Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed the mileage on my car, a 1984 BMW 733i, approaching the 200,000 mark. Despite all the repair bills, I adore my car, so I decided that when it surpassed the mark, I wanted it to be while I was doing, going to or coming from somewhere enjoyable, something I could look back upon fondly.
This morning I had a mere fifteen miles to go, and the destination seemed perfect. I was on my way to the Rose Garden to do a short interview with Portland Trail Blazers point guard Sebastian Telfair for Men’s Fitness magazine. A mild but warm autumn sun shone brightly as I strolled into the media room at the Rose Garden. As sports reporters from The Oregonian and KATU talked shop, I gazed at portraits from the Blazers’ championship-winning season. In one shot, Bill Walton stretched in mid-air to block a shot by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Nice. In another, all of Broadway was a sea of people as the championship parade slowly made its way down the street.
Then came my interview with Telfair, who I was very excited to see the Blazers draft last year as an 18-year-old high school senior. I think he's going to be a superstar. And although our interview was very brief, Telfair was very personable and gave great answers to my questions. I can tell you he loves Jay-Z and that the alley-oop play is all about subtle eye contact between the guy who tosses up the ball and the one who catches it for a dunk.
Although it was exciting to see the whole Blazer roster there on the Rose Garden court shooting baskets and practicing post-ups, players like Zach Randolph and Darius Miles, I actually felt far more star-struck seeing assistant coach Maurice Lucas, whose jersey is retired by the Blazers for his crucial contributions to Portland's 1977 NBA championship. (He was their leading scorer and a major intimidator who had Walton's back.) I suppose as a reporter I could have made up an excuse to ask Lucas a few questions, but in truth I couldn't think of anything to say except, "Thank you." So I left old Luke be so he could keep instructing Miles on footwork.
But then, as I got into my car, I realized that with 11 miles to go, the trip home would not be long enough to get me to 200,000. And the only other trip I had planned in the car for the day was to attend a funeral for my uncle and aunt’s mother in law. (They're a brother and sister married to a brother and sister.) Obviously paying respect to Marie von Behren is infinitely more important than the odometer on my car, but I'm a bit superstitious sometimes, and I still didn’t want to reach the 200,000 mark on my way to a funeral. (Incidentally, I think it's often been a weakness of mine over the years to try and force something meaningful out of a particular prescribed moment, like to have a good day on my birthday or whatever.)
So instead of driving home, I headed for the Interstate 5 onramp near the Rose Garden. With the stereo playing one of my favorite albums, Smart Went Crazy’s Con Art, I took a speedy but scenic drive on Interstate 405 over the Freemont Bridge and past the western edge downtown. I could see countless cranes in the Pearl District erecting condos, and a haze hanging over Mt. Hood in the distance.
As the mileage approached that big round number, I had to laugh at a possible omen coming from one of the songs on the album, “Song of the Dodo”:
proud and doomed
as a dodo bird
in a history textbook
under a puddle of drool
on your desk
obsolescence burst right out
of a birthday cake
with a bright bikini
and a festive grin
If you tell people your car has 200,000 miles on it, they assume it’s an obsolete, beat-up piece of shit and you’re going to trade it in as soon as humanly possible. While my car has certainly had its troubles over the years—multiple catalytic converters, a busted radiator, numerous air conditioning fluid leaks, a fender bender with a city bus, all but obsolete tires that have to be special ordered from Louisiana for a fortune, and much more—I have no intention of getting rid of it. I don’t subscribe to the notion of buying a new car every few years. Many of the cars I see people pay tens of thousands of dollars for seem pretty flimsy, and stylistically banal. I feel as though I have a great car, a distinctly beautiful and a very solid one built for the long haul. If a part breaks or wears out, I have it fixed or replaced, even if it's something as big as a motor or transmission. Sooner or later the end of this car will come, either because of fossil fuels' end or a car accident. But in the meantime, this is my car.
As it happens, “Song of the Dodo” finished a few minutes before the milestone and I kept the car kept rolling, now heading back toward home on I-5 as the odometer creeped its final mile toward 200,000. And when it finally arrived, I was crossing the Marquam Bridge over the Willamette River, with a postcard view of downtown Portland. The symbolism was almost too perfect.