Broken Belt Tensioners & Oxidized Headlights: A Vehicular Love Story


Editor’s note: Not all car lovers are nuts-and-bolts people. Many don’t understand how most critical systems work. People for whom cars hold a sentimental or emotional value (“sentimentalists,” if you will), though, are an integral part of the automotive community. Far too many see the car as an expensive appliance and fail to appreciate the impact they have on our lives.  Sentimentalists provide that middle ground between car nerds (like, say, me) and the automotive philistines that carmakers seem to slowly be pandering to more and more. Here is one person’s story – an excellent example of why you don’t have to be a level-5 gearhead to love cars. –Chris

Full disclosure: this will not be a “car guy” post like you have seen before on this site, primarily for the following reasons:

#1: I’m not going to talk about things like tire size, horsepower, torque, steering, chassis, engines, or specs. Those posts are great, but I’ll leave those to the real experts.

#2: I’m not a guy.

I do, however, have a keen appreciation for and odd sentimental attachment to cars.

First, there’s something you have to understand about me. For my entire life, I’ve been developing these profoundly sentimental attachments. I blame this on all the hours I spent with my dad listening to music as a child. I’ve been heavily influenced by Cetera-era Chicago, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and countless other “mellow” soft rock artists. This was reinforced by my elementary school music teacher who made us sing the greatest hits from Chicago, The Carpenters, and, later, Ace of Base.

The music inspired not only a fierce sense of sentimentality, but a flair for the dramatic, as well. When I was seven my mom told me she was throwing my favorite stuffed animals (and best friends!) away because I didn’t clean my room. I “borrowed” her camera and spent a whole afternoon sobbing while carefully posing and photographing my stuffed animals so I could remember them forever.

She never threw them away. I still have them. It’s not weird. But I digress.

In 1986 my parents purchased a brand-spanking-new, red, shiny, luxurious, enviable… Chevy Astro. It was not even to be the boxiest of vehicles we would own. The van was great. So much cooler than my dad’s old Cutlass Ciera (don’t get jealous) or the Pontiac LeMans that would later replace it.

I loved that van, not for the piece of machinery that it was or any features it had (the only feature I was aware of, by the way, was one that I later learned was not even native to the vehicle: America’s History album on cassette, playing over and over and over again). I loved that car because of what it represented to me: childhood. It was family vacations to Ocean City, days spent at my grandma’s swimming pool with my cousins, and even bringing my newborn brother home from the hospital.

So in 1995 when my dad announced that we were trading in ye olde Astro for a brand-spanking-new model, a white, shiny, luxurious, enviable Ford Windstar (what-what?) … I threw a fit. I was twelve, and therefore probably just a tiny bit on the incredibly freakin’ dramatic side, but seriously. He was trying to destroy all of my happy childhood memories and I would never accept that Windstar as a new era for me.

For the first half of my teenage years, my bedroom walls were 100% covered, floor-to-ceiling, with pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas that had been carefully removed from Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, and Bop! magazines. The outside of my bedroom door, on the other hand, was adorned with a picture of a Ford Windstar that I had cut out of one of the dealership books we’d received. I used construction paper to cut out a big circle to enclose this image, and then placed a slash through it.

My friends thought I was super weird. I was just making a statement that all ‘tween girls make, though.

I am completely anti-Ford Windstar.

I never did accept that car. Not even years later when I sometimes practiced driving in it. I hated it with every fiber of my being and liked to frequently tell my dad how it was such a piece of crap. After it broke down on the way to Florida and the closest Ford garage refused to service it, he finally started listening to reason and agreeing with me. Clearly I was so knowledgeable.

Gosh. It was like he hadn’t even grown up as the car guy son of another car guy.

(For the record, my paternal grandfather died before I was born, but he was a successful used car salesman. He and my dad and my uncles used to go to car auctions and drive around in basically whatever car they wanted. So cars have been a thing for me pretty much since I was three and my dad invented a game for us called “guess the make and model of the next car that drives by our house.”)

Anyway, there’s no point in walking you through every vehicle my family has owned and my weirdo attitudes about them. Suffice it to say that we found our groove with Honda years ago, returning to that manufacturer after the 1992 Accord we had leased for a while was deemed to be one of the best cars we ever gave back.

2000 Honda Accord

Me with the 2000 Accord, heading to my Jr. Prom to dazzle people (and weird them out) with information about the Accord’s disc brakes.

