Aug 20, 2015

Gene Parmesan: A Eugoogooly

On December 25, 2006, my parents sent me to the garage for something.  I probably thought it was a breakfast casserole since all our presents were opened.  When I opened the door, I found my dad's maroon 1994 Toyota Corolla.  Next to it was an identical maroon Toyota Corolla (except that it was an automatic and a 1997, with a gigantic red bow).  I screamed something like this, and we quickly coined this new automobile Gene Parmesan.

Gene had a sordid past.  He was plucked from a salvage yard after being totaled in an accident and rebuilt by what may have been a questionable character.  When these details are disclosed, often people question my parents judgement in placing their baby daughter behind the wheel.  I like to think of it as a humble beginning of sorts.  Gene was sort of like that cat that never dies (Chloe, may she live on in peace).  Everything about him was simple: crank windows, manual locks, and a tape deck with an AM/FM radio.  But behind the simplicity were gems.  The "coldest AC ever", according to my brother, 60,000 miles on the odometer, and great gas mileage.

There were quirks.  The trunk only opened by key.  In the winter, the locks often got stuck, and I had to warm them with my breath before my key would unlock the doors.  I bent the key slightly once and could never get a copy made.  The shifter light had burnt out, so in the dark you couldn't see if you were in drive or neutral or reverse.  Honestly I found that to be endearing because it made me count the clicks and feel the change in the transmission.  Truly the only complaint I could ever muster was there was no cruise control.

But that never stopped me from hitting the road.  Gene became a road warrior alongside me.  We drove from Kansas City to Seattle and eastern Washington and Nashville and Birmingham and Tulsa and countless trips back and forth from Denver and Colorado Springs.  We'd return home and drive the 435 loop.  Gene was my ride to church and clinicals and first dates and last dates and 160 miles of an engagement.  He took me on my 11 minute commute every morning and safely delivered me home.  I packed up my life and moved from Kansas City to Colorado Springs, leaving the car in the care of my parents while I jetted off to Haiti.  While in Haiti I longed for the freedom to hop in my own car and go where I wanted.  When I returned to Colorado Springs, I packed up my life and we were off to Kansas City to start again.

It wasn't always easy.  There was the time my tire blew in Salt Lake City and we were helped by the kind man in the Hooters sweatshirt.  Then there was the time my engine did that funky revving business, and I spent $1000 going from mechanic to mechanic until it was finally fixed.  Then there was the time the deer ran into the side of my car while I was crawling along at 10 MPH hoping not to hit him.  He broke the side mirror and left a dent in my passenger side, but I thought it only made Gene more distinguished.  There was the time someone on the Plaza backed into me and drove away, leaving my bumper dented on the side.

I always thought I would just replace the car when I paid off my debt.  I would move on to something more beautiful, something safer, and something with cruise control and an auxiliary cord.  But when it came time for that, five years of life with Gene was too much history to hand to someone else.  So I opted to drive the car until it gave out underneath me.

For my birthday last year, my husband surprised me with a brand new car stereo.  I came home from a trip to visit a friend and found a sleek black stereo with an auxiliary cord jack (cue all the praise hands).  It was a luxury, and I was in heaven.  Then a month later someone broke the window in my car and tried to pry the stereo out of the dash.  They failed and left it hanging by a wire, the rest of dash disheveled.  But, never to be put down, I drove Gene to the closest mechanic and they fixed the window, and Creighton and I put the stereo back in.  This time, the wiring was damaged, so anytime you attempted to adjust the volume, it cranked the volume louder and louder until your eardrums were about to burst.  In a way, it was fitting for Gene to have an imperfect stereo, because the rest of the car was imperfect.

There were tiny rust spots where the paint had chipped.  Every hubcap had fallen off.  There were mismatched side mirrors and a dead wasp that was wedged in between the rear windshield and the seat. There was Boomer hair that would never be vacuumed out and candle wax that melted into the floor mat and probably some sour skittles lost into the bowels.  The car was 18 years old and had 160,000 miles and I thought it could drive forever.

So when a friend was driving the car a few weeks ago and rear ended the car in front of her because someone cut her off, she cried because she knew how special my car was to me.  Of all my possessions, Gene was my favorite.

If his walls could talk, they would pour out tears and confessions and angry questions.  They would witness falling in love with my husband and whisper about cancer and divorce and earthquakes.  They would sing melodies to my harmonies.  Gene was my sanctuary and my home when I felt like I had none.  When I felt lost, I always came home on those four wheels.

Last week I cleaned out the last bits of my life from that car.  His hood was popped and front bumper crumpled.  Out came the road atlas and the red auxiliary cord and the Haitian money that I was saving as a reminder that I would go back to Haiti again.  I saved my $.99 ice scraper that I once dug Gene out of a snow bank with, but I left the dog hair and candy.  Then I walked out of the salvage yard and couldn't bear to look back.

Here's to 9 good years, Gene Parmesan.  I'm grateful for the safety you gave me in years that were rooted in crumbling foundations.  Go live on in some other Corolla and keep another girl standing on the other side.