and whistles my old one didn’t have. I made the deal, filled out the paperwork, and took it home.
But what was I supposed to do with my old car? I couldn’t sell it. Couldn’t trust it to a stranger. But I couldn’t drive two cars across country, either. If I had a regular home, I could have kept them both. But I didn’t, so I couldn’t.
Luckily, my friend Phil understood. He needed something reliable. Something with air conditioning (we were in Phoenix, and summer was approaching, and his old truck didn’t have A/C). And he knew how I felt about my car. He knew how well I’d taken care of it. He knew I could let it go, if it went to a good home. He needed it, and I trusted him. So I took a deep breath, gave him the keys, and walked away.
A couple of weeks later, I took off on what would be my last road trip, although I didn’t know it at the time. I drove from Arizona to Florida via Idaho (yes, I can read a map). The new white car was comfy, plush, reliable. Good mileage. Heated seats for those cold Idaho mornings. A compass and 6 CD changer and Bluetooth for my phone. But it was just a car. And it’s still just a car, two years later.
Anyway, Phil called me today. My little black car has been chugging along, taking care of him as well as it did me. But last week, he bought a new car (well, new for him) – he had come to a similar point as I had, where the cost of repairs were more than the value of the car. But the funny thing is – he can’t let it go, either. He’s weighing the cost of inspection, insurance, minimal maintenance, trying to figure out how to keep it. He even offered to drive it to Florida and bring it back to me! Of course, I still can’t drive two cars, and still have nowhere to keep it. But believe me, it’s pretty doggone tempting.
I wonder what it is about that machine that makes it so different. I wish I’d never sold it. Especially when I got to Florida, and stopped taking road trips. It would have been fine, just running around NEFL. Hindsight is 20/20. At least while Phil owned it, I knew where it was, and that it was taking care of him. The thought of someone else buying it, of not knowing where it is any longer, is really sad.
Phil understood this. That’s why he called me tonight. I think he wanted to share the sorrow of letting this little car go. Of course, I’m hoping he can figure out a way to keep it, even if it just snoozes in his driveway, enjoying a well-earned retirement. But that’s not realistic. It will move on to its inevitable fate. After all, it’s just a car.
But to me, it was so much more. It was my independence, my freedom, my identity, my joy, my pride. It was a part of who I was – a traveler. People I haven’t seen for a while ask if I’m still driving it. And they always sound a little disappointed when I tell them that I’m not. But in my heart, I always will be.
Rest well, little car. Thank you for taking such good care of me.