Thursday, February 4, 2010

Herman, my first love

When I turned 16, my father brought home a car for me. I hated it. First, it was a Hyundai. Second, it was white. Third, it was a hatchback. Fourth, it had this horrible blue and red pinstripe. Fifth, it wasn't a sea-foam green Chevy Storm, or a Honda CRX, or a convertible. I should have embraced it more from the get-go though, because my mother immediately claimed it and I was stuck driving the mini-van; a super hot red 1987 Voyager. Complete with ugly pinstripe. And seating for 7.

On Wednesdays though, I got to drive the Hyundai because I had flute lessons far away, and the Hyundai got better gas mileage (we were a scrimper family - this was when gas was like 80 cents a gallon and mom was worried about gas mileage?). After flute lessons, I would take the longest way home, on windy, wooded back roads. The Hyundai was a 5-speed, and while its 1.8 liter engine was hardly powerful by my standards today, it made me feel so independent, and cool to drop it into 3rd gear to power up a steep hill.

Then slowly, I claimed the Hyundai. And he got a name: Herman Humphrey. And then he got his first bumper sticker. "Ozone = Life, Dupont = Death" in stark black and white letters (remember when the hole in the ozone was our biggest problem? Ha! If we only knew what was coming..). Then he got his second bumper sticker, and his third, and then a flower or two, and suddenly, Herman the Hyundai became more than just a car. He got a personality, and became a friend.

Herman was there during those times in my life when I felt like nobody else was. I went to college just as my parent's marriage was ending, and it was ending in a particularly nasty and scary way. Mom moved into an apartment, Dad kept the house, but it wasn't a safe secure place. My dorm room was temporary, and not so safe and secure either, so Herman was my constant. The place that I could go and feel safe. The friend who let me cry and scream and work it out. The friend who helped me move my stuff out of my dad's house when it got to scary to be there there.

In college, people thought I had a boyfriend named Herman. "Herman and I went to the store." "Herman and I went to the mountains." Herman took all my friends where he needed to go (but rarely got any gas money). Everyone knew him. When he was close to 100,000 miles, we piled in and drove around late into the night until he turned over and then we celebrated (likely with my favorite beverage at the time, Zima).

Herman saw me through all of college, and endured a not-so-rigorous maintenance schedule (I was in college, I didn't have money for oil changes and tune-ups!). He got a new transmission and went from a 5-speed to a 4-speed. I figured out how to make him start on cold winter days by opening the hood and propping open the choke with a pencil. I learned that if you car seems like its on its last legs, and you have to have everyone in the car lean forward to make it up a hill, maybe you should check the spark plugs. Poor guy. He got me to graduation, then refused to start the next day. He was tired. No 1987 Hyundai had ever seen 120,000 miles, and he saw many more than that, but that's when the odometer quit. We got him running again, but when I found a job, he couldn't make my 100 mile round trip commute and I had to get another car (1989 Dodge Omni, which I hated because it wasn't Herman). But, Herman stuck around. Mom tooled around in him for short trips, but broke my heart when she pulled my bumper stickers off.

Not long after, we took Herman to Dad's house and stuck him in the garage. I kept the insurance on him, and dad would drive him occasionally, just to keep the motor running. Then the tires got kinda bad, and Dad would just let him run in the garage or the driveway. I drove him once in a while, but that stopped one day when I went to the gas station and noticed rust in a place that seems liked a critical part of the frame, and I drove him right back to the garage in a cold sweat. Then came a time where we couldn't really get him started anymore, even with a trickle charger, and I eventually took the tags off and saved myself 50 bucks a month by not buying insurance for him.

But I never got rid of him. Herman still sits in my dad's garage, and I say hi to him every time I walk through the garage. But Herman is sad - the tires are rotted and flat, he's become a storage shelf, there's mildew and must inside and I'm sure he's leaking some kind of noxious chemicals. But he's still there, as he has been for the past 18 years.

I always had dreams of fixing him up and hanging on to him, but that's unrealistic. And I'm too cheap and practical to throw money at fixing up a 23 year old Korean car. And now, we have to clear out Dad's house. Herman too.

I've known this day was coming, but was unprepared for how it would affect me. I went to the Kidney Foundation to see about car donation and I fought back tears as I was reading the information about how, in sometimes just a day (!), they can come pick up your unwanted vehicle. He's not unwanted, but what am I going to do? Cling to an unworking and slightly smelly Hyundai for the rest of my life? Coat him in rustoleum and douse him in febreeze, daily? Buy a bigger house so I can put him in cold storage for the rest of eternity? I wish that I could.

I feel like a traitor, even thinking about it. I've never sold a car - I still actually hold title to the Omni, and gave it to a friend of my uncle's. My current car (Gertrude) is 9 years old and getting ready to pass the 200,000 mile mark. She's going to the dealership tomorrow and I'm prepared to throw ridiculous amounts of cash out to keep her running to 300,000. But I don't have enough cash to do Gertrude and Herman. Or a garage. One thunderstorm and Herman would disinegrate.

I lost a lot this fall, and when Herman goes, I fear its going to hit me, and I'm afraid of the feelings that are going to happen. That are already happening. I'm going to have a lot of trouble with this one.


Ms Behaviour said...

Wait, I know how you can keep a piece of Herman with you forever which might make it a tiny bit easier to part with the rest of him. There's a guy who makes bags out of old car parts and he might be able to customize something for you. I saw him at the One of a Kind Show last year - I'm Googling and typing this - and I'm sure I can find him again. Crap, I can't find it. Maybe I have his card. Dammit, I can't find it. I'm going to email my friend who bought one of his bags and find out for you. It might make it a tiny bit easier. Plus, you'll have a really cool bag. You have definitely convinced me not to sell my car now.

Ms Behaviour said...

Okay, my friend got back to me. It looks like they do customize (check their contact page). Let me know if you need a Canadian mailing address.

Katy said...

Ms Behavior is a genius. What an awesome idea. Then you could take Herman on all sorts of adventures again.

I wish I had a farm where Herman could go hang out for years and years to come.

Oh wait, don't you have a boss with acreage? :)

Susan said...

Ms B, thanks for that great idea. I did go to the website and it seems as if they aren't doing custom orders anymore; but that doesn't mean that I can't do it on my own. I mean, I'm not going to actually sew or anything, but I can raid Herman, figure out what might make a good bag and take. Then find someone to sew something together for me. Its a really good idea, and something that would definitely make me feel better about the whole thing.

Katy, don't YOU sew?! :)