The Monday before Christmas, he sent me a message in a bottle.
Actually, in a water pump. And a $400 bill.
He said it’s time we think about our future. Our relationship has grown into a sad Facebook status: It’s complicated.
It’s been almost 14 years and nearly 140,000 miles since I met Fitch, my 2001 Volkswagen New Beetle. It was a sunny Virginia day, just weeks before my college graduation.
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I’ve personified this love bug. He’s like an old friend. We’ve driven across the map and back, together. Just me and him and copious amounts of Jay-Z, Coldplay and Maxwell music. At 21, I packed everything I own into that car and drove halfway across the country — from Virginia to Kansas City — for my first internship. And then we went all the way to California for my second internship. By the time I took my third internship in Minneapolis, we cautiously navigated the snow-packed streets before making KC our new hometown.
People would laugh when they saw me getting out of the bug and say things like, “You in a Beetle? That makes perfect sense.”
But after all this time, does it, really? Me, two boxers and the life of a 30-something well beyond college days stuffed in a two-door Beetle: I make it work.
My big sister wanted me to get a new car a long time ago. And I almost got a Prius when the hybrid trend heated up in 2006. Fitch is a fixture in my life, though. I just couldn’t leave him, not even for better mileage.
My dad said I was the type to ride a car until the wheels fall off. He’s right. I like not having a car payment. I like the fun flowers and the way kids get excited when they see my car, yelling “Slug Bug!” and “Punch Buggy!”
I like the familiar hum of the engine, the easy parallel parking, the all-consuming scent of crayons that seems to live in New Beetles.
What I don’t like: being a regular at the mechanic (I really do love you though, Vee Village). Over the past six months, I’ve had about six repairs and two tows, and a hubcap fell off.
Sensors and small fixes add up to big bills. And then, when it finally seemed we were on the road again for the long haul, the water pump failed. Just before Christmas. Talk about “Bah humbug!”
I know a lot of Volkswagen lovers. A friend’s parents told me how the car is good to you until the ticks begin. I’ve tried to see past the problems. We all have problems. Cars are an investment. Fitch has been good to me, I tell my friends when they say it’s about time for an upgrade.
I say the same thing, year after year. We’ve been across America and back. When I had nothing but $200, ambition and an internship, he took the journey with me.
“It’s just a car, J,” my friend Arketa said. “You always try to make it last a little longer. Let it go.”
She’s right. I wrapped pieces of myself up into this car. College graduation, paying off debts, road trips, my first job, my first dog — my entire adulthood. But as much as I love it, I get it. It’s just a car.
So it looks like Fitch is at the beginning of his long kiss goodnight. Before the end of this grand new year, we’ll say goodbye. But I’ll never forget the ride.