The Old Girl

car%28600x800%29.jpgMy automotive history has been a spotty one. There was Coche Verde, a 1997 Chevy Silverado extended cab that I had for about a year when I was a senior in high school and freshman in college. Then there was the Cranberry Cruiser, a Dodge Stratus I had for about a year when I was a senior in college and then living out in Los Angeles. But in the spring of 2005, I got this 2001 Kia Sephia. I never came up with a proper name for her; I merely referred to her with the general female pronoun as many men have done with their vessels over the years. Somewhere along the line, calling her "the old girl" became the default, and then her official title.

She cost $6,000. (Though I wound up paying more, since I had to finance for a long time and had no money down and got her when I was not making much money.) I bombed all over Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange Counties in her. I put a bumper sticker on her that I regretted less than 18 months later. I punished her with a 90-mile round-trip commute when I was living in Glendale and working in Thousand Oaks, then took it easier on her when I was living in Sherman Oaks and working in Mid-Wilshire. I took her on dates. (I did, despite my own worst efforts, get a few.) I took her to Comic-Con and Disneyland. I drove her all over the network of L.A. freeways, moving through the heart of the city like a cell through vessels. I knew just how far I could push her, and how far she could go.

The axle always made a little popping noise when I stopped. When I bought her, the sales manager acted generous when he told me he'd give me free floor mats; I took delivery of the car to find that he'd given me tan ones that clashed with the gray interior. She got good mileage, but pickup slowed to a crawl if the AC fan was on any higher than the lowest possible setting. I often drove to and from work with the windows down.

She was in more than her fair share of scrapes, too. Most frightening was the hit and run, in which I was heading north along Highland to the 101, only to be hit on my front right side when a driver pulled out to turn (on his red light) and then sped off before I could get his tags. She accrued a number of other dings over the years whose origins I can no longer remember. The front-facing license plate fell off last fall when a car bumped her while she was parked at the Fannin South lot, where I'd left her while I rode the train to work. By then, I didn't want to put more miles on her than she could afford: I'd gotten her with something like 44,000, but by last fall, it was up to 120,000.

She got me to Texas, though. When I moved from L.A. to Houston in the fall of 2009, I shipped my belongings ahead of me and drove with a friend in the old girl. This was a good plan in theory: I was able to toss a bunch of old furniture and junk I didn't need and just ship or pack the essentials. Yet I erred on the side of keeping too many things, and as a result, the old girl was painfully loaded down for the 1,500-mile journey. Her RPMs hovered past 4,000 for the entirety of the two-day trip. Accelerating up to highway speeds took considerable effort and planning; lane changes and exits required calculations of inertia I thought I'd left behind in 11th-grade physics. The Check Engine light clicked on not long after I arrived in my new home, and though I poured some more money into her for repairs over the next year, the light ultimately stayed on. I came to think of it as a sign that she was at least still alive and kicking, well enough to know something was off.

But she never quit. All the aches and pains, all the repairs and leaks; the night my stereo was stolen, and the next day, when my roommate and I put in a new one. The new brakes, the groaning transmission; the way the tint on the rear window was permanently warped and bubbled, training me to look not for specific cars or people behind me but to distinguish threats by patches of color and light. She hung in there. I had her for just shy of six years, longer than I've had any other car to date. I'm excited about the new car in my life, and grateful for the opportunity to have it, just as I'm thankful I had her for so long. She was a big part of my life for a long time, and she'll forever be tied to the memories I made in my early 20s. What more could a man want?