He’s waiting for me in the parking lot, like he has faithfully done for 30 years.
I have owned three cars in my life: an old Chevy Vega that got me through high school, a 1978 Honda that got me through college, and a 1988 Honda that got me through life. And he’s still doing it.
245,000 miles, give or take an outing. About 20 years ago, I told him I’d keep driving him till something terribly expensive happened. Nothing ever did.
The air-conditioning went out a couple decades ago. The electrical system has a sense of humor, causing the warning beeper to go off when i have NOT left the keys in the ignition. It tends to run with a little puff of smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe, it overheats for no particular reason, the driver’s seat is a metal outline with a bit of foam left, it creaks when going over bumps in a way that makes me check the rear-view mirror to see if I’ve left the motor behind. Except the rear-view mirror no longer works. It has an accumulation of dents from years of parking in the bad parts of various cities. A large rust hole on top threatens to turn the car into a convertible. The trunk doesn’t open, the glove compartment doesn’t close. The emergency flashers only work when there is no emergency. No air bags, seat belts that seem to be there only for cosmetic purposes, zero crash protection.
I think back to a few years ago when I was driving down the scorching downhill from the top of the mountain at Big Bend and the brakes decided to go on vacation. Maybe the most terrified I’ve ever been, other than of course last November. Never take brakes for granted. Or democracy.
And still, he runs. I come out every day, turn the ignition over, and he starts. He’s small and low to the ground, a go-kart for a 61-year-old. The radio station only gets ESPN radio through the right channel, but I like ESPN, except on the days I’m stuck listening to Coyotes hockey games on the way to work. Hockey is not a good radio sport. Or a good sport. Or a sport at all. Just guys with knives on their shoes beating each other up.
We made it through the return to Texas and the dreaded annual safety inspections. What were those guys thinking? And he somehow passed the emissions test upon returning to Arizona. How?
We’ve been needing a more reliable car for a long time, but neither Mo nor myself would budge on replacing our vehicles. Until now.
June texted yesterday to ask if we wanted Granddad’s car.
I remember the first time I saw it. A 2002 Chevy Cavalier, which made sense, but it was bright red. Red? Granddad? He must’ve been in his early 80s around then. A late-life crisis? A smoking deal? I never asked.
It’s the same driveway where he had looked at the Honda I currently drive and shook his head. A Honda. Pearl Harbor. His friends and relatives. The resigned realization that it no longer mattered to future generations. Still, he understood. Life moves on.
I think he stopped driving soon after that, and it became Nanny’s car. She drove it till she couldn’t. Then Rick inherited it, and he drove it till he couldn’t either. It’s been hanging out with Anne in Colorado since, but recently came back home. And that’s where I come in.
It will be my little part of the family tradition, a return in life’s third act to driving a Chevy, the way the play began. I look forward to getting in it every day, thinking about Nanny and Granddad, and driving in a car that doesn’t constantly elicit fears of a fiery death. It has under 100,000 miles, was driven by a little old lady who only went to the store once a week, and will keep the family legacy alive, if a family legacy can be defined by a compact car. And why can’t it? Happily ever after. Done and done.
Only one problem: My car.
I would never have gotten rid of him without a good reason, which I always assumed would be a massive mechanical failure of some sort or the inevitable crash. How can you not crash in 30 years? But this is just one sense of nostalgia replacing another, I guess.
We were driving him this week during the Great Rudolph Near-Arrest of 2017, and the cop said he pulled me over partly because the car was smoking. I remember a decade or so ago asking the mechanic why yhat is. He said: “Because it’s old.” Duh. Mo also noted that the passenger door is nearly impossible to open, a problem in a crash or if the officer wants Rudolph to get out of the car to perform Reindeer Sobriety Tests. It’s time.
It’s hard to let go. And I don’t think I ever would have except for this. But it’s Granddad.
I realize in 30 years I never named my car. But then we still call the cat Baby Cat, so maybe names aren’t that big of a deal. Mo calls him the Honey Badger, a name bestowed upon him once by a guy in Corpus. I don’t know. He doesn’t really strike he as a honey or a badger.
I remember when I first put the bike rack on him. Mo said, “I like the rack! It makes your car look less ugly!” But over the years, she has grown to look on him in the same affectionate way, even if she tends not to drive him much. Fear of death and all that.
I remember the night on Ocean Drive in Corpus. ’88 Hondas are a popular make for street-racing renovation. I was having a problem with the car revving up and down for no reason. I was sitting at a light, my engine racing, when a kid in an old Honda, low to the ground with a roaring engine and dark windows, pulled up next to me. He started to race his engine as well. The light changed. He floored it, zero to 60 in six seconds. I went from zero to still not up to 30 by the time I got home. This car has always been an adventure.
What to do with him? There was a kid in Corpus at the tire store who desperately wanted him, but that seems logistically impossible. I might go to our mechanic guys, who have a soft spot for old cars. Maybe one of them needs a project. I just want him to have a good home. Next week, we go to San Angelo, and the Era of The Old Guy in the Chevy Cavalier begins. I must learn how to drive an automatic. I hope it comes with instructions. Mo wants to get fuzzy dice. We shall see.
Today? Today I’ll head out to work. I’ll edit newspapers that exist in places I have never been. Then I’ll walk out to the second story of the parking garage. And he’ll be waiting for me, like he has faithfully done for 30 years, with no idea of what lies ahead.
Goodbyes are hard.