For the record: It was a 1988 white Honda Civic Hatchback, blue upholstery, license plate 5YF 600. I should have noted the mileage. I’ve had it for fourteen years. I loved it dearly.
It was the best car that ever was. It survived many mishaps, and danced innumerable fandangos. It sassed New York taxis, went light-footedly through blizzards, and carried improbable loads.
I found it on Staten Island. We’d been shopping for a car, and had visited asst’d other dealerships and driven their cars, and been judgemental but uncommitted. Then we went to Staten Island Honda. I settled down to talk car with the salesman, letting Patrick and Scraps wander off. They’re not car guys, those two. I was deep in a discussion with the salesman when Patrick reappeared, tugging at my sleeve. I excused myself and impatiently went to see what he’d found.
It was a white Civic Hatchback with blue upholstery, a floor model. I sat down behind the wheel, adjusted the mirror, ran the gearshift through its sequence — and suddenly knew without any doubt that this was My Car, and that it needed to be rescued from this place Right Now, before someone took advantage of its vulnerable position.
I went back to the salesman and worked out a fairly advantageous deal. Then I took my car home.
We had fine adventures.
This evening, the police showed up at my door. They’d been summoned by Peter, owner of the Saturn. I’d parked behind him earlier this evening. The hit-and-run driver of a green Jeep Cherokee had rear-ended my poor car so hard that its front end was driven deep under the Saturn, lifting that car’s rear wheels off the ground. The back of my car is shattered and deeply staved in. Parts of its rear luggage compartment broke loose and were thrown forward against the back of the front seats.
The police estimate the driver was doing at least forty miles an hour, at night, on a narrow ill-lit residential street. The police estimate that the driver was drunk.
It’s still a good car. It started right up, and I backed it out from under the Saturn. Then I put my head down on the steering wheel and cried, because it had started up just like it always did. I drove it to a parking lot after making a tight U-turn on 5th Avenue. It beeped at me the whole way, conscientiously advising me that one of its doors wasn’t properly shut.
I think I’m coping.
Cars are like dogs. Some are better than others. A few, you love. And you always outlive them.
Addendum: This morning I sorted things out with a Mr. John Stockinger at Geico, who was kind and helpful and thoroughly professional. I started by confessing my irrational fear that I was about to find out that some form we’d sent in had gone astray and never reached them, after which they’d cancelled our insurance. He actually understood this. (Policy fine, not cancelled. Big relief.)
After we’d gotten it straight that Geico was going to send their tow truck to the parking garage to haul my car off to one of their preferred auto body places for a triage inspection, I walked down to the parking garage to collect my belongings from the car. You can accumulate a lot of stuff over fourteen years.
The parking garage guys were also very helpful. I gather one of them had gotten the day off to a jolly start by scaring a fellow employee with a convincingly upset-sounding report about how one of the cars parked in an employees-only area had gotten its rear end caved in. The victim of this joke had duly gone to see my car. “It just about gave me a heart attack,” he said.
They all agreed that Honda Civic hatchbacks are great cars, but that they’d never heard of an insurance company not totalling a car as badly banged-up as mine.
The process of collecting my stuff was complicated by the sheer amount of shattered glass all over the car’s interior. The top of the back seat couldn’t be touched. It wasn’t just a matter of bits of broken glass sticking to the upholstery; the force of the collision had driven fine splinters of glass straight into the seat padding, and they stuck straight out like cholla spines.
Really, it was just as well we weren’t around for that.
And my car gave me an inexplicable parting gift. Back in the rear luggage compartment, underneath the midden of spare windshield washer fluid, WD-40, motor oil, Smofcon ice scrapers, rust remover, spare tail light bulbs, paper towels, plastic bags, first aid supplies, and the H. B. Fenn cold-weather breakdown kit—clear down at the bottom, underneath the jumper cables and the vise grip—I found a complete rappelling harness. I’ve been wanting a rappelling harness for my own peace of mind, but I know I didn’t beg, borrow, steal, receive, or purchase this one, and I don’t remember it being there the last time I did a full-scale packing job on the car. It’s a complete mystery.