Not all old friends die hard. For some it’s as easy as a cough, a sputter, a sudden surge in temperature, a brief episode of cheyne-stoking, and then the end. The body is cleaned and dressed; the final appointment is made. Papers are duly signed and dated. The hearse arrives to collect the body, now spent; a eulogy forms in the mind, a hand raised in final salute.
In this case the friend to which I refer is an old lovely, a vintage legacy no longer manufactured in this country. She appeared before my house one morning eight and a half years ago with a shout from the street: “Isn’t she a beauty? I saw the color and I thought of you.”
The speaker was my auto mechanic. The beauty under discussion was a 2000 Subaru Legacy GT AWD wagon, standard transmission, grey upholstered seats, console cassette player, AM/FM radio, dual moon roofs: a second-hand dreamboat from Florida. The golden pearl exterior reminded me of the lining of seashells cast upon the shore. I took it for a spin and fell in love; this was the car I had waited for, now dropped fortuitously at my doorstep.
And so began a relationship that lasted nearly nine years. We traveled everywhere together: back and forth to work, the daily mundane commute; several long treks to the wilderness regions of Pennsylvania; a semiannual rendezvous on the porch of an inn at the square of an old town in the northeast. Periodically, we ferried family to Logan Airport outside Boston and JFK in New York. She ran like a charm in overdrive across the long stretch of interstate highway from Brewster to Port Jarvis. Altogether we logged over 177,000 miles with barely a complaint along the way.
Regular oil changes and servicing helped maintain her health. A leak in the moon roof resulted in a sizeable payment for what turned out to be unnecessary repairs suggested by an unscrupulous dealer no longer in business. She ran well on a diet of regular unleaded gasoline during a decade when gas prices were relatively cheap. All told, we had a good run.
Even good runs eventually wind down. I knew there was a problem when the needle on the temperature gauge began to fluctuate and the coolant levels dropped. The thermostat was replaced; the radiator fluid replenished. The water pump was changed along with the timing belt. Still the problem persisted.
One morning the engine overheated on the way to work. By that time I had learned to carry a jug of diluted antifreeze in the car. Quickly, I pulled off to the side of the road and shut the engine down. I waited a few minutes before I cracked the radiator cap to allow the steam to escape. She ended up taking nearly two quarts of fluid to complete the resuscitation.
“If the lines are soft when the engine is running, it’s most likely not the head gasket.” “If there’s no white smoke from the tailpipe at startup, it’s not the head gasket.” “A good number of those 2.5L engines go over 300,000 miles without a head gasket leak.” That’s what I read in the forums online; those were the words of trusted friends. I’m sure they meant well. In the end it was my auto mechanic who pegged the telltale sign: “Check the oil. If it looks like a milkshake, it’s the head gasket.”
She overheated again one Sunday morning on the way home from the filling station. I had just topped off the fuel tank in preparation for another week. Once again I pulled off to the side of the road; once again I checked the fluids. The coolant was down a quart from the previous day. The oil on the dipstick looked like a chocolate milkshake.
In the end I elected not to trade her in on a newer model. I donated her to charity instead. Early one morning I cleaned her out and placed the title and the keys in the glove box, running my hand over the dashboard one last time.
When I returned home from work that evening, she was gone.
The days were golden, the nights were dim and strange. I still recall with trembling those loud, nocturnal crises when you drew up to a signpost and raced the engine so the lights would be bright enough to read destinations by. I have never been really planetary since. I suppose it’s time to say goodbye. Farewell, my lovely! —E. B. White