The End. That’s how this story begins. It begins with the end of the line for our beloved Big Black Car. It’s a Suburban. We never really named the car – maybe we should have. Once, on a camping trip, one of our friends called it the Puff Daddy Mobile but that name didn’t stick. Another friend more aptly called it The Battle Cruiser, but we never did. We sometimes called it the ‘Burban but mostly it was The Big Black Car – or Black Car – for short.
There’s a little bit of a pall over our household. And my daughters at college are feeling the loss too. We drove the car into the car graveyard. It’s gone – the emblem of our family life -the chariot that drove us up, down, around and across California and beyond during fifteen hectic years while we raised our children. The job of raising those kids may never be over but the need for a massive car to get around seems to be.
On D-day we got up early. We woke our fifteen year old son, Will, and asked him if he wanted to drive the car around the block before we took it away. He jumped out of bed faster than I’ve ever seen. No – he doesn’t have his license but we wanted to give him the experience of driving our family car – create a memory. He’ll never forget it. He’s already imitating his father’s guidance during the drive,”Mom, what’s with Dad?: Stop, Stop, Stop, STOP!” I captured it on camera so you can see it for yourself.
I sat in the back seat while Will drove. We bought the car shortly after he was born. I noticed the section of the seat that’s supposed to move forward – which never really did – even when the car was packed with kids in a carpool and there were a few sitting in the way back. Over the life of the car there were many carpools. We carpooled to and from school, sports practices, various summer camps and to activities like Cotillion. Once I remember picking up at Cotillion and Cute Prim Teacher was going over carpool etiquitte. I broke into that church laughter – the one where you can’t even breathe – as she clicked through the rules – don’t beg the driver to stop for food, don’t exit the vehicle by climbing over seats, speak in soft car tones, don’t address the driver while driving – etc. I wondered what Miss Cotillion would think of our crew if she happened to be on the sidewalk as I rolled by – let’s say – on my after-school pick up of my kids and the Reed kids from St. Paul’s in Los Angeles. First of all, she would have heard us coming – even from the sidewalk – and the sound would not resemble soft car tones – and if she listened closely she definitely would have heard the kids relentlessly begging me to stop for donuts – and if she followed us she would have seen that I reinforced that behavior by – yes – stopping for donuts. And if she were at the house for drop off she might have noticed that the kids exited the vehicle by climbing over the back seat to get to the door – and if she quizzed all of us she would have found that not one of us even knew how to roll the back seat forward to exit the vehicle properly. But those kids – every last one of them – turned out OK.
We took some pictures with Big Black Car and Will said goodbye. Then I started it up for the final run. I noticed the engine was missing a little – it didn’t matter now. It warmed up and we sailed down the 24 with a view of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge on the right – it was a sunny morning. This car had taken us to some of the most beautiful places in the West and I was glad to witness one more beautiful view from the drivers’ seat. But when the end came – the last thirty seconds of Big Black Car’s ride – were not so pretty. I captured that on video too.
The State of California had sent us to an East Oakland address to drop off the car and pick up our one thousand dollars – the deal they offer to get clunkers off the road. I don’t know what I expected. I thought maybe it would be like a funeral home or something – people would understand our grief maybe – just a little. But it was a place called Pick and Pull – a junk yard. I wasn’t loving the vibe. My husband had taken a number. He met me outside – said there was one overwhelmed worker inside – the wait would be long. I looked around – I looked at him – we decided we both didn’t need to wait. I got out my ear buds and handed them to him and said I was going home to watch Katie’s game – I told him he could watch on his phone. I gave Black Car a little pat – and got in our other car and drove home with a heavy heart.
I couldn’t help but think how fitting it was that the end of our daughter’s volleyball career at University of Chicago landed on the same day as the end of the line for Big Black Car. I pulled up the game on the internet. Her team was playing Emory University – we had seen Chicago beat Emory a few weeks earlier in St. Louis but this face off was for first place in their conference – for Chicago it would be the first time ever. Big Black Car would have been proud. It was there at the birth of Katie’s volleyball career and dragged her to tournaments for eight years before she left for college. At first the whole family would go – but then Margaret and Will got their own sports so in later years it was usually just me. I would start up the engine before dawn some Saturdays to drive players to places like Antioch, Brentwood, Sacramento and even Reno. The girls had to get there early to warm up and I would climb in the back seat with a pillow and a blanket and sleep for an hour or so before the games started. I felt safe behind the tinted windows.
But a few years before that – in Southern California -those windows got me into trouble. It was the day I was wrapping up jury duty at the Compton Courthouse. I drove toward the freeway and sort of well, yes, ran a red light. But the thing is – it was one of those tricky ones where there was no intersection attached to the red light. It was just suddenly there. And even more suddenly I heard some sirens and saw the lights and there was a police officer pulling me over. The officer came to my window and I explained to him I was not from the area, in fact, I was on jury duty and I had just completed a civic task by convicting a guy for a shooting at a McDonalds. And since I am not from here I didn’t know there would be this random red light popping up on a street with no intersection but if I ever come back I will certainly remember it and stop. He smiled. He asked for my registration which I gave him and then went back to his car. I thought I had nailed it. I was feeling pretty good. I started cleaning out my glove box and taking care of some general organizational tasks – until something caught my eye in the rear view mirror. It was eight cops cars. I counted them. I wondered what he had pulled up on the check of my registration. We had just bought Black Car from the wife of a dentist, maybe she was a criminal. Maybe it was stolen. I thought about getting out of the car but since I am in the news business I know that you don’t want to do anything unexpected around a bunch of cops so I decided to stick my head – just a little – out of the window and wave over the cop who had stopped me. He walked up to the car. I said “Hey, ahh -what’s with the back up?” He said, “Oh those guys? Ma’am, I called for back up when I pulled you over. You know – in this neighborhood, a big car like this – tinted windows – there could be eight guys inside.” Relief. I said, “Wow, in my neighborhood a big car like this means you’ve got at least three kids.” I didn’t get a ticket that day. He left again and came back with a couple of his buddies and handed me my registration. We talked about my jury duty and my car and I asked them how to get to the freeway. They said to follow them. And on that day Big Black Car got a police escort straight out of Compton.
