Words On Wednesday

2015-03-18 An Ode to My First Car

As I hang in limbo between purchasing a new van and selling my old car, I look back to the almost 9 years I’ve had the vehicle and all the memories associated with it.

2003 Dodge Stratus Distance

My mother purchased the dark blue 2003 Dodge Stratus SXT for me soon after I turned 15 and got my learner’s permit in mid 2006. I couldn’t tell you the exact day I received it or even where we got it from. We looked at a few cars before this one, notably a small Kia Rio. I’m a big guy, and the Kia Rio is a small car. Needless to say, that didn’t fly. Under whatever circumstances I received the car, I was ecstatic. Before quite a few of my friends and classmates, I had my own car. It wasn’t flashy or brand new, but it was mine.

Until the past year or so, that Stratus was my main form of transportation. It took my to school, to work, and to anywhere else I needed to be. In much the same way that I developed emotional ties to my last apartment, nearly a decade of use creates quite a bond between vehicle and driver. Though out of chronological order and not exactly organized, below are a few of the fond and not so fond memories I have associated with my first car.

First Time for Everything

The first time for anything is often significant. Obviously, there are quite a few firsts connected to my first car.

2003 Dodge Stratus from below

Perhaps the most obvious first is when I initially began learning to drive. I had driven vehicles around the yard before, and even down the gravel-covered back road my grandparents lived on, but never on main roads until I was given my car. Ah, distinctly I remember driving from my house to the nearby town of Woodruff, a trip not more than 12 miles or 15 minutes. Cruising up highway 146 at nearly 60 mph and blistering up interstate 26 at 70 mph left my knuckles white on the steering wheel. Never had I been in control of a vehicle so deadly, moving at such a high velocity. When I finally reached the friend’s house that I was driving to, I felt faint from the exhausting stress. A drive that I could probably make with my eyes closed now was possibly the most stressful thing I had ever done at the time.

My first prom and plenty of first dates were reached via my car. All those awkward moments with girls that I barely knew. Driving them home, hoping for a kiss to seal the evening. Leaving the high school gymnasium at nearly midnight and then going bowling with a group of friends. Funny story, I actually only went to one prom while in high school, my junior year with a girl that was more into me than I was into her (which, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for the way I was). I didn’t go to my senior prom because the girl I wanted to go with was dating another guy and I had plans to go to a concert instead (those plans fell through, so I didn’t actually do anything). After graduating, I did go to my wife’s sophomore, junior, and senior proms. Luckily, I had a stellar record with the school and many of the administrators held me in very high esteem.

The first dating anniversary with my wife is very vivid as well. We hadn’t really done anything big for our first year: a few movies, eating at local restaurants, etc. In order to really make it special, I decided to take us up to the Cheesecake Factory in Charlotte. It’s funny, I remember as we rounded the corner to turn into the parking lot of Southpark Mall, she saw the sign and misread it as “Chocolate Factory,” noting how cool that was. When she noticed her error, she lit up. We had a fantastic time, and my mother called while we were there, losing her mind on me. She’s definitely a homebody, so it made absolutely no sense to her for us to drive over an hour just for an evening.

Probably the most recent of my firsts, I drove my wife to the hospital for the birth of our first child in my car. Let’s see, I have to reconstruct the timeline in my head. On the morning of November 13, 2013, my wife mentioned that she didn’t feel quite right before I left for work. She was within days of her due date, so we could be rushing to the hospital at any point. I told her that I was going to go on to work, but to let me know if she needed me to come home. Everything was going smoothly until she texted me on my 3pm break to say that we should probably go to the hospital just to check. I asked if she could wait until 4pm, so I’d have an even hour to make up at work. When I picked her up soon after 4, it was rather obvious she was in labor. Not yet water-broken, baby coming out urgent, but it was go time. I was going up the interstate at roughly 90 mph, came within seconds of being pulled over by a cop, and it’s a wonder I didn’t have an accident. We finally made it to the hospital alright, and became proud parents at 6:58am the next morning. It was also my car that took us all home after leaving the NICU. Now we’re getting ready to do it all over again (hopefully minus the NICU part).

