Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Farewell, Old Steed

We bid farewell to a fine piece of reasonable transportation today. In 2004, as a three-person family, we upgraded from the 1990 Honda Accord we'd been driving (the Golden Dragon) to a 1997 Honda Accord that we bought at Frenchy's Auto.  Frenchy's sign bore the slogan "Home of Reasonable Transportation".  Frenchy and his friendly Russian henchmen salesmen didn't give us a very clear explanation for why they were selling a 7-year-old car with 62,000 miles on it for under Blue Book, but once our mechanic checked the car out, we didn't worry much about the "why".

The car came with the mag wheels and chrome trim strips you see pictured.  It really was reasonable transportation.  We loved getting 30 miles to the gallon.  We loved the dependability of a Honda.  We loved driving a sedan when lots of people seem to purchase an eight-seat behemoth when their first child is born.  Our first child thought this car was very cool.  Not quite two years old when we bought it, he used to call it the Boo Tashz (blue car), so that's the only name we've ever given it.  My wife's grandfather had a standard stable of names he'd apply to cars (blue goose, green hornet, midnight marauder).  We named the Golden Dragon in honor of his tradition and in honor of our second apartment, which had - for no apparent reason - golden dragons carved over the front door.  But I digress.  We commuted in the car and flogged it on road trips.  We toted luggage and groceries and Christmas trees in its trunk.

Over the last few months, we had had repeated overheating problems.  Our family could tolerate running the heat even when it was warm out in order to keep the temperature needle steady.  Chauffeuring others got embarrassing, though.  After several bottles of coolant and some attempted fixes, our mechanic finally determined that the head gasket was leaking and that the coolant was mixing with the oil.  This is, like, bad.

So we replaced the Boo Tashz with a Mazda 5, which I'll review in this space very soon.  We'd wrenched so much value out of the car, but the needed repairs would have cost more than the current Blue Book price.  Without the entrepreneurial savvy of Frenchy's, we decided the best path was to sell the car for parts.  At least one of the parts - a side mirror - came from the parts dealer to whom we sold the car.  It was originally on a 1996 Accord.  It's a real circle of life kind of thing.  So, the nice tow guy came and hauled it away.

For some reason, two memories stick out with this car, both featuring Teddy.  

The first one shows the kind of sticky situations I get myself into all the time.  We'd gotten three tickets to a Pitt football game a few years back, and the boys and I were running late on game day.  We hoped to meet up with some friends who were tailgating and walk in with them.  I was thrilled to get a pretty cheap parking space without too much searching.  In my excitement, I popped the trunk, got out, hustled the boys out, paid the attendant, reflexively locked the doors and then realized that the engine was still running.  Oops.  Thank goodness I'd popped the trunk, and thank goodness Teddy was a slender but smart three-year-old.  The Honda featured a pass-through door from the back seat into the trunk.  It's narrower than the arm rest, like a little doggy door.  I think most people use this aperture for skis.  I reached in the trunk and found that the pass-through was blessedly unlocked from that side.  I explained Teddy's mission to him: slide through there and unlock a door.  He gamely climbed in the trunk, snaked through, unlocked a rear passenger door and saved the day.  We didn't tell mommy about that one for a long time afterward.

The second memory came on a long road trip.  The first summer after I'd gone part time, I did the math and realized that because I work Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, I could leave on a trip with the boys on Tuesday night and come back Sunday night having burned only one vacation day.  Paige was busy with her job, so I planned a father and sons road trip to Maine to see their grandparents at their cottage.  We were to stop in Queens and stay with my sister and brother-in-law in their one-bedroom apartment.  Piloting the car alone, I did fine across Pennsylvania and New Jersey but missed an exit or two in New York.  We got more and more out of our way.  Exhausted from a workday and then a 250 mile drive, I woke up the sleeping boys by yelling curse words.  (This ended my 2009 father-of-the-year bid.)  Paige called just before she went to bed around 11:00, and I told her that I'd just F-bombed my way across Queens. 

We made it, though, through a sweltering night in an apartment where the air refused to move and then on up to some freezing beach days in Maine.  We enjoyed good family time, and I proved to myself that I could keep the boys alive (if not simultaneously keeping myself in control) as a very temporary single parent.  On the way back, we stayed with my brother and his family in Massachusetts.  Setting off pretty early for the long pull back to Pittsburgh, I was thrilled that we'd made it all the way into New Jersey by about 9:30 am.  It was three and a half hours without stopping because the boys had fallen asleep.  We found it difficult to pile up chunks of drive time like that because one of the kids usually had to eat or pee.  Anyway, we're rolling up a long hill on I-287 and Teddy without warning manifests motion sickness.  He manifested it all over his clothes and car seat and a little on his brother's car seat and on his brother's backpack.  I pulled off onto the shoulder 300 miles from home with a back seat full of vomit.  I did what had to be done, pulling both seats out, scraping clean what I could, stripping Teddy naked on the shoulder and changing his clothes.  I used every wet wipe we had.  We reassembled back in the blue car and set off for home.  Knowing the delay had eaten up all of the gains of the early morning departure, I worried about the length of the rest of the journey home.  Charlie piped up from the back seat "Boy, now we're really going to have to F-bomb it across Pennsylvania to make it home." 


Graham said...

A fitting tribute! One thing you guys have mastered is getting incredible value from your car purchases. And the 5 is off to great start.

Karen Gorss said...

The 5 is on my short list of "next cars." I can't wait to see what you think of it.

Jacksons said...

Gonna miss that Honda. Lots of good, long driving trips with my bro-in-law.

Lauren Jackson said...

Leave it to Charlie to come up with a fantastic punchline.

Anne H. said...

An interesting essay, Jeff. I enjoy your blog!

Anne H. said...

An interesting essay, Jeff. I enjoy your blog!