This story is from 2008. Incredibly, I have no photos of myself posing proudly by the car.
The chalky white 1989 Dodge Dynasty, with a thread-worn burgundy cloth interior, narrow whitewall tires, and wire wheel hubcaps, squatted in my garage for an entire winter but, with spring breaking, its time to go had come. I stuffed my Screaming Yellow mountain bike (that is the color’s name, the bike wasn’t screaming but it did seem fearful) into the Dynasty’s trunk and closed the lid on the bike’s unruly appendages. I had done this once before, with another object, but that time both the screaming and the appendages were real. Casting a wary eye down the driveway, I crouched behind the car and swiftly removed the license plate. Where this car was going no license plate was required. Personal experience underscored how beneficial it is for a disposed body to carry few clues to its identity.
The fuel gauge indicated the tank was one-quarter full but that was far too much gas for this final cruise. I found a rubber hose and an empty gas can and shoved the hose into the gas tank until it came to a hard stop. I exhaled sharply, wrapped my lips around the hose, and drew in deeply to prime the hose, filling my lungs with explosive vapors (the kind California finds cancer causing). In the next moment my garage performed a Lumshevak* and my eyes witnessed a memorable display of pulsing paisley. I remained on my feet and, with a headache growing faster than a lab culture from Miley Cyrus, staggered across the garage, returning the hose and gas can to their proper place. I was not going to suffer the embarrassment of an ambulance crew finding my nude** body in an unkempt garage, nor provide mourners at my wake with salacious gossip as they gathered at the brownie platter. “Did you hear his torque wrench was on the floor?” they’d whisper, “Oh my gawd. On the floor!” The hose hit an anti-siphon baffle (they work!) and not the bottom of the tank, as I had assumed.
The Dynasty started with surprising willingness but wouldn’t keep running without pressure on the gas pedal. Before it could change its mind about running (like when a dog realizes the car ride is to the veterinarian and it loses its enthusiasm to cooperate), I pressed the pedal and gently eased the transmission into reverse. The transmission slid gingerly into reverse but the car stayed put. I applied a bit more pressure on the gas pedal but all the car did was seem to rise, somehow, without rolling. Then, with a sudden movement and a metal-on-metal screech worthy of a sound effect in a Bruce Willis movie, the car stuttered from the noxious white cloud in my garage.
When I saw the lines of rusty metal on my garage floor – perfectly mimicking the layout of the car’s major unibody features – I knew some of the noises were the unibody breaking. I've never seen a car shed rust without an encouraging toe or a hammer, but this car also once dropped paint from a fender like maple trees shed leaves in October. It wasn’t looking good, but I'd already covered 1/100,000 of the distance to my destination and in my mind I’d already gone too far to turn back. With the optimism of the Donner party –“Shucks, pa, doesn’t look that deep to me” – I pressed on.
Though the car was equipped with an automatic transmission (was being key to that description), I had to drive it like it had a clutch: one foot steadily on the gas pedal, the other operating the brake, and my right hand shifting into and out of drive and neutral. Every turn and stop was accompanied by the complaining of metal parts that had enjoyed a five-month slumber and were now being forced to wake up, much like the complaints my mom endured while forcing myself and my siblings from bed for church. By the third stop something was beginning to smell like a foundry and I envision parts aglow in the brake system.
Navigating a four-lane boulevard, I glanced to my right and saw a smokin' hot blonde with a great tan driving a Mustang convertible. She had attitude written all over her spray-tanned face and I was playing it cool in my low-riding Dynasty (the rear air shocks, which automatically adjusted for ride height, refused to respond as willingly as the rest of the car to this sudden re-awakening). She and I were in competing lanes and exchanged lead a few times, but only by inches. I was thinking to myself, "If you don't presume I'm a total loser, I won't presume you're a high-maintenance, pretentious, stuck up bitch." Strangely, she never glanced my way. When finally I slowed to turn left, she pulled ahead allowing me a glimpse of her rear end (so to speak); her license was three letters: Q DE. My presumption that she was a high-maintenance, pretentious, stuck up bitch was correct, though she was still wrong about me being a loser.
Shortly after bidding Spray Tan Barbie goodbye I arrived at a four-way stop seconds before one of Oshkosh's boys in blue. (That’s not being sexist, the officer was male. Had it been a woman I would have written “women” in blue. Note I wrote “women,” not “girls,” as surely someone would take offense to that as well. It’s really hard to not frighten off advertisers. Let's just move on.) As I lacked a license or insurance for the car, I fiddled with the shift lever to encourage the officer to go first. He hesitated so the Dynasty stepped up to the plate and, in a bold move, shut itself off. Twice. The ploy worked and the officer continued on in front of me.
A few miles later I pulled into the parking lot of Fox Valley Iron and Metal. As far as I know the car lived out its entire life in Oshkosh. We parted ways, each with lasting memories of the other, but I had $275 cash in my hand and the smell of hot metal in my nose. My life would move forward without that car, though I think it returned to me, at least in part, as a Walmart-purchased toaster. They both had the same smell when hot, and white paint clung to neither.
*A Lumshevak is an aerobatic maneuver.
** I have it on good authority that males are often nude when found dead. I guess that gives us an out on worrying about the condition of our underwear.