An hour or so and 23 miles later, a very nice tow truck driver was unloading Betty from the flatbed ambulance to the corner of a tiny mechanic’s lot in Southeast DC. (Conveniently, and coincidentally, down the block from my work.) I said goodnight to Betty and climbed back into the tow truck cab for a ride home. I haven’t seen her since, and it’s not looking good. The mechanic is having difficulty locating the part she needs—a flex coupler.
Betty and I have been through a lot together. 8 years I’ve had her. 8 years and 5 months. That’s longer than any other vehicle I’ve had. That’s even longer than any home I've had. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for kicking me out for college.) When I bought Betty for $2200 on New Year’s Eve in 2007, Daddy told me she wouldn’t last a year. My amazing mechanic in Cali said I’d probably get at least another year when I moved in 2013. In that light, making it to 2016 isn’t too bad. But still, I don’t want Betty to go.
Betty has carried me through my life in four states. Together, we did the move to three of them. We’ve been across the entire country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and many parts in between more than once; Highway 40, I-80, Route 66, and of course the gorgeous drive down Route 1 with Munchkinhead.
There was that time in Iowa, when Orgfish’s neighbors called the cops about this unsightly car parked in their neighborhood and the police left a giant florescent pink “WARNING” on Betty’s windshield. (I sent it to Orgfish as her birthday postcard some years later.) The adventures with Daddy moving from Cali to Wisconsin when we spent an unplanned day exploring Ephraim, Utah while the hose connecting Betty’s coolant overflow tank to the engine was replaced. And that infamous time we got pulled over for DWB, also in Utah. I guess we should have stayed out of Utah.
She’s had some tough times, my Betty. There was that incident where I sort of backed the side of her into a pole trying to get out of a parking spot in Cali. And that time a week later when I did it again in a different garage. That first incident was the one that resulted in my having to go in-and-out the window for awhile until a body shop could get her unlocked.
But that was back before I made Betty her very own mixtape. We've been listening to it a lot less these past few months. One, I was getting a little tired of it, but more importantly, Betty hasn't been feeling well a lot of the time and it's important for me to listen to her as we putter around town. She gets especially cantankerous on damp or rainy days and left turns. I check her fluids at least weekly and keep a storehouse in the trunk of every liquid you could need to put in the car, plus spare clothes and an astronaut blanket in case we get stranded, and bungee cords and sheets for unexpected hauling adventures. She can really carry stuff!
Betty hasn't really had a radio in a few months. The antenna was knocked off by a carwash back in Cali years ago. The mechanic disconnected the auto-expander and quasi-fixed the antenna to the car. A few months ago, I walked past Betty on the street and noticed it was gone completely.
DC is rough on Betty. Besides the antenna loss, the swampy humidity caused the fabric on the ceiling to start detaching. I pinned it back in place with a decorative pattern of thumbtacks. Sometimes, they fall off, too. Backseat passengers, beware. Parking outside with no shelter these past two years hasn't been great. The mohawk on her roof that had developed slowly over the years has quickly gone, leaving just a small patch of white amid a mess of unpainted grey and rust. Whenever AAA asks what color the vehicle is, I say, "well, where there's still paint, she's white." AAA came out a lot the past year. In addition to the tow, there were several dead batteries. We eventually figured out the culprit was the glove compartment light, which wouldn't shut off correctly ever since Munchkinhead broke off the latch on a very cold WI night coming home from the theater. I braided some yarn, looped it through the inside hook and the hole in the door where the latch used to be and tied the door shut, but it wasn't enough pressure for the light switch. A mechanic took out the bulb and Betty stopped dying. Somebody took out a taillight with who-knows-what. (I replaced it.) Oh wait, that was me. I backed into a tree trying to do a Y-turn; dented my bumper sticker.
And then there was that time a few weeks ago when Betty got shot. Just her tire, luckily. The police tape is still in her backseat, next to the blanket I put in her for when homeless people use her as a warm place to sleep. (Tho I would prefer if they'd put the seat back upright when they're done.) The tire shop had to bust off one of her hubcaps in order to rotate the tires when I got her new one. That put her down to two hubcaps. We'd lost one in Cali when the mechanic had to bust it off. She wears the two she has left on her back tires. The recently removed one rides in the trunk. I always have to call AAA when I have a flat tire, not because I can't fix a flat, but because I can't jack up the car. There's no frame left for the portable jack to lift; it just goes right through the car. AAA has to come out with their big fancy jack and lift her from the frame underneath.
Betty's got character; there's so much that's still so wonderful about her. She floats down the highway--when her engine's getting gas anyway. I can parallel park her like you wouldn't believe, even on the left-hand side of the street. Her heater is amazing--the air-conditioning hasn't worked since at least '08, but I hate air-conditioning anyway. She's very polite--no horn. Her interior is spacious and comfy.--At least I think so; Daddy thinks her front seat is broken, claims it's lopsided. He may be right, but since I weigh about 100 lbs less than him, I can't really tell. The thing I notice more is that one hole in the floor by my left foot that my stiletto will slip into if I'm not careful. It matches the hole in the seatback from the previous owner's dog. But I digress.
And most importantly, she gives me an amazing freedom. Not just the standard freedom of a car that allows me to go places far or near whenever I want, but the additional freedom of going places I otherwise couldn't or wouldn't. I never worry about where I park Betty, if she'll get scratched--who'd notice? or that she'll be stolen--that'd be a very weak joy ride. I get the prime spots in the grocery store lot, right next to the cart return. Her heft makes her a great option for snow-covered streets (ok, my Wisconsin training helps a little with that, too.) And I'm safer in neighborhoods where I otherwise would stick out like a blazing red target. The combination of Betty and my white privilege allow me to go anywhere. Betty helps me blend in where it's rough, and being a white girl gets me a pass when Betty raises suspicions in the fancy places. In a city like D.C. where neighborhoods can change from one to the other in half-a-block, and where it's so easy to get lost, this is especially important.
Betty and I have travelled a long way together and we're both a little worse for the wear.