As an advocate of walking and bicycling around town, I never thought I’d get sentimental about a motor vehicle. But I did some grieving after sending my 1989 Dodge Colt Vista to the graveyard several months ago.
We had been together for almost two decades and 180,000 miles. The last few months were a bit difficult, but for most of our time together, she was everything I wanted in a car-dependable, practical, and economical.
It was love at first sight when she showed up at the Dodge dealership. Her trim body, a rich burgundy red, stood out among the bulky Caravans and Dakota pickups. Despite her compact size, she had ample cargo space or seating for as many as seven people. I needed that, because I had four kids in Oregon I would be visiting often.
She was not luxurious or glamorous. The kids called her “the Shoebox.” Everything was manual-the transmission, the windows, the locks. I installed a primitive air conditioner for those summer drives when the I-5 shimmered in the heat: a spray bottle filled with cold water.
On long treks, the Shoebox purred contentedly and gave me more than 30 miles a gallon. She took me to the High Sierras. She got me through the Cascades in the winter when the roads were icy. She slid into tight parking spaces in San Francisco.
Because of her, I was able to rub shoulders-literally-with one of the finest musicians of our time. In the mid ’90s, I hung out at a little club on Victoria Street called the Jazz Hall that, in a brief existence, brought some incredible talent to Santa Barbara. One night, the young New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton gave a brilliant show with his quintet. After the last set, it was announced that the musicians needed a ride to their motel in Carpinteria. As the only patron with a vehicle that could accommodate them, I was more than happy to volunteer my services.
The five jazzmen were rather large, but they crammed themselves into my little car without complaining. They were hungry, so I stopped at Fat Burger, one of the only places open at 2 a.m. Bystanders watched in disbelief as the classy quintet emerged from the car like big, shiny butterflies from a cocoon. I imagine that Payton is now riding in limousines as a much-in-demand concert performer.
Another late-night adventure was rather stressful. I was covering an NBA Finals game in Los Angeles and chose a cheap parking lot several blocks south of the Staples Center. After finishing my post-game column, I walked hurriedly down a then-deserted Figueroa Street. My car was alone in the dimly lit lot. I quickly slid behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. She wouldn’t start. I tried again and again with no success. The darkness closed menacingly around me. I waited a few minutes before trying again. On the third or fourth try, finally, relievingly, the engine jolted to life. The Shoebox got me home safely, but she needed a repair of her ignition system.
The car was not well in her last months. Interior plastic knobs and buttons were breaking and falling off. The clutch and brakes needed attention. Something was making the engine cough. When she warmed up, she was still getting 30 miles to the gallon. That would have disqualified her from the Cash for Clunkers program. But there was another vehicle buy-back program supported by the County Air Pollution Control District. I would receive $800 if I turned in my car for dismantling.
Nobody would buy her for anything close to that amount. Ray Magliozzi, one of the wisecracking brothers on public radio’s Car Talk show, was the owner of a 1987 Dodge Colt Vista. “I tried to find its value and learned that it was 100 bucks,” he said a few years ago. “That’s what I’d have to pay to have it towed away.”
So, reluctantly, I drove the Shoebox to a salvage yard in Goleta. I pulled my bicycle out of the back and rode away. Instead of “Hasta la vista,” it was “Adi³s, la Vista.”
GAMES OF THE WEEK: San Marcos High, a 7-0 winner over Lompoc last week, plays its home football opener on Friday (Sept. 25) at 7 p.m. against Hueneme, while Santa Barbara seeks its first victory of the season against visiting Righetti from Santa Maria. There is a soccer double-header at UCSB on Sunday: the Gaucho women take on UCLA at 4 p.m. and the men meet UC Irvine at 6:30 p.m. in their Big West Conference curtain-raiser.