Monday, June 7, 2010

An Ode To My Car: RIP 1994 Toyota Camry Wagon: 1994-2010

As one makes a number of road trips around the country to see sporting events there is one item that is nearly unparalleled in its importance to the mission. A car. If you live in the heart of the northeast megalopolis, an automobile will get you more places than you could possibly imagine as you try to strike one team after another from your final list.

In the decade or so that I have spent getting from one stadium to the next, the one and only car I have ever considered my own, a 1994 Toyota Camry Wagon, has been a crucial part. The automobile, which you see a photo of wrapped in saran wrap after a night of drinking in 2004 to the right, has taken me to a number of arenas and states, which I will list later on in this post. Indeed it has been a major part of both my teenage years, my college years, and one of the bigger journeys I will venture on in my life.

It is that knowledge that gives me the heavy heart to announce that after 17 years, my Camry appears to be at its end. It is heartwarming to know that not everyone gets the same value for their money that my family did with this wonderful beige mistress, but that makes it no less upsetting to finally see such a major player in my life leave me.

Among the memories that I will have shared with this car are:
-- Passing 110,000 miles on one of my many drives to Fairview Lake YMCA Camp
-- Passing my driving exam in Lodi, New Jersey in September 2002
-- Failing my first driving exam in Rahway, New Jersey on July 15, 2002 because I couldn't see past my evaluator's bee-hive hairdo
-- Once accidentally hitting 120 miles per hour on a drive to a friend's lake house in Pennsylvania
-- Making multiple drives from my house in Millburn, New Jersey to my senior college apartment at 2060 Ridge Ave in Evanston, Illinois. The drive was exactly 800.0 miles.
-- Getting four tickets in the span of one week in March 2007
-- Being asked by my mother why a friend's bra was randomly in the back of the car
-- Explaining to my mother in complete honesty that I had no idea how the bra got there
-- Accidentally rear-ending that woman in the middle lane of Millburn Avenue
-- Accidentally backing into another car pulling out of a parking spot in the Millburn High School parking lot
-- Accidentally slamming into the support pole of the parking deck at the Loews Theater in East Hanover, NJ
-- Driving along I-94 to the United Center during my career-changing internship with the Blackhawks
-- Getting a ticket on Lake Shore Drive that required traffic school
-- My first ticket in a Maplewood, NJ, which I got for failure to yield to a pedestrian as I was slowly turning into a parking lot on Maplewood Ave
-- Moving into my first adult apartment
-- Leaving a friend's house to find my car covered in chalk graffiti with such statements as "Steph K is hot"
-- Finding the next morning that my most hated of nicknames was also written in enormous letters on the roof
-- Not cleaning the car off in time, which enabled "Steph K is hot" to permanently be burned into the paint
-- Arriving at my car to find the driver's side handle filled with chunky peanut butter
-- Accidentally snapping the handle on the driver's side door because it was frozen in a sub-zero Chicago winter
-- Proceeding to enter my car through the passenger-side door for more than a year because I was too lazy to get the handle repaired

I imagine many more will come to light in the next few days, but as it stands those are just a handful of the memories that will stick with me on my first car.

The car's status had been in limbo for quite some time. While it had slowly begun to rust and make loud noises, batteries died, water pumps and brakes began to fail and more and more trips to the mechanic became necessary. This week, after multiple opinions it was determined that a car, which in mint condition has a current blue book value of $800, would require $2,300 of repairs to keep it running for an amount of time that wasn't guaranteed to be more than a few months or a year at most. In the end we decided, financially speaking, it simply didn't make sense to keep this particular member of our family running.

Of course, the fact that I am mentioning the car here means that it must have something to do with sports, and sure enough, it does. I have made my way to a slew of sporting venues college and professional by means of my 1994 Camry Wagon. Among the 17 states and two countries my car managed to reach, it also made its way to each of the following stadiums and arenas:

-- Shea Stadium, New York, New York
-- Yankee Stadium, New York, New York
-- Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
-- The United Center, Chicago, Illinois
-- Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Ohio
-- Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan
-- Miller Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
-- Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey
-- Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
-- Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
-- RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
-- Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
-- Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois
-- Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
-- The Kohl Center, Madison, Wisconsin
-- Assembly Hall, Champaign, Illinois
-- Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Those are just a small sample of the memories created by my years with the 1994 Toyota Camry wagon. As George Carlin once said, however, "If you love someone set them free. If they come back, set them on fire." It's certain that one of those things -- and entirely possible that both of them -- will soon be happening to my first car.

This is the second major loss to my childhood home that its endured in the past 18 months after we finally put our family dog, Terry, to sleep last January. Like the Camry, Terry stuck around for a remarkable amount of time. He was a gift for my sister's 10th birthday, and Stephanie was 27 when he finally left us, to give some indication of how long he made it. While we estimate Terry's age at around 19 when he was put to sleep, he was a part of our house for 17 years much like the Camry was, and as a result it only seems appropriate that they go hand in hand. And so, we have decided to donate the Camry to St. Hubert's Animal Wellfare Center, the animal shelter in Madison, New Jersey at which we got Terry back in 1991.

Presumably, St. Hubert's will be able to sell the car for parts and use the money to help the animals it houses, which is a fitting end to the Camry's saga. Still, it is never easy to say goodbye to that first automobile. What it has given to our family and the places it has taken me personally are wide and varied. With 90 teams left to see -- 89 after this weekend -- I suspect there will be more than one new car of mine that plays a part in getting to the end of the journey. But that doesn't mean they can all hold the same place as the Camry.

As I continue to take care of one trip after the next, the first car will always be the most important.

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