dear old (love, older): oh, my aging car!

I guess we need to have a serious talk about cars next, Katrina, because I keep flashing back to one particular image of your recent visit since you drove off the other day. Both our aging silver-gray cars were pointed down the driveway, you following me, as we headed out to our next destination.  We couldn’t have staged a more symbolic picture if we’d tried.

a series on aging: part 2

THIS IS MY SECOND in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Katrina Kenison, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. She’s Old (just 55) and I’m Older (facing 60 this year). Who knows where it’s going, but since the subject keeps coming up, and we’re both writers…well, you get the idea. Listen in. After reading this new letter, read her reply here (or work backwards to the letters that started the conversation starting at this link).

I know there are automobile stereotypes related to life stages—the “male menopause car” (a convertible, perhaps, or even a motorcycle), or the unsettling moment when new parents trade in their beloved wheels for a family-style mini-van.

But you and I are somewhere else on the automotive life-cycle continuum: unwilling to relinquish our old rides; unable to imagine a new four-wheeled mate. Not moving forward at all, despite the many, many miles we each log. We’re stuck with decade-old cars because we simply can’t let them go.

We feel safe in them; we feel familiar. (And familiar feels better with every passing year of life, doesn’t it? Oh, how I love my own bed; my own food made my own way and served at my own time; my own rhythm in the way each day starts and ends and takes shape in between. Familiar is the new deluxe.)

ODD AS IT MAY BE, with cars there’s also the identity thing. When I was growing up, every family on the block had a distinct automotive DNA. We at 52-12 Concord Street were Buick people, at least from the moment some teenagers stole the last Ford station wagon our family owned, and rolled it after a joy ride.

No Buicks (remember them?) or Fords for me, dear. I admit it: I’m comfortable being associated with certain brands, and disdain others. In trucks, I am a Chevy person. I’ve had a few; the latest one, still with me, is about to turn 15.

In cars I am decidedly a Saab. Except that Saab went bankrupt a few years back, so I am driving around on borrowed time.

But oh, how I love my old gray lady, as I loved her four or five predecessors (t first Saab I drove was a 96 like the one in the ad up top; it was vintage then, with a stick on the column, a real peach). My current 9-5 is me a decade younger—but I know it’s totally an illusion, and one I can’t replace, or get much farther in, either, unless I’m willing to pay the inevitable price, when on some rural road alone after darkness falls, the clutch finally goes, or the fuel pump says “no more.”

What comes next simply must have the same qualities, Katrina—I’m still me, after all, aren’t I, despite an increasing number of dings in the hood and non-specific creaky sounds emanating from here and there?

By “me” I mean I want to remain quirky yet sporty (which is probably why I’ve always driven stick shifts, though they are now nearly obsolete). I want to be classy but not show-offy (the reason I never had a BMW, for instance, which seemed too “loud”). And can I please remain smart, going forward? (My old Saab gets close to 30 mpg, and was always way ahead of the curve on safety.)

I think West Springfield, Massachusetts, is about halfway between our houses. Do you want to meet me at the cluster of dealerships near there and start looking squarely together at our futures?  We simply can’t go on like this.



P.S. – Just to be clear: My car might be ahead of yours in the driveway, so to speak, but that doesn’t mean I have any idea where we will end up next (beyond West Springfield).

A writer friend who is half my age and I had lunch the other day. She is teaching English at the moment, so the subject of teaching and mentoring was part of our exchange. Afterward, she emailed this reflection that I think relates to what you and I are talking about, too, though I can’t say exactly how:

“English often translates the word ‘sensei’ from Japanese as ‘teacher,’” she wrote. “Literally it means ‘someone who is farther along on the path,’ which is the translation I prefer.”

Me, too–meaning if you put on your blinker and pass somewhere on a dotted line on a straightaway, that would be just fine on my end.

(Dear Readers: Do you have a car story to share, or for that matter a car to recommend? Do tell–in the comments below. And again: Katrina’s reply to this letter in our occasional series is at this link.)

  1. Jane Scorer says:

    I relate to this post as I have 60 on the horizon too. Yes, the familiar is becoming more and more addictive ! I have to make myself do new and scary things, otherwise I don’t think I would venture too far from the known. My cars are old friends – I have had very few as I hang on to them until they reach the end of their productive life.

