Farewell, My Lovely

Sunday, August 25, 2013

black mazda 323 in front of white farmhouse

Me & My Car, Blawenburg, New Jersey — Fall 1989

After I graduated college and found my first job, the final order of business for my parents to launch me into adulthood was to get me set up with a car. The arrangement they offered was to make a down payment on the new vehicle of my choice and to co-sign on a loan for the balance, with payments of around two hundred dollars a month for three years. (The amount of the down payment would depend on the amount of the car and the interest rate of the loan. Implicit in this arrangement was the idea that the car I picked out would be reasonable. No Maseratis.)

[And for the record, if you are a car-buying kind of family and can afford this, I think this is a great strategy. Your kids go through the car-buying process to learn how that works, they get to start life with a good, reliable car that is unlikely to start having mechanical problems for quite some time, and by paying off the loan, they get a credit history. Also they feel like they earned the car, it wasn’t given to them, because they are paying for it every month for three years. It’s always better to earn things yourself than to be given them.

And then once they are done with the car loan, they can save the money they’ve been paying on the note for something else. My mom pointed this out to me once, she said, “When you’re done paying the loan, you can save that two hundred dollars a month for the down payment for your next car.” And I said, “Okay,” while thinking, “But I have a car, why would I need a new one?”]

So that was the deal.

We went out car shopping and I test drove a bunch of different cars and liked some and didn’t like some and the car I ended up selecting was a black Mazda 323 with an “off-black” interior. (I remember this detail because I told a friend about it, and he said, “Hmm, off-black … Would that be … gray?”)

I took possession of the car in September 1989 and packed it up and drove it off to my new life in Princeton, New Jersey, with pretty much everything I owned stuffed inside. (One of the nice things about the car was that it fit much more than you would think, the trunk was positively huge, and the seats folded down giving you a very large interior space.) My parents brought the leftovers with them a few months later when they came for a visit, and then I really did have everything I owned with me.

The picture above is from my parents’ visit in the fall of 1989, I think in October. I’m standing with the car, in all its shiny newness, with my mom (and my housemate’s Volvo) in the background. The car is parked in front of the house I lived in, which was a very beautiful old farmhouse built in the 1700s. It had a little plaque on the door that identified it as the Bernardus Van Zandt House.

[In case you are wondering about the house, at that time it was split into two parts, the upper left quadrant of the house, top three windows in the picture, was a separate apartment. I sublet a small bedroom for four-hundred dollars a month, utilities included, from the person who rented the main part of the house. For the first year or so that I lived there, Susan and I were the only people living there — plus one standard poodle, named Daisy, who was a very smart and funny dog — and Susan was gone most of the time. The whole process of finding a place to live in Princeton was an ordeal, but it turned out okay in the end.]

On Friday, August 23, 2013, I sold the car. Which I had had in my possession, and driven as my primary vehicle, the entire time, for almost exactly twenty-four years.

It still drove great and got great gas mileage, and I probably would have driven it for the rest of my life, except that last year, I got a new car.

This is my new car.

red miata convertible parked under a tree

Red Miata Convertible

The Miata belonged to my Auntie Fran, who passed away in December 2011. Through a slightly complicated series of events that I will spare you the details of, I ended up with the car.

It is a 1990 and had just over 41,000 miles on it when I picked it up at my parents’ house last August. Prior to that, it had spent its whole life on an island (Lopez, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State) and was not my aunt’s primary vehicle. There’s not really anywhere to go on Lopez, it’s hard to put a lot of miles on a car that you just drive around the island for fun.

My aunt liked sporty cars. I remember she drove an MG for a while when I was young, and then later had a white Jaguar with a red leather interior that was very beautiful, but was forever going into the shop.

One of the reasons I am enjoying driving the Miata is because it reminds me of my aunt, the fun and interesting things about her.

Since I picked up the Miata last year, I’ve had two cars. Now, I barely even need one car, I certainly don’t need two. And the thing about driving is that it’s mostly instinctive. You get in your car and do what you do. You don’t think about it.

After I got the Miata, and still had the 323, I would switch back and forth between the cars, sometimes drive the Miata and sometimes the 323. I quickly realized that this was a bad idea. The cars are similar in many ways — they are both Mazdas, both made around the same time, both stick shift — but the way they drive is completely different.

The Miata is a sports car. It is very low to the ground. It has good pickup, and can take turns at high rates of speed. It is designed for zipping around.

The 323, to say the least, is not.

I would find myself driving along in the 323 doing what I’m doing and inadvertently making very bad decisions. I would see a yellow light where I was turning left and think that I could make it, no problem. But I wouldn’t have enough pickup to get to the light in the time I thought, and then I was going much too fast for the turn. Whooaahh….

Made things exciting. But I was like okay I think this is not going to work.

