Bye Bye Baby

The first time I saw her she was standing idle at the curb, shining like Pegasus in a sea-colored cloak. She looked like freedom incarnate. It had been eight months since Bob and I sold our tattooed silver TDI Beetle and we were ready for a new set of wheels.

We hadn’t needed a car in Nicaragua. In fact, cars were forbidden on Little Corn Island, and although having a car would have come in handy in Alaska, we hadn’t stayed there long enough to invest in a vehicle.

I believe every American can recall their first car in great detail. The specifics of their successors blur as the years speed by, with precious few worth bringing up in conversation. My first was a robin’s egg blue Rambler wagon that I acquired for $125. I named her Susi and slid around Denver in overdrive until I wore out the gear. Other notables were the hulking, solid steel 1950 Ford sedan that I drove out of a farmer’s field for $175 (never did get the brakes fixed); the 1972 Mercury Montego in arrest-me red with the sporty black vinyl top, and fantastic stereo system; and Christine.

We picked Christine up for a song—a mere $1200 for a ten-year-old Ford Escort with five-on-the-floor and 65,000 miles—and drove home to Berthoud, Colorado. Just like that, we were independent. One minute we were not totally American and the next we were, confidently down-shifting at stop signs and pushing her into fifth to blow past the pack lumbering up I-25.

After finding her lights on for the third time, we named her Christine after Stephen King’s novel about a possessed car. Our Christine was configured in a way that made it easy to bump the light switch when sliding out from under the steering wheel and she had long lost the ability to ping us in alarm. We bought a pair of jumper cables to keep in her ample trunk and grew accustomed to the tentative approach of helpful souls coming to let us know our car was sitting in the lot with her lights on.

Christine was our only transport for four years and for that alone she stands out. I think every couple should share a car for some period of time. It kept us from becoming too autonomous and enhanced our scheduling and communication skills. Sharing Christine helped us point our lives in the same direction.

We became a two-car family with Blanche, a 1987 white Mercedes turbo touring wagon who sometimes depended on the kindness of strangers. Blanche was joined by Oliver, an olive green Outback gifted to us by beloved neighbors Jason and Haruka, and most recently Val, a “Kinetic Blue” 2017 Chevy Volt.

Now, fourteen years after buying Christine, there were four cars milling about our yard and it was time to thin the herd. I moved Christine from her place beneath the sweet gums to a sunny patch of lawn in front of the house. Bob handed me a razor blade and I scraped off the trash sticker and the rasta baby decal. I removed my hair ties from the glove box and reached into the trunk to pull out the catch-all milk crate.

When the day came, a nice young couple arrived to collect our old friend. Bob and I stood together on our soggy lawn and watched Christine’s tail lights as her new owners drove away. She paused, blinking at us with her turn signal before turning south towards the highway, and I’m pretty sure she flashed her headlights one last time.

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