But I absolutely, unconditionally and devotedly loved that car.
I recognized the telltale whirring sound of the 850 Turbo engine whenever a parking attendant brought the car up from the garage, and felt a familiar small surge of joy, knowing we would soon be on our way. I was in that car so much for my job as a reporter that one editor took to calling me chief of the Volvo bureau.
I thought I’d have that car forever, even after it hit 150,000 miles and the odometer broke. I told my kids that I wouldn’t get a new car until they turned 16, and then the Volvo would be theirs. Heavy as a tank, the steel-reinforced vehicle that had carried them safely in their car seats as babies was to protect them through their crazy teen years.
But, 12 years and one month to the day after I’d started driving it, the Volvo was hit on a particular stretch of Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast. I was in the left lane, and I wasn’t speeding or, for once, talking on the phone. So I saw with perfect clarity the white Ford Aerostar van pull out from the curb and sail blithely into the right front of my Volvo, just behind the wheel, flattening the tire, crunching the tire well and, I learned later, making an accordion of the suspension.
The insurance company told me that it would cost more to repair the Volvo than the old thing was worth. They’d decided to total it.
I felt dizzy with disbelief. I began to argue, then to plead tearfully that I’d kept the car in excellent condition. An agent named Tim told me that he could understand why I was upset. “You dumped all this money into a depreciating asset,” he said. “It’s like, you pay doctor bills all your life and you’re going to die anyway.”
Though Tim wouldn’t change his mind and agree to repair the car, he said that if I could produce maintenance records proving how well I’d taken care of it, maybe he could give me more than $3,000 for it. I went to my files and faxed page after meticulous page of more than a decade of repair bills. When I added them all up, I realized that I’d spent far more to keep the Volvo on the road — $35,000 — than I had spent to buy it in the first place. And I’dbought it used.
I was shocked. And more than a little ashamed. But it had never occurred to me not to fix the Volvo when things broke. The car had become a member of the family. And you take care of the ones you love when they’re sick.
* * *
I began to wonder why I loved this car so blindly. And I wondered whether others adored their cars, too. Friends started to tell stories — of the man who loved his car to the point of obsession and, after he died and the time came to spread his ashes, a wind picked up, blowing them all over the car. Everyone there thought it only fitting.