On Tuesday, April 14, at 2:30 p.m. I lost a trusted servant and great friend. I am still grieving.
It was my 1992 red Ford Taurus, when I made that fateful turn onto the I-66 Exit Ramp into Ballston.
But first, a little history. My mother and father-in-law bought the car in 1992, and it quickly became their pride and joy. They took a couple of trips in it, but their advancing age and fading night vision made that impractical, after a while. Then, they decided to sell their Arlington house and move into the retirement home Goodwin House West.
Their Ford Taurus became more and more lonely, usually remaining for days at a time in the parking lot. Finally one day, my father-in-law was ticketed for driving in the wrong direction on busy Route 7. He thought he was in a left turn lane. He wasn’t, and narrowly avoided a serious accident.
He told the judge that it was time that he gave up his driver’s license, which he had had for more than seventy-five years. He was just turning ninety. His wife had already stopped driving a couple of years before.
At the same time, Jean and I were feeling the need for a second car. In retirement, our busy lives often took us in opposite directions. Another car would be very useful.
Thus began a bizarre set of reverse negotiations. My father-in-law wanted to give me the car. I insisted on paying for it. The Blue Book value then was about $4,000, which is where I started. He started at zero. After a few moments of frustrating haggling, I took out my checkbook and wrote out a check for $1,000. “Take it or leave it,” I said. He took it, reluctantly.
I spiffed it up a bit. I put on discreet window stickers from my three colleges, LSU, UNC, and GMU. On the rear bumper I put OBX and HI stickers to advertise our beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And – the piece-de-resistance – a vanity plate – RAB 38. I intended to turn it in to RAB PHD when (and if) I ever finished my dissertation.
I spent the next few years jauntily riding around Arlington and out to the George Mason campus. Jean put the icing on the cake. She had it painted a jaunty red for my birthday just a month ago. I was in seventh heaven.
Then came that fateful day, Tuesday, April 14, 2009.
I was driving home on I-66 after a very pleasant lunch with a friend in Manassas. Chinese food and a Coke, I told the policewoman. And it was true! As I turned onto the Ballston exit, I dozed off for no more than two seconds, probably less.
When I woke up, I found myself on a grassy strip, going straight at the fifteen-foot high iron wall that protects the rest of Arlington from people like me. I whipped the wheel to the left, but the right front fender crashed into the wall, and the car spun around to a stop, blocking half of the exit. The front air bags pinned me against the back of the seat.
The damage was unfixable. The front axle lay broken on the ground, the right front wheel ripped off and sitting at a right angle to the car. And all of this in a split second.
I feel disloyal when I say we are already looking at new cars. But the Taurus will always have a treasured place in my heart.