Repairs and Issues

I wouldn’t say my car is a lemon by any stretch of the imagination, but it has certainly had problems here and there over the years.

2003 Dodge Stratus Open Hood

Perhaps the most regular of the problems I’ve faced with my car has been its tendency to drink motor oil. I’ve got that “self-changing” oil, as some describe it. If I don’t put in more oil every few weeks, it’s all gone in no time. Quite a few mechanics have looked at my car and none seem to be able to pinpoint exactly why it keeps losing oil. Regardless, I’ve kept a large container of 10W-30 motor oil and a funnel in my trunk for most of the time I’ve driven the car.

Normally, I’m not an overtly religious person. My beliefs are my business. I won’t force them on others, but I will discuss beliefs if others inquire. I put no stock in sensationalist pastors with the whole “BE HEALED” and smacking people on the head. You may be wondering what this has to do with my car, so here’s the connection. Once, I was pulling out of our apartment and my car just completely crapped out on me. The engine was doing something weird and it clearly felt like something was wrong. I pulled into the Target across the street and parked and the back of the lot out of everyone’s way, turning the car off. When I turned the key in the ignition, it wouldn’t start. I tried this process a few times to no avail. Knowing absolutely nothing about vehicles and engines, I popped the hood to take a look around. Nothing looked broken, but who am I to know how car parts are supposed to look? Feeling like a total idiot, I began to pray and lay hands on my car. I am EXTREMELY reserved with my religious practices, and this was COMPLETELY out of the ordinary for me. I won’t say that I did it jokingly, since I’m very serious about religion, but I honestly didn’t expect anything out of it. After a few moments, I hopped back in the driver’s seat and turned the keys. Lo and behold, the car started without any sliver of hesitation. While I won’t try to cite this as proof of the existence of a celestial being to non-believers, it was certainly an eye opening experience to me.

Once, I was getting the oil changed in Greenville rather than going to my normal location in Laurens. The car was well past the recommended changing and I just wanted to get it done without much hassle. There were no immediate issues, but I noticed over the following days that the car seemed to idle higher than it did before. I looked the engine over, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. When staying at a friend’s house the next weekend, I got his father to take a look at it before I left. He very quickly pointed out that the Jiffy Lube workers had forgotten to reattach a hose that they had unhooked. He plugged it back in, I started the car, and it idled just fine. Obviously, I have not since visited that Jiffy Lube location and I do not plan to return.

2003 Dodge Stratus Trunk

When parked at my pastor’s house for a game night, a limb had fallen onto my trunk and severely dented it. I had parked under a tree where I always parked and thought nothing of it. While we were all goofing off and having a good time, a church member came by to drop off her daughter and mentioned that the limb had fallen on my car. At first, I thought she was joking. When she reassured that she was serious, I went outside to look at the damage. Though the locking mechanism still worked and could keep my trunk closed, the upper portion of the trunk looked terrible. With the trunk lid being composed entirely of crumple zones, the fix wasn’t as simple as hammering out the dents. The guy who does body work for my family, however, was good about finding used parts and did a great job with the repair.

At some point, the hydraulic system that keeps the trunk open began to fail. Sometimes, the trunk would swing shut with absolutely no resistance. I tried to warn others and remember this myself, but it would occasionally catch me by surprise. There were never any serious injuries, but I received several bumps on the head and back when I would forget to hold the trunk open with a free hand. During one camping trip, I even had it held open with an empty Jack Daniel’s bottle.

On the way to work one morning, I ran off the road and hit a curb. Unfortunately, this completely destroyed my tire and rim. I pulled over in the nearest parking lot and inspected the damage. Though I wasn’t yet running late, I knew that changing a tire would put me behind schedule, so I texted my boss. Frustrated with my misfortune, I began swapping the wheel for the spare. Once finished, I continued on to work not too far behind schedule. After work, I had to drive to Woodruff to meet someone for something (I don’t recall who or what now). By the time I had arrived at my destination, the oil light had come on and the donut was flat. Apparently, I had knocked the oil plug out of the oil pan as well. My grandparents had a extra car available, so I drove it until I could pick up another wheel and take my car to a mechanic to fix the oil issue.

