The Tipping Point

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer

Years ago, I was paid to help a neighbor clean out his garage. It was an old, ramshackle building with a dirt floor and over the years it had been filled with an amazing amount of crap. At the very back, under a canvas tarp, I found a long neglected late 60s Honda CB750 in fairly rough condition. When I asked about it, my neighbor told me how, as a younger man, he had purchased the bike new and travelled the highways and byways of the American West for many years before finally coming home a settling down to start a family. To him, it was an icon of his youth and a time of freedom. To my young eyes, however, it was just a neglected old bike covered in dirt and cobwebs, found forgotten, alone and unloved and condemned to spend its remaining years as a lifeless touchstone of another time. It struck me as a particularly sad end to a life of service and I decided then that no vehicle of mine would ever languish its remaining life away in a barn or under a cover.

It was the arrival of my third child that sparked my family’s need for a bigger vehicle. Up to that point we had been fine with my Chrysler and the Pontiac Torrent I had purchased for my wife after our return from Japan. Both cars had a pair of car seats in the back for our two older kids, but neither proved to be wide enough to add a the necessary third seat. It was obvious we needed a minivan and I soon began a long search that netted us the Ford Freestar that I have written about on these pages before. With my wife firmly ensconced in her new mommy mobile, the low mileage Torrent that had previously been hers became my daily driver and the Chrysler slipped to the side of the drive where it sat snug and secure under its cover as the Buffalo winter swept towards us.

The following year, whenever the weather looked nice, I rolled the Chrysler out of its spot from time to time for various work-related jaunts around Western New York. I took it to work on the nicest days and at other time used it for those few, infrequent errands that didn’t involve carting a kid around. It was nice to have and I used it a few times while our van went to the shop but for the most part, it simply sat and waited. That autumn, as inspection time rolled around, I found that I had put a grand total of four thousand miles on the clock. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a long unused synapse fired and a memory of a rusty, sad-looking motorcycle flashed into my consciousness. I pushed the vision back into its place and, with another winter on the horizon, slipped the Chrysler back into its place at the side of the drive way and secured its cover.

The memory continued to work at me, however, and the site of the car hunkered down under its cover and covered in autumn leaves, then snow and finally the yellow pollen of a new spring, gnawed at me. A few weeks ago, I took the car out, prepped it for the summer and doted on it as usual but the seed that had been planted last fall had grown large enough that events had crossed the tipping point. I made a last work related road trip three weeks ago and upon my return posted an ad to Craigslist.

I asked too much money but, regardless, someone responded quickly. Our first conversation went well and the interested party, a man named John, seemed like a good guy, Even better he had spent much of his life in Arizona, where I had purchased the car after my return from Japan in 2010, and he knew the dealership in question. What sealed the deal was when he and his wife arrived to check out my car and I saw he was driving his own less-than-Special Chrysler 300M.

There was tire kicking, a look under the hood, a test drive and a conversation but surprisingly little haggling. John and I are men of a similar type, I learned, and he knew exactly what he was buying. Maybe it was more expensive than every other 300M in Western New York, but it was truly unique and, like me, John was smitten as soon as he slipped behind the wheel. He thought about it overnight and, after working out the finances, came back on Wednesday evening with his cashier’s check. We swapped another story or two as we wrapped up the paperwork and then he opened the door, sunk down into the seat and started the engine. The car burbled at idle as he adjusted the seat, the mirrors and took a moment to survey his purchase. He slipped the car into gear, pulled the parking brake and then, slowly, majestically, the 300M slipped slowly down the drive, onto the street and out of my life forever.

The logical side of me knows that machines are things to be used up and discarded. If a person is especially devoted to regular service and maintenance they can stretch the lifespan of a given vehicle well beyond the norm. If they have the necessary mechanical skill, or the money to access those who do, they can keep a machine running indefinitely. But if a person lacks the time or interest to do the maintenance, make the repairs or even drive a vehicle then there can be only one, ultimate result. If, as I have often posited in my articles, cars really do have souls, the deserve better than to be held prisoner of a man’s past. They deserve a chance to live out their lives in the sun, with the wind streaming over them, the road rushing towards them and the miles falling away behind. Godspeed.

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.

Thomas Kreutzer
Thomas Kreutzer

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  • Sketch447 Sketch447 on May 20, 2013

    "If, as I have often posited in my articles, cars really do have souls, the deserve better than to be held prisoner of a man’s past." Sigh. That is genius, pure genius! (I'm quoting Wile E. Coyote as he tinkered in his lab.) I don't really agree that cars have souls. I'm too practical and jaded at this point. But writing such as yours just might make me change my mind!

  • Brettc Brettc on May 20, 2013

    That was an excellent article. Cars do have souls, some more than others (current Toyotas are excluded though). The ending made me momentarily sad when I think of all the vehicles I see on the road that really aren't that old but either sound or look like crap because the owner doesn't care for it like it should be cared for and just treats it as something to get from point A to B.

  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three