  2. Doreen Tignanelli says:

    Margaret, I can sympathize as I recently had to part with my 14 year old Saab and I loved that car! In spite of its low mileage, every time I turned around, something was going on it. After getting stuck one too many times, I had to face the fact that I needed a new car. I thought I would be driving a Saab forever but it was not to be. I did notice you were driving a Saab when my husband and I heard you speak at the Pine Plains Library last year.

  3. Linda Cumber Gifkins says:

    Margaret, look at the Subaru Outback. John was a total Saab lover ( his 9-5 sites in the barn rusting away since he can’t stand to part with it) and he admits he likes the outback. Not the saab for sure but great in the snow, rain and mud, takes lots in the back and it pretty good on gas. I am on my 5th, both boys have one and sister Jane and husband Peter have 2. Definitely get the leather heated seats and the rear view camera..

  4. Liz Davey says:

    Ummmmm. I am still driving my gray Saab 9-3 convertible. With my severe garden habit, I should probably have a truck, but with the top down, I can carry a bale of straw in the back seat and three large trugs fit well there too. Tall garden tool handles go thru the little door in the trunk when the seat folds and besides my Goldendoodle, Buddy, looks way cool in the back seat with his doggles on. BTW, I am older than you at almost 70!

  5. Lisa Martinez says:

    Yep, my husband wanted a Saab when he came out of his apartment on the Columbia Campus in NYC and saw Pete Seeger getting into one. He thought what a car. That was in 1974. Well I heard for years how much he wanted one and around 2001 I picked him up after he dropped his Plymouth Sundance off for an oil change and we almost passed the Saab dealership. I say almost because I turned into the dealership and said to him it is time to look at Saabs. Yep, he bought a beauty- red. Had it for years and just bought a red Volvo to replace the off lease Saab. I think it was 16 years old when he got rid of it for the Volvo. By the way, I ended up with a silver Saab subsequently. A 900. Loved it and replaced it a couple years ago with a 9-3. Preferred my 900 though. The only car I have ever missed.

  6. Kris P says:

    I’ll hit a landmark birthday mid-year as well and have already put my husband on notice that I want to observe it by getting a new car. My current car, an Audi, still good-looking in its way, was purchased for my last milestone birthday because I couldn’t envision entering that decade in a Volvo station wagon (which, at the time, I fondly called “the tank”). Now I very much wish I still had that reliable station wagon, with its ample room in the boot for plants. So, my 1st choice for my upcoming birthday is Volvo’s new sportswagon (maybe in red!), which was supposed to be available in the US beginning in January, although I’ve yet to see one on the road. It just goes to show, what goes around comes around…

  7. Michelle says:

    My all time favorite car was a Chevy Sprint I bought for $900 while I was in college and needed to get to internships. It was a little hatchback with only 3 cylinders , but she never failed me. On my refrigerator I used to proudly display an 82 mph speeding ticket to quiet friends who might make disparaging remarks about her lack of power. That was the only car that I ever sold while it was still in good working condition. Perfect car for starting out in life.

  8. Dalle Peterson says:

    Margaret, my good friend Jeff, also a Saab lover, recently bought one of the new Saabs that were orphaned when the company went out of business. Apparently Secor Volvo in New Haven still has a few left. http://www.secorsaab.net It’s still possible to feed your Saab addiction.

  9. Tilly says:

    My car story goes back a “few years” to my first car, a “47”, light green, Chevy Coop, named “Elvis”. It was a great car because my friends and I could count on it “breaking down”.
    In those days “the boys” would stop and fix the problem. One of “those boys” was to become my husband.” Now I have an “05” Toyota Matrix with over 100,000 miles and never once has it broken down. Oh well. end of story.