I’ve come to the conclusion in the time I’ve spent driving my car that nature hates either me or my car. I have hit so many animals, it’s no longer funny. The first collision, I hit a deer while driving home from a party with a friend. The deer was standing in my lane, facing the right side of the road. When I saw it, I swerved left, assuming it would jump off the road in the direction it was facing me. By whatever logic deer employ, the deer decided to turn and jump back toward the left side of the road. I attempted to correct and steer around the deer to the right, but it was already too late. My driver’s side fender caught the deer straight on, and sent the deer flying off the road to the left. I pulled off the road, nearly in shock. Once stopped, my friend simply said, “You just hit a deer.” No, you think? The damage to the fender wasn’t terrible, so it was a quick fix.

As I mentioned, I’ve hit quite a few animals through my years of driving. I hit the deer discussed above. Another deer ran into me from the side. So many cats, dogs, raccoons, squirrels, and other small animals have encountered their death via my vehicle, I’ve lost count. I don’t actively go out of my way to collide with these poor creatures. I even try to swerve away when I have the chance to. It’s like they’re just attracted to my car.

Likely as a result of the numerous animals I’ve hit, the front end of my car was eventually damaged quite heavily. I wasn’t aware of the issue until someone pointed out that my tires were heavily worn on one edge. When I took the car to a tire dealer, one of the techs mentioned that I should have the alignment fixed before purchasing a new set of expensive tires. At my earliest convenience, I took the car to a mechanic near work. The news I received was not exactly what I wanted to hear. Not only would the front end need to be aligned, it pretty much needed to be entirely replaced. The tie rods and numerous other components that I don’t immediately recall were broken and needed to be replaced for an alignment to accomplish anything. The entire fix ended up costing something north of a grand, and I haven’t gotten much use out of the car since then.

The initial sign of a problem with my transmission (the main reason I’m selling it now) showed up on the way to church one morning. When driving down the road from my grandparents’ house, my car would stall out when trying to shift gears. I had no clue what could be causing it, so we planned to take it to a mechanic. The issue turned out to be related to the chip, but the mechanic mentioned that the transmission appeared to be going out and would eventually need to be replaced. Resetting the chip was just a temporary fix.

Over time, the stalling issue began to appear more and more frequently. For the past few months, my car has trouble even getting into gear. It stalls every few seconds at first and eventually finds pace after a few minutes. I could deal with it at first, but the problem is becoming more blatant. Being stranded on the side of the road by myself is one issue, but having two kids stranded is a completely different ball game. I regret that it’s fallen into such disrepair, but at this point it’s probably better for me to get for it what I can, rather than invest in fixing some extremely expensive problems.

Getting Lost

While I’m usually decent with directions, the occasional wrong turn without GPS guidance has left me far from the beaten path. With the GPS capabilities of modern smart phones, it’s rare to be completely disconnected from a navigation device. Phones have battery limits and are not indestructible, however, which can leave travelers unable to find the way home.

2003 Dodge Stratus Steering Wheel

The first time getting lost in my car, I was in downtown Greenville with a friend. This was several years ago, before getting my first smartphone. I’ve learned the streets of Greenville more lately, but I was clueless at the time. The friend I was with claimed to know the area well, but lost her way. We ended up in a maze of one way streets, and I accidentally turned into oncoming traffic. I immediately turned my car back into the flow of traffic, but I was obviously shaken up. After wandering around for who knows how long, we eventually found our way back into an area she was familiar with. In order to avoid the same trouble, I made sure to bring a GPS device with me any time after that instance.

As anyone who lives in or near mountainous areas knows, cellular service near mountain ranges is abysmal. Hence, I have frequently had to wing it when trying to find my way around western North Carolina. In one instance, I was going to a concert my cousin was playing in, at some venue in the middle of nowhere. Unknown to me at the time, this venue had recently moved to a new location maybe 15 miles from the original address. Therefore, most online sources still had their old address as the location of the venue. I did a quick search for the name of the place before leaving work, set up navigation to the coordinates, and I was on my way with a friend and my cousin’s wife. We’re cruising along when my phone suddenly exclaimed that we had arrived at our destination. The only thing near us was an old, abandoned… oh, wait. We pulled into the parking lot of what looked somewhat like an old country store, but completely void of all life. There was a sign on the door detailing that this was the old location, and thankfully listed the address for the new location. At this point, we were deep in the woods of who knows where. I took out my phone to put in the new address, but the signal bar was completely empty. Hoping to catch a break and find some stray cell tower, I put in the address and started driving back toward civilization. Luckily, my phone got service quickly enough and plotted a route to the actual address of the venue. Before long, we were having a good time watching the band play, and in a relatively developed strip of road. Getting home was clearly a far less stressful ordeal.

