I’ve owned five vehicles at different times of my life, all trusted companions. The first was a cough syrup green 1971 Toyota Corolla, but for me, it was verdant, a two-door standard sedan, four-speed manual with a radio and a large trunk. I adjusted the seats and viewed the world through a clear windshield.
As the story goes, my parents had left me a few thousand. I walked into a Toyota and talked to a salesman. Now I had to drive back to my apartment by crossing the Whitestone Bridge, but had only driven a few times before then, including the test to get my license. Somehow, I managed. Shortly afterward, I packed up my things and drove across the United States. The Corolla took me to Pennsylvania down to Cape Hatteras, through Appalachia and into Atlanta, Hannibal, Gunnison, Four Corners, the Rockies, and Las Vegas, almost like I was inside Woody Guthrie's head. I drove my two-door years more until the floor in the back seat rusted out. The car registered 200,000 plus miles on the speedometer. My neighbor bought it for $200 and crashed it several months later. I thought she deserved better.
I know, I know. She was just a car, but we’d spent so much time together. Newer cars had automatic windows, not handles that you had to roll up and down like a store awning, automatic shifts, and cassette decks. My old car was no longer. Buying a new one was out of the question. I scanned Craigslist and located a cheap Honda Civic Wagon four-door automatic with low miles, not green, but a sparkling cobalt blue. I made an appointment and eyed the owner suspiciously, strolled around the car to ascertain if the doors wouldfall off the moment I pressed the gas pedal. The man read my look. “The car’s in good shape,” he said, and handed me the keys for a test run. I got inside, the car was beautifully clean, not a fingerprint on the steering wheel, not a speck of ash in the cup holder. It drove without a hiccup and sailed like a blue flag. I handed the man my envelope. So began the blue Honda period of my life.
I’ve owned three other cars since then, all sedans, pre-owned, or as we used to say, “used,” four-door automatics with low mileage, hunted down on Craigslist, car lots, or dealerships with their guarantees of free maintenance. All cars were in it for the long haul. A few had names. One of them was Lucinda named after Lucinda Williams, a black beauty that I’d bought in the South where I visited Louisiana bayous and ancient Indian mounds before driving back to California. Within miles of home, smoke rose from either side of the hood in nasty-looking wisps that exploded into flame. I exited the highway. Workers in a machine shop opened the hood and used a fire extinguisher; my mechanic did the rest and got her running. I became protective, kept dirty tissues on her front seat to discourage a growing tide of break-ins thinking that people don’t like to wade past germs. I believed that cars are imbued withresonant life: if we take care of them, they do the same. Now I’m hearing about self-driven cars powered by robots. That would change everything: I want to have a peer relationship with whatever is driving me forward.