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My first car was a brand new 2010 Subaru Forester X Premium. I loved everything about it: the cloth seats, the huge sunroof, the bright headlights, the killer sound system (after I added a small preamp unit, of course), the shiny black paint, the way it revved when I pressed the gas pedal just beyond that special point. It was a beaut, and it was my beaut.
A lot of feelings were tied up in that car. I’d purchased it with money I received in an insurance payout after my father passed away at the age of 54. I was 25. My girlfriend at the time, Susie, had taught me to drive on her mother’s Audi and later helped me solidify my skills on my new car after I got my license at the late age of 26. All of a sudden I was able to drive us places for the first time, whereas before she did all the driving.
Without going into specifics, my relationship with Susie ended like so many good relationships do. But my car represented the bond we had, the cooperative approach we took to life. It got me from Point A to Point B, in the same way it took our relationship from Point A to Point B. It’s just that there was not a Point C, and that turned out to be true for the Forester also.
Hurricane Irene, which hit New Jersey in August of 2012, is often overlooked because Hurricane Sandy arrived in October of the following year and was objectively much larger. But where I lived at the time, in Bloomfield, Irene hit us much, much worse. Imagine someone turning your basement into a swimming pool without your permission. Yeah.
There was a park on our street, and in the middle of the park was a pond. For some reason, I was a fool and parked my car on the street adjacent to the park, not far enough away from the pond. I somehow believed the Forester would be okay, or that the water would not be too high when the pond inevitably overflowed. How bad could it be?
Boy, was I wrong.
The next day, amid the glazed-over pavement, fallen tree branches, and other detritus, I went to my car and opened the door. A little stream of water trickled out.
It did not look good.
Everything was sopping, glistening. I put the key in the ignition and started her up. Nothing. Nothing but a symbol on the dashboard, indicating that the electrical system was not functioning. I told myself, “Well, it’s a new car, I’m sure it can be fixed.”
My insurance company was extremely helpful. They explained to me what was going to happen. They came and took the car and brought it to my dealership for inspection. I drove a rented Forester, a white one, for a painstaking few days, or maybe a few weeks, I’m not sure. My insurance covered the rental, which was a veritable godsend.
One night, while I waited to hear from the insurance company, I saw a commercial for Subaru on TV. It took place in a junkyard. A man looks at a wrecked Subaru, a Legacy I think, white in color. The front end is smashed in, the glass is all gone, the airbags deployed and hanging out like wadded sheets on an unmade bed. The man beholds the destruction with a pained look on his face. He reaches into the back of the car and retrieves his briefcase.
Then, he reaches for the gear shift knob, unscrews it, and palms it gently like a gift from an old friend. The pained look on his face turns to one of acceptance, and a voice-over informs us of his thought process. “You know, my Subaru saved my life, and I’m not going to forget that.” He puts the gearshift knob in his jacket pocket. Then, he moves away from his old car and towards his new one, which is the same make and model as his old one, a white Legacy.
By this point, I was crying buckets. I was having my own little flood. It just crept up on me. I’ve never been so emotionally distraught from a commercial, but I just happened to see this one at the exact right time. Sure, I hadn't been in an accident and my car had not actually "saved my life" per se, but still. Someone at Subaru’s advertising department deserves some sort of bonus for that voice-over line. A+ everyone.
I talked to Susie a day or two later and told her about that commercial. We were broken up at this point but still speaking, thankfully. She reminded me that the commercial that made me so upset actually had a happy ending: the man ends up with the exact same car he had and drives off to continue his life. As she often did, Susie helped me see a broader reality of the situation: sadness, but also hope, and choices.
A few days later, I finally heard from the insurance company. I remember specifically; when they called, I was sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading Hamlet, which was a favorite of Susie and me. The woman on the phone was unequivocal about the state of my car, which she described as a “total loss.” She was also extremely kind and could hear the sadness in my voice, which I’m sure she’d heard from many people who’d been affected by the hurricane.
She told me the amount of my Comprehensive Coverage, which covered damage or destruction by flood: around $17,000. I gasped and sighed at the same time.
But before thinking about that, it was time to say goodbye to the car. I drove the rental to the dealership. I happened to be dressed in a black jacket and a white shirt; I guess I was in a mourning mood a lot in those days.
Someone led me to the car, which was parked next to the garage. Its black paint shimmered in the bright September sun. I took my time with it, taking out my surviving possessions: a tire gauge, jumper cables, a bottle of Zantac, some sunglasses. It was only a 2010, and this was 2012. This car had so much life left in it, so many more miles to kill. That’s partly why it was so hard to handle. That and everything else.
I walked all around the car, getting a last look. Finally, I opened the door, opened the glove compartment, and took my car’s manual. And then, I unscrewed the gear shift knob and put it in my jacket pocket. With a nod as if to say, “I’ll see you later,” I walked away to find Al, my Subaru dealer.
I walked up to Al’s desk and said, “So, Al, do you have any black 2010 Foresters on the lot?”
Long story short, that very same day, I bought a black 2010 Subaru Forester X, only this one was a Limited, which is one trim level above the Premium I had originally. I wasn’t so sure how I felt about having leather interior when I was only 27 years old, but I figured I’d get used to it. Plus, it had the exact same mileage as my old car: around 31,000.
It was just right.
I’m still driving that “new” Forester today, in November of 2017. I recently had the head gasket, timing belt, tires, and brakes replaced. About 3-grand worth of work, and she drives like a dream. Next, when I can afford it, is a paint and body job to get rid of all the scratches and dings. I can make her new again.
I know that what happened to me is not all that bad. I wasn’t injured and I had insurance. But experiences like this are still significant because they affect how you see things. I’ll drive that car as long as I can, and get all the time out of it that I can, and put all the miles on it that I can, to get the most out of it while I have it. And that’s how we should be with pretty much everything: spending as much time as we can enjoying and doing what matters with people we love, because you never know when a phase in your life will reveal itself to be just that: a phase, with a beginning, a middle, and all too suddenly, an end.
Every once in awhile, though, I’ll be zooming down the highway at night, listening to Pink Floyd or DJ Shadow, blasting the air conditioning and sitting tall in the seat, and — just for a moment — I’ll forget that it’s not my original Forester, the one on which I learned to drive, to love, and to lose, and in that moment I know that I’ll never forget that car, or that time in my life, before the flood.