  10. Jules says:

    So glad not to be the only one that nearly has an identity crisis over cars. I have had some version of a tan Toyota since my very first car at 18. The last time I traded, I chose the exact same new model of the one I had been driving – what is wrong with me?!? Now it’s about time to choose again and I am feeling wild! I want something totally different. At 43, I feel it’s time to get out of my stuck spot! My biggest obstacle is feeling guilt over gas mileage. My parents got that point across way before environmental issues were big news and when gas was less than a dollar a gallon! My next problem is, like you, I don’t want to feel “flashy.” On the truck side, we, too, are Chevy people and that will probably never change. I really like the Audis and I’m toying with small SUVs that try for good gas usage, anything but a tan Toyota this time! Good luck finding your new ride!!! Your blog is pure awesomeness!

  11. Mark of the Woods says:

    Yes, I agree, look at Subaru Outbacks/Foresters. Very safe vehicles and Subaru has long history of being very socially and environmentally responsible.

  12. TimJ says:

    “Familiar is the new deluxe.” I read this passage to my mother-in-law today, who is 72, and she let out a cheer, raised her hands over her head, striking a victory pose, and exclaimed “YES!” She plans on using this line.

    She also adds that you are much too young to feel this way.

  13. Lynn says:

    I have felt your pain! We had to give up our Saab this year after 250,ooo miles. (No, that is not a typo.) I settled on a Lincoln MKT. I really love the room but, the milage is not great. I need to be able to transport six people with children and aging parents. Lincoln make several models and mine actually performs better in the snow than the Saab.

  14. MiSchelle says:

    I, too, keep my cars forever and I have a preference for Swedish and German engineering. Volvos and Saab were my vehicles of choice while raising a family in Alaska.

    Relocating to PA I opted for a Volkswagen Passat and loved the heck out of that car for a dozen years until one day I spotted the newer, sleeker Volvo hardtop convertible. Here I was on a dog food run and instead came home with that car – talk about an impulse buy! My poor Passat sat in the yard for weeks until one day I decided to take it for a drive. As I climbed in and embraced her familiarity I had immediate buyer’s remorse. This old car and I were as one again, her fluid moves coinciding with my every whim as if it were rote. I nearly cried for the shame of casting her aside for another, thinking of all the life she still had in her – until her muffler fell off! Slightly embarrased, I pulled over, retrieved the errant piece, threw it in the trunk and sheephisly made my noisy way home.

    That was six years ago, and I can now say I have the same affinity for my Volvo. It takes a while to truly learn a car – I know exactly where my bumpers are (parallel parking? no problem!), just how much I need to turn the wheel to avoid pot holes without veering into oncoming lanes, how many bags of chicken feed I can fit in the trunk – all will have to be re-learned sometime (far) in the future when it’s time to let this one go.

  15. Helen says:

    I am 62 and have had many cars that i really liked, moStly manual shifts which i prefer, except for my last one, a Prius. And yes, the milage was great, very comfortable and roomy, held an amazing amount of plants and garden stuff. At the time i was living in Columbia Co with a 300 ft gravel driveway on a hill. The Prius
    didn’t have great clearance and sometimes
    I would get stuck on the hill in snow or in mud season!! Alas, the transmission went after 10 years and 185,000 miles. Great car and sometimes i do miss it. After the Prius. I went went with a mini cooper clubman (standard shift) and i love it! It’s the medium size in the lineup, and it has a lot more space than most people would expect. As far as i am concerned, it’s the coolest and classiest car in my work parking lot. And just as Advertised, it is great fun to drive. Especially on country roads , where you can really appreciate the handling of this car. And i think it might be a good substitute for your Saab. My husband had a Saab when he was young, which he loved, bit he says the Mini reminds him of the Saab! Why not take a test drive? I think there’s a dealer inWestSpringfield! Good luck!

  16. heidih says:

    I had to give up my ’99 Ford Explorer a few weeks ago and am still without a permanent car. The repair cost and a realistic look at the horrid gas mileage made it a necessity. It feels like entering into a marriage searching for a new car, and I am still grieving. That old thing never left me on the side of the road, held so many memories, and was able to carry masses of plants and dogs. Of course my secret lust has always been for a Land Rover and a friend recently pointed me to the British gardening mystery series Rosemary & Thyme- now that is a vehicle! I have to make a decision soon but I am completely lost.

