automotive taps
timing belt catastrophe
pasture my steel steed

His name was Sognatore. I was deep into my Italophile phase and headed to Italy the following fall after I got him.  So my new-to-me Honda Civic’s name became Sognatore (pronounced: son-ya-tor-ay), Italian for “dreamer” in the masculine form.

It was September 1999.  I was just back to my home state of Arizona from Washington D.C. where I’d been for two years in graduate school.  I had sold my previous car (RIP dear little Spud Car – a 1981 Honda Civic) before moving to D.C. two years earlier. As an inhabitant of the great, wide-open West, I needed a vehicular device.  The silver 1997 DX seemed perfect.  It had a ski and bike rack on the top, a harbinger of my life to come, ten CD disc changer in the back (Is that wise in a hatchback?), had low miles and was the right price.

Two things made me feel the car was meant for me: The license plate was ADA 234.  My first thought was of Ada County Idaho, where Boise is located.  Boise held special memories for me as I went there nearly every summer growing up to visit my mom’s family.

“Did you notice the license plate?” I whispered to Mom who, along with Daddy, was on the scouting-cum-buying trip.

“Mm-hmm,” she smiled conspiratorially. “Ada County.” We nodded knowingly to one another.

The other thing about the car’s history was kismet.  The girl who was selling it didn’t want to, but she was headed back east to go to grad school and didn’t need a car where she was going.

It felt like two pieces of a puzzle coming together.

I started the car and backed into the street.  It made the same sound my former Civic had made while backing up; like a wind-up toy.  Ah… instant familiarity.  I drove it cautiously around the block.  Noted the fancy stereo whose face twisted out to greet me upon starting and turned back around to hide itself when I turned the car off. Coy little thing.

“Whadya think?” Daddy asked me when I returned.

I smiled, “Pretty nice…”

And that was that.

Our first road trip was twelve hundred and eighty-eight unforgettable miles.  I was meeting friends from grad school in Fort Davis, Texas for New Year’s Eve 2000.  The friend who had organized the trip decided that if Y2K were to go down, she wanted to be in a safe, untouchable place.  Fort Davis?  My friend had worked at McDonald Observatory and deemed it the only place to be should all electronic devices come to a circuitry demise. (Truth: The stars are bright deep in the heart of Texas!) Fort Davis proved a perfect host and Sognatore and I got to know each other well after those twenty-some-odd hours of driving.

Many of the 177,000 miles we did together were long road trips.  From Denver to Scottsdale, Arizona (multiple times); Cheyenne and Jackson, Wyoming; Ojo Caliente, New Mexico; Kearny, Nebraska; down to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico and up the coast of California to Santa Barbara.  Shorter travels took us all over Colorado and northern mountains of Arizona. Never once did he protest.

Denver was not kind to Sognatore however.  He seemed to have a target, visible only to malicious strangers, on him.  The first break in happened January of 2002.  I discovered the ten CD disc changer (with all those CDs!) was missing after a long hard day of wrestling with a sawsall at my museum exhibition construction job.  Was I mad!

Next was the urban pioneer phase – we were toughing it out in an up-and-coming crack neighborhood. One busted driver’s side view mirror, two smashed windows (driver and passenger) and two stereos.  It would have been three, but when they demolished the window the last time, the stereo wasn’t even in the car.  That was the day before I was moving to a newly purchased condo (with a safe garage!) in Boulder.  All that abuse in two years.

Our return to Denver brought a final break-in.  Returning from a morning away, my husband asked, “Where did you park your car?”

Flummoxed, “Where I always park it… Where’s my car?” Sognatore was definitely NOT where I had parked him the night before and where he had been when we left the house that morning; next to the house.

Pulling past the house and making a u-turn at the corner where we lived we saw him parked up the street.

“Did you park there?” My husband queried.

Inwardly I faltered.  Did I?  Why would I park up the street, across the way? Sometimes I’m so slow. I simply could not fathom how Sognatore had made his way to the neighbor’s house.

We parked and went to investigate.  The sunscreen had been removed from the front dash windshield area and his steering column had been savagely ripped away leaving carnage like a neck wound.

Who steals a car only to leave it 50 yards from whence it came?!

I’ll never know.  I just figured the perp got in the car for… Parts? A dare? Clandestine drug transaction? And decided no power steering, manual transmission and crank windows weren’t worth the time.  By the time they’d discovered no joy in that ride they ditched him after having gone around the corner.  Sognatore got fixed up (even adding window tint to the last broken window that got replaced but not tinted) and we were on our way once again.

In retrospect, I felt all the break-ins and thefts were about a karmic debt I had to pay in Denver.  It seems too much of a coincidence that the times I lived outside Denver, Sognatore was never violated as he was while living there.  But I also view everything that happens to me, especially my car, as an extension of my inner and spiritual life.  All this added to his faithful steed status.

Salvage Saturday arrived.  They sky was heavy with clouds that were predicted to bring us four to six more inches of snow. (We’d had a blizzard a few weeks earlier whose two foot remains were still very evident.)  The man from the salvage company called about 50 minutes prior to our agreed time of nine a.m. and we scrambled to get out the door to clear my belongings out of Sognatore.

I posed for a photo, hugging Sognatore to the best of my ability, arms spread to engulf one edge of the windshield and the roof.  We emptied the glove box and scoured under the seats for belongings.  When that was done I sat with my arms wrapped around his steering wheel, forehead resting in the center and sobbed like a baby while I told him how much I loved him, appreciated all he’d done for me.  For the safe trips, the karma he’d taken for me, and the thirteen years, four months and fifteen days of dedicated service.

When I pulled away I saw my tears on the steering wheel and was struck by how tears and tough goodbyes are the sign of a life well loved and lived together.  If I’d hated Sognatore I might have kicked a tire on his way out, shaken my fist and said, “Good riddance!”

I realized too how his passing was so much like our relationship; no drama.  He got me home that last Friday night, we parked in the driveway and he just didn’t start the next morning.  Sognatore was like that.  Reliable.  Unassuming.  Brave.

Thank you my fine silvery steed.  Heart and soul of a horse in a Honda body – I’ll miss you my friend.SognatoreGoodbyesognatoreteardrop