I walked onto the lot of Bonnell Ford in Winchester, Massachusetts one warm afternoon in May of 2003. I was with a woman named Mary, with whom I was living at the time up in Lowell in her house. My 1996 fire-engine-red Ford Taurus was near death. I needed another car, and I was clear on the drive to the dealership what I was after — another Taurus and in particular another Taurus SEL with the 3.0 double overhead cam engine, exactly like the one I’d pretty much run into the ground. It was not long walking through the lot when I came upon a 2001 Taurus SEL, with the DOHC, a “program car” like the first one (returned rental/lease to Ford). This one was black. I said out loud I wasn’t sure about black, I’d never had a black car, and asked Mary what she thought. We had driven to Winchester in her black Volvo. She just looked at me. I drove it, loved it, went in and did the paperwork, and a day later drove it off the lot. May, 2003. It’s odometer just over 29K.
When I was on my way home after dropping my son Spenser at his day program two days ago the oil light came on. It had started coming on a couple of weeks earlier, only at an idle or when slowing for a stop. A red flicker on the right corner of the dash. and I’d stopped in to VU’s, the garage just up the street from where I live in my wife’s house, and the best they could do was schedule me for an oil change a week later. That was last Thursday. I brought it in, had the change done, drove the car a half hour and the light came back on. Oil, the little oil can symbol. I brought it back and was told I should have had them put the thicker 10/40 versus the 5/20 I’d requested, the owner’s manual recommendation, so they changed it again and only charged me for the oil. I barely used the car over the weekend, our art sale and all, a couple of short trips up to my local coffee shop on Woodstock. And apparently it took a while for the oil to heat and thin when dropping Spenser off yesterday. I stopped at VU’s on the way home – deja VU – and brought the car in early yesterday morning. At 4:45 in the afternoon they called from the garage and said they’d changed the sensor, which was leaking, and were going to drain some of the oil and put in a thickening additive, but the pressure had dropped in the engine to 15 PSI, and the fact was – the fact is – the Taurus is on its death bed, maybe I get another few months. Maybe not.
One cold January morning in 2006 I walked down from my mattress-only otherwise empty third-floor Medford apartment, got into the heavily packed Taurus, and left Massachusetts for California, taking the southern Interstate 40 route and arriving at my friend Bob’s house in El Cerrito five days later, where I would crash for a few weeks until my furniture arrived and I moved into a basement apartment in Berkeley, then soon after to Oakland. A few days after arriving at Bob’s I began a new job in San Francisco, and the very first time driving the Taurus over the Bay Bridge I got popped by the CA Highway Patrol for no seat belt, scarily pulled off on the no-room side of the road at the Treasure Island exit. That cost me $91. Some 16 months later my son Cameron flew out from Florida. I’d given up my apartment so we crashed a couple of nights at Gavin’s house, then drove across the country on Route 80 to Cape Cod. I’ve already told the story of multiple 2007-2008 couch surfings, the AIDS house in Ptown, and then heading back all the way to Vancouver, Washington a year or so later. My furniture and other worldly possessions always following behind the Taurus by a few weeks.
I made one more trip of length – from Vancouver to Oakland for a three-month surf in Gavin’s spare bedroom while helping to close the Walden House kid’s program in the Lower Haight (SF), then back up the west coast to my first actual residence in Portland, Jan ’09. Meaning I’ve confined my driving these last nine years locally. My miles driven per year has shrunk steadily during that time, especially since quitting formal work in 2011, but also as a result of the engine tiring out, the gas mileage going down, and the okay-ness I have developed staying close to home and devoting myself to one creative endeavor or another. And hanging out with my wife.
A couple of weeks before the oil light began it’s neon-like flicker of potential doom my
odometer spun around to 142,000, and I happened to glance at the dash just when it did. I pulled over and snapped a picture. I’m sad to think I won’t see 143. We never know how things will turn out, I guess, and I suppose it’s possible I’m driving in my old Taurus a year from now, windows down, the plus plus sound system cranked on some 80s post-punk thing. More likely, according to the garage man at VU’s, I’m cruising MLK Boulevard some Sunday morning, say in February, hoping to take advantage of the free parking Sundays til 1pm, and a sound of metal tearing on metal fills the air and the car simply stops. Then there is a tow job and then who knows what. I spent a lot of yesterday looking at used car posts on Craigslist – posts emphasizing inexpensive. As in very cheap. Spiritual mentor Les Brown always asks in his motivational talks – “Can I meet conditions as I find them?”
I know it’s not like losing a beloved pet, I get that. Still, 15 years. The places we’ve been. The first date with my wife.
It makes me sad.