The concert trip wasn’t the only time my car has been lost in NC. I’m a self-confessed “river rat,” and I absolutely love any activities that involve water. With all the fun locations on the Green River and in Pisgah National Forest, I typically drive up there several times every summer. The first few years going up there on my own were quite a venture, considering I had no idea where I was going and GPS signal is typically extremely spotty for the last half hour or so of the drive. Furthermore, as anyone who’s driven through Pisgah and been on the Blue Ridge Parkway can tell you, it is absurdly easy to get turned around and miss an exit or turn. I’ve meandered for nearly an hour before finally figuring out the right way to go. Once, we had taken a caravan of 3 or 4 vehicles up there, and none of us had any idea where to go. Turning around on the thin and winding roads of Pisgah is quite a difficult task, believe me.

Even in areas with perfect signal, a phone with a dead battery accomplishes absolutely nothing. When taking a day trip down to Charleston and Isle of Palms with my wife a few years back, we regretfully forgot to bring a car charger for my phone and thus only had a navigation device for the trip down there. Getting back was entirely up to us. I knew that the hardest part would be finding our way back to interstate 26. Once we hit the freeway, it would be a straight shot home. There are only so many roads leading from Charleston to Isle of Palms, so getting back onto the mainland after our time on the beach was no biggie. We decided to stop for dinner in Charleston, so we wandered around the city until found a parking area downtown and stopped to walk. When it was time to head home, we decided the best course of action would be to simply watch for signs indicating the direction toward 26. We started off on some road at random and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the best was not what we got. In a matter of just a few streets, we went from high end restaurants and boutiques, to corners where you don’t stop at stop signs. We rolled up the windows and locked the doors, praying we could find the way out before nightfall. Before long, we stumbled upon the main road with a clear sign pointing us right toward the interstate. Our panic faded and the rest of the ride was smooth sailing. For a few minutes, though, we wondered if we would make it out of Charleston with four wheels.

Sometimes with a full battery and great service, fate still finds a way to strip us of our ability to navigate. A few years ago, my wife and I decided to take her brother to Carowinds for this birthday in June. The ride up there was rather uneventful, and we had a really good time in the park. As the time grew late and we began to tire out, we decided to hit The Borg (now called Nighthawk) one more time before leaving. I had been diligent about leaving my phone in our bag at the exit for every single ride, no matter how tame. Perhaps the heat had gone to my head, but I decided for some reason to leave my phone in my pocket. Of all rides, I decided to try this risky practice on probably the most violent ride in the park. We got through the line and onto the train pretty quickly. For those unfamiliar, this is a ride in which seats tilt back and the rider experiences a flying sensation. I kept patting my pocket every few seconds to check that my phone was still safely contained. Through the whole ride, it stayed put. As we lurched to a stop before descending into the station, I checked my pocket one last time. After surviving loops, dives, turns, and whatever else the ride does, STOPPING is what threw my phone out of my pocket. The restraints prevented me from looking down, but I just knew my phone had either fallen into the pool of water or onto the unforgiving concrete below. As soon as we left our seats, I began to look around frantically. My wife knew as we approached that something wasn’t right. When I explained the problem, we began searching all around the ride to see if the phone had stayed intact by some miracle. Of course, we found nothing. We stopped by guest services to report a missing belonging and left them with my wife’s phone number, but I didn’t expect anything from them. As walked toward the car, I called up my cousin who had just recently had his phone replaced via insurance for the insurance company phone number. I then called them in order to request a replacement device. Upon leaving, I had absolutely no idea how to get home. I got onto the interstate going South (we were supposed to be going North) and ended up half an hour out of the way. We turned around and then headed back toward Charlotte. I knew we eventually had to get on 85, but I had no idea how to get there. After driving around for some indeterminate amount of time, we ended up in downtown Charlotte. I’ve been to Charlotte a few times, but I certainly don’t know the city well. I began turning on random roads until we saw a sign, indicating “this way to 85.” We were almost out of the woods. A few turns later, we were back on the right path. It was late into the night, but we were homeward bound. Along the way, we decided to stop at Buffalo Wild Wings for a late dinner. We were hungry, tired, hot, and down a phone, but we were alive and we had wings. Life was good.

