Trading in an era

There’s a common perception, behavior, which dictates that men must treat their car as if it were a girl. They are encouraged to give the car a female name and refer to it as “she.” I suppose on a certain level this makes sense. It might even be logical. After all, a man’s car is his slave wench. Our cars take our manly abuse, and after years of ownership we begin to take it for granted. One day, a few years hence, we wake up one morning and are astonished to discover our car looks old and disheveled. When did that happen? The car was a faithful servant and rarely let us down. We assumed it would always be at the ready for us. The car is a she.

I’ve never named a car and I’ve never considered any of them female. It is a 2-ton assembly of metal, plastic, rubber and glass. It has no soul, it has no humanity, it is an object.

However, what happens is…some cars burrow their way into your soul because of the memorable or significant slice of your life they come to embody. This pile of inanimate parts is injected with personal significance and a heart because of what it brought you, or took from you. Still, I’ve never become attached to a car, and I’ve had plenty of them. Every car I’ve had that I traded in, totaled, had stolen, left my life with a whimper. No heart-wrenching farewell scenes. No pained sense of loss. Cars have never invoked such sentimental yearning in me. Even my first car, a 1974 brown Ford Maverick, which was the site of many amusing, horrendous, and joyous moments, did not break my heart when I traded it in for a 1985 Ford Escort GT Turbo (incidentally the biggest piece of crap I have ever owned).

Last week, for the first time, a car left a deep longing in its wake as I drove away from it for the last time. This car won its rare way into my heart. Last week, I traded it in after 4 1/2 years of dutiful and staid service. The car was old when I bought it. It was the first car (aside from my Maverick) that I ever bought used. It was a 1998 model and I bought it during the Summer of 2007, after finally getting my driver’s license back from the California DMV. Two years previous, in July, 2005, I bashed my head in and fractured my neck in a car wreck that just happened to cap off a day of binge drinking. My BAL was above 0.20 and I was lucky to survive. The context of this “mishap,” of beating the odds, adjusted my perception so that the inability to drive for 2 years didn’t seem the worst fate imaginable.

After depending on the train and bus lines and rides for a year and half, to work, to shop, the first thing I did when my driving privileges were reinstated in 2007 was to shop for a car. After a two-year driving layoff and a shattered driving record, I was happy to drive anything. I bought my white Japanese car and it was decidedly not fancy. The carpet was torn and the upholstery was tired and smelled of dust, but it ran good. For 4 1/2 years I drove the car and it never disappointed or stranded me. It didn’t even have a radio and I was too cheap to install one. It wasn’t flashy and it allowed me to float inconspicuously through L.A.

That car accompanied me on my post-accident journey which involved a magnificent series of personal evolution’s, one of which was driving a car I never would have driven in my younger, status-conscious, freewheeling days. The car embodied my new asceticism and I never felt ashamed to drive it though I suspect others did.

The car carried me from one of my life’s waypoints to the next. I like to think it was my vehicle for personal change. Alas, the car was getting old and it was out of tune. It was running badly and my gas mileage plummeted. I was getting the MPG of a Ford Cobra but only a fraction of the sizzle.

I had to get rid of her.

Before I drove her off for the last time.