It’s not often that you part ways with a member of your family after 22 years.
After graduating from college, my husband and his father traveled to an oversized patch of asphalt outside of San Francsico and spent a full day haggling with a car salesman over a certain new grey Jeep Cherokee.
Anders is an environmentalist of the first order. Not only has he made it his living, studying environmental issues at Yale and then working for a succession of wind power renewable energy providers, but he also embraces the principles at home. He simply doesn’t endorse in what has become known as the classic American throw-away mentality.
He uses file folders until the tabs fall off from overuse. His affection for certain items of clothing is legendary. One pair of shorts I purchased for him 20 years ago just last week was donated to the rag bag. There were holes in the holes, but they still worked to cover his important bits while doing sit-ups and push-ups at home, so they stayed.
And then there was his Jeep. The perfect car for an outdoorsy young man and his dog sidekick, the Jeep faithfully drove us both around town, and around the country. We’ve taken epic American road trips, driving back roads cross-country from California to Connecticut, our dog Guinness resting his head on the black glove box nestled between the two front seats. We’ve 4-wheeled through Wyoming and Montana. We’ve driven to California’s Tahoe for skiing (gleefully shifting to 4-wheel without having to endure the elements), easily powered to the top of Old Smokey for our 7th wedding anniversary, and down to a tiny blues festival in Mississippi. We endured decades of summer temperatures without air-conditioning, just the strong hot air blasting through the open windows and silly little triangle windows that never seemed to shut fully once they were originally opened.
We pulled people out of ditches with that car. Slept in the back when the rains finally seeped through our tent. And much to my utter horror, were discovered by a police officer in … ahem … a compromising position outside of Kettleman’s City, California during a particularly lusty road trip.
The Jeep hauled treasures of every size and manner without complaint: our 9-foot-long dining room table home from the auction house in Connecticut, lashed to the top and held up there by hope and twine. The ridiculously heavy air-hockey table we gave Nils and Grace. Anders’ trusty kayak. Countless pieces of furniture lodged in the surprisingly roomy back. Load after bloody load of yard debris destined for the dump.
The paint went somewhere in the 90s. The seatbelt on the driver was used so many times that it lost the will to bite and hold. An errant nail eventually slit the sagging headliner and the thin material started to hang down like the interior of a Morrocan casbah. Ultimately Anders ripped out the fabric, leaving behind creepy stalagtite remnants of the once sticky adhesive used to hold it up. We went through alternators and radiators and tires that my mother purchased for us when we were broke and first married. The locks broke. Hoses split. Windshield wipers slowed, as if needing a nap, and after hard rains, the floor mat on the passenger side would be wet. And yet. Mechanics kept putting the Jeep back together, and we kept driving Hank, the name we eventually gave our big, boxy, trusted driving companion.
Friends started questioning our sanity. After all, the average length of time of car ownership in this country is 5.5 years. Anders saw no need. Just as long as it would get us up the mountains in winter, we would keep it. It was paid off, after all.
But one day mid-span on the Golden Gate Bridge, the shifter abruptly ended up in Anders’ hand, as if the gearbox had simply threw it up. Not just the top ball, but the entire stick.
For the first time in my life, I was scared to drive the car.
So with 232,895 miles, we did what any self-respecting environmentalist would do.
We sold it to our long-time friend Agustin for $1. He is delighted to be only the second owner of Hank, and undaunted by fixing the issues that come up with an aged vehicle.
So may the road stay firmly under you, Hank. Ride on!