I was sitting in construction traffic the night my 2001 Honda Civic LX suddenly lurched, then got stuck in first gear and eventually died in the Meijer parking lot at 96th Street.
I knew this time would come.
My Civic and I had been traveling for some time toward this inevitable destination, this final stop where I removed the key, put my hand on the faded dash, and said goodbye.
This part is never easy.
I once owned a 1992 Pontiac Sunbird, which smelled of dog (I don’t own a dog) and cheap air freshener. She leaked coolant from the heater core to the passenger floorboard and ruined many pants, shoes, and purses. You like wet floor mats? I had the perfect car.
That stupid car got me to school and work for several years before dying outside my old apartment in November 2006. I said goodbye by calling Goodwill and getting a $500 tax break. She went away on the back of a flatbed truck.
Okay, that was easy.
Then I met my Civic — a shiny, green machine with aftermarket car audio gear that I couldn’t believe the previous owner just traded away. She had Polk speakers, JL subwoofers, an Alpine CD changer and amplifier — an unnecessarily loud system, really.
I was in love. Yes, love was in the air that chilly November day. (Desperate need of a vehicle was in the air, too, but let’s focus on the positive.)
At just 72,000 miles, she seemed like The One.
“Take it for a drive,” the salesman said. “Heck, keep it overnight if you want. See how you like it.”
He smiled. Oh, he knew he had me. When you’re a used car salesman, and a grown man walks onto your car lot, you have to know.
“Wow, I really like this car’s aftermarket audio gear,” I thought. “And it’s a Honda, so it’ll run forever!”
You’ve heard that before, I’m sure. Just stand next to a Honda owner for more than a few seconds. They’ll tell you something like this:
“Oh, Honda Civics are SO reliable! They’ll run FOREVER with no repairs! All you need is tires and oil changes. I’ve put 5,000,000,000 miles on mine! Ha, ha, ha! We drove ours to the fucking sun and back on a single oil change, and all we’ve done since then is replace one tail light bulb! Yeah, that’s right, we drove our Civic across FUCKING OUTER SPACE! Bitch defies gravity, motherfucker! You know what else? Our Civic is a FUCKING TIME MACHINE! We went to 1955 and got my parents together! Ha, ha, ha! We’re so smart with our Gap clothing and stylish eyewear! Well, hate to run, but we’re driving our Civic to the Apple Store while wearing our TOMS shoes! Let’s go camping sometime! Ha, ha, ha!”
“I really like the radio,” I said to the salesman after I drove around for 10 minutes.
The salesman smiled. Hook, line, and subwoofer.
She was not a perfect car. She had quirks, my Civic:
The light under the gearshift sometimes illuminated the gears as designed, but other times, I needed to use the dome light or just correctly and fortuitously guess that the car really was in reverse. This became a kind of death game I found surprisingly enjoyable.
Rust chewed at the roof, which caused leaks into the cabin whenever rain poured. The inside of the car developed a gamey, mildewed scent that no air freshener could overcome. I used silicone to seal the holes and cracks, but really I just made a giant mess. Pro Tip: Don’t try to repair anything.
My Civic was a cruel mistress, even though I was right there for her every need: weekly car washes in winter, oil changes at 3,000 (okay, 4,000ish) miles, new wiper blades when the old ones failed to do the one thing they were designed to do, etc.
Many thousands of dollars later, the litany of repairs is depressing and fascinating: new front wheel bearings (twice), new brakes (twice), new tires (twice), rebuilt front suspension (paid for twice, or maybe three times, but at least one guy ripped me off, so technically only once), new water pump/timing belt/spark plugs (once).
What I’m saying is, I’m a sucker.
I could go on and on about the frustrating and expensive saga of maintaining this Civic. I easily spent between six and seven grand keeping that car on the road.
In the end, we took one look at the most recent repair bill and said, “Screw it. That’s a down payment on another car. Can we get a trade-in estimate?”
That was two weeks ago. The sudden, drastic change is what makes dealing with loss so difficult, but mostly, I just miss the radio.
“Everything happened so fast,” you hear people say when they mourn. “One minute I was driving a Civic with an awesome radio. The next, it was gone. The radio, I mean.”
There at the end, I sat in that stone quiet parking lot, just a few miles from where I obtained this wonderful yet practical machine, and thought about all of our adventures, laughing and rolling along like lyrics to a Van Morrison song. Ours was a fleeting relationship — a seven-year journey together during which we learned so much.
As I waited for the tow truck, I couldn’t even play the glorious radio.
I’ve come here to bury my Civic, yes, but also I must praise her. I put more than 100,000 miles on that car. I drove her all over the Midwest, to Cleveland, Chicago, and Nashville. I commuted daily for years. When I needed to go somewhere, she went with me.
My Civic was, by most reasonable measures, a pretty good car. She was just really high-maintenance. Someone who is better with cars and/or is independently wealthy probably will put another 100,000 miles on her, at least.
But I’m not the kind of man for her — teacher’s salary and all.
Alas, I said goodbye to her and drove away — in a much younger Civic with only 15,500 miles, a long warranty, and a putrid factory stereo system…for now.
I’m nothing if not consistent.
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