“Serious” Essays

New Car Excitement, With Old Car Peeking Through The Windows
A Tale Of Two Subarus

Our new Subaru Ascent glittered in the driveway like a jeweled mid-size sport-utility-behemoth. 

“This is the best car I’ve ever had,” P exulted. 

“It’s the second car you’ve ever had,” I pointed out. “Plus, I don’t see your name on the loan documents. You’re seven.”

To be fair, though, she did help pick the color.

We bought the new car for one reason: travel. In a pandemic, the best option for travel might be RVs and travel trailers, because you’re taking a personal safety bubble everywhere you go.

And to get a new travel trailer, we needed a new car, because our old car didn’t have the towing capacity. 

The Ascent arrived in our lives suddenly, because the trailer arrived suddenly; after months of shopping, M had to jump on signing a trailer when one became available, because apparently everyone and their grandmother are buying all the trailers as if there were no tomorrow – which, thanks to the pandemic, is no longer hyperbolic cliche but an actual possibility.

So why does the seven year old love the new car?

Principally, she loves the car because she loves the idea of camping in a travel trailer. Adventure, cozy top bunks and the thrill of going somewhere. But she’s also thrilled that we can call Mommy from the car (via Bluetooth) and open the back hatch with a button-click. And she just loves new stuff.

But most of all, I think she’s attached to that extra third row of seats that becomes every kid’s dream fort on road trips. It was mine, at least; I remember driving from Montana to Fort Ross, California, shoes off, comic books all around, a milkshake in the cupholder, snuggled in the back corner of a van where everything seemed so far away except for the question of whether that night’s hotel would include a pool AND a hot tub.

The old, giving way to the new

As I said, though, she doesn’t have much of a frame of reference for defining a ‘best car’, having grown up with the white 2014 Subaru Forester pictured above.

Which is now a ghost. We sold it through a website to whom I’ll link once they actually pay us, and it was hauled away early one Saturday morning, after we had all had a chance to say goodbye, but faster than I really expected.

Yes, we said goodbye to a car. 

When I cleared it out and did one last sweep the night before it was picked up, I admit I got a little choked up. I imagined getting in for one last ride north on Highway 99, late into the night, just because. But I didn’t. I patted the roof, threw the last of the trash in the bin, shook out the floor mats, and went inside to sleep.

*****

2013. We’re living in Santa Cruz, still driving the small Honda that Fit so well in San Francisco parking spaces. It suits us; I work from home and walk everywhere, and the car gets Marina to and from the city when she has to work in the office. 

And then one night she calls me from Vancouver, Canada, with The News. 

A Honda Fit was never going to work with car seats. And so we bought a Forester. 

Not a Forester. The Forester.

It was the car that carried P home from the hospital, driving very slowly, as people tell me is wont to happen with cars I drive.

A Top-Three Day, for sure

It carried us all to Portland. It took us to Monterey, to the Sonoma Coast, to Pinnacles National Park, to Yosemite.

P threw up all over it once or twice.

It moved with us from Santa Cruz to Oakland to Marysville to Sacramento.

 It was with us as P grew from a baby in a car seat to a rising second-grader in a booster seat. 

I drove with P through a stormy night with downed trees from a vacation house in Sea Ranch to a house on the hill above Fort Ross, trying to visit my uncle and aunt, but they weren’t there; instead, I sat for a few minutes with P in the house where I spent so many days with my grandmother, who did get to meet P once, another trip in the Forester. And then we drove back to the now.

It took P to dance, to Tae Kwon Do, to gymnastics, then back to Tae Kwon Do.

It drove us to the ocean from Sacramento and back home.

P laughed and sang random songs in the backseat.

It’s been with us through the pandemic. 

And now the Forester is heading to Tempe, Arizona, to be sold, to move on to a new life. A life we’ll not see.

And yes, I’ll miss it, strangely. 

Although I won’t miss the fact we could only pair one Bluetooth device to it, compared to the five (5!) we can pair with the Ascent. 

This is life-changing.*

I’ve spent the past seven years ceding our automotive Bluetooth territory to M, which has made it harder for me to inflict Star Wars and P.G. Wodehouse and Hitchhiker’s audiobooks on her, but no more!

This will revolutionize marriages for the better.**

*****

A car becomes a vessel for memories when you have it long enough. All the stories and adventures. Also crumbs and footprints, of course. Mostly crumbs and footprints. But still, memories.

This is why it’s not crazy to say goodbye to a car. It’s saying goodbye to a source of memories. It’s low-key grief, the same grief you might feel when graduating from high-school or when moving across the country after your college years.

Am I misty-eyed for the car, for a pre-pandemic simplicity, or just change? Who knows? 

“I’ll miss this car,” P wailed, the night before the Forester was taken away. She couldn’t understand why we couldn’t keep both cars. 

Two days before: “I wonder what memories we’ll put in this car,” she says as she explores the Ascent. 

I wonder that too, P. I can’t wait to find out. 

*Obviously not life-changing.

**Or worse.

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