My new car is a spaceship. The dash has more buttons and dials than Doc’s DeLorean did in Back to the Future. It runs on premium gas, though, and not recycled garbage. My brand-new Honda Civic Sport Touring might be the last car I ever buy.
“What are you going to name your new car?” Andrew asked me as I scribbled my name in blood on the finance agreement.
Unlike my husband, who has had a Marilyn, Penelope, Zephyr, and Lexi in his driving life, I’ve never named my cars. At least not with anything I’d repeat in polite company.
I bought my first car forty years ago – a 1974 Subaru sedan. A short in the electrical system caused the headlights to go out after 15 minutes of driving. This didn’t stop me from traveling at night, I’d drive as far as I could, then I’d pull over and wait for the car to cool down and the lights to come back on. When the brakes went out, I drove for two weeks using only the parking brake because I was between paychecks and couldn’t afford the repair.
A sensible four door, it was not the first car I wanted, but according to my mother- the co-signer on the loan, it was the first car I deserved. She took one look at the green and white 1976 Shelby Mustang Cobra I lusted after and imagined my mangled body entombed in twisted metal.
I’ve had trucks, SUVs and sedans. Some of them came to dramatic ends. When my kids were small, I hauled them around in a silver two-door, 1979 Buick Riviera. It caught on fire one day, the paint bubbling up on the hood when we parked. “Mom! Is that smoke?” must be one of the scariest phrases ever heard.
Another car, one my then father-in-law bought for us for $50, shot flames from the exhaust every time the engine backfired. That car could clear traffic. When it looks like you’re driving a Mad Maxx rocket powered vehicle folks get out of your way.
I drove the car I traded in, a 2009 Honda CRV, for ten years. We took our last family vacation in that SUV, four of us on a road trip from Texas to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. My twenty-one-year-old son took most of the driving duty because my ex-husband felt I drove too slowly and my older son drove too recklessly.
By 2011 I was divorced. I folded the seats down in the CRV and used it to carry most of my belongings out of the house I’d shared with my husband, and into my new apartment and new life. When I paid off that car, I stood in line at the tax office to remove his name from the title.
Last year, in October 2019, my new husband and I drove to our wedding in the 2009 Honda.
I’ve never been sentimental over a car, but the sight of my gold CRV sitting on the dealer’s back lot felt like I was dumping the family pet on the side of the road. “We’ll send it over to auction,” the salesperson told me as he pointed out the trade-in value.
Auction, I imagined, would be the automobile equivalent of working in a 19th Century coal mine. I handed over the keys and gave the car a little wave, hoping to inspire the SUV with enough confidence it would last another 157,000 miles.
We tie so much of our identity to the car we drive. The SUV with room for kids, dogs, and sports equipment. The trucks for hauling, whether it’s farm supplies or groceries from Central Market. Smug hybrids and cushioned land yachts on either end of the mileage spectrum. Like my husband, the true believers among us opt for manual transmissions.
I’d hoped to drive the ’09 another hundred thousand miles. The worn shocks bounced like a Conestoga Wagon on the Oregon Trail, and a mysterious clicking emerged from under the hood, like a time-bomb for engine failure.
“I guess I need to look for a new car,” I told Andrew. “If I buy one now, I can pay it off before I retire.” Spending a large sum is always best when justified under cover of fiscal responsibility.
We narrowed the field down to a Honda model, and like Goldilocks I discarded several models as too large or too small before declaring the Civic as just right. Thinking of grandkids and sticky fingers, I wanted leather seats. The hatchback option gave us room for camping equipment. During the test drive I appreciated the 1.5L Turbo engine.
“Do you have one in blue?” I asked.
This last car, unlike the first car, is one I picked for myself. As I make the payments, I remind myself this is the car I deserve. In ten years, we might all be riding around in flying vehicles, leaving earth and asphalt behind.
I’ve named the car Hollis—pronounced “Haul-Ass.”