by Diane Haynes Woodburn
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The young woman at the rent-a-car desk looked genuinely concerned. “We don’t have the car you reserved. But . . .” she cheered up visibly, “we can give you a minivan!” She must have seen the look of horror on my face. “Oh, don’t worry,” she assured me. “We won’t charge you extra.”
Clearly, she didn’t understand. Just the other day I had been driving a 1998, champagne XK8 Jaguar convertible. Like the ghosts of vehicles past, twenty-five years of nursery school, car pools, soccer, groceries, baseball, camp outs, emergency room visits, high school, tons more groceries, surfboards, bikes, graduations careened through my mind. “A minivan?”
I remembered the first time I met the XK8. It was seven years ago. The kids were all gone, and my faithful Pathfinder was on it last wheels. I needed a car. “You should take a look at Jeff’s Jag,” my husband advised. “A Jag?” I protested. “I could never drive a Jag; there’s no room for the kids.”
“Kids are gone,” he reminded me. “Try it.”
One rev of the engine, one spin around our country roads, and I was in love. I had arrived, with a little style, a little daring, and very little room for anything else. It was perfect. “Gee, what a shame. I have the Jag; we can’t all fit.” I thought it would last forever.
But the other day, it ended. I had stopped at Pukalani Foodland to pick up a quart of milk. While standing in line, daydreaming, I heard a muffled voice announcing something over the PA. Then I heard the women in front of me giggling. “A gold Jaguar?” they laughed. Hmm, could that be me? Did I park in a handicapped zone? Did I run over a cart? (I’m not good with details.) Suspecting the offending gold Jaguar was mine, I abandoned the quart of milk and slinked out to the parking lot.
There, beyond the gawking crowd, was my car . . . which had burst into flames. Big, red flames. Rather than face the looming ravages of old age, the old girl had simply, spontaneously combusted. Smoke poured out in billowing clouds. “Get a grip!” I wanted to yell at her. “You don’t have to do this! You still look good to me.” It was to no avail. She was going out in a blaze of glory. Fire engines roared up, police cars arrived with sirens blaring. “Stand back!” men in uniform yelled. “But that’s my car!” I pleaded. “You don’t have to use a crowbar; I have the keys. . . .” Having no flames of my own, I was invisible.
Soon enough, the fire was out. The police masked the area off with bright yellow crime-scene tape. I stood there, wishing for the little car to rise from the ashes, rev her engine, and like the phoenix, take off in glorious resurrection. But no. This vehicular goose was cooked.
My car enjoyed her last few days of fame ensconced on our street, waiting for the tow truck. I visited her from time to time, thanking her for being such a lady—for waiting until I was well out of range to throw herself on the pyre. Her selfless, if smoky, deed reminded me just how lucky I am. Interesting, how one’s perspective and priorities change with near disaster.
So the other day I humbly drove the minivan to a local dealership, in search of a permanent replacement. “What would you’d like?” the salesman asked politely. “Well,” I replied, “a four-door would be nice. I need room for family, friends, and beach toys.”