From time immemorial, men have had a special relationship with their means of transportation. We still restore 50-year-old Mustangs and Camaros in our garages. Men everywhere watch shows like Top Gear (now the Grand Tour) and dream about the fast cars. A ship is still referred to as a lady by her crew. I first experienced it when my dad bought a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2002. I was 10 years old.
Growing up, we took that Jeep to the Outer Banks, NC every year. I went to swim practice in it. We drove through snow banks and hurricanes. It was the first car my dad and I washed together. It was my favorite car. In our town all the parents drove generic-looking blue, black, or white Honda Pilots. My dad’s car was cool. I remember seeing it lined up outside the middle school after play practice one day and thinking how cool it was that we didn’t have another beige-mobile like everyone else. I could always see it from across the parking lot. It was so different!
When I finally got my permit the Jeep was the first vehicle I drove, and it felt like I’d been waiting my whole life to get behind that leather-wrapped steering wheel. My dad took me to a cemetery to show me the ropes. He joked “don’t worry, you can’t hurt anyone here all these people are already dead!” as we rolled around the car paths at the roaring speed of 15 miles per hour. Eventually, I would go to take my driver’s test in the Jeep. The first time I attempted to take it was in January, and the DMV actually turned us away because “the roads were too bad, it’s not safe”. They didn’t believe me when I said I had driven the Jeep there to take the test in the first place.
With my license in hand, I basically hijacked the Jeep for the next two years. It was my dream car. I wanted to drive it every day. My dad would drive a little Civic to work just so that I could drive the Jeep to school. I showed it off to all my friends. When I went to prom I had the opportunity to take my date in a Lincoln Town Car; my friends told me that I couldn’t because without the Jeep she wouldn’t be getting “the real Ryan experience”. They used to make fun of me for being so obsessed with a car. When I couldn’t take it to college, I was devastated. I still remember sitting in the driver’s seat in the middle of the night before I left for school after everyone else went to bed, wondering if this was the end for me and “my” Jeep.
When my dad bought himself a new car during my sophomore year of college, I got my baby back. He gave me the keys with a handshake, a quiet acknowledgement. He could have sold her, but he didn’t. He saved her for me. That year, the Jeep finally got her name: Rose. I got it from Doctor Who, which I was watching at the time – Rose was the Doctor’s first companion.
And so things carried on. Every once in a while someone would try to convince me to sell Rose, with reasons from “wouldn’t it be nice to not have to do all that maintenance” to “imagine how much cheaper it would be to drive a car with better gas mileage” but none of it mattered to me. I was living the dream.
Yesterday was a hard day for me. You see, I was in a car accident on Sunday. I dropped Rose off at the collision repair center, ready to hear how much it would cost to repaint a few panels. Instead, I got a call back from them yesterday: the Jeep is considered a “total loss” by the insurance company.
As reality sank in, memories flashed before my eyes. Rose and I through 14 years. Learning to detail cars, both exterior and interior surfaces, so that I could take care of Rose. Sitting in the backseat, playing my GameBoy on the way down to the Outer Banks. Camping with my dad, all of our gear in the trunk with room to spare. Sliding and hitting a snow bank during my first winter driving and getting caught by Mr. Sundin. Doing my first oil change. Installing the replacement stereo. My first kiss, standing by the driver’s side door. Moving into and out of dorms and apartments. After fourteen years, it feels like my best friend died.
Rest in peace, Rose. Through the fourteen years and 190,000+ miles we spent together, you were always there. Friends and girls came and went. Schools and swim meets. Vacations and job interviews. We had a lot of good times together. Some might say you were just a car, but you were more to me. You took care of me, and I’ll miss you. Goodbye, Rose.