Today was a big day in the world of The Saturn, aka The Red Rocket, better known as The Only Car I’ve Owned That Has Yet to Be Towed Out of This World in a Fiery, Smoke-Filled Coffin of Misery: we hit the 100,000 mile mark.
I say “we” because I consider myself an integral part of this effort, as any other driver/owner of the Rocket probably would have let those weary wheels rest on occasion over the four years of service, whereas I made the machine stand in constant vigilance, ever ready for a last-minute jaunt up the East Coast or an ill-advised navigation through a roadside drainage system.
I am not entirely responsible for the mileage since the car came into my possession in July 2004 with a little more than 9,000 miles on it. It was found sitting idle in a Volkswagen lot in Monmouth County, New Jersey on Independence Day, a hastily agreed upon replacement for the much (and, by the end, deservedly) maligned Celica. Anyone from back in those days remembers the slow parade of atrophy and decay that was the final days of The Celica, when mirrors, knobs and other parts fell off with the disturbing grievance of a leprosy patient, until it hemorrhaged in a horrible fit on the Beltway, spewing unidentified liquids all over the windshield, finally gasping its final choked breaths on the exit ramp and coming to a final stop in front of the New Carrollton Metro station. There it sat overnight, where, upon my return in the morning to pay my respects and collect belongings, I discovered it had been towed.
My options, as interpreted from the comments from the supremely helpful and not at all condescending towing company employee were:
A) Pay the $100 towing fee, plus the rapidly mounting $70 per day storage costs to retrieve the car
B) Pay the $100 towing fee, hand over the title to the car and sign the corpse over the towing company
C) A Celica? What the hell is a Celica? Who is this? How did you get this number? Stop calling me! Hello? *Click*
Assuming there is no warrant for my arrest in Prince George’s County, Maryland right now, I think I made the right choice.
I did the math real quick: the mileage put on the Saturn since that July works out to an average of 59.2 miles a day. This is the equivalent of driving from Beachwood, NJ to Philly every day; or from Hilton Head Island to Yemassee, which, as everyone knows, is practically the City of Brotherly Love of South Carolina (replace “brotherly” with “steak” and “love” with “get your gas, karaoke, alcohol, dinner and line dancing in the same establishment“).
Yet the car has held together well, save for one unfortunate accident last year that crumpled the front of it like a paper doll on US 278 (for the record: my car — looked like a piece of stepped-on Play-Doh thrown on the street. Mammoth SUV in front of me — tiny hole in the bumper. Guess which driver freaked out more). Plus, there’s that bizarre problem that causes the car not to start for upwards of 20 minutes on occasions when the temperature drops over night. This of course only happens when I’m alone, and never, not once, not even a little bit, when there’s a mechanic within 400 yards of the vicinity. I left it at the mechanic all day one Friday last year to see if he could spot the problem. Said he tried it several times throughout the day, and it started fine. When I went to pick it up an hour later after he had already gone home, I could hear engine laughing at me as it refused to turn over. This has led me in my amateur mechanic’s training to diagnosis the problem as a terminal case of VPJ (Vindictive Poltergeist Jerkdom).
Major feats of endurance have included: three nine-hour trips to College Park in one year; one drive to New Jersey; two to Orlando; several to Raleigh; miscellaneous others to Asheville, Atlanta, Gainesville, Annapolis, Myrtle Beach and way way waaaay too many to Bluffghanistan on a near daily basis.
The single worst drive of my life happened inside the claustrophobic bosom of the Saturn, where she and I forever cemented our bond of the open road. It was on the way back from a trip out to Coachella in 2005. In booking this trip, blinded by an utter inexplicable commitment to camaraderie and conquering distance, I decided to fly out of BWI with festival buddy SteveChris. This involved driving up to Maryland after work, arriving in the middle of the night, getting a sparse two hours sleep on a hard Commons couch, then heading to the airport for a weekend under the stern eye of the 100-degree California desert sun. Then we took an overnight flight back east, landed at 1 a.m., and I was bound to my ridiculous scheme of driving back to South Carolina. For work that morning. At 9 a.m. Ah, to be young and dumb.
During that long, lonesome, death march down I95, I knew madness. It emerged from the corners of every wood-paneled, smokey truckstop store in Virginia, where women inexplicably unbothered by the hands pointing to 4 a.m. on the Winston clock overhead pumped coins into slot machines I weren’t sure were entirely legal; it was stocked on refrigerator shelves next to over sized, violently labeled bottles of what alleged to be energy drink that contained no evidence that their existence was known to federal health officials; it rode out of the radio on the waves of static penetrating the silence of North Carolina, somewhere just out of range of sunrise when I started chain smoking black box American Spirits just to threaten my body into remaining awake. I crossed a bridge and nearly let the madness win; trees were downed across the road and I began to swerve the Saturn in my harassed conscious state. Only they weren’t trees — it was shadows, conspiring with my tiredness to resemble shape and menace.
I made it back home in a miserable state, still smelling like the inside of a pup tent warmed over with the stew of hipster sweat resin and the crunchy, dry desert air. I collapsed for the blessed relief of a nap. And, despite it all, I still made it to my meeting and wrote my story for the day.
All thanks to one dedicated Saturn who wouldn’t give up on me, even in the darkest night, when the darkness of that terrible highway nearly overcame me. Also, it’s got sweet suicide doors, which have yet to kill me, and are featured prominently in at least one Kanye song.
Thanks Saturn, and here’s to 100,000 more.
(Um, but I’m hopeful it’s not with me. I mean, gas engines? Still? Let’s get a move on it, inventors. That’s the real American Spirit we need.)