1994 Honda Accord

Last night I took the train home. It was the first time I’d been on a train in over a year; I’ve only traveled by rail twice since I came home from Europe two Augusts ago. Last time, it was to avoid driving. This time, it’s because I can’t drive.

I’d grown used to commuting between Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit. The first summer I lived away from home, when I had just turned twenty, I had my dad’s old car, which was my mom’s old car, and which they really didn’t need because there were three cars in the driveway, and three licensed drivers at home, and no jobs to drive to. So I took one car, and as my year in Germany came closer, I drove home from school almost every weekend. I memorized the order of the landmarks on I-94, had my litany of sights to fight the boredom.
At the end of sophomore year, I moved myself out of my dorm room. I assured my parents I didn’t need their help—the couch and the bike and the mini-fridge went to the house we took occupancy of on the first of May, and everything else I crammed into the car and kept there until I could drive it back to Ann Arbor again for the summer. There was only room for one person, me.

When I returned to Ann Arbor after a year of Straßenbahnen and train stations, I had the car again. Six people in our house, three guys, three girls who had cars. My brother used the car too, when he could be bothered to walk down the hill to our house.
This summer, last summer, the summer I broke my vow to never return home to my parents—it’s probably when the car became mine. I’d always been careful to refer to it as “the car,” “the Accord” to my parents, because it belonged to them. They paid the insurance, I shared it with my brother. But last summer, he stayed in Ann Arbor, and I took the car home, and then I drove the car to Ann Arbor most weekends. I moved away and so did my friends. Those who were staying on another year made escape plans for the summer; those who had been in and around Detroit moved away again.

The car, my car, the poor thing had been noisy, embarrassing-noisy, since I got back from Germany. The CD player rebelled for the last time and fell silent. The air conditioning hadn’t worked in years. But the car and I braved the hot sun of Friday afternoons on the expressway so we could be in town by the time someone was getting out of work. My driving code of summer 2008—set cruise at sixty-five, save gas, save the environment—did not hold. Gas prices were no longer above four dollars. I wasn’t going home to my parents and my pets, who are always there and never really seem to change. I was sweating, and I was impatient for the weekend, eager to say hello again after the week away.

The trunk accumulated a collection of things: my snow boots had been stored in the very back, with the jumper cables and some rags, since winter had finally left us sometime in March. That summer we played tennis once, and after that I kept the rackets and tube of tennis balls there, always prepared to submit to further embarrassment. Later, there were backup champagne flutes from my apartment in case the New Year’s party grew larger than anticipated, my black figure skates so I wouldn’t have to rent strange skates if we ever made it to the ice rink downtown.

Come fall, I moved back to Ann Arbor, but he moved back to Detroit. The commute couldn’t end. I had to work at least one weekend shift, so I worked Fridays, late, getting home from work and showering and packing and getting in the car around 12:30, sometimes 1 am. I’d head home again late on Sundays, early on Mondays. Sometimes earlier on Sundays, because I’d picked up an extra shift. A few times, overcome by stress or uncertainty or hormones, I cried in that car half the way home. And over the weeks, the months, my old list of the sights along the way had faded away. Now I played an estimating game, especially on those tense Friday night drives when all I wanted was to be in bed.

On the road to the expressway: forty-five minutes. Maybe fifty. Maybe fifty-five. Took the last of the stressful bends near Ypsilanti; heading straight, soon to pass 275. Five minutes to the airport. No, less. Airport. Twenty minutes left. City limits. Ten, fifteen? Less.

Turning the last corner onto his street. Yup, forty-five minutes. It took forty-five minutes almost every time. I’d joke that I was so tired, that it might not be safe, that I might fall asleep. I had a seven-hour shift, all standing, before the drive on Friday nights. He didn’t think that was funny. It wasn’t.

Every time we left his apartment, I’d check to see that the car was still parked there on his street. Without the car, how would we continue? But it never disappeared. The windows never got broken. It was fine, my old crappy car with the escalating rust but still only 153,000 miles. Forty-seven thousand to go, I thought. Two hundred thousand until a Japanese engine should meet its end. Still, my parents hesitated every time it needed something fixed. We didn’t want to throw money at a lost cause. There hadn’t been collision insurance on it in years, and still my dad spent more on it than I approved of. We even fixed the slow oil leak. Got the leaking tires fixed. One of them had had a nail in it, but it never leaked enough to give it away, never endangered me.

I felt safer in that car than in any other car. It had such a solid steering wheel, it was comfortable to drive unlike my parents’ newer Honda Fit with the super-sensitive steering and the bump bump bump on the highway, and it wasn’t a monster like the minivan. I had come to like the “champagne” goldy color that I found bland and ugly when my parents bought the car from my aunt about ten years ago. But it was old, built before antilock brakes had become a standard feature. If only she’d splurged on ABS instead of the CD player. In the back of my mind, I worried about this. When I braked at stop signs between home and campus last year, the car would swerve in the unplowed snow. But nothing worse.

Then last week, there was some stupid ice in Ypsilanti just before exit 183—six miles, I had six miles more to drive on that expressway before I was safe and home and on my way to work—and I lost control, and the car was crippled, and we zoomed across three lanes of traffic and down the ditch and into a tree, but thankfully not into the water beyond the tree. The car, that trusty car I drove to Kalamazoo and Muskegon and Port Austin and Athens, OH, and back and forth between my various homes; that carried my mother on her forty-five-minute commute four days a week for years; that was an unspoken gift freely given without constraints, that had become a part of who I was—it got my dad eighty dollars for scrap.

I know that the important thing is that I’m safe, and I didn’t hit anyone, and all five cars that skid on that ice and went off the road kept their passengers intact as well, but it’s too scary to think about what could have happened during that terrifying moment that brought to life almost every nightmare I can remember, that horrible blur where the steering wheel didn’t work and I was speeding across all the lanes. Instead I think about how much more broke I am now. I’m broke, without the freedom of movement I’d grown used to. If I had any money to shop with, places to go besides visiting friends in far-off places, I’d feel this more acutely. It would be like a phantom pain, an itch to go downstairs and turn the key in the lock, unlock the steering wheel, start the car, back out the treacherous driveway and turn right on Liberty.
Instead, I have to try to take the train to Detroit some weekends. The 11:30 pm train that comes from Chicago, and two nights in a row this week arrived over three hours late. I didn’t take that train. But I took the other one home last night, and my roommate picked me up at the station. Life continues.
Trip to the beach, August 2006.

A year and a day after losing my car: here. Now I only have a bike, and my boyfriend's car.


D'Anne Witkowski said...

Wow. Really glad you're okay. I had a car like this -- a 1995 Toyota Corolla. Actually, you were in it once! I had to get rid of it once Gavin came along because I didn't want to cart him around in a car that had balding tires, no A/C, breaks going bad, and something else I can no longer remember but know it would've cost too much to fix. But it was sad to see her go (she was donated to Purple Heart). Did I mention I'm glad you're okay? Yeah, that's probably the most important part. Pro tip: Everybody stay okay (Full disclosure: I am not the pro).

Brewster honda Accord said...

Nice to know about your story.
Honda is also my choice and I want to buy the new Honda Accord this time.