Vaya Con Dios, Julie

I read somewhere that the Japanese have a farewell ritual they do when disposing of a common household object – a tea kettle or broom, for instance – that has given many years of faithful use and is ready to be replaced. I read this only once, in some random place, and have never seen mention of it again, though it fascinates me. Sentimental at heart, and a pack rat in a past life, it takes real work for me to throw out old things, especially when they’ve served me well and been with me a long time. In New York, I didn’t take photos of any landmarks – rather, I have shots of discarded, rusted TastyBake toy ovens left on the sidewalk, empty milk crates, torn posters, graffiti. I love other people’s trash – which might explain some of my past relationships, but I digress.

Six years ago my housemate drove me down to City Hall (in a blood red dress) to get married under the Rotunda. Our ride was her 1990 Geo Prism, knee deep in trashy magazines and fast food bags (her secret vice), and we laughed all the way there & all the way back. You know what they say about the road to hell? Yeah, it was kind of like that.

Three years later she moved to France and I bought the Prism from her. She was in OK shape – maybe a little rough around the edges – a bad scrape one side, a wonky window, but nothing major. It was my first foray into car ownership after years of urban carlessness and I was thrilled.

Shortly after I bought her, I asked my boss what I should name her.

“What color is it?” he queried.

“White,” I answered.

“Small car?”

“Yes. A little sedan.”

“Call it Juliet,” he proclaimed grandly, and although the T is a little fancy for me, she was thereafter known as Julie.

We had good times together. She was mine during a period of my life when I went from pretty much A Little Messy Around The Edges to Got Shit Together. I got not one but two jobs that I couldn’t have taken if I didn’t have a car. My dogs sat in their car seat and barked at anyone who came near their chariot. I ferried many friends back and forth to the airport, Trader Joe’s, Target, the EndUp, San Jose. I drove all over, taking classes, getting more edjumicated, getting more fit, getting ahead. I moved not once but twice, packing her up like a wagon across the prairie. I freighted home cubic tons of groceries, was able to move out to my dreamy serene neighborhood that’s a nightmare without a car, fell in love and then out while she was mine, and tasted the freedom that only vehicular mobility in California can give a girl.

But as the years wore on, Julie and I got older together. I banged her left hand mirror off in a tight parking garage near work. Someone shattered her passenger side window for no reason one night, right outside the house. When I moved into a neighborhood where driving was a joke, she didn’t mind that I left her parked for nearly weeks at a time and once didn’t wash her for four months. She sipped gas delicately, like a little lady, and although she really started looking rough towards the end, she never, never, never let me down. Not once did she fail to start when I turned the key in that ignition. And for that, I love her.

Girls get older and get better jobs making more money and get tired of busted door handles and whistling windows and spending more money on repairs than Kelly Blue Book value for the whole car. It took me a year to come to terms with the fact that it was time for me to retire Julie, and to swallow the idea of making car payments, a concept of such deep anathema to myself and my cohorts during our twentysomething years (living on what was basically a coptrap freeway offramp) that it was nearly unthinkable.

Now, I live in a neighborhood where if we could export parking spots we’d be rich as King Midas. I have no problem opening up my wallet and paying for parking in a public garage rather than driving around for an hour hunting the wily, elusiveĀ Spot. I want to be able to get in my car and drive to LA, Mendocino, Oakland. So, it was time.

I spent months researching cars and hunting down the right dealership, breaking out in a light sweat as I signed away all my disposable income for the next five years. The day I went to buy my new baby, I didn’t expect to drive the new addition home – since I was alone, I thought I’d sign the papers and come back the next day to pick it up. But no, you gotta take delivery. So my cool-ass salesguy helped me empty out the basket of unwashed laundry in the back seat and the jumper cables, bottled water, umbrellas, and extra pair of trainers (always carry a pair of good walking shoes in case of earthquake; California, are you listening to me?) into my new car.

He did a wink wink nudge nudge and told me I could sell my old car to the little Mexican janitor who cleans all the dealerships up and down Auto Row at night. This thrilled me – I couldn’t stand the thought of Julie being junked, unloved, put to rest. Hell, she’s got a Toyota engine with only 119,000 miles on it – she’s got at least another 50K in her!

I had to come home and get the pink slip, and the next day I drove back down (gingerly stepping on the brakes with a soft, cottony touch the whole way) to sign away my rusty yet devoted little Trooper. There she was, parked out of sight, next to a big clump of anise bushes literally on the other side of the tracks. I signed her away, quietly pocketed the couple of bills, took a picture, and kissed her goodbye.

I also wrote a note to the Mexican janitor, letting him know how much I loved this car and how she never let me down, and wishing them many happy miles together. I hope she makes his life easier. I hope she has a good new family.

On the way home, blasting down Skyline Drive, I had a quintessential California Moment – high atop a ridge, the Pacific spread out magnificently below me, blue skies above, and Madonna blaring from the new 6-speaker sound system. I love my new girl. It’s so nice to get in and inhale New Car Smell, have my seatbelts lock tight when I step on the brakes, be rolling around with a pristine engine and comprehensive coverage.

But I’ll always love my Julie. Travel safe, girl.