Cross posting under Daily Grace and les collines, because the 15-year old engine of this auto ode is so integral to both.
We Americans and our cars. I remember when I first heard the story, probably a myth, about how the Volvo engineers were horrified to put cupholders in their designs. They resisted for years, I think it went. Hot beverages, moving vehicles? How do you say No bleeping Way in Swedish? Finally they had to relent.
I think it also had something to do with size of cup holders. European holders were smaller, designed for coffee cups; Americans wanted ones big enough for liter water bottles and Big Gulps.
Our cars at one time or another or all at once are our offices, our dining rooms, our meditation rooms, our bedrooms, our refuge; haulers of children, muddy smelly teams, likewise animals; groceries and feed and loads for the dump. For rural inhabitants especially, we spend a lot of time in them.
My Ocean Blue no. 382 has logged the miles, nearly 270,000 since she came home with us in Princeton, September 2002. This was my first (nearly) brand new car– the dealer had put 6,000 miles on it, driving to Fire Island and back I think it was. Through my son’s high school and college careers, endless meets, dorm hauls, and yup two graduations; my two-year commute to NYC, several house moves, including one bringing us back to the great Empire State; countless conversations and calls (handsfree) home, running late or almost there or honey can you turn the oven on? Happy long runs to Virginia and the Outer Banks, then so many blurry ones on the thruway westbound when my mother was dying; northbound when my father moved to Saratoga; westbound again clearing and selling their house. I got in, turned the key, we were off, time and time again. As needed Thule for skiis, for bikes, for rooftop load.
And then, yet another career as workhorse delivery vehicle for les collines. Hauling fruit and loads of jars; visiting stores; delivering over hill & dale. This car has the heart of a champion, with a little, ok at this point a lot, of help from our genius mechanic and his crack team.
But so much works! The radio/CD, the AC too– I lost this latter in the 14th year of my last Volvo, summer 2002 in Jersey was very, very hot and sweaty. That one, Navy Blue, still made it up to my parents to use as a spare, back to my son when he was learning to drive, then up to New York when we moved.
I realized long ago even if I had wanted to trade in or sell Ocean used, it was really not likely to happen given the permafur throughout. I wonder if it is the breed, the fur seems to attach like Velcro to the carpet and roof and any surfaces remotely attachive. At the car wash, the guys often apologize for not being able to get more out. I smile and tip as hugely as I can.
True I may over anthropomorphize, but it is hard not to think of these machines that play such a role in our lives as nearly living, breathing beings. The precarious transmission– I was warned 100,000 miles ago that it was the Achilles of this year and model, prepare to replace it, or the car– with a few downward bumps keeps going, touch wood. Or rubber.
The heart keeps beating. I’ve thought again and again of one of my favorite books as a young child, The Little Engine That Could. I think I can, I think I can. Both for me and Ocean, this has pretty much been the mantra. For the non-believers, the naysayers, we may be small but our hearts are big and we will, will get up that hill.
A month ago, on the way home from an inspiring day of site visits to other small businesses, peers in the Farm to Food Business Accelerator program les collines is a part of, an oil seal blew. I didn’t know it but was about to find out as the oil can light flickered on and off then stayed on. Then was accompanied by a never before seen text message on the dash, which I’ve blocked out but went something like No oil pressure. Pull car over safely, turn off engine.
Three miles from home, two from a gas station, I crept along to get a couple quarts in. Home. Did not even check the level til next morning. None. Would several quarts get us 16 miles to the mechanic? Barely. By the time we arrived it was flowing out at a pretty good clip.
The diagnosis was not long coming; what was trickier, was this car reparable? My mechanic knows, I’m running a small business that is still as much dream as reality and we are very close to the bone. At the end of the leanest winter anyone around remembers, political unease-inflected, not a moment to purchase a car. So they pulled out all the stops. But it took two weeks, as they would order parts and had to send them out to machine them down to fit. I think the repair is in fact a work of art.
Two weeks without a car up here, I would not have thought I could manage. I did not rent one, I did not borrow. Friends brought groceries, I caught rides a few times, somehow I managed. It was tough. And on day 16 when I drove Ocean home, gratitude does not cover it.
I’ve written elsewhere here about the first car I bought myself, my $175 Opel, orange with black interior, the summer before I went to Paris. I only drove that car for three months but it is etched in my heart.
So to the cars of our lives, witnesses to so much more of our existences than we realize or want to admit, here’s to you.
To Ocean Blue 382, little blue engine that could, may you and I log a few hundred thousand more. Hey, it’s a Volvo. Believe xo