Late Nights

In my old age, I’ve become much more adamant about getting in bed earlier. Back in college when I didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn for class, I was quite a night owl. Since I’m not walking around sketch areas late at night, my car was my escort for many of these excursions.

2003 Dodge Stratus Wheel

When I still lived with my mother and grandparents, my mother was a bit of an authoritarian with curfew. Even when I was a senior in college at 21 years old, she wanted me in by 11pm. In order to avoid butting heads with her and since I was still under her roof, I typically chose to abide by that rule. If she ever caught me out past curfew, though, she was furious. When my wife and I were still dating, I’d go to her house in the evenings to help with homework and hang out. This would often extend past 11pm. My mother goes to bed early, so this wouldn’t be a huge issue if she was asleep. If she was awake, I’d get a call at 10:55 about my current whereabouts. Therefore, any time out past 11 was a gamble on how long I expected her to remain asleep. I luckily had a door directly into my bedroom, but her room was the next door over and I had to be silent to avoid waking her up and giving away my time of arrival. There were numerous nights that I would fall asleep working on school work, only to wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning to a furious phone call or my on panicked rush for the door. We never came to a common ground on the issue, but it ceased to be a problem when I moved out for the last time.

Despite the consequences that I would face if caught out after curfew, we made quite a few late night trips to eat. Our most common destination was Waffle House, but we’d occasionally go to Delaney’s in Spartanburg. It was on one of these trips that I discovered the Monday BOGO deal at Delaney’s has a time frame that ends before closing. We arrived late enough to no longer receive a free dish.

Like anyone who drives late at night, I’ve tested my car’s limits on the open, empty freeway. One night, my wife and I decided to let loose on the interstate and see how fast our cars would go. We hit 90 mph without any issue (not like this is a normal thing for me, of course). With slight strain, both cars hit 100 mph. As we continued to climb, my car began to sound like the engine was going to explode. I don’t drive a sports car, I drive a mid-sized sedan. They aren’t supposed to go that fast. Eventually, I got it up to 110 mph, but I wasn’t willing to risk the mechanical damage that higher speeds might incur. I slowed back down to typical freeway speeds, content that I had pushed my car hard enough. As a side note, this isn’t the fastest I’ve ever driven. When driving a 2012 VW Jetta as a rental car, I once got up to 120 mph, and the car could’ve handled far faster speeds. The smallest twitch of the wheel yielded comparatively intense movement, so I didn’t want to risk losing control destroying the car.

More fun that driving extremely high speeds on the freeway is driving moderately high speeds on backroads. My wife generally prefers driving on backroads to freeways, simply because that’s what she learned to drive on. My family always preferred interstates, so that’s typically my path of choice. For pleasure driving, however, you can’t beat a winding back road at night. I can’t count the times I would drive home from school, screaming down backroads after dark. It’s a miracle that I didn’t die. Now that I have passengers more often than not and I have much more of a reason to care for my own preservation of life, I tend to take roads a little more cautiously. I had quite a few good times driving quickly down Price House road with the windows down, though.

Upstate Fun

Being young and dumb in college, I had quite a few experiences that were probably idiotic on my part, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

2003 Dodge Stratus Parking Decals

One rainy night, I was returning to the dorms with my roommates. The rain had been steady for days, so everything was soaked. As I pulled into the parking lot of the dorm, I noticed that very few cars were parked at the lower end. Just to test how slick the rain had made the lot, I built up some speed and turned around quickly in an area with no cars. Having caught my passengers off guard, one yelled, “Dude, this water’s wet!” Yes, Lance, water is wet. Clearly, he meant that the road was wet, but his surprised exclamation stuck with us for quite some time as the butt of many jokes.