I learned to drive in my dad’s 1996 Honda Civic. I named her Cyndi, and I loved the hell out of that car (even when her manifold was cracked and she sounded like a bar fly.) His next move was a blue 2000 Accord (which, given my fondness for the Grinch, I named Cyndi Blue-Who). I accompanied him on a warm May afternoon to pick it up at the dealership. He let me drive it off the lot and back to our house, and I drove my date and myself to my junior prom in it later that evening. While all of the other girls were talking about how many bobby-pins and gallons of hairspray they’d used or where their flowers had come from, I was the weirdo trying to tell people about the Accord’s disc brakes.

Like a race car, guys!

So anyway, fast forward to October 2005. I was driving around in a used 1991 Accord that, prior to my college graduation, my sister and I had shared (at least until my dad bought his box o’fun – a “sunset orange pearl” Element, and undoubtedly the boxiest vehicle we ever owned). Its name was Winslow and it smelled like old man pee (according to one friend, and the sentiment just sort of stuck).

I was just about two months into my first real-world job teaching ninth graders how to speak English “real good and stuff” and my crippling student loans hadn’t kicked in just yet. Plus, paying suburban rent every month actually made my checkbook cry. My dad and I had discussed how I wanted a new car and that hopefully I’d be able to afford one soon after I saw what my loans were going to be like. I’d even told him that I kind of liked the look of the upcoming 2006 Civic.

“That light blue color is really sharp,” I’d said, proving my coolness.

So I was sitting outside my friend’s apartment complex one Saturday afternoon that October, talking to Dave Coulier on the phone. (Yes, that Dave Coulier. Cut-it-out!) I’d be happy to tell you how it came to be that I was talking to this man of Full-House-and-Alanis-Morrissette fame on the phone, but leave a comment if you want to know. I should really try to stay on topic.

Dave and I were discussing how I taught ninth grade English and my students called me The Hatchet. He informed me, ever so wisely, that Mary Kate and Ashley had been in ninth grade once. In the midst of this stimulating conversation, my cell phone beeped to inform me that my dad was on the other line.

“Well, Dave, this has been fun, but my dad’s calling me.” Happy trails, Dave. He was a really nice guy.

I answered the phone and my dad just launched right into it.

“Hi, Renee. Hey, I just wanted to let you know – I hope you can afford to make car payments because I just ordered your car for you. It’s an ’06 Civic, that light blue color. It’s going to be manufactured in early December and you’ll have it by Christmas.”

Le sigh. I was excited about my new car for sure. But I have this little problem with anxiety attacks (see: above story about stuffed animals) and so I freaked out for a while about making payments.

It was December 22, 2005 when I parked Winslow in the lot at the Honda dealership by my parents’ house. I thanked him for his years of service and told him to take it easy.

A number of formalities later, Ken, my dad’s Honda salesman of choice, walked me out onto the showroom floor and introduced me to my new car, Beverly. Cue up Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture. (No, seriously, click on that. It’s cued up to exactly what I heard in my head when I saw my beloved Beverly for the first time. Totally normal.)

2006 Civic

Almost seven years later, she still sings “Forever Your Girl” to me. (I have absolutely nothing to do with it.)

Bev and I have had our share of tough times – namely when I had to stand outside a very tall gate at 2 a.m. with $150 in exact change (aka, my whole savings account at the time) and wait for a guy named Donny in an F-350 to retrieve her from the tow company. Or when she just stopped on the highway and made me walk up a hill in heels in mid-June in Virginia.

I’ve never outgrown that sentimental attachment to my car. Sure, I look at other cars. I think about what I might like in the future, but I’m attached to mine, especially now that she’s paid off and actually mine. I know I can’t possibly be the only person who has conversations with my car. I might, however, be the only person who suspects her car is pals with the Transformer Bumblebee. When I’m in my car, I think. I work out problems. I talk to myself. I’m also totally obsessed with music, and Beverly, like Bumblebee, seems to have a knack for playing the perfect song at the perfect time. (Again, it’s not weird.)

Driving, for me, isn’t just a mode of transportation. It’s an enjoyable activity and it helps me clear my head. Sometimes I like finding myself in challenging driving situations. Sometimes I like getting lost and figuring my way out, even if I’ve made the trip more difficult than it really needs to be.

I might not be able to rattle off specs, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still enjoy and appreciate cars. It certainly doesn’t change my attachments to them, strange as they may be. This is my car story. What’s yours?

Renee is waiting for someone to write a song about her life so that she can just quote the lyrics in her author bios. In the mean time, connect with her on Twitter: @writingrenee.

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