By Zach d’Arbeloff
There is something uniquely American about hitting the open road, tank full of gas. Maybe it is our country’s wide open spaces, sprawling highway system, or the plethora of places to go. Perhaps it is the mindset; the affirmation of the ideals upon which this country was founded. An open road means freedom and a destination can be anywhere. In a world with 4G LTE, wi-fi in every building, cell phone car integration, the open road is as close as we can get to the covered wagons of the Oregon Trail. It is the closest remaining feeling that attaches us to our country’s roots, to westward expansion, to a traverse towards the unknown. To Manifest Destiny.
Perhaps this is why we develop such an attachment to our cars. That horrible in between as you go from activity, the doldrums known as “travel,” takes place in a vehicle. To get from adventure to adventure, you need a vehicle. To truly experience the freedom of this country, you need a vehicle (which certainly says something about the socio-economic dynamics of America, but that is a conversation for a different article).
I write these introspective paragraphs on American culture because my car has finally given out on me and is being donated. Which might not sound like a big deal to some people, but is a very big deal to me. To sell my car is to move onto a new stage of life, and to put a decade of raucous adventures behind me,
The Golden Bullet, as I affectionately named it in high school, has been a staple of my life since the turn of the millennium. I was 10 when we purchased the robust Volvo XC70 in 2000. I wanted a Subaru. I hated the boxy look of the Volvo. It wasn’t “cool” enough for me. While the Subaru represents the cool, young, adventurous type, the Volvo, to me, was representative of soccer moms and play dates (I now own a Subaru). In the back of my mind, even as a 10 year old, I was strangely aware that this beast would someday be mine.
Then, still, it was my mother’s. And it was every bit the “soccer mom” car I thought it would be. It carried me, my sister, my friends, and our stuff all over. Whether it was a Lacrosse jamboree in Devens, a trip to New Hampshire or the Cape, or a winter-weekend up at Sugarbush, the Volvo was our vehicle. My dad, at the time, leased an Audi A6. This car was NOT for carpooling, driving other people around, or generally doing anything that would have gotten the car dirty. In any way. So we all piled into the Bullet, filling it with various odors, stains, scratches, and dents that made it feel more like home than I thought a car could. I think my mom always resented it, but she put up with it anyway.
It was April of 2007 when I finally got my license and took hold of the Golden Bullet. She had a hair over 100,000 miles on her, but those were still her glory days. I topped her out once at 120 mph – it is still one of the scariest things I have ever done. I almost flipped her when I tried to make an exit at the last second. Stereotypes about new drivers are accurate – I was crazy – but I think this trial period is what really bonded me to my car. Sure, it wasn’t a sports car, but it could go fast. The handling sucked, but the interior was so comfortable. I felt powerful behind the wheel – like I was driving a tank on the road with regular cars. The engine roared. The car really felt like you were moving.
My first semester at St. Lawrence, I didn’t have the Bullet at school. I thought it would be silly to have a car at school. Boy, was I wrong. Not only did I need it to get to the Adirondacks – somewhere between an hour or two of driving – but the 400 miles home, I learned, was really crappy on a bus. My sister was off kayaking around the world for high school, I had no competitor for the vehicle, so I successfully convinced my parents to let me bring it up in January. Nothing tackles the rough Adirondack winter like a Volvo. The frostheaved roads, caked with ice, make for a bumpy and dangerous ride.
My first trip up to Canton, NY, about six hours away by car, was a snowy day in January. Coming around a sharp corner about two miles from my house, I was forced to swerve to avoid a car coming around the corner wide. I felt my wheels slip off the road as I spun around in slow motion, smashing my bumper into pieces on the guard rail (I now think I could have avoided the accident altogether, but I was inexperienced in the snow then). I stopped in the middle of the road, collected the pieces, and spent two hours in my garage duct taping the bumper together. Off the Bullet roared, and she spent half a semester (and drove a couple thousand miles) with her bumper taped on.
The Bullet just absorbed it all and kept on going.
The Bullet became one of our ultimate teams’ staples. By name, we were the Ruckus Bus, but the Bullet was our Ruckus Wagon. It was the team’s pack mule, trucking all over New York and, once a year, down the coast to Georgia. A spot in the Bullet was coveted: it meant you didn’t have to sit with bags at your feet. You could relax into the leather, and not feel quite as on top of each other as you did in every other car.
After college, my now-fiancee and I began our grand journey, the Bullet as our chariot. We packed our lives into the car and shipped out for Driggs, Idaho, a tiny mountain town in the heart of the Tetons. The 2200-mile drive across the country saw one casualty: a Volkswagen Jetta. The Volvo was flawless. At one point, my friend backed her brand new Toyota Tundra into the front of my Volvo (she wasn’t looking). There was $1200 of damage to the Tundra’s rear bumper, and not a scratch on the Bullet.
It made the trip to Idaho 4 times, there and back in consecutive years. Along the way it drove me all over the Tetons, hiking and skiing. Controlling the heavy wagon on snowy Teton Pass was an exercise in patience and, sometimes, terror. She coasted down the access road to Grand Targhee Resort like a dream, arcing every corner and passing Californians who drove like an inch of snow was in impassable blizzard. On our way out for our second winter, a runner along the side of the windshield bent off violently in the wind and had to be duct taped back onto the windshield. It stayed like that for 8 months, until we returned to Massachusetts.
It was after the second return trip to Boston that she really started having problems. Sure, beforehand she had periodic maintenance, the transmission was clunky and she had her share of quirks, but she ran like a dream. Maybe it was months in the cold at high altitude. Maybe it was just the fact that she was cruising past 215,000 miles. Whatever it was, she came down with something really serious during the summer of 2014. The A/C stopped working, even when recharged. She started coughing every time I started her up. If I accelerated and braked in quick succession, she’d stall out. I knew the end was near.
We ended up purchasing a little Subaru Impreza wagon in January to replace her. She’s driven approximately 5 miles a day since, taking me to my nearby job. She had her last great adventures this past spring trekking around Massachusetts as I coached my old high school’s Ultimate team, but I knew she was too old for the long drives that had been her calling card years before.
When she failed inspection in August, I knew it was time. I tried to sell her, but it turns out, a 15 year old car with almost 250,000 miles that needs a few thousand dollars worth of work isn’t a hot ticket item on CraigsList.
Instead, she will be heading to the local charity Kars 4 Kids, in order to be repaired and re-sold, and hopefully make someone else happy for a few years. I can’t afford to repair her, so it’s all for the best. I will always cherish the 250,000 miles of memories that span 15 years, the majority of my life. From being driven around by mom to keeping my fiance and I safe as we screamed across America, she’s been nothing but a trusty partner and a true friend.
I will miss the Bullet. She was my first car, my first love, my first baby, all at the same time. She was a protector, a pack mule, and a friend. She may never again feel the freedom of her golden body streaking across the highways of America. Maybe there is something uniquely American about our connection to our vehicles; maybe I’m just a sucker who is too emotionally attached to my car. Either way, her 250,000 miles of adventure will never be forgotten, and her legend will live on, at least in my heart.