Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Farewell, My Lovely 626

After years of loyal service, I watched slightly misty-eyed the other day as a tow-truck pulled my Mazda 626 down Prince Street to go wherever vehicles donated to KQED go, perhaps Mexico or some junkyard where it could be carved up for parts. The 626 was 18 with 142,000 miles, and although still chugging along it had failed its latest smog-test. Coupled with an inability to open the driver’s window and a predilection to leak more fluids than I thought a car possessed weakened any argument I could make to keep it going.
A bit of history: in the fall of ’93, after a year of badgering my wife that my mid-life crisis demanded that she agree it was a great idea for me to buy a Mazda Miata, a car I loved from the day it hit the showroom, she reluctantly relented after warning me that in her opinion the Miata “was a coffin on wheels.” The next day, I hit Oakland Mazda and bought a red Miata. When I pulled into the driveway, my wife took one look and said that I had a choice: “The car or the marriage.” Apparently, she never believed I’d actually go out and buy the coffin on wheels.
Now a stronger man would have continued to make his case, or ignored his wife’s unhappiness, or maybe agreed to a divorce.
I am not that kind of guy. I actually loved my wife more than the Miata (still do; yesterday marked the 34th anniversary of the night we met by chance in Manhattan). So the next day, with my tailgate between my legs, I returned to Oakland Mazda and tried to return the Miata, which had all of eight miles on it. After some boloney from a salesman about how he couldn’t possibly take the car back, we cut a deal: they accepted the Miata if I bought another Mazda, which is how I ended up with the 626. In retrospect, I got a lucky break: the car never gave me trouble until its final three years, and it reliably took me all over Los Angeles and southern California during the 10 years I worked down there for TV Guide (commuting via Southwest back to Berkeley on weekends, an arrangement I now look back and wonder how I did it (there were more than 800 flights), although I do have a large collection of tiny packs of honey-roasted peanuts).
An astute reader (and I know I have only astute readers) may wonder what’s the movie or book connection here. Well, AR, I’ll tell you: for most of those 18 years, I kept a copy of Raymond Chandler’s “Farewell, My Lovely” under the 626’s front seat—and over the years I read the book twice as I waited at car washes, oil- changing places, doctor offices, even in traffic jams, of which there are many, not only on the freeways but throughout LA at any time of the day and often for no discernable reason. “Farewell, My Lovely,” my favorite Chandler novel, was my backup whenever I failed to bring along other reading material.
I remembered to snatch the book out from the front seat before the tow-truck drove off. It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way—but not as far as Velma had gone. *
*If you’ve never read “Farewell, My Lovely,” you really should give it a try. And the last two sentences of the above entry are the last two of Chandler’s great novel. Read the book and you’ll find out all about Velma.


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