Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Life and Times of Blanche

Blanche has passed on. 120,000 miles of good times and 16 years of rolling wheels (10 of them with me). My car no longer prowls the mean streets of Rochester and some say it's better that way. I say it's a bittersweet goodbye to my old friend.
And so I want to honor the piece of machinery that once was.

The 1992 white Plymouth Acclaim that I inherited from my grandma who had passed away was a gift that kept on giving. I was a junior in college when I got Blanche. She, in all her bright shining white glory made the trek from Tucson Arizona with a stranger behind her wheel, who took the job of driving her out to NY. Having spent no winters here and having happily slept in the shade of a carport this pearly gem rested comfortably and saved stamina for the journey ahead. Having only been driven to the store and back, perhaps a few doctors appointments and other around town little errands her energy was rarely compromised. Probably the most miles this car saw was when she made her voyage to me. Not too long after she arrived in NY and Dad told me it was my car, I named her Blanche, figuring luck would ensue...like christening a ship I supposed. Although I never did the champagne smashing ceremony. French for white, it fit I thought.

As a college student having a car was the ultimate freedom. Seeing as how I was the goody-too-shoes I played designated driver more times than I'd recollect...and I probably carted around more drunk Bonaventure students than I'd care to remember...some I barely even knew. But predicaments ensued and no one was a really a stranger at Bonaventure. Probably the most fun part of the whole D.D. gig was the clock. Actually, I had a "Going to Lunch" clock. The car from practically the day it was driven off the lot had a mechanical flaw. Every time you'd start the car it would say 12:00 and no amount of fidgeting or fiddling ever fixed it. It just so happens that the bars closed at 2:00 AM in Allegany... so when the inebrieated passengers in the back got a glimpse of the clock it was always a tantrum starter. "WHAT...they closed the bar early? Shit, Man!" I'd just laugh from the driver seat. I'd drive them home and they'd complain most of the way, until I decided to let them in on the secret.

Good times. Bad times. This car was a part of my coming of age. It saw me through college, several internships, wandering road trips, ill fated dates, incidents, a close call or two and many misadventures. Once at a school picnic Blanche's tires sank deep into the clay and mud of the lawn where I parked her. It took several staff members and students to push her out. She was no worse for the wear and she drove on like a champ out of the swamp that sunny day.

In our society we grasp for novelty with careless abandon and throw away so we can have new toys and shiny things. But a writer or a sentimental woman like myself can not overlook that which endured. This car braced itself in Rochester winters and remained steady and strong. Sixteen years old and still a reliable and trustworthy vessel.

When I became sick and the costs of illness buried me in bills Blanche soldiered on, allowing me to have no car payments to concern myself with. I felt her dying last year, I was certain it was happening. And I became woeful that soon I'd have to afford a replacement. But when I vocalized my dream, to travel to Europe for the summer Blanche resolved to keep going...and she did...and I went and I enjoyed every minute.

The day before I left for Montana I drove home from work and felt a different vibration, a different sound-- perhaps an uneasy stirring or a softly painful groan in the engine. I shuddered. But somehow I made the short trip with no incident as she whirred and sputtered into the garage. I hoped that somehow while I was soaking up the Montana air my car would rest and recover. It was not to be. On May 20th I drove Blanche to work for the last time. I could feel her ready to stall out, and was sure that I'd be reaching for my cell to call AAA. But I coaxed her like I did so many other times. "Come on' girl" And she did. She rode on little more than my encouragement as the engine was slowly and inevitably dying out...but she got me there safely...one last time.
As the tow truck took her away that afternoon I knew without waiting to hear the mechanic's declaration that it was an end of an era. Sitting in the backlot at my mom's trusted mechanic is a relic of once was. A car personified and embodied by its heart, spirit and fortitude now has gone to greener pastures. You see if we look at all things in nature and in our very unnatural world carefully we can see that in life status symbols are false comforts. It's the strong, resilient and unfailing that merit our respect.
Sure, in the end she was not much to look at, but one hell of a ride.

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