Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It's Just a Car

It’s just a car, and I’m not supposed to care about cars. I’ve never been one to give a car a second thought, as long as it gets me where I need to go. A car is just a tool, a means of getting from Point A to Point B. When it comes to tools, I’m more concerned with function than with form. I’ve never cared if a car I’ve driven has impressed anyone or not, as long as it does its job. Yeah, it’s just a car, so why am I getting emotional now?
            Eight months ago, I bought a new one, a brand new Nissan Sentra, and it’s been great. I don’t have to worry about anything breaking down. It’s good on gas mileage. The tires are in great shape. So I’ve had the new one since February, and I haven’t driven my old car since then. A friend used it for a while until he could get a new one, and, other than that it’s been taking up a spot in front of the house. Now it’s time to get it out of the way. One of the local mechanics is a Honda fanatic, so he may take it off my hands and strip it for parts, and that’s fine with me. If he doesn’t wasn’t it, I’ll junk it. Why not? It’s had a good, long life for a car. 252,000 miles is nothing to laugh at. It’s old. It’s beat up. It’s been replaced. But I’ll still be a little sad to see it go.
            It’s a 1998 Honda Civic in a dark green color. It had 6,000 miles on it when I got it. My father had leased it, and then decided he’d rather have an Accord, which happened at the same time my previous car died, so I took over the lease on the Civic, then bought it a few years later, which means the last 246,000 miles are mine. That’s a long way to drive.

            Yeah, I had the thing for 17 years. That’s a long time to drive one car. But, like I said earlier, I’m more interested in function than form, and the Civic functioned well. Hondas are good, reliable cars. It had very few problems over the years, really no issues at all until it went well past its 200,000th mile.
            But what I’m thinking of now has nothing to do with miles per gallon or reliability or how little I spent on repairs over all those years or any of the technical details of owning and driving the car. Rather, it has to do with how many memories are attached to a car, especially after 17 years, especially after all the changes one goes through on the journey from 20 to 37, from not so long out of high school to “How is 40 coming so fast?”
            So why do I, a person who’s never been too interested in technology (that’s probably why Iron Man has always been my least favorite of the major superheroes), feel a sudden surge of emotion at the prospect of sending what is, after all, just a collection of mechanical parts to the scrapheap?
            The answer is that, I think, the car has been, through so many eras of my life, a symbol of hope. The purpose of a car is to take one on a journey, and foremost on the mind during a journey is usually the destination. What we want from that destination is the best possible outcome from whatever situation we’re driving into. So for 17 years, this car, this tough old Honda Civic that went from shiny and new to beat up and battered (just like me, some might say), accumulating 246,000 miles with me behind the wheel, helped me chase success in so many different forms.
            This is the car that carried me around when I was an actor, into and out of Hoboken when I’d take the train into New York City for auditions, up and down the winding road to Ramapo when I did three summers of Shakespeare on a college campus. This is the car that I got pulled over in with a broadsword on the passenger seat! It was a prop for Macbeth, but it was real. The cop just made me put it in the trunk. If it was post-9/11, it may have gotten me in more trouble.
            This is the car that carried the equipment of Spare Change, the band I used to roadie for, from club to club, bar to bar, where I had to remain sober so I could perform important tasks like pulling out the bass drum bolt that had become embedded in the skin of the singer’s scalp (do you still have a scar, Carl? Do you even remember that incident?).
            This is the car in which I came up with the ideas for many of the stories I’ve written that are now published. Driving is a great help to thinking, at least in my case.
            This is the car I drove to the top of Garrett Mountain so I could stand there with so many others, open-jawed and saddened as we watched the two pillars of smoke where once had stood two towers, knowing that the flesh of the murdered was burning there along with the rubble.
            This is the car in which I sat in traffic for 6 straight hours when Hurricane Floyd had shut down the New Jersey highways.
            And this is the car that sheltered me as I drove through a tree in the midst of the fury of Hurricane Sandy.
            This is the car that took me to so many movies and on so many solitary trips to the bookstore when I was young and alone and thought I’d never find someone to share my life with.
            And this is the car that took me on my first date with the woman I married, when the loneliness finally ended (I didn’t just chase success that time, I caught the elusive creature!).      
            I wonder how many different Dunkin’ Donuts locations I visited in that car, how many cups of coffee I consumed behind that wheel? Oh, and I almost forgot about this: this is the car I used as a weapon against the three punks who tried to mug me at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru!
            Yes, this is the car that brought me safely through so many snowstorms and and heavy rains and fierce winds.
            This is the car that was with me at 4 different homes: from Wayne, NJ to Tuxedo, NY, to Clifton, NJ, and finally to Ringwood, NJ where I have my own house with my own wife and my own office and so many great things.
             This car has been the one constant through so many changes. It’s been the TARDIS to my Doctor, transporting me as I’ve regenerated from the kid I was at 20 to the youth I was at 25 to the man I was at 30 to the man I am at 37.
            It’s been my Enterprise, carrying me to places I’d never been before, to see things I’m proud to say I was bold enough to venture toward.
            And now its voyage is over.
            I’m tempted to do as Captain Kirk did at the end of the last real Star Trek movie, quote Peter Pan (“Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.”) and take her out for one last spin.
            But I won’t do that. I’ve already grown accustomed to the power and comfort of the new car. And I don’t want to put another penny into the old one, even if it’s just for the gas it takes to go a few more miles.
            Anyway, it shakes now, and doesn’t pick up speed like it used to. I don’t feel like sputtering around in it, feeling its age, listening to it wheeze like an athlete hoping for one more shot at glory. It’s done. The old green warrior has had its day. 252,000 miles is a fine run for any car, and the memories aren’t going away any time soon.