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. Biff Tarlington says:

    You may be surprised and comforted to know that SAAB Sweden has been up and running and producing cars (again) for several months now!
    Also, SAAB parts never stopped and continues to provide all the clutches & fuel pumps you will need to keep your on the road…
    Finally, 55 is not old. Take it from a 43-year-old who drives a 2007 SAAB!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Bill. Yes, I know they are — but for the China market, mostly, not U.S. consumer market. Here’s to forever young US and SAABS (and I am turning 60 this year)!

  2. Jacquie says:

    So odd to catch up with this letter this morning. “Max”, 2001 Special Anniversary Ed. is giving notice of retirement-the dash display randomly goes dark, no speedometer or gas gauge. What to move to. My requirement is a sedan that moves off when the key is turned, and that the seats are heated, a boon to aging joints. Also all the seats must be comfortable, front for driver and passenger, back for Layla, the Princess Great Dane. We are going to drive a used Honda Accord. I am resigned, hate to give up on Max before 200 thousand miles, but he just doesn’t want to carry us anymore, stops working randomly, at the worst moments and is ready for a life change. (maybe a kiss from a post at the carwash and my washing the key in my barn jeans were the last straws in his burden. He never liked playing second fiddle to the Avalanche truck for the horse trailer.)

  3. Joy says:

    I’m a old farm truck person. Driving 1995 Ram 1500 model with 356,700 miles. I don’t use credit & same model today costs more than my 1st house. So @ my 67 years of age, my dodge is now my life partner — helping haul, drag, or push yard, garden, livestock & wildlife byproducts!

  4. Jane Rankin says:

    Wow ,girls.today just replaced the exhaust system on my 2002 Toyota , the suspension was before that, and a few things after. I am older than both of you 62. Still hate to give my 4 runner up. Is it I am set in my ways,get that way after awhile. If I get something else ,it will have to be smaller,but then I will have to make two trips to get the ponies the wood chips for bedding , hay is continually growing from the roof inside my 4 runner. Smaller means finding a new way of life. So who will get the hay? I say get something new, then I say. But I replaced a lot , so wait. Listen I am not a writer, just a rambler, but I feel your pain.

  5. Sara says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Great piece~my first car was a ’66 Volvo 122s. I loved that car, painted her twice, (she was accident prone, always getting hit in driveways…), and finally died on the Thruway in the snow.
    I too have an old ’97 4runner, (someone above has one), with the original clutch. And I also always drive a car with standard transmission. I am driving a VW diesel now, I do like it but not the price diesel has skyrocketed to.
    A tough problem to be sure, maybe you should look for a classic restored 96?
    I am thoroughly enjoying your podcasts, and of course looking forward to the garden resurfacing soon.
    All the best,

  6. Carol says:

    Having just turned 60 last week ( yes, Margaret, by your preferred translation I am then ‘sensei’ ) I can attest to the fact that old/older is all relative in car talk (and what region of the country you live in). However, I prefer to think of my state of age as ‘weathered wisdom’.
    With that said, the car that still captivates my thoughts would be my first car, a 1961 VW bug. A little 4 speed stick shift, zambezi green in color that would go through anything, anytime and the most fun to drive during the most fun time when I knew nothing of life (compared to how this weathered life has gone) blissfully driving down the road with no particular path in mind. What a trip!

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