More about cars…

The only cars I’ve owned over the past 25 years have been Toyotas. Two of them. A black Celica for 13 years and a green Solara — aptly named “Kermit” — for the remaining dozen years. For sure, I like to drive them far beyond the warranty and pretty much until the wheels fall off.

You east coasters will be surprised and impressed that those of us in Lotus Land can get that kind of life out of a car. But given a precious few raindrops throughout the year and absolutely no snow, southern California is a genuine automotive heaven.

But consider this: With currently 160,000 miles on the odometer, it turns out that I have sat behind the wheel of Kermit for more than 4,000 hours, or 167 24-hour days. That’s at an average speed of 40 mph, and enough time to develop welts of Olympian proportions. Taking the math further and it amounts to nearly two weeks “in the position” for each of the dozen years. So is it any wonder that I get attached to my cars?

I mean it has come to that. People who talk to me after a considerable interval frequently get around to “So how’s Kermie?” And I have to admit that I give them a status report — and then the caller thanks me and hangs up.

Is that a problem: naming and assigning a personality to inanimate things? Is that why I felt compelled to name Kris’ Murano “Rita?” “They” say that folks with an artistic bent do that, that it’s a personality thing, but not necessarily a liability. Peculiar but harmless. Well, I don’t know. I started doing it however long ago and continue on. Friends just smile and I suppose roll their eyes when I look away. Still, there is a definite attachment. Back in 1998 when I finally dropped off Old Blackie (the Celica) at the dealer where I bought Kermit I was nearly distraught, with thoughts of having abandoned him.

Same thing with plants, of course: My long-abiding Ficus is called “Fred.”

Maybe it’s a conviction that making it personal is life-affirming and life-sustaining (we’re back to the cars here). And be honest: You have offered quiet words of encouragement to your own car when you thought it was needed or might possibly do some good. An icy morning and it won’t start (then again, that’s when the cooing can degrade to “You bastard!”); the gas gauge is down to fumes; you’re lost (“Well Old Girl, it’s just you and me now”).

So it’s possible that my longevity with cars may be that I just can’t let go. Or it may be the personal history that I associate with a car would seem, in a way, to be lost once you close the door for the last time. Well, but there it is, and that’s no stranger to you either — the kids when they were kids, and so forth. (I tend to recall the parking lots of favorite bars, but that’s another story entirely.)

But let’s get serious. What we are likely to be talking about is aging: the car and me along with it. When I drove Kermit home to the garage for the first time I was a full 12 years younger. Still attached, I’ve since logged more than a decade in the rocket business, witnessed I don’t know how many launches, become enmeshed in country culture — a questionable endeavor — survived two terms with W. in charge, and lamented the demise of rock ‘n roll. 

A lot of water under the bridge. But we both continue to roll.