The last day of car acquaintance

We were just going for a test drive.

Sooner or later you reach a point where you have to sink so much money into your car to make it sellable that it’s worth just as much or more as a trade-in. And even if that’s not precisely true, it’s worth something to have someone else take it off your hands.

So Jeff and I drove to a suburban car dealer in a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, and we drove home in a 2011 Honda CR-V.

When Jeff bought that Jeep in 2002 he joked, “It makes me look 30% sexier.” And he was right. It was true for anyone. It was a hot little number. Now we’re lulled into a need for reliability and comfort, room for groceries and, one day, room for a kid. Sturdy. Sensible. Soccer mom.

The new car is lovely. But it sure is hard to say good bye to the old friend who saw us through three moves and three cities.

There was just one catch: Because we hadn’t counted on trading in the Jeep so quickly, and it had so many accessories, we had to keep it for two more days to gather up all the various pieces, including a hard top that was being stored in a warehouse in north Philly.

Here are some pictures from the last day of our acquaintance.

The Jeep on our block.

I snapped this photo on my block the morning we traded her in. This is when I started to really feel sentimental. It took some effort to hold back some tears on this one.

At the warehouse

We stopped at the warehouse, where the hard top was being stored, before continuing on to the dealer.

One last time with Jeff

I harassed Jeff to take one last photo with his baby.

The hard top, replacement in the distance

It started to lightly rain as we were installing the hard top. When we were done, I captured Jeff with the new car in the background. Is it too late to change our minds? (Yes. It definitely is.)

Stopped in traffic

Jeff's last drive. I followed him to the dealer in the Honda. Stopped in traffic, I tried to capture a puff of cigarette smoke pouring out of Jeff's driver-side window, but I was not quick enough. This route reminded me terribly of Queens.

It’s been a few weeks, and I can still hardly believe the old girl isn’t sitting out in front of the house. Some part of it lives on: The Honda is red. Not the bright, bold, sporty red of the Wrangler, but a rather more sober, adult, guarded maroon. Better than the black or gray model we expected. The red one was the last of its year on the lot. A sign.

Still, the Honda at least has the good graces not to pretend to be the Jeep, and we make no comparisons. This newbie has some big treads to fill. I love the new-car smell, a fully functional driver-side door lock, reliable brakes, air conditioning and heat, a quiet engine and transmission, ignition on the first turn of the key, a decent stereo system, no leaks in heavy rain. But I still grope for the stick shift when I approach a stop sign, and I still feel with my left foot for the ghost of the clutch.

Jeff still wants to wave at other Jeep owners as they pass on the road, but that just doesn’t make sense in a Honda.

It’s so easy and almost embarrassing to over-sentimentalize a car, but it does see one through a lot. There’s so much between the first trip and the last.

The day Jeff drove it home from Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota, about an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities, we had tickets to see Heart perform at Mystic Lake Casino. That day must have been like a dream for him: his first real car—with an option to go topless—and “Crazy on You” in the same day.

We drove out to Trout Lake, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, for Thanksgiving with Jeff’s family one year—my first experience with a deep-fried turkey. Four-wheel drive came in handy on that trip, driving from frozen waterfall to frozen waterfall, as it did through two Minnesota winters.

After Jeff accepted that job in New York City, and our lives changed indelibly again, we drove around Lake Calhoun, site of so many hazy summer afternoons, one last time. I cried quietly but inconsolably as we listened to Bloodletting, Concrete Blonde’s greatest-hits album.  Hey, hey, good bye. Tomorrow Wendy’s going to die… It just happened to be in the CD player that day. But seven years later, I still don’t have the heart to listen to it all the way through.

The Jeep started acting up during Jeff’s drive from Minnesota to New York, and he got stranded just short of the border in Niagara Falls, Ontario. After getting little but shrugs from the mechanics, he got a huge phone bill the next month, thanks to international roaming charges.

We drove it far less in later years in favor of the mass transit of these East Coast cities. But I did learn how to drive a stick in Queens—out of necessity. We risked getting a ticket (or worse, a tow) if we didn’t move the car every week (sometimes twice) to make way for street sweepers.

We took day trips throughout the summers to Jones Beach, the wind of the filthy highways tangling our salty hair and cooling our sunburns. We often drove through Manhattan with the top down, and I loved to throw my head back and watch the skyscrapers whip past us. And at how many rugby matches did that Jeep make an appearance?

After Jeff accepted a career move to Philadelphia, I helped him pack as much as we could into that Jeep after he moved from temporary accommodations into our first apartment in the city. The back seat came out, but there wasn’t as much room back there as you might have imagined.

My driving lesson was complete when we moved from West Philly to our first house in South Philly. Jeff got called in to work, and I had to carry on with the transfer.

I paid for a new transmission later that week.

I still maintain it could have happened to anyone; it was just its time to go.


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the untallied hours

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