  17. Deborah B says:

    I love my 2007 Honda CRV for all things except the gas mileage. On our hills it’s lucky to get 23 mpg which is ridiculous! But I can fit all 3 of our Chesapeake Bay retrievers in it for a trip to the vet, the back seats fold down and tuck forward onto the floor for lots of plant hauling space, and its high ride and all-wheel drive are wonderful in the winter. When I was looking, I was fonder of the 2006 and older CRV’s and also liked the Toyota RAV4, but neither had enough leg room for my 6’3″ tall hubby. I’m thinking you might find the RAV4 more attractive; not quite so big but still all the benefits. And I have friends that love, love their Subarus. My experience when car shopping was that our local Subaru dealer was not at all willing to negotiate price, and their cars were pricy compared to the CRVs and RAV4s. And I guess I’ve always been a Honda woman.

  18. Wish I was only 60.
    Last year I had to give up my 13 year old Ford Ranger because the rust destroyed the brakes & my repair guy told me it was time. Ford stopped making Rangers. After a year with a new Ford Escape I’m still trying to figure out what all the buttons and do-dads do. I miss my 4-wheel drive, manual transmission pick-up truck.

  19. Lynne says:

    I, too am an old Saab sister–(take that however you wish!). I tried a CRV after I had to give up my stick shift for teenaged drivers, it seemed so practical for a gardener in a Northern clime, but it didn’t stick. Last August I found the perfect–quirky, yet sporty–car. It was the Volvo C30. 2013 was the last year they made them, so they have something else in common with the Saab, but there may still be a few left somewhere. 30 miles to the gallon and the cutest little rear end you’ve ever seen on a car! (Some say it’s ugly, but not to me). Good luck in your quest for a replacement.

    1. Lisa Martinez says:

      When my husband had to turn in his old Saab, he bout a Volvo ths year and I have to say it s pretty darn nice to drive.

  20. Angela says:

    I have a ’92 Saab, but still have less than 100,000 miles on it and so far no problems. My local Saab dealer, Brewers Saab in Maugensville Md still has access to parts, although the only replacement I have needed so far was a drainage tube from the sunroof. I love the car and when she passes on, I hope to find a more environmental friendly ride. Look forward to hearing what your choice will be Margaret.

  21. Sharon says:

    I have spoken to many thousands of car owners over the last decade,
    and it is hard for many to give up “a member of the family”.

    They have told me the memories those cars hold: marriages, children being
    born and growing up, sports being won and lost, pets going to the vet,
    parents dying…..

    Our ’95 Saab 900 convertible sits forlornly in the driveway with too many
    mechanical problems to sink money into it. But it was a trouble-free car for
    a long time. But I am not ready to let it go. I call it the Sob Story that the brand
    is no more.

  22. Susan Stoltz says:

    Dear Old and Older,
    These are such lovely letters and, at 56, my tires too have a bit less tread. At times I struggle to see clearly out of a windshield that looks sandblasted in the glaring sun. The shock absorbers don’t bounce back quite as energetically as in the past and there are times I wish I had left the plastic on the seats (were they ever really there to begin with? I doubt my youthful self would have been so thoughtful.) so that there would be a bit less wear and tear on the leather. My Jeep Liberty is from a time when I had to have the ability to ‘off road’ in Wyoming weather, my job taking me all over the state no matter the season. There was an ambiance of recklessness, daring, and adventure just looking at the spot-lights along the top, the sporty yet sleek more narrow body than a bigger, bulkier make of Jeep. Even loading the groceries into the backseat gave an air of “Where might she be going now?” Today that Jeep and I are still together although off-roading is less of an option for us both. The Jeep has 192,000 miles on it and therefore so do I. The ‘new math’ tells me that with all the vehicles I’ve owned my odometer would add up to a number close to infinity and beyond and there are days when I feel each and every mile. Although financially it’s impossible for me to give up my Jeep, even if I had the funds I doubt I would do it. The paint job is still deep blue and although it has a few dings in it here and there, has a depth and sheen most cars these days lack. Driving my Jeep until the the numbers roll well over into the 200,000 mark and beyond is the goal. Am I doing it more carefully these days? Yes. Do I still feel like there’s an adventure or two left in us? I’m grabbing the gift certificate that has been sitting on my desk for years and we’re heading out today… to the Outback (steak house but still!!)

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