Black Car wasn’t only an ominous sight for Compton police, it had a similar effect on a certain crowd in the Bay Area. When we moved to Northern California I found Big Black Car suddenly transformed from Soccer Mom Vehicle to ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. It was viewed as something of – well, maybe an evil gas guzzler – particularly to people at Berkeley Bowl – the hippie market where I sometimes shop for groceries. Yes, Black Car and I were bullied there. I was accosted by a man who told me I was ruining the environment. I was flipped off, smirked at and once I got into big trouble because my car was taking up too much of MY parking space. Now – I’m not saying I bought an electric car because of those people but I did replace Black Car with an electric car for many reasons – and one fringe benefit of the purchase is that now I sail into that parking lot with my head held high. I am the Queen of Sheeba in the Berkeley Bowl parking lot these days.
My husband texted that the workforce of the Pick and Pull had just increased by 100 percent. Another worker had shown up. I was watching the game. He couldn’t get it on his phone. I texted him the score. Chicago was winning. During breaks in the game I started paging through some photo albums looking for pictures of Black Car for this blog post. All I could find was Big Black Car on vacation.
I realized just how much the car had hauled us around. I love a car trip and we took many over the years. I used to sit in the way back and stretch out and maybe read. The kids would fight for shot gun… or sit three across the back seat watching a movie. But in the way back – I had a birds eye view of my progeny and they were stuck with me for hours. It was heaven. From Southern California we went to places like Palm Springs, Arrowhead, Santa Barbara – And Big Black Car camped with us along the beach from Big Sur to Malibu to Topanga. But when we camped in Catalina it waited at the ferry. We had an annual ski trip to Mammoth – we would caravan with families in other kinds of big cars.
And I found a picture of the car at our annual St.Paul’s camping trip in Santa Barbara with the whole school.
Once Black Car hauled us to Lake Powell –
And it often took us to Yosemite – and even hauled our rafts to the water where we put in and floated down the Merced River.
We moved to Northern California and Black Car took us to new campgrounds in Point Reyes and Santa Cruz and to vacations in Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe and every few years to the little hidden lake in Black Butte, Oregon where we swam and tried to stand on floating logs. And it ferried us up and down the State of California for Thanksgiving Dinners and Christmas Days and Easter Brunches and July 4th Celebrations. And then somewhere along the way – Big Black Car was retired from car trips. We didn’t stop going – we rented – and I always felt a little guilty piling into a rental with Black Car looking on from the driveway.
At the wrecking yard when my husband pulled the car up to the gate and got out for the last time – a worker took an orange marker and marked up all the panels. I asked him if he took a picture – he said no – he didn’t want to remember that. The man told him the car would be crushed – I don’t really know why that crushed me the way it did. But it did.
I drove Black Car every single day for years – to work and back, to school and back and everywhere else and back. We had a good thing going but I had a plan for how I was going to eventually transition out of Black Car. I came up with it while I was opening car doors at the drop-off line at my kids’ elementary school. In my next car life – I was going to be the woman who pulls up in her new or newish pristine sedan car. The one who smiles slightly when you open the door to let her child out and classical music wafts out into the air. Her child looks calm and his hair is combed. He elegantly steps out of the car and walks slowly to the school yard. Then – and this is the best part – when the door is shut there is a satisfying suction sound – the door does not rattle – and the music disappears. Anyway, my long-term plan was to be HER. I thought I might be able to pull it off when Katie – my oldest – left for college. Then, when she did – getting a new car didn’t seem like a priority. A couple years later my second daughter even left for college. I was behind on my plan to be the woman in the sedan – until I got a new job in San Jose – which is the real reason I went electric – to sail through traffic in the carpool lane. No – its not a sedan – it’s a small SUV – but the doors do shut with that satisfying suction sound.
In its twilight – Black Car was still busy. Jim was taking Bart to work but he used the car to take Will to basketball practice and our daughter Margaret and her friends drove it around town when she came home from college. They’d go up to the view spot in the Oakland Hills or to their favorite food haunts. I liked it when the kids were in that car because I felt they were safe. I’m sure they talked out a lot of little and big things in Black Car – the way teenagers do – when they’re not blaring the music so loudly they can’t hear themselves think – much less talk. In fact – Margaret still won’t admit it – but they blew out a speaker on one of the those drives.Once they ran out of gas in Black Car in the middle of the intersection and took a picture of the ordeal.
Katie’s team won. I called my husband and told him. And then the news about Black Car got better. He said the crushed car would be loaded onto a truck and hauled off to the Port of Oakland and put on a container ship for Asia. There, it would be recycled and probably used to build another car. My heart soared. In a few months – Big Black Car might be back! I can see it now – rolling out of some dealership with a new family heading into a life full of carpools, sports and vacations. So – you’ll understand what’s going on if in the coming months you happen to spot me walking up to new cars around Oakland – and whispering – “Black Car – is it you?”