09 September 2005

Three Breaks: Part 3

Part 1, Part 2
Part 3:

Monday afternoon, my mechanic mumbled deeply, “Your transmission's totally messed up. Differential's all tore up,” and concluded, “Two grand to rebuild it or $1200 to put in a used one.” The whole car, if it was running, wouldn’t sell for more than $2700.

Red's been the most reliable daily presence in my life for the past seven years. Together, we've been across the country more than once and we’ve driven home at all times of day and night, but it's time for practicality: to invest in a newer vehicle before the cost of repairing Red exceeds its monetary value.

Our breakup became official when I returned to the auto shop to retrieve my stuff from the car. I waved at a mechanic across the lot and walked over to Red. Somehow I'd thought one plastic grocery bag plus an armful would be enough to get everything. A bit to my embarrassment, I soon wished I had a large trash bag for all those items which seem useful to keep around but not worth hauling anywhere. I considered asking the mechanic for one but decided to keep the moment private.

It was hot, Matthew Broderick-Biloxi Blues-Africa hot, particularly in my planet-covered, black synthetic shirt. Sweat kept streaming down my face, and Red kept dinging because the door was open with a key in the ignition.

From the door's pocket, I pulled a wad of napkins and a beaten, waterlogged AAA TripTik showing the way from LA to Tallahassee via Austin. Just behind the emergency break, a purple bandanna rested; a depression in front of it held a little gas mileage notebook I'd stopped filling out a month ago, a black pen, and five paper squares with directions to places in Tallahassee, three to the same place.

In the slot above the ashtray but below the radio, where tape decks live in other cars, rested the white handkerchief my brother gave me for my grandfather's funeral a year and a half before. I tossed it into the bag with the rest.

The glove compartment housed all the usual paperwork, a heat-bloated bottle of Purell, a “Women's Guide to Household Emergencies” from 1973 that my grandfather gave me along with his toolbox many years ago, and a small plastic box containing multi-colored plastic pieces with pairs of flat protruding metal, numbered at their ends: fuses, perhaps?

I picked up The Club which I hadn't used since I returned to Florida and put it in the bag; the plastic started to give so I took it out and placed it on the ground. Hibernating under the seats were a 1998 Thomas Guide of Los Angeles County, a blue windshield scraper, and a red, three D-cell MagLite. The trunk yielded a small, folded bounce card, used to reflect light; the two traffic triangles that blew over but not away on the Georgia highway; and a length of plastic twine. I stacked the items on the roof and closed the trunk, frowning at the “Y20” some jerk had scratched into the paint while I lived in LA; I still didn't know what it meant.

The scowl dissolved as my gaze rose. There on the rear windshield, still proudly displayed, was my Vassar College sticker. I'd always liked the fact that it read correctly when viewed in the rearview mirror as well as from outside. I'll have to get another one.

I slid into the driver's seat for the last time. Palms flat on the searing dash, I endured the pain briefly and then moved them to shaded and slightly cooler positions. “Red, you've been good to me.” A stream of sweat rolled past my eye and down my cheek; I didn't bother to wipe it off. Empty, the car seemed less mine, with less character. I noted the odometer reading in case the salvage yard wanted it. 111,876 miles. I put the key back in the ignition and left the door unlocked, as it had been when I arrived, and hauled the final load to my rental.

Next Part


  1. I had such a hard time calling salvage yards-in part because I generally dislike making phone calls, but also because it seemed so wrong to hope to find someone to haul Red away for free and maybe give me a few bucks.

    The day the salvage guy was supposed to pick up the car from the repair shop, he was really late. When a couple of the mechanics found out what I was doing, one offered to buy it on the spot, so he could fix it up and sell it later. He was honestly excited about it. Their boss took care of things by phone with the salvage guy, offering to pay for his trouble; he gave me the $75 I was supposed to get, and I was on my way. I felt so much better knowing that Red would get another chance even if it was without me.

  2. I felt so much better knowing that Red would get another chance even if it was without me.

    I thought that too when we ditched our very old but once faithful station wagon. Alas, I think its new life involved a few demolition derbies. :-/

  3. I think Red still had some good times ahead since the a/c had recently been overhauled and was in great shape. And I don't think Red would mind a demolition derby anyway... it's a way to go out with chutzpah.