After a speech for my public speaking class, I decided to roll to Taco Bell for some dinner. Before leaving, I stopped by the dorm to change clothes and ask if my roommates wanted to go. I don’t mind wearing a shirt and tie, but dress pants bother me. Hence, I just threw on some khaki shorts. One roommate decided to tag along, so we headed out for some cheap, delicious tacos. Going through the drive thru, he mentioned that with my attire and the rap playing on the radio, we were bound to look like frat guys. In order to propagate this stereotype, I pumped up the volume on the radio and pulled out a hat from my back seat to wear sideways. When we got up to the window, the cashier made no comment either because he was used to this exact sort of customer, or because he was baked out of his mind. Either way, we got a good kick out of it and Taco Bell is always fantastic.

While this may be typical for anyone, I was a taco fiend in college and had an appetite that wouldn’t stop. Once we moved out of the dorms and into a nearby apartment, we were even closer to the infamously cheap Del Taco. At least once per week, a run to Del Taco would be necessary. In order to prevent everyone from having to go, one or two people would get everyone’s order and go. Given the three tacos for $1 deal and the fact that churros were only a buck, we’d often come back with 18 or 21 tacos and 4 or 5 churros. I know we must’ve seemed like pigs, buying so much food with so few people in the car. Considering the similarities to Taco Bell, I’m sure the employees at Del Taco were either heavily influenced by drugs or frequently exposed to such situations.

Other Memories

In addition to all the late nights and college experiences, I have a ton more memories tied to my car.

2003 Dodge Stratus Center Console

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a music junkie. I love music, and it takes a very long time before I get tired of hearing the same music over and over. Combine this with the fact that my car stereo didn’t have an auxiliary port for my mp3 player, I’d play the same cd over and over countless times before deciding to switch it up. My wife will quickly tell you that she likely suffered the most through two specific albums: Saving Abel’s “Miss America” and the ACDC “Iron Man 2” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. I played both of these albums so much, I’m surprised I didn’t burn a ring into them. After listening to one for a few weeks, I’d switch back to the other. This process continued for a crazy length of time. Given how much my music collection has grown since then and the fact that my wife’s car has an auxiliary port, I haven’t listened to them so exclusively in a long time. Even still, both of these albums remind my vividly of my car.

Though many will say that chivalry is dead, I don’t think so. I try to do what I can as a gentleman, and opening doors for ladies is no exception. For some, this was simply expected. For others, it was a rare treat. A few even thought it was weird. Regardless, it’s something I feel that I should do. Up until my key fob died, I constantly did this. Without a key fob, however, it’s difficult to open my door, unlock the rest of the doors, then go back around to the passenger side. Tack on the hassle of loading up kid(s) most of the time, I don’t really get a chance to do it anymore. When the kids can handle themselves and I drive a car with a working fob, you can bet I’ll start back. My wife is a lady, and she deserves that kind of respect. Sure, she’s able to open her door on her own, but she shouldn’t have to. To all the fellas out there, if you think this sort of thing is traditional and uncool, that’s why you’re stuck with tramps and classless girls. Step your game up.