Also once I started driving a nice, solidly built car with less than 50,000 miles on it, my 323 started to feel like a tin can. I noticed all of the quirks, all of the rattles, all of the broken things. Not to mention that I had to pay to register and insure it, and I still had to maintain it and put gas in it.

I knew it was time.

It was time to find the 323 a new home.

I thought about donating it but the first organization I contacted did not get back to me after I told them how many miles it had on it (for the record, 162,345, not bad for a twenty-four year old car). So then I reached out to friends to see if anyone knew someone in the market for a sweet, reliable,  little used car. (I said I felt like I was trying to find a new home for an aging pet.)

A friend I used to work with said she might know someone. She put us in touch, we emailed, they came and took the car for a test drive, I gave the prospective buyer my printout from the database I kept with all of the work I’d ever done on it from 1989 to the present.

She was smitten.

She had lost her car last year in a wreck in the middle of Kansas while driving with a friend to Burning Man. Her friend was driving, she was sleeping in the back seat, it was raining, they got sideswiped by a semi. The car was totalled. (Fortunately, neither of them was seriously injured.) She works for an artists’ collaborative in Greensboro called Elsewhere, where no one gets paid hardly anything, they’re like indentured servants there. She hadn’t been able to find a good car at a price she could afford. I agreed to sell her the car for a hundred dollars.

I delivered the car to her on Friday. Earlier in the week, I took it for an oil change and a once-over by a mechanic to make sure it all looked okay. (It did.) Before I dropped it off, I filled the tank with gas. (When I told her it had a full tank of gas, she said, “Oh my gosh, you’re like my fairy godmother!”)

She has a new car now. This is its new home (though not its new owner, just some folks enjoying the window swings).

man with pink hair on a swing in the window of the Elsewhere Living Museum

Elsewhere Living Museum — Greensboro, North Carolina

I think it will like it there. So much more interesting than my house.

I texted a friend after I delivered the car, telling her I’d sold it. I said, “The person who bought the car is WAY more excited to have it than I’ve been about that car in a long time.”

So that is all good.

I no longer have to worry about taking care of a car I don’t need, and someone who didn’t have a car is completely thrilled to have it.

But right now it still feels really weird to not have that car in my life.

4 Responses to “Farewell, My Lovely”

  1. liz Adams Says:

    Well, now little did I think when I came in here to one of my favorite blogs, to find a picture of you in a place I know well, just a few miles from where I’ve been living yea these many years! never mind the car(though it does sound like a great sequence of events) it’s the local history that grabbed me!

    My only sorrow about Blawenburg is that the old DQ is gonnnnnnnne. But Sculpture House is still there and selling clay.

    Too cool to see you, too.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    That so funny that you live out there! I just went to google maps and did a little street tour of the area, so much different than when I lived there! It was very country at the time, just a two lane road and no sidewalks or anything. Right after I moved in they started clearing land across the street for a golf course community, but then the bottom fell out of the economy so everything stopped for a little while.

    I think the reason nothing else has been built on the property belonging to the house I lived in was because of drainage problems, it wasn’t buildable. I remember that they were testing it while I was living there but it kept failing the tests.

    One of the funny things about that house was that it was next to the Elks Lodge, and then the house I moved to after that in Arlington, Virginia was next to the American Legion Hall. My friends were like what is up with you and the fraternal organizations.

    I loved biking around there. I biked to work (in Princeton) along the Great Road — and that really was uphill both ways, a big hill in the middle so you went up then down then up then down. On weekends, I would ride all over, out towards Pennington or just around the Skillman area, Province Line Road was a special favorite. It was beautiful, and mostly undeveloped at the time.

    My housemate was friendly with someone who lived on Mrs. Winant’s farm on the Great Road, which I understand is now a park. I would take the dog there to play, and Susan would pick up eggs for me. They had a little shed where they would put the eggs out, it was the honor system, you would leave your money and take the eggs, a dollar or two, I think. Food was so cheap there, and gas too. It made up a little bit for the outrageous housing and car insurance costs.

    After a few years, I was ready to leave, but I really enjoyed living there.

  3. I’m pleased to have spent some of that car’s last minutes with you, Rebecca. It was fun. Did you enjoy the train ride home, too?

  4. lessisenough Says:

    The train ride was nice, though it costs more if you get your ticket at the station than if you buy online ($14.50 instead of $10 – that’s almost a 50% increase!) and I was hungry by the time I got back to Durham (8pm-ish), because the logistics of getting things switched over were somewhat complicated so I did not have the leisurely afternoon I was expecting, and did not eat again after I had lunch with you.

    So I think I didn’t enjoy the ride quite as much as I might have, because I was thinking about getting home, and wishing it would all go a bit faster so I could get some dinner.

    But overall it was a good day.

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