My odometer hit 122,222 the other day, a number of no particular significance other than that it looked neat. I paused for a moment to admire it and quietly will my car to reach 222,222 miles before I finally have to replace it. Each day, I remain somewhat astonished that I not only have a car that has never left me stranded by the side of the road, but have the funds to replace it when it does become unreliable. This seems to me to be a violation of the natural order of things.
Growing up, I got used to being stranded from time to time. Cars broke down. It was a fact of life, probably an even more annoying one for someone traveling with small children in those days before cellphones became ubiquitous. My favorite of those cars was the Scirocco.
My parents acquired it sometime before I started school. It was a hand me down from my aunt, who herself had received it from her sister, costing us nothing but the bus fare to travel halfway across the country to go get it. My father rigged a system of webbing to secure children's car seats to bus seats and off we went. I recall the bus terminals as bustling places full of people who seemed terribly interesting to a preschooler.
The Scirocco was a valuable addition to our stable, an improvement over the car my mother had previously used to schlep us around, a 1955 Chevy in which my ever prudent father had thoughtfully installed lap belts and a roll bar. My father, a mechanical engineer and car nut, found the Scirocco fun to drive. It served well for many years, but my mother gradually became more and more dissatisfied with it, even though by that point she rarely drove it.
Over the years, she gradually got better and better cars, first a giant brown Oldsmobile in which my brother and I once spent the night at a gas station in Little Rock on the homeward stretch of a family vacation. The water pump had failed, but my father had packed a replacement part because that was the only repair he could envision dealing with on the road that hadn't already been necessary in the preceding months. It took him most of the night, with my mother holding a flashlight and lending a hand. Sometime after that, she got a very nice Suburban that still runs well thanks to an engine transplant. (Not a repair my father handled himself.) That was the vehicle she was driving when she began nagging my father about his car in earnest.
Ok, so traveling was a little less fun after my father removed the radio and air conditioner in the course of a repair and never replaced them, but we could do without those luxuries. When the fan for the heater died, coats and mittens became imperative in winter. The front seats were padded with a granular black substance that eventually all leaked out the bottom of the seats, leaving the driver and passenger sitting on the metal seat frames. After the red upholstery wore through, my dad got brown furry seat covers. They eventually bleached blond in the sunlight and then themselves wore through. The windshield gaskets were bad, resulting in an inch or two of water in the back floorboards after each heavy rainfall. My father eventually rigged a switch to turn on the fuel pump when starting the car after the system that was supposed to do that went kaput. In its last years, the car idled rough, sometimes dying at stop signs, not always, just often enough to make things interesting.
My mother thought the Scirocco was an embarrassment. I disagreed vehemently. It had its flaws, as do all things in life, but I couldn't understand caring what other people thought as long as my dad liked it and it generally got us from point a to point b. I took a certain perverse pride in getting picked up from a junior high dance in a slightly rusty twenty year old Volkswagen that got washed perhaps once a year.
Eventually, my father did get a brand new car. By that point, my parents had paid the house off. They had enough breathing room to easily afford a nice, reliable little econobox for my father's commute. His Mazda was a great car until it met its untimely demise by the side of the interstate on an icy night last Thanksgiving weekend.
I can see now why they bought it, but at the time I was outraged. I felt like my father was caving to my mother, and I understood even less why they would finance a car when they could have paid cash without even having a significant impact on their savings. Taking the zero percent interest financing on top of the discount my father got for working for an OEM supplier for Mazda was mathematically a good deal, but my upbringing instilled in me a horror of consumer debt that at that point in my life would have rivaled that of the most devout Dave Ramsey acolyte. (Or perhaps I was just at a phase where I was inclined to be deeply pissed off by anything my parents did.) Now that I'm a wee bit more mature, I understand their decisions much better, but I'm still a little sad that they got rid of the Scirocco. I suspect that my father could still have it running today if he'd absolutely had to, especially in light of the spare engine he salvaged from a dead Rabbit and kept in the garage, just in case.