saying goodbye to my car

About a year ago, my mechanic diagnosed an incurable engine problem in my car, and said I probably had 6 months left in it. Because I don't have a very long daily commute, I've been able to squeeze 12 months out of my car, but over the past couple of weeks I've been slowly preparing myself to get a new car this month. And then, yesterday, my car started really acting up. It's following all the signs that my mechanic told me would happen. Which means that engine failure is somewhere in the near future (how near, I have no idea). So it looks like I'm getting a new car this weekend, even before I'm done with grading.

I have no bumper stickers on my car, and no decorative accessories on the inside. I don't think my identity is really expressed through my vehicle. Sure, I drive a small gas-efficient import, which does reflect my concern for the environment, though it also reflects my budget and sense of practicality. But I would never buy a car based on how it looks, for instance, because it just isn't that important to me. I don't wash it all that often, and really don't pay that much attention to what other people drive, or trends in automobiles.

And yet, this particular car has been part of my life for 12 years. And so saying goodbye to it is actually kind of tough.

It's only the second car I've ever owned. The first was a troublesome used car that served me really well for 1 year, then started developing all kinds of mysterious problems. So when I bought this car, new, it was such a relief to have reliable transportation.

I bought this car with the life insurance money I got after my father died. My parents would never have bought me a car under normal circumstances, although they had gotten my brother one when he was in high school. It felt kind of like a gift from my dad, although it was something he wouldn't have done when he was alive.

My then-girlfriend and I drove this car to the 1993 March on Washington. It was still in the engine break-in period, so we had to drive 55 mph or slower on the highways getting there. On the way we'd see other cars clearly going to the March, many decked out with rainbow flags and signs. We chatted with circuit boys and motorcycle dykes at highway rest stops, and while driving, we'd all honk and wave at each other. There was such a festive community spirit for that event, even as we mourned at the ever-growing AIDS quilt.

I took other trips in this car, over the years: my first solo drive of more than 12 hours in one day; trips to art exhibits, to see my friend's new baby, to take care of a friend having minor surgery. When I moved cross-country to take my job at Large Urban, my belongings went on the moving truck, and I got into my little car with my friend Glam Girl who rode with me to keep me company on the trip. Even though I was totally stressed out about leaving what had been my home for seven years, and starting everything over, she made it a fun trip. That was such a lovely gift of her time and energy.

There was darker stuff, too: the crazy woman who my then-girlfriend had had an affair with who keyed my car only a few months after I got it. The kids who destroyed the lock trying to break into the car (at least, I've always assumed they were kids just practicing -- because who would want to get into my crappy little car?). The broken window and stolen factory radio. (Probably the same apprentice thieves, I'm guessing, since it was within the same month.) The guy without insurance who hit my car on the freeway, sending me into the concrete barrier (not at full speed, thankfully). But through it all, my trusty little Toyota kept going. Even when it developed its terminal oil problem, it hid its symptoms from me and my mechanic for a long while. I knew something was wrong, but my car just kept saying "no, no, I'm fine."

There's a stain on the back seat from where my casserole dripped as I was bringing a potluck dish to a grad student gathering. Our puppy threw up in my car when I brought her home from getting spayed. On the driver's seat, the upholstery is disappearing, and the foam rubber is starting to flake off every time I get in or out. There's dog hair everywhere, and dirt from the park, and nose prints on the windows, proof of how often my family rides with me.

Every person I've ever dated or been involved with has ridden in my car.

I've had this car for almost one-third of my life.