My 1999 Ford Explorer reeked of gasoline when it ran.
The middle console where the driver and front seat passenger could rest their elbow had long ago broken off and sat there unfixed.
When it rained drips of water leaked through the front windshield that might or might not have caused the occasional odor of mildew.
But like an old dog everyone hinted should be put to sleep I could not let that car go. We had too many good times. Trips to Vegas returning in abject failure or with stacks of cash, across I-10 all the way from Los Angeles to Miami Beach. The time my Love Interest visited me in California and we arrived in Big Sur too late to set up camp so we pulled over to the side of the road and slept in the back of the car and when we awoke in the early morning it took too long to wipe down the window to see if that was a mountain lion crossing the road.
There were times when it seemed I had no one to count on except that car which could get me up a mountain or to the coast where I could clear my mind.
It was only fitting it died on a road trip.
On the turnpike up to Gainesville I started feeling warm air coming out of the air conditioning. I pulled off the road in Stuart and in one of my dumbest decisions ever thought filling up the gas tank might solve the problem. I inject sixty dollars of gas and got back on the road. The car seemed to be driving fine. But a few miles later the gauge was headed toward red. I began to pull over but the shoulder of the turnpike seemed dangerously narrow. There was a sign that said “Next exit 1 mile”. I risked the clunking of the engine and the gauge firmly being past “H” and into the red zone to make it to Port St. Lucie into a gas station. I called one mechanic who said I needed a new engine. The repairs would probably cost $4000. I had the car towed to another mechanic who seconded that opinion.
I had spent less money buying the car back in 2007.
It was overwhelming being hours away from home and my destination, but I have to give credit to cell phones. In the old days when your car broke down in a strange town you were usually framed for a murder by a femme fatale (at least in the movies). Nowadays I was able to sell the car to a junkyard and get a rental car all within 24 hours.
While I waited for a tow truck in the parking lot of a mechanic I emptied my car and noticed a Dad with three boys waiting for their car to get fixed. I began to pull everything out and as I heard the kids getting impatient I looked for something I could give them rather than throwing out. Suddenly I realized my car was a time capsule filled with outdated relics from a distant past. Who has CDs any more? The kids would probably mistake them for Frisbees. Pens in the glove compartment, what kid wants that. Most arcane were those road maps I had. They don’t tell you in a computerized voice which direction to turn.
I sat down with my stuff. The Dad with the three kids’ car was ready. He patiently told the kids to wait in the car while he settled up. Port St. Lucie apparently is a place where people feel comfortable talking to strangers. He turned to me apropos of nothing and said, “I got eleven of them.”
“Eleven kids?” the guy didn’t look much older than me.
“We adopted five of them. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Eleven! I ‘m barely surviving raising one.”
“The key is to drink a lot.” He said with a laugh and then went into the store. He said goodbye between coming out and getting into his SUV to drive away.
Suddenly my situation seemed less overwhelming.