Just A Car
It’s becoming more and more common for Jody and I to find ourselves helping clients and family members figure out how to say goodbye to homes they’ve loved: how to downsize, let go of things, and move on. We’ve had to do it too, in many different forms, and I was recently reminded how hard that decision can be. Sometimes a thing is not just a thing.
This time around, it was my car I had to part with. My Honda CR-V that I had owned, maintained, and loved for 13 of its 14 years needed $4,500 of repairs, and we couldn’t justify that expense. The fact that it seemed destined to end up junked as parts is what wrenched my heart.
I bought it in 2005, tired of being stranded by my 9-year-old Saturn sedan, and tired of hauling around my two big dogs on cloth seats that soaked up every molecule of wet dog smell. I bought the Honda SUV for reliability, safety, and space, but the dogs disagreed with my plan for keeping them in the cargo area. They were used to lounging on the seats and hanging their heads out the window, and that’s just how it was going to be. I bought a seat cover.
The first real road test for my new car was a weekend trip to the family cottage with my dogs, my cat, and my mom. Finally, there was plenty of space for everything we had to take…and I didn’t panic about those wet dogs on the way home!
Less than six weeks later, I was driving down a one-way street with cars parked on the right side, and a guy lurched out of his parking space and right into the side of my CR-V as I drove past. I’ll never forget the sound of the corner of his car crunching into my front quarter panel, and the screech as it dragged all down the side of my car until I could come to a stop. Two seconds, and $6,000 in damage from a driver with a suspended license and no insurance. My insurance covered it, but I had to go to court – thank God I wrote down his license plate before he took off!
I decided to make lemonade out of lemons, and called my good friend and fellow photographer Kathleen Finlay. I was working as a senior photo editor at a stock agency but was not yet a contributor myself, so I wanted someone to make photographic use of this misfortune. Kathleen and her husband Dave came over, and we set up a little fender bender photo shoot for Masterfile that made a few sales for Kathleen over the years. Lemonade!
The next time my car was featured in some images with Masterfile, they had my own byline. I was actually working three jobs at the time: my full-time day job as a photo editor, my full-time second job as a building superintendent (to earn money for digital camera gear and computer equipment), and my part-time job doing freelance photography and trying to grow my stock portfolio. The first rules of stock photography were to shoot what you know and use what you have, so I hired a friend and did a shoot using my car and my dogs!
My car also figured prominently in job #2, which I sort of fell into unexpectedly. The position of superintendent of the building I lived in was presented to me as some light cleaning, picking up rent cheques, co-ordinating repair work when needed, showing rental units, and so on.
The reality was handling near-constant crises for sixty tenants at the building 24/7, due to lack of proper maintenance, a reluctance on the owners’ part to use skilled tradespeople (why not save money and hire a bartender to install a new bathtub?), and the owners’ insistence on renting to questionable tenants. It was common for tenants to skip out and leave their units filled with belongings and revolting things I had to remove. Sometimes on the first of the month I’d have multiple units turning over, with just a day, or only hours, to deal with one or more places looking like this:
The lack of maintenance also resulted in a few serious incidents, such as the night some tenants were woken by their wet bedroom ceiling, filled with mildewed insulation, landing on them as they slept.
I had expected the SUV to come in handy for trips to the dump and to Home Depot, but I never anticipated the role it would play in handling yet another shocking apartment discovery:
The tenants did a midnight run to Alberta, leaving behind everything that didn’t fit in their car. In addition to furniture, clothes, food, and belongings, I found a saltwater aquarium filled with live corals, anemone, and fish. I knew precisely nothing about aquariums, but luckily someone at my office did. His girlfriend had always wanted one, and said she would be more than happy to take it off my hands. Meanwhile, the new tenants had to move in with a 200 pound aquarium sitting in their bedroom until I could successfully transport the contents without killing them! I packed the cargo area of my trusty CR-V with multiple coolers full of aquarium water, coral, and fish, and then loaded in the aquarium itself with the water level lowered to about half (which still took two people to hoist).
I drove to Mississauga with my hazard lights on, careful to make no sudden moves, yet some of the water sloshed over the sides of the aquarium and into my trunk. But everything made it alive, and they thrived for years! As for the Honda…despite hosing out the car and scrubbing the trunk mat, you could still detect a faint seawater smell for about two years if the conditions were just right.
The Honda was there when I finally met the woman I would spend my life with, and helped us make the move to our newly-purchased house.
We put my car through many travel tests together, taking our two dogs camping all across Eastern Canada to the tip of PEI, and down through New England to the tip of Cape Cod, and many other places in between. It never let us down.
The car was not only useful for dogs, renovations, and travel, its size also made it easy for Jody to do her years of volunteer deliveries for Meals on Wheels in it. And when we needed to throw a real Christmas tree inside the car, it was no biggie!
When we impulsively decided to add a third dog to our family, I trusted that our gentle giant mastiff Grace would not hurt me, and piled into the cargo area of the car with her to lend comfort on her first ride home.
Folding down all the seats provided just enough room for our newly-enlarged family to make trips up to the cottage with crates and beds:
There were lots of first trips in the Honda, but also several lasts. Both of our grandmothers rode in that car, and both of them are gone now. Our cats Dallas, Taz, Blackjack, and Buttons all took their final rides to the vet in that car, in traumatically short order. So did Ebony, and so did Georgia, who was too ill to stand on the windowsill with the wind in her ears like she used to.
Thankfully, it became the dogmobile for new family members, as we added puppies Sydney, and then Riley three years later. I’ve never looked in the side mirror of that car and not seen a face that I loved.
As it was sinking in that my days with my much-loved car were numbered, my neighbour told me their daughter knew a woman who might want to buy my CR-V. She apparently always inquired about it when dropping her daughter off next door, but the neighbours thought I had no interest in selling.
I called their friend now, certain that this was an exercise in futility due to the mechanical issues. To my surprise, she was still interested. She needed a car to shuttle around her dog, and she loved the older CR-V design as much as I did. She was not turned off by the wear and tear of our adventures together. She was also thrilled to have the full service record, and to know the mechanic around the corner had looked after it for nearly 9 years. I told her I thought the car was worth about $4,500 in good repair, but since it needed $4,500 of work, I would give it to her for free if she wanted to fix it up and love it the way I had. And she said she would.
She lives just a few streets away from me. When I drive home, I look to the side and check on my old girl as I go by. The new owner and I have agreed that when she is ready to get rid of the CR-V, she will call me first. I doubt I would ever want my dogmobile back, but you never know.
Sometimes a car is not just a car.