Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Long May You Run

Sitting east of Cleveland, a mere 450 miles from my parents’ house in New Jersey, I feel it’s time to pay homage to the true unsung hero of this trip. Over the last 37 days, she’s acted as my closet, my bedroom, my kitchen / dining room, my power supply, my home, and my transportation, She’s been my travel companion, there every step of the way, doing everything I’ve asked of her and not complaining or putting up any resistance whatsoever. She goes by many names. At times I’ve called her the Horse with No Name, the Hyundai, or just simply – the car.

My relationship with this grey 2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring GLS wagon began a year ago April under duress. My first car, a Nissan Sentra (that never earned a name or an anthropomorphic pronoun), had failed 2,000 miles out of warranty, running without oil and never bothering to tell me about it by way of an illuminated oil light. After replacing the engine, I was billed an amount 4 times the quoted price from the mechanic (Marlboro Nissan on Boston Post Road in Marlborough, MA, in case you ever need to know where NOT to go). After twisting several arms I was able to get the car back, but the monetary fight is still ongoing.

After this debacle I decided I needed a Hyundai – a car with a 100,000 mile warranty and a history of reliability. I had also decided before all this that my next car would be a hatchback instead of a sedan. I don’t often fill a car with people, but I definitely fill it with stuff, and a hatchback handles stuff much better than a sedan. There was just one model that fit these criteria, so here I sit in an Elantra Touring.

I have nothing but praise for this car. All the technology works as it should, including the built in XM, which – as my father predicted – I’ve grown to rely on (it helps that MSNBC now streams live on XM). The Bluetooth works seamlessly and all of her knobs and switches are still in perfect working order. She’s also far roomier than the Sentra, which has proven very important for how I’ve used her this month. My favorite feature, though, actually took me a few weeks to discover and I haven’t used it all this month – shopping bag hooks in the back. It doesn’t sound important, but after driving 55 miles to school with 2-liter bottles of soda rolling around in the backseat, any means of securing them in place comes as a godsend.

I’ve put her through the most tortuous month a front-wheel-drive 4-cylinder mid-sized sport wagon could possibly face. During the heat wave in the beginning, I ran her engine and AC for nearly 72 hours straight, covering nearly 2,000 miles and creating an air conditioned bedroom. The next day, she climbed 8,000 vertical feet to an altitude over 14,000 feet and the summit of Pikes Peak. On the way down – a journey that can be just as stressful for a car, if not more – we worked together and reached the bottom with her brakes at a temperature almost cool enough to touch. Only days later, I brought her back up to over 12,000 feet at Independence Pass, where she, once again, went up and down 8,000 feet in a day, getting her best fuel economy of the trip (nearly 36 miles per gallon) in the process.

I then took her through a series of deserts, reaching temperatures of over 110 degrees more than once. Only here did she offer any pushback, when her windshield cracked and spidered from a chip that I couldn’t see from inside the car. But even then, the crack went across the center without obscuring the views out the driver or passenger sides, before reaching the bottom edge of the windshield so as to preclude any further spread.

We visited Monument Valley, where I dragged her along a 17-mile unpaved road (and I mean really unpaved. I was dodging boulders). She was orange until I got her a car wash and oil change a week later in California. In the middle of the desert, I threw another completely different challenge at her – city driving. While her fuel economy dropped substantially, her fantastic visibility and tiny blind spots helped make my life less stressful.

She made it up the Pacific Coast Highway, locked in 3rd or even 2nd gear for the better part of a day, ascending and descending between sea level and 500 feet several times. North of San Francisco, when I became frustrated that none of the roads went where I needed them to go, I began taking my frustration out on her, throwing her into turns and slamming on the brakes rather than proceeding slowly and cautiously. Despite hitting the 5,500 rpm mark a few times, she never let me red-line her and got me to my destination.

Only days after braving Death Valley and the hottest temperatures on earth, I made her endure snowpacks – twice. Both in Yosemite and on Mt. Rainier, the temperatures dropped nearly 90 degrees from what we had seen further south.

Throughout all this, and despite being pelted by hundreds of thousands of suicidal insects, she has never broken down, never blown a fuse, never had a dead battery. In the dozens of times I’ve checked her oil it has never been anything other than completely full. She’s never had a flat tire and has never come close to even thinking about overheating. In short, she’s been perfect.

So, it’s true – we’ve been through some things together, hopefully with many trunks of memories still to come. People have asked why I didn’t take another person on this trip with me. The answer I usually give is that this way I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and spend as much or as little time as I want doing it. But in reality, how could I have possibly asked for a better travel companion than the one I’ve had?

On a side note, despite the fact that “Long May You Run” is the perfect title for this entry, I was a little hesitant to reference such a powerful song for a topic such as this. Although the song is about Neil Young’s first car, it tells the story of the end of a relationship where the lingering emotions are not anger and discord, but gratitude, nostalgia, hope for the future. For me, this is one of those songs that I link to specific moments. For some reason, a year ago may, this song became linked with my first Hebrew School class as they celebrated their confirmation and left all of us at the school behind. After 5 intense years with those kids and seeing all the changes that had come as they grew from 6th graders to 10th graders, this song captured the bitter sweetness of the moment perfectly. I try not to think of it as a “song [Neil] wrote about an old car,” and when it comes up on shuffle, I’ll try not to think only of this post, either.

1 comment:

  1. what? no word (or picture) about my window shades???