They sit at a red light, a distraught car and an unfeeling driver, one quietly leaking windshield washer fluid onto the hot asphalt, the other staring straight ahead with his jaw set. The turning blinker flickers loudly in the awkward silence. Both car and owner know where they’re going. John only wears that shirt when he wants to make a deal. And the road they’re turning onto only leads to the car dealership.
They met in the winter of 2005. John was fresh out of college, and had just landed his first job as some kind of a guy doing some sort of a thing in a brown building surrounded by other brown buildings surrounded by places to park your car. The closest bus stop was a two-kilometer portage away, and trying to cycle to this business park would be like trying to take a daily swim across a bull shark breeding ground. John needed a car. And Car needed an owner.
Born in Japan in 2003, Car arrived in Canada by boat, packed in with thousands of other vehicles rolling on their axles across the open ocean to Vancouver, where they were loaded on trains that quickly got so cold the fr needed heaters.
John picked Car up on a cold Monday morning, his feet crunching in the snow as he made two complete circuits around her while making appreciative noises and running his hand through the light dusting of snow that lay on her lustrous paint job. She started the first time; a confident, healthy rumble that rose easily from under the hood. John grinned the whole way to work. That night, after a long slog through the slushy streets of Edmonton, he took her through the car wash, and then drove slowly home so as to not splatter salt on her undercarriage.
Car and John have arrived at the dealership. Rows of newer cars sit in the midday sun, their paint jobs still glossy and unmarred by the deleterious effects of years of grit and salt; and inadvertent dings and scratches that couldn’t be polished out. Her rims are old and scratched, and she feels self-conscious of them amongst the show pieces as they slowly drive down the rows. She’s glad when they drive around back to the service area to park, out of sight of the new models.Car was a good car that never once broke down, and was part of John’s life for a number of its most memorable events to-date. She stayed in a downtown parking lot all night and through until the following afternoon the evening John got his first major promotion, toting a bag full of greasy sandwiches, a very large coffee, a new friend, and a carefree recklessness that nearly got them all into two accidents on the way home. She listened as John tried out his proposal – all sixteen times – on the way to ask Jolene to marry him. Two years later she drove the couple to the hospital at 1:30 on a December’s night, one of them crying in fear, the other on all fours in the back seat with a bucket to catch her guttural screams. Two day’s later she ferried the family home, little John Jr. christening her back seat with an off-white arc of spit-up. Car did not mind at all.
On a winter’s night in January 2010, when a tired Papa John fell asleep at the wheel on the way home from a conference in Calgary, Car went into a snowbank at 107 km/h. Her front fender was ripped off and right headlight destroyed. John’s nose was bloodied by the force of the airbag smashing his face to save him from a more severe face-smashing. A strange moment followed the accident. In the snow-deadened silence that follows the rumbling tumult of a car barrelling off a road into snow, John stared out over the empty fields, unmoving, blood dripping off his chin in the blue light of a winter’s night on Highway 2. His face crumpled, and his breath caught, as he imagined how much worse the accident could have been. Car never told anyone, and indeed protected John from the biting Albertan wind, as together they waited for the tow truck, and long ride home.
Those are past times that neither of them mention as John parks Car, climbs out, and goes inside the dealership. After a long time he returns, accompanied by an older man in a suit with a clipboard. The man walks around Car a few times, assessing her, jotting down notes as he goes and mostly ignoring John’s patter of facts about the care and maintenance he’s put into Car. Eventually the man stops walking, and John stops talking. After a brief back and forth they agree on a trade-in price that seems to satisfy neither of them in particular. John goes to walk back inside to complete the paperwork of the purchase, but the man stays put.
“When you bring her back next week, to turn her in, you make sure you give a nice good bye,” he says to John, not turning towards the younger man, still looking at Car. John says he doesn’t understand.
“It sounds like she was a good car to you. That’s worth something. When you bring her in next week, take her for a nice drive first, maybe roll down the window, maybe listen to the radio. Don’t be in a rush. And when you get her here, and it’s time for you to leave, you say good-bye to her. Properly.”
John looked from Car to the man, hands in his pockets, eyebrows raised.
“Don’t you think it’s a little weird? To say good-bye to an object?”
The dealer man shakes his head slowly. “No son. I think it’d be weird not to.”