Saturday, August 22, 2015

An Ode to the Haywagon and the End of an Era

Yesterday, the Haywagon was donated to NPR.  This went about via a tow truck coming to the house and (a little more abruptly than I would have preferred) hauled her onto a flatbed truck and drove away.  Probably to an auction somewhere.  Just like that.

She was already stripped of her license plates, of the ‘Fletcher’ sticker on the dash that had been there since I removed it from my high school senior year basketball locker in 2002, and of the knickknacks that had accumulated over the last 13 years.

Her odometer was 200 miles shy of 150,000.  Since we bought her with about 20k on her, that means that she and I have traveled 130,000 miles together on this journey.

I remember the feeling when my parents first gave her to me and I opened the door and sat down.  It was the anticipation of having a ‘new’ (though used) car – the anticipation of having a car that wasn’t the family car – of knowing that I would take this car off to college and into whatever the future meant. 

She was christened the ‘Haywagon’ (as in.. Haley’s wagon) with shiny vanity plates that my dad had made, and I LOVED her. 

I remember driving her to those last high school days, full of senioritis and so excited, and taking my friends for a loop around the parking lot.

In her, I took a last angsty drive around Burley during that summer post-graduation, nostalgic music blasting, tears running down my face, realizing that everything would be changing and having no idea what that meant.

It was she who my mom, dad and I filled to the gills with my every belonging to get ready for the great transition to college.  Late at night, we packed and packed the car, having to slam the doors shut so that belongings wouldn’t pop out, and then rolling down the windows to push more in.  It was in her that  despite having not slept the night before, I insisted on driving out of town, away from Burley and into my new future as a college student at the far away Rice University in Houston (we pulled over after two exits and switched drivers).  We drove all the way to Houston, days of driving with a stuffed car – and I was pulled over for the first time.  I rolled down the Haywagon window and gave such a pitiful story, eyes brimming with teenage sorrow -  I got off with a warning.

Not many of us had cars in college, so when we wanted to make a run for bubble tea or House of Pies or a quick trip to the beach in Galveston, we would all cross campus to head to the student lot, and pile in the Haywagon.  More than once I lost her in those lots, after friends had borrowed her or after I had just forgotten where she was parked.  The smells of humidity, fresh rain, and Houston heat pounding on the pavement all bring back memories of walking across what seemed like an endless expanse of campus to reach the parking lot.

It was in her that I drove to my first real job as a teacher at YES, where I pulled into the parking lot every morning before 6am, and left after 7pm, commuting across Houston, piles of papers to grade in the seat beside me, each day growing up more and more into myself as an adult – realizing what I loved doing.  Those long drives in Houston traffic gave me many hours of thinking and dreaming.

It was in her that Elisa and I escaped Hurricane Rita, and we lived in her for 22 straight hours and creeping only a few miles, caught in one of the greatest traffic jams of all time.  We feared for our lives in her as people went into survival mode, gas ran out, and the temperatures soared above 100 degrees.  But then we found our own miracle in her as well – when we finally found a place to stay at a friend’s farmhouse at around 2am, we parked her in the yard.  She had driven for 22 hours on one tank of gas (albeit at only a mile or two an hour).  And the next morning, when we walked outside to assess any damage (the storm had basically bypassed us), we realized she had 4 completely flat tires.  I truly felt like God had given us a guardian angel in the Haywagon for that storm.

During that era, I drove her back and forth across the country, from Houston to Idaho and back again, many many times.  And then, when I decided to move on from YES, I drove her to grad school, packed once again with all of my earthly possessions.

Shortly after, I drove her to Burley and parked her – for over a year – while I went on the great adventure of living in South Africa for a year, and then Jerusalem, and then Kenya.  My parents graciously kept her during that time, starting her every couple of months to make sure her battery didn’t fail.  And when I got home, exhausted to my core and worn down by some of the things I had seen and experienced, she was waiting patiently, parked in my parent’s garage.  I remember turning on the ignition again after all of that time, and the feeling of freedom of being able to just drive.  I drove all over our county, through the potato and grain fields, and up and down the buttes, and tried to reconcile everything that I had seen and done the last several years with the little girl who had grown up in Burley Idaho, and trying to figure out what was next.

