The day it became my car - August 19, 2006

Last Saturday night, I was driving back to my parents’ house from work (about a forty five minute trip).  The last leg of the trip is about ten miles of winding backroads that are nice to look at in the day, but become frightening at night.  I always take this route to avoid the traffic that comes from going the more conventional way, and there’s usually no one on the road at eleven at night, when I’m typically heading home after closing at work.

I was just about to the border of the city where my folks live when a car passed on the opposite side of the road.  I dimmed my brights (I really don’t want to be THAT driver who blinds oncoming traffic).  Before I had the chance to turn them back on, a truck-sized spare tire appeared in the path of my vehicle.  I do mean “appeared” – it was completely dark against the blacktop.  In the six seconds or so that followed, I was presented with the choice of slamming on the breaks at forty miles an hour, making a go at swerving around it, or running over it.  In a quick thinking process that I can only dissect after the fact, I knew that the first two choices were likely to leave not only my car damaged, but leave me more seriously injured.  I gripped the steering wheel, prayed for God to deliver my car back to the road, and drove over it.  I made it home in spite of the obvious poor condition of my car – it was leaking oil and most of the bottom of the vehicle was hanging down onto the road.

Since this happened, I’ve been told numerous horror stories about people who did this and did not emerge unscathed.  My car mechanic had a customer once who ran over a tire and was thrown into a telephone pole.  Another person told me about a guy he knew whose car flipped over entirely.  Therefore, when my mechanic told me this afternoon that my car was damaged beyond the point of being worth repairing, I wasn’t too broken up.  A car is a car.  It can be replaced, in spite of the frustration this usually entails, but I’m extremely lucky that I walked away from this.  It’s me over my car any day.  In the end, the situation’s been resolved – I am buying my grandfather’s old car from my mom, and while it wouldn’t be my first choice, I prayed for the Lord to provide me with a car, and He has.  Without a car, there’s no way I’d be able to drive to see the people who mean the most to me, or go to church, or be able to run menial errands, let alone get to work.  I’m willing to be content driving a car I don’t especially like in order to have those things.  Material things have never meant that much to me, and living for three and a half years on a minimum wage budget has taught me what little use I have for possessions.  Aside from basic needs, I need to be able to commune with the Lord, write, and be with the people I love.  Beyond that, it just all seems stupid to want anything else.

But I’m not going to lie.  The loss of my car has left me full of misty eyed nostalgia the likes of which you can only get from a Neil Young song.  It was my first car, and I now understand the sadness my friends have felt over the last several years, as their own first vehicles have given out.  There’s something about the connection you have with your first car that I think sets the bar for every one you’ll own after that – it just won’t be the same.  For me, it’s that my history with my red 2000 Toyota Echo goes further back than just being That Car.

Even though my parents got it the year I turned sixteen, I did not get my driver’s license until I was twenty one.  I was a broken soul when I was in high school, with untreated depression and anxiety, who let a wolf pack of bullies and mean girls take my empty shell and fill it up with their negative and insecure perceptions of me.  There was no way I was capable of driving at that point, and I knew this.  Still, the car meant something to me from the day we got it, like I somehow knew that when I reached that crucial step, it would take me there.  I remember it was July, and I was taking health class in summer school because the thought of an entire semester of STD and drug use prevention and sex ed really just made me sick.  Class was over, and I was standing on the curb in front of the high school waiting for my dad to come pick me up.  Our old minivan had recently bit it and getting a new car was imminent – the question was just which one it would be.  Then, I saw what would be my car come driving down toward the school and make the turn into the parking lot – my dad was driving and Diamond Rio’s “How Your Love Makes Me Feel” was blasting out the window.  I was in love with that song that summer, and what strikes me as odd about that moment is that my dad absolutely hated it.  And yet, he chose to play it the day he showed up and surprised me with our new car after class.  It was like on some level, that connection between the car and I started from the first minute, like he knew someday, I’d be driving it myself.

There’s a whole list of things I’ll always remember about that car.  Driving to Georgia with my mom the summer she and my dad had a fight and he went to work for an art supply company down south, listening to Nanci Griffith’s Flyer album, which contained a song called “Traveling Back to Georgia” that was so beautiful it made me ache.  Riding in the passenger seat the day I graduated high school, the red satin cap itching on my head.  Watching the orange cones dance in my side view mirrors as I took my maneuverability test in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall.  My senior year of college, when it became “my car,” and I made the three hour drive to school all by myself for the first time, blasting the B-52’s greatest hits out the window.

That car has been through more in the four years I’ve owned it than in its entire life.  It got me through West Virginia, and that in itself is a miracle – a little tiny car somehow limping up those hills, the icy driveway of my old apartment building.  The back is completely covered in the white scars from old bumper stickers.  Given that I spend a lot of time driving now, I couldn’t have expected it to last much longer.  Really, that guy who left the tire in the road did me a favor – it was going to happen eventually.  Better now in a way that left me untouched that in a way that could have been much more dangerous.

Farewell, my car.  As Neil Young would say, “maybe the Beach Boys have got you now.”