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Taran March @ Quality Digest

Customer Care

Ghost of Old Cars Past

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Hondas be white

Published: Thursday, December 21, 2017 - 13:03

I loved my Honda. Is it OK to cling to that emotion, even after a car takes its final drive and lands in a dissection yard to be pulled to pieces so other old Hondas can stay on the road? Are there counselors out there specializing in car grief who might advise? ’Tis the Christmas season, so I can imagine what they might say: Let it go, let it go, let it go.

This tale is an attempt to do just that, and to highlight some random acts of quality humanness along the way.

It began on a rainy Sunday morning, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in fact. I was cruising to church in my 1997 Accord, which I’d owned since it was three. It was, as Click and Clack of Car Talk would say, a keeper.

It was an enjoyable commute. For the past couple of years, I’d painstakingly—some, like my friend Katy, might say obsessively—replaced most of Keeper’s parts, as time and money allowed. Just two months prior to that Sunday drive, I’d put the icing on the cake and even had it painted. Not just any paint, mind you, but Jaguar Seafrost Metallic. At 330,000 miles Keeper purred, the clutch slid like silk, and the HVAC responded at the press of an old-fashioned button. I smugly looked forward to driving it for another 100,000 miles.

Keeper, in better days

But then I rounded the sweeping blind corner at the bottom of the hill.

Looming toward me (or me toward it) was a wrecked car sprawled across the slow lane. I had time to register a police car with its roof light revolving madly before my attention locked back onto the hulk and my need to avoid it. I hit the brakes—too hard, of course—and entered the slo-mo of impending doom. Keeper and I fishtailed into the fast lane, and no longer was the hulk the issue but the back end of an SUV. A shriek of locked brakes, the force majeure of metal impacting metal, then a shove back to my lane and... the airbag experience.

The world seemed to balloon into white, still silence, like an early Hollywood attempt at depicting heaven. As my lap filled with collapsed bag and white powder drifted around, I looked through the windshield and a corner of my brain registered the end of my longtime relationship with Keeper. The SUV, which had pulled over to the side of the road, had a modest dent on the corner of its bumper (astonishingly slight, compared to Keeper’s punched-in headlight and crumpled hood), and thankfully no one was hurt.

People started doing things while I sat amid the drifting powder like a static ornament in a snow globe, attempting to fit these new pieces of reality into the normality puzzle. Let’s see: One takes out one’s phone, of course. And I suppose unfastens one’s seat belt. A cop trotted by placing orange hazard cones while I called Katy and asked for a ride to... nowhere suggested itself. In any case, Katy, never one to sit around, had already hung up and was flying down the road in her pajamas and the diamond earrings she never seemed to take off.

“Hello.” A smiling man opened the door. “How are you?” His tone was friendly and unfussed, normality personified.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I’m worried about the people in the SUV. Are they OK?” The man continued to smile but declined to comment. Instead, he asked me if I felt dizzy, nauseous, short of breath, and whether I knew what day it was. I answered lucidly, if cautiously. Was this the process back to normality? It felt a bit like a grade school quiz.

“You have an abrasion on your wrist.” Another person, a woman in a pink sweatshirt, peered in and eyed me speculatively. The pair had an uncanny ability to take charge, but it turns out they were just nurses assessing someone in shock. They had seen the original accident that left the wrecked car in my lane and had stopped to help. As far as I was concerned, they had dropped out of the sky. With the Hollywood-heaven experience still at the top of my mind, it seemed reasonable to conclude they were angels. I refrained from pointing this out to them, though.

A man named Jay slid alongside with a small tow truck, handed me a psychedelic business card, and hauled Keeper off. I spotted Katy pacing on the far side of the median, but was prevented from crossing over by the cone-placing cop, who had a German Shepherd’s focus for herding people exactly the way he wanted. I was told to stand to one side while he managed others. He took my statement, jotting illegibly in a notebook. Then he herded me across the highway with many verbal nips directing me to stay close to him.

Finally I was sitting in Katy’s Subaru. She took one look at me and said, “Coffee. Then you’re coming to my house. You can watch me decorate my tree.”

