Thursday, January 22, 2004

Our battered, rust-speckled, battleship-gray 1987 Plymouth Colt died yesterday. It was something we’d been expecting for a long while, but then again, you never truly expect to lose a friend.

The Colt was Rick’s first and only new car, which he bought not long after he finished graduate school. During the first week he owned it, someone slashed its tires. We wondered if this would be a forever ill-fated car – Rick had no known enemies and the attack seemed random – but for the most part, the car not only served us well, but dodged numerous dangers. It transported us to and from our wedding in 1988; three years later, it took us from Boston to Kalamazoo. By then its upholstery had been scarred by scuba gear, and its undercarriage a bit mottled by Boston road salt, but at that age it still accelerated like a cheetah. Okay, a wimpy little gray cheetah. But we rarely got beaten by fancier cars while pulling away from fresh green lights.

This isn’t to say that the Colt didn’t have its problems. Like all members of its model, it had the bad habit of devouring its own exhaust system. They got pretty sick of us at Midas; sometimes I wonder whether the Colt’s repeated woes at the expense of Midas’s warranty policy was the main reason Midas pulled all its shops out of the greater Kalamazoo area. It also began to experience other age-related ailments, though in a very genteel manner. For instance, yes, its alternator did conk out, but it happened less than a block from our home. The first time the car had transmission problems and refused to move, it did so while parked in a legal spot on the Western Michigan campus. And, the one time it ever got a flat tire, the failure occurred while the car was safely ensconced in our garage.

In the end, the Colt went like Holmes’s one-hoss shay; the gas tank, the rear bumper, and finally the entire transmission all seemed to disintegrate at once. Arrangements are pending, but the interment will probably take place at U-Wrench-It, a junkyard that hoists its charges into the air and permits clients to perform their own dismantlements – kind of like a Zoroastrian tower of silence with a superimposed DIY ethic. The Colt will soon be replaced by a late-model used car, and our venerable 1989 Mazda will then be retired from the East Lansing run and delegated to the task of hauling Rick around town.

As a mostly short-distance vehicle in its later years, the Colt never lived to achieve six-figure mileage, but it did see almost daily action for 17 years. I’ve driven it while wearing a wet swimsuit, and ridden in it clad in my wedding gown. It has proudly worn parking stickers from two different universities and another university’s biological station. It survived being rear-ended and broadsided. It undoubtedly outlived some of tow trucks that helped it along in its weaker moments. Free-range caterpillars once roamed its front passenger seat, and its upholstery soaked up enough coffee and Coke to give it a unique brown burnish I’ve yet to see anywhere else. Who knows -- maybe it was the caffeine that gave the Colt both its energy and its longevity. (So far, the stuff has worked for me, so I wouldn’t be surprised.)

We loved that car, and we’re going to miss it. If you have an old beater with rust spots and dents, one that hangs on stubbornly and gets you where you want to go despite a decrepit appearance and increasing levels of noise, then don’t scoff at it. Appreciate it. Give it a hug and pay it a compliment, and keep it out of the landfill as long as you can. Don’t laugh – it’s paid for. It’s the best bumper sticker you can earn.


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