Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Life of a Volvo- the End of an Era

I went to a wedding on Sunday, and as I got ready, I was musing on the fact that most mornings you get up, go out and do the routine- work, make dinner, maybe a little tv or phone chat or shopping, routine activities. Then every once in a while you do something that you will never do again- like get up, get dressed- then join your life to someone else's forever, and become part of his routine each day. Once in a while life throws one of these days at you, when you start off having a normal day, and at the end of it your life is changed forever. This includes a disaster, an accident, a serendipitous encounter, a decision or fork in the road. The wedding, the new job, the diploma at the end of hard work all add up to a morning when you know things will never be the same and there's no going back.
The day of the wedding happened to coincide with the end of an era for me- the ownership of my old '95 Volvo 940 wagon. I bought the Volvo in the tumultuous days of my separation. I drove a real lot in my old job, and I needed a car with excellent safety ratings, great gas mileage and good repair rating. We had two VW vans during the end of my marriage; the newer one fishtailed in snow, had not so great gas mileage, and VW's need constant tinkering. Both titles were in the ex's name, and the insurance was for both cars, so to pay for the van and keep it on the road, I would also have to pay for his van as well, and I made a LOT less money than he did. In hindsight, these details would have probably gotten settled in the divorce, but so many stupid manipulative head games were going on that I asked my lawyer "what if I just get my own car?" He said to go for it. (And it ended up being included in our mutual assets, which penalized me greatly in the financial settlement a year later.)
I did some homework on the net, but my boss had just bought a Volvo and she had the longest commute of anyone I knew, and was a brutally savvy budget watcher. Kate and I went out one evening, and the first car we looked at was this wagon. I never wanted a wagon- I associated it with suburbia and soccer moms. But we tried other cars on other lots, and kept going back to this one. This Volvo worked in many ways, and I ended up becoming the proud owner of a 940 wagon with 65,000 miles.
A friend of mine in Gaelic language classes had sent me to a mechanic friend to get it checked out; he said it was in good shape, and a good deal. This mechanic became a trusted friend as well as the reason the car stayed on the road so long. As parts wore out, my friend replaced them, usually once, maybe twice a year. When I dropped out of the workplace to return to school, the odometer was over 100,000 miles. I talked with him and asked if it was realistic to expect to be able to keep the car running while I was out of the workplace. He listened to my dreams and promised to do his very best to keep it going if I would promise to buy a new car as soon as I graduated.
I had had the car paid off in 4 years instead of 5, and drove it all over New England for my job. It was very handy to have a wagon. I put presentation materials in the trunk, and kept supplies for the many facets of my work. I moved my kids in and out of college dorms and apartments. I stuffed it full of friends and drove all over. I hauled donations from donor to recipient. And my school friends borrowed it to move mattresses, furniture and books all over.
In the 8th year of ownership, I put the first dent in the car, smacking a pole in a parking garage. I was so pissed off- and the garage attendant gleefully told me he keeps a running record of how many people hit the same pole every week in the dark, dingy garage. Other than one dent, the body is in pretty good shape for a 13-year old car. I kept up on the dings with touch-up paint, and no real rust to speak of, unlike many Volvos I see on the road.
Just before graduation, when I was already working after rotations ended, I saw an ad for an incredible deal on a Toyota Corolla, so I went for it. Unlike many in my class, I didn't go for a really nice car, but instead purchased the most basic model I could, so basic you have to roll the windows down by hand. I got an incredible deal for it. I use the Corolla for all my commuting (and put 26,000 miles on it the first year!).
Instead of trading in the Volvo, I kept it on the road, and Kate drove it for the year she was home. It gave her the ability to be mobile and she did a lot of helping out with my family. She also took it to NYC a few times to visit. Now she is moving to South America for a year. There is no reason to keep the Volvo on the road anymore. It has just shy of 260,000 miles on it. It did not pass inspection; it needs a new emergency brake. It's time to move on.
The day of the wedding, as I mused on days that change your life, and I knew this was the end of an era for me. Bren and I cleaned out all Kate's stuff from the Volvo (like me, she leaves lots of crap in the car) and I drove it to my friend's lot and left it there. He called me with his opinion. My friend says he'd need to remove the console and seats to get at the front e-brake, so it would be about $500 to fix. For a car with this mileage, I can't expect to get much money for it, so it's not worth repairing unless I plan to keep it and use it some more. The last car he sold like mine sat on his lot 3 months and got less than the owner had wanted- and it had 160,000 miles less than mine! So if it sells, fine- if it doesn't sell in a few weeks, I'll donate it.
The Volvo was the first car I ever chose for myself. Although it wasn't exactly what I wanted, it turned out that it was exactly what I needed. Yeah, it broke down sometimes, but it was always fixable, and it always bounced back. I had many close calls but I never had an accident. I drove all over New England, Canada, and New York with it. It kept me warm driving in so many freezing New England winters, kept me safe in so many bad storms, and the moonroof gave me sunshine, cool breezes and beautiful views. It had character. Bren laughed at me saying I was emotionally attached to it, but I was. It was comfortable, reliable, and lived far past expectations. I had one last good ride with the roof open on a beautiful & sunny fall day, and I said goodbye and thank you. I left it on the lot in the dark and in the rain, and I hopped into my son's car and drove away. No one will ever love it like I did. It will probably become parts. Whatever spirit or life a car has will be relegated to the good times I had in that old car.
And if I google Bren's address, the satellite picture shows his house- with the old blue Volvo parked right outside the front door. How cool is that?
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