I'm not sure why people get so attached to their cars. They're just machines, after all, no different than a blender or lawn mower. But I cried like a little kid when I finally gave up my 17-year-old Volvo to the salvage yard.
The car had 140,000 miles, which is not much by Volvo standards, but I had not taken very good care of it and it had been wrecked twice. It hadn't been drivable for months (months, hell... years) and had been ticketed for an inoperable vehicle code violation when my estranged wife finally persuaded me to part with it –– it was parked in her driveway, after all. I couldn't bear to be there when the wrecker came. I don't remember where I was. I remember I cried when I came back and the driveway was empty. It still pains me to think about it now.
The Volvo was the first new car I had ever owned. I bought it at Fretwell's in 1979. It was a yellow ochre 244 DL –– the boxy forerunner and lookalike of the sedan later known only as the DL.
I had just gotten a promotion at work. The word 'yuppie' was still two years in the future, but I was one, and the Volvo was the first token of my new upwardly-mobile status.
I got fired from that job less than six months later, and I never held a position that high in an organization again. Nor did I want to. That was a miserable experience, and it soured me on a management career for the next twenty years.
But I hung on to the car. If it no longer represented who I was, I suppose it represented what I had briefly been. I kept it through my two years in Tulsa. I drove it to my brief home in San Jose, California, hauling a trailer that it could barely pull over the Santa Rosa pass in New Mexico. (I was at 10 mph and slowing when I crested, wondering if I would have to detour hundreds of miles south to find a grade I could climb.) A month later, when I left California broke, unemployed and dejected, the Volvo got me back home.
I had the Volvo when I married, and it was parked dead in the driveway when we separated.
I'd had the car through four jobs, three cities, two states and one marriage. And I knew as I stood there looking at the empty driveway, tears streaming down my face, that I was mourning not only the loss of my car, but the loss of all those things I'd hoped for back in '79, all the plans I had, all the stuff that didn't happen and wasn't going to happen.
A few days later, I was describing the whole thing to my therapist, and I told him, "You know, I didn't cry when my marriage broke up, but I cried over that damn car." And then I burst into tears again.
But it was just a car. I guess it's in a salvage yard somewhere. I saved the grill, and it's here in the house somewhere. I like to think the car's spirit and soul still reside in that grill, but that's just my frankly sad way of continuing to cling to the past.
I don't want to think about it anymore tonight.
But it's interesting how attached we get to our cars.
iTunes: Homage to Baba Alauddin, Ravi Shankar