The joke was that the little Honda was so old and undesirable that it would take a ten dollar bill on the dash and the key in the ignition to attract a thief. With 300K miles on the clock, the little car was old and tired, but my sister Lee and her husband Dave aren’t the kind of people who replace their cars very often. The Chevy Chevette they bought new in 1981 lasted ten long years under their care so the little Civic, purchased used in 1991 from one of my father’s workmates, was on target to last forever. Other cars came and went in the driveways of the other houses up and down the street, but in their driveway the Civic endured, a fixture of solidity and reliability in an ever changing world. And then one day, it was gone.
The little car had aged in the 21 years since it had left the assembly line. On the outside, its body was still in good shape but its rubber pieces had gone grey in places and its bright red paint had had faded from decades under the summer sun. Inside, daily use had made the car’s once plush velour seats worn and threadbare and the touch of human hands had removed the texture from the plastic shift knob, leaving it cue-ball smooth. Those same hands had worked on the steering wheel as well, leaving patches of shiny black plastic where they rested the most while other body parts, a resting elbow here a rubbing knee there, had worn other interior pieces. Below the line of sight, the edges of the pedals were worn smooth from use while the carpets, protected by at least three generations of thick rubber mats, still looked surprisingly good. It was not a luxurious place to sit, perhaps it never had been really, but time and familiarity had made it comfortable.
Mechanically, like almost all Hondas, the little Civic was solid. Thanks to regular oil changes and the kind of thorough maintenance routine that only an aerospace engineer like my brother-in-law could abide by, under the hood the car was as good as ever. Sure, things wore out once in a while, but they were supposed to, and when they did they were replaced. The efforts paid off and, despite the decades that had elapsed, the car remained a reliable daily commuter; a testament to its engineers and its owners.
The theft of the little Civic hit my sister’s family hard. Like anyone who is a victim of theft, they took the loss of the car personally. They may have joked that the old car was undesirable and toyed with the notion that not even a thief would want it, but that didn’t mean the vehicle was unloved. Losing it was like losing a member of the family and anger welled up inside. Within minutes of noting the car’s loss they were on the phone to the police.
Salt Lake City isn’t a hot bed of criminal activity. It’s a safe, clean city filled with upstanding, honest people who take pride in their community. Even so, the theft of the Honda wasn’t front page news and, although the police took the report and promised to get right on the case, the return of the car in useable condition wasn’t likely. Most “vintage” cars, my sister and her husband were told, end up in chop shops and even a simple joyride could end in a crash or vandalism. Chances were, the police informed them, if the car wasn’t already in pieces, it soon would be – one way or another. They steeled themselves for the worst.
Sometimes, however, there are happy endings and just two days after the police were made aware of the car’s theft, the little Honda turned up abandoned downtown, the flotsam and jetsam of a night’s worth of petty criminal activity, and a bag of half-eaten gummy worms, left scattered around the interior. There was no real damage, no bashed in body panels and no sliced up seats. In fact, the worst thing the thief, or thieves, had done was to shake up a can of Red Bull and spray it all over the headliner. Overall, the damage was light and with a little elbow grease the cars was soon restored to its former glory.
Today, the little Honda is back where it belongs and everything is, once again, as it should be. Other cars come and go from the driveways of the other houses up and down the street, but in my sister’s driveway the Civic endures, a fixture of solidity and reliability in an ever changing world. There are no more jokes about leaving the keys in the car and a ten dollar bill on the dash. The car is old but it’s not undesirable. It’s family.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.