It has seemed a betrayal to pilot my aging elephant of a Caravan from one car dealership to another in search of her replacement. My husband, Dave, has called her the Horton of cars - faithful 100% - because, for eleven years, she has never failed me. Bob and Marek, our mechanics and dear friends, have nursed her through the years, and they know how attached I’ve become. But, “It’s time, Lea,” Bob finally said. “The transmission is going, and at this age, it will be one thing after another.” I’m almost there myself, so I feel like a traitor giving up on her, but I know he’s right.
So, I was dangerously close to tears as I told Matt, the Toyota dealer, about my fondness for my current car. He was kind enough not to mock me, and was excited to demonstrate the keyless locking system, the push-button ignition, and the array of dials, gauges, and screens on the Prius dashboard. Pathetic as I am, I felt like wailing, “I don’t want a space-pod! I want my Caravan!”
Still, I enjoyed our ride together. As I navigated the Prius over slushy roads, jerking each time I tapped the unfamiliar brakes, we chatted about Matt’s young son, his wife’s conservation work, my conservation work, and the state of the world in general. You learn a lot about a person during a fifteen-minute test drive; everyone has a story.
I liked Matt a lot and wanted to like the Prius, for his sake and mine. I’ve justified holding on to my oversized Dodge with a promise to the universe that the next car would be a hybrid. I am so technologically challenged, however, that every gadget Matt gleefully described made my stomach clench. He explained how I could Sync-this and Sync-that, Sync my phone and the iPod-I-don’t-have, and quietly I yearned for my push-button radio and WEBE. All the great features that would draw customers to the Prius made me feel, well, the same way iPhones do, outdated and clueless.
At the Nissan dealership, Marty was equally engaging as we drove the test route he’d mapped out: highways, back roads, straight-aways, stops and starts. The Rogue drove easily, and I liked its compact, yet familiar, sort-of-like-my-Caravan, feel. The mileage slowed me down, though, at 22 in-city, 28 highway. I would not be upholding my covenant with the Universe in bonding with this car. Marty was a selling point in-and-of himself, bright-eyed, earnest, and funny. When I complimented him on his pitch, he said, “I know people lump car salesmen with lawyers, so I’ve got to do the best I can to prove otherwise.” Because of Marty, I wanted to love the Rogue, but it didn’t have the mileage.
It was late afternoon by the time I reached the Honda dealership. The roads were bad, as the rain had turned to sleet. “Perfect for a test drive,” said Harris, a graying man, closer to my age than my new friends Matt and Marty. “Give you a chance to see how the car handles in tricky weather.” Great.
He opened the door to a CR-V; I had spotted a luscious burgundy model on the showroom floor. Oh yes. I could see myself in that beauty. I slipped into the seat and felt instantly at home. It was solid, comfy, high. I loved it. We turned onto the road and the car responded like a dream. “What kind of mileage can I expect?” I asked.
“22-28,” Harris said.
*Sigh* I had a promise to keep and 22-28 did not cut it.
Discouraged, I headed home for a glass of wine with Dave, and to give him a rundown on my car hunt.
The thing is, this was a day of bold adventure for me. At fifty-nine, I had never had my own brand-new car, much less gone test-driving. As a youthful driver, I drove my deceased grandfather’s Ford Falcon, and when my grandmother died, inherited her Impala. I married into Dave’s little Fiat – a total lemon - and then began a succession of family cars – a Datsun followed by a fantastic Toyota SR-5 Dave totaled on an icy drive to grad school in the eighties. In 1984, we had two children and a wolfish Alaskan malamute. We needed plenty of room, and when Dodge began advertising its new mini-van, we opened those sliding side doors for nearly thirty years of mostly-blissful Caravan ownership.
As my car rested outside, ready to start up on cue as she always has, Dave said, “Let’s take a look at Ford. It would be a bonus if we could buy American.” He did a Google search and we scrolled through Ford’s offerings. “What about this? A C-Max. Nice lines. It’s a hybrid, Lea…” he said, much as he might if waving a bar of dark chocolate beneath my nose. “A hybrid, with a projected 47 miles to the gallon.”
So, the next morning, I parked my old friend among the Fiestas and Fusions at Park City Ford. Was it me, or did she look particularly plucky there among all those upstarts? I felt a prickle in my nose as I turned away and pushed open the heavy glass doors to the showroom.
And there it was. The C-Max. Shiny and black. Sort of an appealing, mini-Caravan shape. I felt a lift in my heart…this might be The One.
Patrick strode across the floor to meet me, hand outstretched, smile welcoming. With his angular features and slender build, he reminded me of a mix of my dear friend Vin as well as my son Tucker; surely this was a good sign.
As Patrick and I drove Route 25 and circled back on side roads, I learned he’d done some acting in New York, just as my daughter had. I told him about the school for children with learning disabilities where my husband and I have worked since the seventies. He told me about a near-fatal car accident he’d had in his youth. He listened patiently to my automotive requirements, and yes, to my sad rant about my love for my old car. “Lea. You will have new memories and new adventures in this car. It will be all right.”
With this car, I’d still have to Sync my phone and adjust my driving to earn “efficiency leaves,” but with this car, I could keep my promise to the Universe. Patrick was an added blessing, and for his sake and mine, I wanted to love this car.
And I do.