Sunday, March 21, 2010

Goodbye, Lucille

Mourn with me brothers and sisters. Our beloved Lucille has gone quietly from this earth.

She entered my world six years ago, having already served her previous owner, my uncle, with dutiful hard work and diligence. When I first got behind her wheel, she had already lived a full life and had traveled more than 130,000 miles on her able legs. She was my first combustion-propelled love, the first engine I truly knew. A 1995 Honda Civic 1.5 liter, 4 in-line cylinder front traverse engine with 75 mm bore, 84.5 mm stroke, 9.1 compression ratio, overhead cam and two valves per cylinder. I only know what half of that means, but her specs are not what I cared about. It was the way she moved.

It was the way she carried me down Route 1 in New Castle County on my way back home from school on a sunny day in May, freedom blowing in through the cracked open (power!) window.  It was her companionship; she was my expedition partner, my fellow wanderer, as I uncovered new uncharted paths from Chesapeake City to Delaware City just for the fun of it.  It was her wildness; she was my little turbo rocket blasting out of the gate, racing up 141 into Wilmington, beating yellow lights and my friend's Mustang, Sally. It was her fearlessness; she was my familiar friend facing the unknown as we journeyed together over the Bay Bridge and down I-95 to Richmond en route to our new home (while racing a cute girl in a white coupe from Fredericksburg to Glen Allen. Girl won).

It was her resiliency; I remember feeling like such a klutz having taken her to the car wash but failing to lower her radio antenna, thus resulting in it being chopped off by the soapy, flapping fettuccine thingys.  For years onward I've heard only two stations: 9.37 WSTW in Wilmington and 101.1 DC101 in Rockville, because their signals were the closest. She suffered through more of my absentmindedness as I left her lights on in the school parking lot multiple times and subsequently had to jump her with the help of my friend's Volvo or, as in one instance, the school janitor's pickup truck (thanks Mr. Dinsmore).  She once blew her radiator on I-95 near 273 just past the Christiana Mall and overheated, a condition that eventually would claim her lif years later.  The first year I got her, my dad accidentally broke off the knob on the temperature control panel, so I've used a small screwdriver to adjust the heat ever since.  Just recently she took a shot to the chin at a red light on 17th and I St. NW when a brain-dead woman in a red Ford Explorer back into her inexplicably, denting her front bumper and ripping through her tag.

I named her Lucille after all of B.B. King's famous black Gibson guitars

I loved her for her confidence; she beamed with pride parked next to fancy new BMWs and Lexuses on my driveway or in the parking lot of my high school. She put on her best face when she ferried my gorgeous prom date and me alongside stretch limousines and party buses. And she hoped with me on the drive back from the after-party as I desperately wanted to kiss the girl in the passenger seat. And when I didn't, she was there to peck me on the cheek.  It was her support; she bent to fit my mood.  She'd sleepily usher me back home from rock shows one late night, calmly trotting down the single right lane. A week later we'd be tearing up that same stretch of highway, weaving in and out of cars and trucks and whatever obstacles got in our way while keeping an eye out for the po-po.  Speaking of the 5-0, I loved her for her support, especially when I got pulled over by a Dick Cheney look-a-like in Newport on the I-95 onramp for doing 75 in a 50 on my 18th birthday. And when I got pulled over a few months later on the St. George's bridge after having been snagged in a speed trap set up by Delaware's finest boys in blue for going 82 in a 60.  And when I got pulled over a few months after that in Camden, DE in the rain by one of the three small town cops with a bone to pick who thought he'd smack me with a failure to register charge in spite of the evidence I provided to prove Lucille's registration on top of the 32 in a 25 speeding infraction (the judge I was brought before waived the former charge after the head of the Dover DMV, a small elderly black woman, called the cop and chewed him out for his ineptitude and general display of douchiness).

There's Lucille, not the least threatened or intimidated by that shiny new 06 530i I'm standing next in my prom tux.

And she was there when we nearly veered off of Barley Mill Road after I spun her too fast over a patch of black ice, sending her into a fishtail that almost landed us in a narrow ditch.  She was there to soothe me after I initially cracked up laughing for 30 seconds before, panicked, I started breathing rapidly and heavily to keep up with my pounding heart.  She was with me when I saw my first shooting star, three minutes afterwards.

My last drive with her was much different than how we usually got from A to B. Last Saturday on my way up to Frederick from Shady Grove, I noticed her engine heat indicator was close to maxing out.  I pulled into a Dairy Queen parking lot and turned her engine off, which would not start up after that. After checking her radiator for leaks and finding none, I got a cup of water from DQ and gave her engine a cool down. She started up again but was in bad shape: shaking, trembling, burning oil and puttering out of her muffler. My dad showed up and we moved her to a Wal-Mart parking lot and left her over night. The next day we returned and brought her some proper coolant, which settled her down a bit but not entirely. As I pulled her onto Route 15 to I-270, my dad watching carefully behind me, I cruise controlled the right lane, my eye fixed on the heat indicator. Instead of passing slow-pokes in the left lane and eeking in front of 18-wheelers, we drove steady. Instead of grooving to loud music through my iPod, we rode in silence. All the while I was just thinking about getting her to a garage like a father hopes to get his sick daughter to a doctor.  When we finally pulled into the garage, Lucille was on her last legs.  We'd come to discover that she'd blown her head gasket when she'd overheated on the trip to Frederick.  She wouldn't ride comfortably again and her engine would eventually break down under the pressure of the spontaneous combustions caused by heat pockets. To repair her would cost a thousand dollars or more, more than what my family was willing to put into a car that the resale market would callously consider "significantly depreciated."  I looked at my dad and the garage manager who both looked at me the way a surgeon might look at you before delivering news you could not bear but had begun to fear. My heart heavy, I sat down behind her wheel, placed the key in the ignition, turned.  Lucille would not start.  This was it.  Instead of driving her to a final farewell, my dad and I pushed her lifeless body into a vacant parking spot behind the garage.  It was there I emptied her out. I had the pleasure of cleaning her a few weeks back, vacuuming her interior and putting her through the car wash.  I was glad I did, because although she lay barren, she was clean.  I shut the driver door and locked her up for the last time. Before giving her one more farewell, I glanced at the dashboard to find what mattered most: 186,433.


P.S. Alright, so I can't say she's dead. Someone(s) with money to put in her can fix her up. In fact, my dad donated her to Purple Heart so that an American hero can get good use out of her.  I know she'll serve him or her well, just like she did me.

Step into the rain:

1 comment:

  1. She was a lovely vehicle, even if we did have to use a screwdriver to adjust the heat. I miss riding around in that car with you! I keep looking for it in the parking lot when we commute together :(