That fall was a healing fall for me, surrounded by my family and old friends, grappling with what to do next in life, driving the Haywagon around southern Idaho.

And then suddenly, I got my dream job.  All the way across the country on the East Coast, and so I loaded up the Haywagon once again.  Once again there was a late night packing session and once again she was filled to the gills, and the doors had to be slammed shut.

I drove from Idaho to the ranch in Arizona, kissing my Grandma and Da, and then on to pick up a friend and drove from Arizona to his home in Nashville.  Then continued to DC, picked up another friend and crossed the eastern shore to enter my new home town of New Haven, Connecticut.  The Haywagon had officially crossed nearly the entire USA.

We pulled up to my new little New England home and unloaded the car, once again, and I started my new life.  Once again, she was my commuter buddy - she got me to and from the long, traffic-laden drive to the office each day that I was in the country, and then waited patiently while I did my fieldwork across the world – Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Lesotho… and on and on.

She was there when my love moved to New Haven, and was the sole car between us for our courtship, driving us on adventures near and far where we slowly fell in love, and to through the life logistics that made us partners.  I added him to the insurance, and he began driving her as much as I did – I loved those drives, sitting in the passenger seat, feet on the dash, laughing and falling in love.

She drove us up to the Adirondacks, three times – once with a big group of friends, where we finally had the fateful conversation that started our relationship officially, once when he drove me back up to the same spot to ask me to be his wife, and once when we drove back once again to say our vows to each other and marry in a private ceremony. 

Over the last years, there was some wear and tear of course.  By the end, every engine light was on, and would stay on – alarming for those who drove her for the first time, but usual to me – she had never ceased to be reliable.  Her body started to break down.  There were stains on the carpets from years of living and roadtrip adventures and coffee spills and who knows what else.  There was rust on the back of her from being rear ended during the hurricane evacuation, and from when a snow plow had hit her during a great winter blizzard.  And then, there was that one time that we were driving on the highway and her entire side panel just flew off of the car……

It was time for her to go.  And concurrently, my life chapter had just happened to have changed. 
Tim and I bought our new car a couple of weeks ago.  Its bigger and brand new and has headlights that actually work.  It has a lot of space.  Space for us – space for me to invite another person fully into my life.  Space for our new little family of two that maybe someday down the road become a family of three or four.  Space for the adventures ahead in our marriage –camping trip, perhaps other epic moves, building a home and filling it with love and joy and things like tables for dinner parties.

So it is time.

The Haywagon is being donated for many reasons, but mainly because I want her to go to a good cause and not to just some profit making used car company.  Plus I’m not so sure that she is as reliable as she has been, so don’t want a new driver taking her on.

Its time. I came of age with this car.  13 years – the end of high school, college, teaching, grad school, living overseas, 5 years of my current career, courtship, engagement…

So thank you Haywagon, thank you for the reliability, for being my outlet for adventure, for giving me a sense of independence, a get-away vehicle, a vehicle to drive both towards and away from the situations that I needed to experience to build the foundation of my current life.  Thank you for 13 years and 130,000 miles – hard miles.  Thank you for waiting all of those years I was abroad, and always starting up again when I returned.  You’ve been the supporting character in my epic coming of age story.

And thank you to my parents, who invested in getting me a great, reliable used car to take to college, and ended up investing in the car that would carry me for 13 years!  What a blessing – both financially and security-wise – to have safe and reliable source of transportation for over a decade.

Here is to the end of a great, great era.  The closing of the chapter on my coming of age years. 

And here is to all that will come ahead.  I never, ever could have imagined all that life would have in store for the next 13 years on that day in my parent’s driveway when I first opened the Haywagon door- all of the life that would have been lived, the people that would have come and gone.  The mountains and the valleys – both literal and figurative, that I would have driven over and through.  I never could have imagined how rich a used Pontiac Grand Am could have made me feel.

And wow – what does that mean for the next 13 years?  Because I am positive I have no idea where this new shiny car will take us – what adventures, mountains and valleys lay ahead.  But I am very excited to find out.

Sweet dreams Haywagon!