Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Miracle on Ice

On my 25th birthday in August of 2004, the girls at City Hall had their way with my adorable SUV while they sent me on pointless errands in the mayor's Ford Expedition. It took them half a package of Oreos to spell out "25!" and it took me over a year to get those unearthly blobs of waxy sugar off my hood.

(When the ladies each turned 50 or 60 I retaliated by filling their file drawers with photocopied flyers featuring rude clichés and blackmail photos, screwing up the color on their monitors, and plastering their desks with black crepe streamers, but the point of this post was not to incriminate myself.)

This is about Monte, my nimble little '87 Dodge Raider, and since today is our 9th anniversary, I am compelled to celebrate the milestone and pay homage to one of the trustiest vehicles Mitsubishi ever made.

I bought Monte from my dad in 1997, in January of my senior year. He picked it up at E&L Motors in Kemmerer, WY and drove it to San Diego to sell. I recognized it instantly; it belonged to my 5th grade band director Don Hinton, and it was the only automobile I ever wanted when I was ten years old. I think I gave Dad $2,500 for it, and he said (and I quote), "sure, it'll get you around for a few years." (Just last winter
when I rattled up one weekend I caught him shaking his head and saying, "I just can't believe that little puddle jumper.") It had just over 100,000 miles and almost all the original components, plus some fish hooks from my grade school classmate Dominic Nardelli, who had owned it for a brief time after Mr. Hinton traded it in. The body was in great shape, the paint serene and glossy, the fabric seats sound and soft, and I put a set of $40 tires on it that lasted for 90,000 miles and installed the JVC cassette player from Morgan’s poor wrecked Mazda RX-7.

My buddies dubbed it "The Refrigerator" almost instantly; he's also known as "Montezuma" (the family took to calling him Monte) or "The Ice Cream Truck," due to rather sluggish acceleration. Make no mistake- once he gets going Monte can really move along and there's nothing he can't climb; Mr. Goodwrench says he drives like a CJ-7 Jeep. He has a 14-gallon gas tank and gets 25 miles to the gallon on the highway.
Open the hood and all the parts proudly bear the tri-pronged Mitsubishi logo and instructions in Japanese. The only automatic devices he offers are a tailgate lock/unlock switch on the dash and auto free-wheel hubs. I use the 4x4 maybe twice a year in the winter; he's that reliable on bad roads. I drove him all over California and back and forth to Phoenix and Wyoming several times without a hitch. I can break into him in less than 3 minutes when I lock the keys inside and the original key is worn so smooth I can slip it out of the ignition with the engine still running. The air conditioning doesn’t work (I never bothered to recharge the Freon) but with the windows rolled down that perfect square uses every available breeze to the best advantage, and for our first few years together we were beach bums and A/C was for wimps.

My ex once charged, "You love that car more than you love me." I'll be damned; he may have been right.
I can’t fathom what I’m going to do without Monte some inevitable day. I know it’s crazy, but you just wouldn’t believe how much of my heart and soul is wrapped up in those four loyal little cylinders. Monte’s gotten me out of more scrapes and been more steadfast than most of my people-friends ever were. He’s the perfect road trip companion and he doesn’t mind my singing. For nine years I’ve seen the world through his clear square panes of non-tinted glass, and it may never look better.

Wrinkled and wrecked, threadbare of fabric and muddy and matted of carpet, with a cracked windshield (the third day post-installation [after we got dive-bombed by a kamikaze owl] it got nailed by a rock in road construction on Highway 189), Monte still starts when it’s twenty below and there’s nothing wrong with his heater. Rust blooms on the once shiny paint and whole inner panels have corroded away due to the salty, humid air of San Diego. A Buddha sticker covers a slice in the ceiling upholstery and out of superstition I never removed the wooden rosary from the rearview mirror where Oscar hung it five years ago. The drop-down back seat and cargo area are usually full of bike parts and skis, racquets, boots and gloves, crumpled maps, puppy fur, dried leaves, California sand and sprigs of sagebrush.

After nine long years together, I recognize the symptoms of most of the problems that beset the little engine that could better than I know those of my own body. He backfires like a tractor and rattles like a diesel, ticks when he needs oil, and I keep begging him, “Come on, just one more winter together and then I’ll retire you to Mom.” She claimed him in his final years some time ago, and the only trips he’ll make then will be leisurely crawls up in the mountains to discover the tranquil pine glens she craves.

Monte's been benched for several weeks (since that cold snap finally did the starter in) but Mr. Goodwrench deftly resuscitated him and had the girl at J.C. Electric put new brushes in the remanufactured starter I've never replaced in nine years. I cracked the head once driving to L.A. with a busted thermostat, Dad bought me a clutch when the original started to snag, and Mr. Goodwrench has put a water pump and the rebuilt alternator in (bad brushes in it, too, but what do you expect), and other than that it's only been belts and bolts and everyday wear and tear. He’s creeping up on 250,000 miles, but I fully expect Monte to make it to 300,000, and when that day comes I promise you one hell of a party. Here's to the best car a girl ever had. (Thanks, Dad.)


Blogger a572mike said...

Happy Anniversary A! Here's to many more years of Monte and you continuing to motor!

January 12, 2006 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger A said...

Thank you! I'm sure I'm being unrealistic but I can't help it. I love the little guy.

January 12, 2006 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger dorothy rothschild said...

You made me remember my dearly departed 1981 white Honda Civic that I inherited from my mother and drove it until it died, somewhere around 300,000 miles, in 1993. Sniffle.

January 12, 2006 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger A said...

Aw! But those were good times, right? Good times.

January 13, 2006 at 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My friend has a Mitsi Sigma 2000 that has done 250,000Kms and had absolutely nothing major done to the engine. I'm pretty confident that you are not being unrealistic.

My current (and only ever car that I've owned) is a 1997 Suzuki Baleno 1.8ltr station wagon. I say first and only car owned because I've only ever owned motorcycles before that and I only got the car out of need when I changed companies and lost access rights to their company cars.

My car has done over 173,000Kms of which over 100,000 of those are mine.

The only thing major I've had done to it was replace the shock aside from that it's just been normal stuff like tyres and oil.

Tyres geet chewed up here in New Zealand on account of the roads being made of volcanic chip rock which makes the roads course.

It's seen some of the most amazing countryside around with me, survived a trip with my ex-girlfriend which saw us almost get hit by a truck but avoided with the amazing partnership of her and the car which left me impressed beyond belief.

It gets cleaned not as often as it should but it doesn't care.

The only thing it requires soon is new plugs and a new tyre on the left rear but I'll get all 4 done when I do so as to create even wear.

Everyday it travels at least 80Kms to and from work (excluding the Kms I do through the day going to and from jobs) and it's never missed a beat.

On calculation it can theoretically do 730Kms to a single 51ltr tank which would get me from Wellington to around about Hamilton therefore covering at least 2/3s of the North Island on one tank.

There is a small dent just below the left rear light panel on account of my ex accidentally backing into a low rubbish skip that was left in a dodgy position where she couldn't see it. As such that dent is now rusted but is not affecting anything at all so I've left it.

There is no air-conditioning because I hate it but the vents might be blocked because no cool air gets in properly so you cook to death in summer.

I'm going to keep the car until it finally dies whenever that happens.

I can fully appreciate what you feel for your car. Modern cars just don't provide that level of character.

Say "Hi" to Monte for me. :-)

January 13, 2006 at 7:03 PM  
Blogger A said...

Will do. "Tyres"- I love it.

January 16, 2006 at 9:24 PM  

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