Goodbye to our Baby Car


Originally for Elder Gods' Rave 24, August 2002

We said goodbye to our car this morning. Our bronze Audi 5000 was the first car Kathleen and I had ever owned (well, technically, Kathleen owned it). We got it the day we got married--bought from my sister’s boss, and she drove it down to our wedding on Sept 13, 1991. Today, August 24, 2002, far longer than I ever expected our car to run, we sold it to a place that will gradually strip it of usable parts, and let it rust in peace.

Do cars have a soul? Probably not. But something in the back of my mind says that our car was special--that it took care of us. In some ways, I feel guilty because I don’t know if we did the right thing. I’d like to think that our car will go to some reward--where good cars go when they’ve exhausted themselves in our service. It’s selfish and romantic, but it’s better, I think, that simply regarding our car as some personality-less thing. I simply can’t think of our baby car as a hunk of steel. It never failed us when we were in serious need, put up with years of abuse and neglect in the years in which we couldn’t afford it. When things went wrong, they were generally things we could do without. The odometer failed, and we were stuck at 108,152 miles for eight years. But it didn’t matter--the car ran pretty well.

Car commercials always talk about the energy of a car, how it goes when you punch it, but they seldom talk about endurance. Our car started out in freezing New England, and traveled to New Mexico. It endured our poverty there, and seldom needed fixing when we were too broke to afford it. When we moved from New Mexico to the San Francisco Bay Area, we drove our car, loaded with all the stuff we couldn’t possibly bear to part with, across New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and eventually California. Not a complaint over two day’s worth of desert driving, she never overheated or left us stranded.

I’ll never forget the time we blew the head gasket while we had a load of three fully-costumed belly-dancers in the back seat. I always got to drive the belly-dancers, because Kathleen didn’t want the hassle of driving while in a choli, full dance skirt, and head wrap. And our car was big and comfortable, so we could offer rides to those who needed them for a gig. So there we are, only somewhat lost in San Francisco, the heat gage maxed out, and three fully made-up belly dancers in the back seat saying prayers for the car. The only water I could see was an illegal left-turn to a gas station, but I really didn’t have much choice with steam pouring out from under the hood, did I? Well, after some rest and significantly fewer passengers and much cooler air on the way back, we made it home without incident. And while it cost a little bit to her back in working order, we somehow managed to avoid seriously damaging anything but the head gasket. As far as I’m concerned, our car simply wasn’t ready to give out on us.

We’ve been spoiled because our first car was our big, luxurious Audi. It had room, and it was big--15 feet long, or something like that. And with all those little tin cans on the road, we felt safe surrounded by a ton and a half of German steel. It was familiar, like a good friend. It was quirky, but when a car gets to be voting age, you expect that. I learned the importance of changing spark plugs on our baby car.

Lately, we’d been having a rather close relationship with our mechanic. Dave is a great mechanic, and he would identify us by our car. "It’s John Goodrich, is Dave there?" "John Good--Hey, Audi!" Yep, that was us. And while our baby car was running pretty well, there was no way we were going to be able to bring it back to New England. Driving it three thousand miles across country into New England’s salated roads and freezing winters would have been cruel. The repairs were getting more and more expensive, and

So now we’ve got another car--a zippy little tin can (a Ford Escort, actually). It’s a good car, and it’ll serve us fine, but I don’t think it will serve us as well as our baby car did. The new car just lacks personality--it’s another zippy little car that looks like just about anything else on the road.

I think it’s change that hurt me. That car was a constant in our lives for more than ten years, and it was a good part of our lives. It set us apart from most of the people on the road--we had nice, big car that we could tote people around with if we liked. We don’t want to change the nice things about our lives--things like a pleasant friend, or a good car that doesn’t let you down. Maybe it’s why religions around the world believe in a soul--so we can hang onto some small part of the people and things we know, so that we don’t have to accept the inevitable hurt as people and things pass out of our lives.