The weekend just been saw me take the dreaded last drive to take my little Ford Ka to the great big highway in the sky (well actually the local wreckers yard), and although it isn't sensible or logical that a grown man should cry over the loss of what is essentially nothing more than an four wheel econobox, it does raise the question "why do we love our cars so much?"
I bought my little red Ka in 2001, which means that I've spent nine years with her. We've been over many many dirt roads and on tracks which are supposedly impassable to anything but big SUVs. Secretly we laughed at drivers of faux-wheel-drives like the BMW X5 and the Volvo XC90, who gag at the thought of getting dirt on their precious paintwork. Believe me, one of the most satisfying things you can to do is to overtake an SUV on a dirt road and flash past at 130km/h whilst they struggle to cope with dust getting in through the windows. For goodness sake people it's the "great outdoors", by definition you need to be outdoors to be in the "great outdoors".
When you think about it, nine years is a long time; it's even longer than I've had some cats and dogs for. When you punt a car through peak hour traffic for two hours every day, five days a week, and probably the same amount of time at weekends for fun, it means that you've probably spent more time with your car, than even your drinking partners down at the local pub; just like being at the local pub, you still need to be aware of the troublemakers, the people singing too loudly and people who barge their way in front of you.
Most of us tend to dislike sitting in traffic for extended periods of time, but since I've been forced to take public transport again, I've again come to realise what an understated joy sitting in traffic actually is. On the train or the bus, there are people with their pod-machines playing their repetitive music far too loudly, other people who smell like they haven't had a wash since 1963, and worst of all there are those people who spill out of the seat they happen to be sitting on and into yours, which squeezes you towards the windows and ever closer to the inevitable smear of grubby head funk that some other weary traveller has left behind.
In your own private commuting space, you can play your own music, make your own smells, eat and drink anything you want to and throw the wrappers on the floor, all without some transit inspector telling you off. If it gets too hot you can either put on your own private AC or perhaps wind the windows down.
Owning a car for any length of time is rather like owning a pair of boots; especially if you bought it new. Every driver leaves their unique imprint in the clutch in rather the same way as your feet over time shape the very insides of the boots. Just like an old pair of boots feels snug and comfy to wear in a way that no new pair can, the longer you own a car, the more comfortable it becomes.
It is true to say that the longer you own any car for, the more familiar you are with its little idiosyncrasies. Moreover you also become aware of when the car feels "wrong" and you instinctively know when things need to be repaired. For the true car nuts out there this may spill over into the realms of obsession and there even are a few strange people to actually like to make repairs on their cars for fun.
Also, because of the fact that your car is the face you present to other road users, it becomes part of your identity. People actually get to know your comings and goings because of the car you drive. I think that it's not only fair to say that the kind of car the someone would choose for themselves is a reflection of their ego but that on the road it actually becomes an extension of one's ego.
From the music you have blaring from the stereo, to the way you drive through traffic be it aggressive, passive or whatever, your little metal ego-bubble is the only thing which other road users see. They do not refer to you by name or even by licence plate, but "that silver Golf" or "the idiot in that yellow sports car". If you were drive like a maniac down a stretch of road and then get out of one car and jump into an entirely different one, other road users aren't instantly going to be nasty to you because they will simply be unaware that you are in fact the same maniac as before. They only see the cars we drive and it is those masks which become our dramatis personæ.
Ultimately a car starts out as a blank canvass. Over time they might be personalised, dressed up with wings, bumper stickers, modifications, or even none of these. What is true about every car is that we paint our memories onto this canvas and our cars being the impartial observers to our lives that they are, take on all of it and not once complain about it.
Especially because of this last point, when you finally have to drive that long last mile, it really is like saying goodbye to part of yourself; so perhaps it is appropriate to shed a tear.
So thanks for the memories little red Ka, even though no-one else though a lot of you, you were all mine, and that is enough.
Ford Ka Mk1 - Colorado Red
Rust in Peace