Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Death in the Family

On Being a Man Down

Plymouth Sundance
My model of the 1991 Plymouth Sundance in better days.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Jersey City, NJ


This is not a regular trip report, but a much-needed and fond remembrance for a fallen soldier that made most of these trips possible. On May 8, 2016, a full 25 years after it was manufactured, my 1991 Plymouth Sundance ended its life as an automobile, outliving its brand by fifteen years.

I got my grey '91 Plymouth Sundance hatchback as a partial graduation present from my parents, while I was still in college. Not able to live up to the strains of a commute from central Pennsylvania (where I was at college) and the suburbs of Boston (where my girlfriend who graduated the year before lived), my first car, a hand-me-down, fire-engine red 1981 Ford Granada, gave up the ghost in northern Connecticut on one weekend visit. It was twelve years old at the time, and the mechanic would tell me that it is good thing that the engine overheated and seized when it did, as my engine struts were close to rusting out, and at some point, the engine would have dropped out of my car while I was driving it, which would have been an epic achievement for the rustbucket, which I fondly named "The Sh*tmobile." It couldn't go faster than 65 on a good day, if tried to make a left turn with it in the winter before warming it up for five minutes, it would stall out, and there was a fifty-fifty shot on engaging any of the climate controls whether you would get heat or air conditioning. But it was my first car, and I loved it, and I killed it.

My parents sagely realized that I would need a car once I graduated, so they helped buy the two-year-old used car. Its only other owner was an old lady who smoked, so it had good mileage, but it also had cigarette burns on the driver-side upholstery. It also had no CD player. But it was my car.

And all that car did was run for twenty-five years without any major problems. I eventually beat the hell out of it. An accident bashed in the passenger door and made it hard to open. Countless years of bad parking mucked up the hub caps. Eventually, the air conditioning failed after about a decade and was too expensive to warrant fixing. The radio display gave out after about fifteen years to the point that only my station presets were readily available. The ceiling lining was loose in most places, and the seal on my sunroof was questionable at best. But it just drove, and drove, and drove.

When I started doing the local baseball trips within NJ, it took me to every park. Every state within a day's drive was visited in this car, from Maine, all the way down to Maryland, and all the way out to Ohio. Every stadium had this car in the lot. In fact, the only major incident I had with the car was in my 2014 trip to Ohio, where I blew out my right front tire on route 80, scaring the crap out me, but no one was harmed, except for the giant plastic explosion residue that sat on the wheel well for the rest of its life. The bumper was dislodged and kept in place with duct tape. But it just kept on driving.

Tire blowout
My baby after a tire blowout on Route 80 in 2014
But this year, I drove out to my parents' house for Mother's Day. I stopped for gas down the street from their house to get gas, and my car would not turn over again. After some sullen help from the attendants, they noticed that my coolant was empty. I bought some overpriced stuff there and refilled it, and took my car to the mechanic who kept it running for 25 years.

I eventually was told that the main engine gasket overheated, warped, and blew because a leak had emptied out my coolant. The cost to fix it would be triple the value of the car. And yet, I considered it. As of this year, being twenty-five years old, my car was actually officially a “classic,” and I thought about putting some money into it to gussy it up. But now, that time had passed. I let my mechanic put it out to pasture, and now I am without a car for the first time since college. I've owned only two cars in my life.

So please take a moment to bow your head, and remember this brave soldier who did his duty for far longer than expected. May it find its peace.

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