During one camping trip (a long story, the bulk of which I’ll save for another day), my car took quite a bit more abuse than it probably should have. When I got off work on a Friday, we packed tents, coolers, and tons of other camping gear in the trunk, while my wife, myself, and 3 friends squeezed in the car with what wouldn’t fit in the trunk. We made our way up to the camping area in Pisgah National Forest and started up a thin gravel road into the woods. Since we’d gotten such a late start, most of the spots were full. It was already after dark, so nearly every empty space was occupied with one or more tents and a roaring fire. The further we got up the mountain, the steeper the road got and the more my car bounced as we hit bumps and holes. Carrying so much weight, we eventually began scraping my muffler with almost every bounce. I was convinced that pieces of my car would be missing when we finally stopped. Unable to decide when we should call the night a failure and drive back down the mountain, we continued hopelessly up the road. Eventually we stumbled upon an outcropping from the road, big enough to pull my car off and still have room for two tents and a fire. Though my car had been primarily accustomed to flat, well maintained roads, it handled this mountain passage like a champ. The rest of the camping trip, though eventful, was pretty fun. Getting back down the mountain was far less trouble than making our way up. Upon dropping my friends off at home and unloading most of the gear, we decided to take a break. Most of the stuff was out and I don’t use my trunk often anyway. A few weeks went by (yes, weeks, don’t judge me), and funny smell began to emanate from my trunk. It smelled almost sour, but we had made sure to get rid of all the cold stuff. I decided to spray some Febreze and hope it went away. When the smell kept coming back worse, I knew something was in there that shouldn’t be. We decided to start pulling things out of my trunk, smelling each thing as it came out to identify the culprit. Everything already had a slight hint of this putrid scent from staying in close proximity to it for so long, so I wondered if it would be difficult to find the source. No, no it would not be. A few items in, I grabbed a plastic bag with something in it. Without looking at the contents, I put the bag within inches of my face and took a big whiff of it. This was hands down, the single most foul-smelling object that I have ever had the mispleasure of smelling. Normally, I have  pretty strong stomach. The odor coming off this bag was so intense, my nostrils burned and I nearly vomited. Immediately, I dropped the bag and stepped away. After recovering, I held my breath and maneuvered the bag to peek inside. Included in the camping goods that we had left in my car, it seems we forgot some onions. In the time that they had been sitting in the trunk, rotting away in the stuffy heat, they had adopted a peculiar state of matter between solid and fluid. There was an onion-based gel of sorts, surrounding multi colored orbs that were once onions. We left my trunk open for a very long time, and sprayed it frequently with Febreze. A year and a half later, the slight scent of rotten onions still wafts from my car when the trunk is opened.

Another Pisgah adventure, I once went up for our typical rotation of Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock, and Graveyard Fields with a few bags of sand in my trunk. We had purchased some sand for a church summer camp exhibit and, as the previous story reveals my tendency to do, left it in the trunk. I didn’t think anything of it. We wouldn’t be using the trunk for anything up there, the space didn’t matter. Though space wasn’t an issue, weight absolutely was. With all the sand in my trunk, the back end of my car was weighed down tremendously. I wouldn’t notice this in most driving conditions, but the twists and turns of the road through Pisgah end up throwing the weight of the car around a lot. When we would take turns, the back end had so much of a load that the back tire on the outside of the curve would rub up against the inside of the wheelhouse. Not severely, mind you, but enough to cause a sound and give off the odor of burned rubber. I quickly identified the issue, and made every effort I could to take turns as gently as possible. Even still, the massive weight of the sand would cause the tires to rub occasionally, no matter how carefully I drove. I learned my lesson, and now try to keep the load in my trunk as light as possible in all conditions.

Sentimental Moments

Poignant moments can happen anywhere, so it should come as no surprise that some should involve my car.

2003 Dodge Stratus Key on Dash

My father’s death was a very strong source of anguish in my teen years, but I have come to terms with it and can respect that death is a part of life. In his last months, he resided in a homeless shelter near where I currently work. I distinctly recall that the last time I saw him, I had recently gotten my car and wanted to show him. We sat on the steps outside the shelter for nowhere near long enough, and he couldn’t stop reminding me how proud he was of me.

One dark night, someone very dear to me was facing trouble that I’m far too much at fault for, and contemplating solutions that accomplish nothing. I got up late in the evening and drove to Spartanburg to assure this person that despite all my past decisions and their current situation, the present plan of action was not at all the best thing to do. Today, I’m immensely glad that I made that drive.


2003 Dodge Stratus

It is with bittersweet hesitation that I proceed in selling my first car. There is so much emotion tied to it, so many memories and experiences. Purchasing this van is an optimistic sign of things to come: we’re expecting the arrival of a new family member, we’re moving forward in life and taking more steps out on our own. Despite all the problems that would need to be fixed in order to have my car back in good working order and the seating limitation, it is difficult to let go. I simply hope that this ode to my first car will serve as a proper memorial. To all the good times, the bad times, the victories and defeats, to my first car: here’s looking at you, kid.


One thought on “2015-03-18 An Ode to My First Car

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