“Everything that is
— from an inscription on stone in Joe Bruchac’s yard
It was Groundhog’s Day, 2006 when I last bought a car. At that point I’d been driving a large maroon Chevy Suburban which looked somewhat similar to Tony Soprano’s, and both James Gandolfino and his character were still alive. I got a lot of deferential treatment with that vehicle as a result; people always let me pass through intersections first. The Suburban had followed a Dodge Maxi-Van that worked well for family trips but not so much for business purposes. The Suburban garnered respect, not only for its impressive heft, but for the implication that its owner could afford to drive around getting only about 12-14 miles per gallon, whether that was true or not. In 2002, when I got that set of wheels, I felt that confident. The real estate market in Saratoga Springs, NY (and virtually everywhere else) was rocketing and moving upward with the force of a torpedo. Exuberance was in the air, and as a former owner of small Subarus, Hondas, Nissans, and Toyotas, I was proud to be back to American-made, with something more substantial and less “thrifty” underneath me on the road.
Flash forward a few years: by the time gas prices had crept up over $3/gallon, I started regretting the Suburban purchase, particularly since there was no market for such used behemoths at that point. I owed a bit more than it was worth by trade-in time, but had gotten some great use out of it. The sound system was better than any I’d had in a car of mine before, and when we’d first driven it home from the dealer in Glens Falls, I recall hearing OutKast booming out “Bombs Over Baghdad!”– a prescient song if there ever was one– as Bella, Miles, and Dare sang along at top volume on the chorus.
During those Suburban years of driving, Miles was playing in 3 or 4 basketball leagues– Rec, Jr. NBA, Travel, then CYO once he went to St. Gregory’s in Loudonville for 7th and 8th grade– while AAU ball filled up the spring and summer. That big ole SUV transported tons of friends and classmates and teammates, as well as our family of five, all over the place. We went through what a lot of “sports parents” do– nonstop travel and constant restaurant and fast food expenses– occasional hotel layovers, routes all over the state and through New England and in 2005 to Virginia Beach for AAU Nationals. The Suburban conveyed us through those days in fine fashion, but had become too much of a guzzling beast.
One day when it cost me 95 bucks to fill it up, it struck me that I had to get rid of it immediately. Six-figure fill-ups were looming. The friendly salesmen at the now-defunct All-Star Chevrolet south of SPAC let me test-drive a reputedly 30-mpg model on the lot called an “HHR”– which I later found out meant “Heritage High Roof” or something like that, and which I fondly dubbed, “my little gangster car.”
First it was a bright orange set of wheels, the only advantage to that being I’d never get lost in a snowstorm, but my daughter shrieked and laughed when she saw the color. “But it’s the same shade as a basketball,” I protested. “Well I’m not riding in it,” my then-9 year old girl scout informed me, as headstrong then as she is now. I went back and found a black one that looked even more authentically gangsta-like, as if from a re-make of a 1930’s movie, minus the machine guns hanging out the windows…
It never quite averaged 30 miles per gallon, but was twice as efficient as the Suburban, at least. It fit me like a glove and became my new trademark. Some people used to mistake it for a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which would only annoy me: “The hatch is not sloped like that one; mine is a much more noble and elegant creature!”
Long story short, eight years and nine months later, I have now travelled 243,003 miles in that great 4-cylinder car. It has gotten me from the end of Miles’ time at St. Gregory’s to his four years of Catholic Central HS in North Troy, when my wife and I would trade off to break up the 140 miles per day required back then, 35 miles each way, two roundtrips per day. The HHR made its share of trips to LeMoyne for the four years he was there, as well, until the newer Volvo my wife drives took over on the highway voyages. My trusty HHR got me through Daryn’s high school years and most of Bella’s trip from Greenfield Elementary to Saratoga Springs HS. It took me through my professional transitions from RE/MAX Park Place to SPA Realty, and then to RE/MAX Premiere, Coldwell Banker Prime, and then to Keller Williams Realty of Saratoga. I would travel close to 30,000 miles per year without fail, through the tail end of the boom market to the lean years when I had foolishly gone out on my own, and back to the recovery years, from 2010 to the present. Now with EQUITAS Realty, I guess I am finally, and somewhat reluctantly, ready for an upgrade in my vehicular choice, but am staying with CHEVY, opting for an EQUINOX now, close to my company’s name.
My loyalty is based on my affection for what the HHR did for me– I rarely had to do more than change the oil and fill the gas tank, and replace tires now and then. It held up well until one fateful day when I scraped out the oil pan in dead-winter when an ice-flow had cratered the ruts in our road pretty badly. All the oil drained out when I parked and when it was towed to our then-favorite mechanic, he told me the engine was blown and it would be roughly $1500. to replace it. I was crushed. On a friend’s recommendation I had it towed a second time to an amazing dude named Ryan near where I live in Middle Grove, who proceeded to bring the HHR back to life for something like $300 bucks: a reincarnation of a dead car. That must have been three or four winters ago, and nearly another 100,000 miles later, that VORTEK engine is still going strong.
Over time, however, the HHR showed signs of its age. The right side interior would get wet on the carpet when it rained, even with the windows up. The blower on the heater and A/C stopped working long ago, the radio was full of static, and some bushings in the steering needed replacement. The transmission was getting a bit clunky and a new set of tires were in order. In fact, the most recent flat in the driveway is what drove me to the new car lot. Expensive repairs were not worth it anymore, sad to say.
Miles and Bella– both superb Internet shoppers– had been showing me options online for quite a while, hint hint. They knew that shopping is my least favorite thing to do.
But more pertinent to this blog– I have to confess my sentimentality for inanimate objects in my life. This car has been as good to me as almost any friend I’ve had, and I feel affection towards it like I would a horse that I’d been riding for years on the open plains out west. I spent countless hours inside it. I sang along to my favorite songs inside it, went on several thousand appointments in all kind of weather, and drove my kids and wife to all kinds of events with its help. My butt fit the seat perfectly, though the fabric was now worn, torn and pulling apart. As with the recent commercial showing a guy turning in his iPhone– with Suri inside it, pleading to him to remember “all the good times!”– for a newer model– I feel I am betraying a long-time pet in the family by “putting it down” before it is ready for the graveyard.
But I have to turn it in. I wanted to do a funeral service of some kind, a memorial as it were, but my family thought (and still thinks) I was nuts. I have trouble parting with the important parts of my life… still have my old laptops and cell phones and even a typewriter or two from the really olden days. Am I crazier than most? Probably. Is there a name for an automotive hoarder? Well, yes– guys like me with larger lots are way too common in parts of Saratoga County, and their yards are littered with their old “best friends.” Thinking of it that way will allow me to let go… and usher in a whole new era of comfort and driving adventures…. I’ll take some pictures of her one last time for the archives, and clean out all my random belongings that have been in her dash, her compartments, under her seats, and in the back hatch area. I have to be strong…
But I might sob just a bit as I take one last trip with it– with her!– down to Mangino’s, where the trade-in value was almost nil, but better than letting her rust in the driveway while I cruised around with the newer, younger, model.
I’ll think fondly of the last time I washed her and really waxed her up good– parked on High Rock Ave. near my office, and someone asked me– “Did you get a new car?” because, frankly, she still looked good from a distance.
No, not yet I said– this one only has about 242,000 miles on it, why should I?
Gulp, it’s time, I gotta go… my Equinox is prepped and waiting for me at Mangino Buick in Ballston Spa, 12 miles away, one last ride– time to start a new mechanical affair of the heart… See you in the afterlife, my dear HHR...
One last time, I will insist: Everything that is, is Alive…
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2