So that’s what I did with the rest of that Sunday, sitting on her couch with her husband Bill, pleasantly mesmerized by the lights and glittering ornaments.

Fast forward through a few weeks, during which I rattled to work in our COO’s spare Corolla, my left foot flailing uselessly at stop lights until I became accustomed to automatic transmission. I spoke with someone named John from AAA. He was a transplant from Philadelphia who now lived in Nevada. He liked the wide-open desert, he said, and insuring rodeo cowboys.

Eric, an observant mechanic of few words, kindly entered into the futility of assessing Keeper for possible resuscitation. (“It’s a goner,” he confirmed.) Keeper sat outside his shop for several days while I hounded an older fellow named Al, the area auto mortician, to take it to his used-parts fiefdom in a neighboring town. When he wasn’t eating breakfast at the casino, Al lived on eBay.

Keeper, RIP

I glumly sifted through Craigslist, looking at used cars. It felt like being shoved unwilling onto a dance floor with a series of partners with acne. I test drove an old Subaru, whose chief virtue was a stick shift. At Eric’s, where I’d taken it for an inspection, he showed me a photo of its underside. It looked like a ship’s hull dotted with rusted-solid bolts.

“Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s an old Honda,” he noted in one of his longer pronouncements.

There was another Subaru that was bought before I had time to look at it. I’d settled into the semi-permanent gloom of an unwelcome chore uncompleted when Katy called and announced we were going to the car dealer that weekend. Why not? I thought. They won’t have a 1997 Accord painted Seafrost Metallic.

It was windy at the lot. Wide aisles of cars faced each other like dogs at an animal shelter. “Check out that Chevy,” said Katy brightly. All I could distinguish was a sea of white and silver, with a lone black Beamer parked at one end.

Enter Travis, young, affable, weedy, with two-toned teeth and eyes like Tony Curtis. His shoulders were hunched and his hands jammed into his jacket.

“Who’s looking?” he inquired.

Don’t make eye contact, I thought, as Katy took over the back and forth. My bad attitude aside, I liked him. He wasn’t pushy or judgmental. We wandered the lot, pausing here and there while Travis warmed up his patter on a used Prius, Subaru, and Honda Fit. I trailed after the two like a five-year old, wondering how soon we could leave and maybe have lunch.

We climbed into the Fit. Travis drove it to a nearby parking lot and then got out and told me to try it. It was OK. We tried a Civic. I didn’t like its thorny design and small windows. The Fit, now, had much better windows and fewer hot-rod pretensions. Despite myself I was beginning to make comparisons.

“Is that the only Fit?” Katy asked. It was the only used one, so inevitably we headed to the other side of the lot, where the new cars were lined up.

Still the boring white, I thought.

“This one has a stick!” Katy announced.

I looked over. White, yes, but with cheeky black wheels and accents. That appealing Euro look, nose down, back end up. And the cunning, origami folding interior, which Travis had already demonstrated.

Katy smirked.

Uh-oh, I thought.

Bingo, went Travis’ Tony Curtis eyes.

No need to belabor what came next except to say there was a lot of signing to do. And this being California, I even had to sign an acknowledgement that I understood the language in which the sale was conducted. But in the end I drove home in a new, white Honda Fit. It looked pretty good in my driveway.

Later that night I went outside and circled around it. Ran a finger along its side, drifted up to the front. Its face was sleek and modern, but still had that Honda family resemblance. I leaned toward it.

“Keeper?” I whispered. “Is that you?” I stood for a time in the cold silence. The Christmas lights outside the house glinted in the Fit’s glossy white body.

Probably just some fancy new sensor, but as I turned to go inside, I swear that car winked.

2018 Honda Fit


About The Author

Taran March @ Quality Digest’s picture

Taran March @ Quality Digest

Taran March is Quality Digest’s editorial director A 35-year veteran of publishing, she has written and edited for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and universities. When not plotting the course of QD with the team, she can usually be found clicking around the internet in search of news and clues to the human condition.


A friend's Honda has lasted more than 20 years

And over 200,000 miles, as I recall. They have a very good reputation.