As an editor at The Sentinel, I get the chance to read, and sometimes edit, the open line comments the night before they are published. Some comments spur discussion in our newsroom, and one particular comment this week had me thinking about a decision I recently made.
I used "Cash for Clunkers" one week ago. In two days, the program will end, at least for the time being until the government decides to put money into it. I'm not ashamed that I used a government program that many have criticized as not being "green" enough, an invasion of the private business sector, etc.
This open line caller started by saying, "I have an old car. It runs good and looks good. It takes me from point A to point B and back again. What else do I need?"
When I first began driving seven years ago, my aunt gave me her 1992 Mitsubishi Mirage. It was a bit old and dirty, but I loved that first car. That was until the floor in the back would flood when it rained, or when the felt ceiling fell down and a friend replaced it with a star design fabric that later bred mold, making my car smell when it was humid or rainy. Then the transmission started to break down, causing me to floor the gas anytime I tried to speed up, and once getting me stuck on a hill with three others in the car who almost jumped out and pushed my car up the hill (that would have been quicker than the speed I was going.) The final two weeks I had it, my window fell off the track and I had to duct-tape it shut so rain would not make my car smell even more like mold. It lasted only two more years, topping out somewhere near 200,000 miles. My dad paid the junkyard person $50 just to take the car.
My second car - or should I say, van - was a 1995 forest green Ford Aerostar. This was my "clunker" I recently traded in, but Betsy (that's her name) was a good vehicle. It had been in the family since '95, when my dad realized our six-person family could not squeeze in a small car anymore. Betsy took us on many vacations, showed me all of my college prospects, moved me away from home and to my different living spaces the past five years. I would drive her during my winter and summer breaks, and my parents gave her to me in 2006 when I spent a summer away from home. I have had her since then, and she has taken me to see friends and significant others, drove me home after a late night at the newspaper and has even gotten me in trouble a few times, requiring a call to Triple A. Betsy had her last hurrah trip recently, unbeknownst to me or her at the time.
The air conditioning never worked, the plastic lining around the windows was falling off, she decided not to give me heat this past winter (what a cold one!), she began to rust and developed gaping holes this past year, and even though I loved her, she was eating a hole in my pocket for gas.
When my father and I went to the dealership this past Saturday, I didn't know that was the last time I would see my beloved Betsy. It was a beautiful day, I just put $25 worth of gas in her, and she was looking surprisingly youthful, almost Benjamin Button-like. I planned to give her a bath after this trip with my father - but she ended up in the back of lot with Cs spray-painted on her in yellow. She went to Ford heaven, and it was her time. She wasn't going to last another winter, and I didn't need my mechanic to tell me that. I saw how much she suffered this past winter and I couldn't put her through that again.
I used "Cash for Clunkers" because as a young adult, I don't have much money fresh out of college and need all the help I can get. Unfortunately, with this program, you have to buy a 2009 or 2010 model car, which can be quite expensive. Plus, unlike that Mirage that cost my father $50 just to get rid of, I wanted to get some worth out of Betsy for all the good work and commitment she has given the past 14 years. She also was just over 115,000 miles, a far cry from my first "clunker."
This open line caller ended his statement with, "I like my old car. I feel comfortable in my old car." I LOVED my old van and felt completely comfortable in her, despite her flaws. Yes, my new fancy car has automatic windows, A.C., a CD player, and even Sirius for six months free, on top of actually running well and being more fuel-efficient.
But I miss seeing her massive frame, I miss literally jumping just to get into her, I miss towering over all the small cars like we were queens of the world - Betsy and me. She taught me about commitment, loyalty, patience, hope, faith, luck - and how a vehicle operates and what to do if it breaks. She helped me turn into an adult, as crazy as that seems.
But like an old pet, I couldn't let her suffer anymore and it was her time to leave me. Goodbye, Betsy, may you rest well now.
Bethany Fehlinger is the city editor at The Sentinel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.