I recently found myself discussing car troubles with a mechanic friend who moonlights as a valet. He suggested I take the ailing car, a Mitsubishi born barely on this side of the 21st century, to a dealership as a trade-in. The actual verb he used refers to a high-level felony act.
I obliged my mechanic friend, but with a heavy heart. It was time to move on, to leave that sporty car in the pantheon of cool things we trade for practicality as we age.
Call me sentimental, but I couldn't help reliving the good times. I remembered the proud down payment I used as leverage to bring the car home cheaply. Those euphoric autumn mornings when I'd crack the automatic sunroof and drink in the season's first cool air. How it felt to rub Zymol wax on the voluptuous quarter-panels, to pay it off three years early. Even the summer morning when, jacked on Starbucks, I fried the Infinity sound system in a crank-it-to-11 Led Zeppelin frenzy.
The last I saw of the car -- the last I'll ever see -- was a glimpse literally through the rearview mirror of its replacement. It didn't feel like I was leaving behind used goods, but rather some living part of my past, like a puppy I had raised and abandoned at the first sign of arthritis. Mangy, sure, but with plenty of strong years at its core.
Never have I felt more American -- that is, apt to forsake sensibility for showmanship -- than in that flash of foolish grief. Same thing happened when I traded, sold and, well, wrecked my first three cars. All Mustangs.
I've long abandoned the high-school notion that vehicles reflect the real us. If anything, they broadcast our circumstances, our ability to make pithy financial decisions, or dumb gaudy ones based on insecurity, or guilt. Or chicks.
That being said, there's a peculiar exhilaration inherent in driving a vehicle you like, especially in a car-addicted region such as this. Bells and whistles are important. The old car's race-inspired exhaust -- a tiger's purr -- just slayed me, took me back to a time when cars were more than vessels for commuter aggravation.
I like the new ride, and all signs point to a sound and thoroughly researched buy, but it has four doors (a first), and more air bags than cylinders (also new), which a younger version of myself would liken to a social apocalypse.
My right hand literally grabs for the vanished stick-shift, that sacrificial, phantom limb.
I'm sure the old car will be cleaned, patched and shuffled to some auction, where they'll hock it for more cash than I got in trade. In weeks some punk will bark the tires in a clunky, manual shift from first to second. I can only hope the kid appreciates the car's upbringing, its pampered soul.
And I hope he's got at least something tucked in savings, because the air-conditioning is all but shot.
Josh Green is a staff writer who covers the police beat. E-mail him at email@example.com.