I bought a car today. Normally that would be an exciting time for most people, but for me, it felt like the end of an era. It made me think about all the cars that have transported me throughout my life.
My parents' cars in the 50's are lost in the mists of time. I only remember them as large and roomy until the day they moved up the ladder to owning TWO cars when dad bought a Hillman Minx. Most people have never heard of that make or model, but he bought it because it was little and inexpensive. It was the car I learned to drive on. Black, tiny, and with a stick shift, it circled the Memorial Stadium parking lot in Baltimore until dad pulled out the orange cones and made me learn to parallel park. Teeth-chattering jolts caused outcries from my parental unit as I learned the subtleties of the clutch pedal. Not long after I got my driver's license, dad totaled it by rear-ending a vehicle driven by a friend's mom.
It was time to shop for a replacement. At the time, I had no idea how iconic his next purchase would be. All I knew was that when I saw him come home with a dark green 1965 Ford Mustang, I was awe-struck. It was so out-of-character for him. In retrospect, I think he was in the midst of some middle-age craziness. He bought a corduroy cap and would ask me to accompany him around town. Perhaps he just liked being seen in his trendy new vehicle with a seventeen-year-old blonde in the passenger seat. I would do it to humor him....and to get him to say yes when I asked to drive that car.
The green Mustang was eventually replaced by a red Mustang, but by then I was driving my fiance's white Buick Skylark while he was attending Naval Flight Training. Just before we were married, he bought a Jeep Commando that whirled over the white sands of Pensacola, Florida and took us to the Redwood Forest in California. But as the size of our family grew, it outlived its purpose. We bought a Volkswagen Dasher wagon with "leatherette" upholstery. Soon we needed a second vehicle and added a red Toyota Starlet as a commuter vehicle. It cost $5,000, tax and title included.
As the fights increased in the back seat of the Volkswagen from three kids in too-close proximity, in 1984 we bought our first minivan: the space-age looking Toyota van. It had a sunroof, a moonroof, three rows of seats, and a cooler. It even made its own ice cubes. Every kid in our neighborhood wanted a ride in that van. I was the default driver for swim meets and anything else. It survived being shipped to Puerto Rico for a tour of duty there. By the time it was shipped back to the U.S., for a tour in Louisiana, it wasn't long before there was one less passenger. The car was still around, but I was the one being traded in for newer model.
Piecemeal part time jobs provided the money to attend evening classes at Tulane. One rainy afternoon on the way to class, it hydroplaned, jumping the muddy median, rolling onto its side and careening into oncoming traffic lanes, spewing No Nonsense pantyhose all over Interstate 10 (one of my jobs was as a part-time merchandiser). Fortunately, I was okay, and complained to the police officer that I'd torn the sleeve of my new blouse as my arm scraped the roadway while the car was sliding. My dad came to the rescue and gave me the money to buy a Honda Civic hatchback just before I landed a job with State Farm Insurance.
I worked as a auto claims representative for seven years until I was promoted into management. One morning, my son woke me and said, "Come on, get up. We're going car shopping." I never intended to buy a car that morning, but was lured by the siren song of a 1998 Honda Accord EX with soft, plush leather, a sunroof, and a sound system from heaven. As soon as I saw it, I was a goner. I've loved that car, feeling like a princess every time I've gotten into it. It owes me nothing after fourteen years of luxurious driving, but time has ravaged my car much as it has me.
My Silver Queen's surface has faded as the clearcoat wears and it leaks in a hard rain. Cold weather and hard turns evoke groans from the CV joints and boots as well as the engine. The valves have begun to leak and the yellow engine light has glared at me for nearly a year, demanding a new 02 sensor. It was only a matter of time before it would break down on my weekly treks to Port Deposit, and I worried it might happen while the grandkids were in the car. I hadn't had to make a car payment in nearly ten years. So, reluctantly, I went car shopping.
The price of gasoline rises relentlessly, so I decided to go for a hybrid. I could've gotten a car with lots of interior bells and whistles, but had to make hard choices. It pained me to leave the Honda brand that I've loved so much, but the Toyota Prius is the mileage king. So I defected...sadly.
I'll miss my luxury car and, strangely, this is the first car I've ever owned that is NOT a manual transmission - a stick shift. The strange, spare interior is a plastic egg. I have to LEARN how to drive it. It is an alien creature that rolls silently at low speeds and has an all-electric drive for traffic jams and bumper-to-bumper crawls.
Don't think that I bought this car because I'm forward-thinking and mindful of the fragile ecology. I wish I could present myself that way. I bought it because my income is half of what it was when I was working, and because the price of gas and everything else I need keeps rising. The bell curve of life is now on its downward curve, and I learn to adjust what I can. I don't have a name for this strange vehicle yet, but the voice in my head keeps saying, "The queen is dead. Long live the thing."