The year 2005 was not a good year. That was the year I made the decision to separate from my husband. Our divorce was finalized two days before Katrina made landfall in New Orleans (I still lived in Houston, but the storm did not go unnoticed there). So it stands to reason that Valentine's Day, 2005, would not have been a good day. And in many ways, I'm sure it wasn't. I don't really remember. But something good did happen that day. That was the day that, knowing I would soon be on my own, I took myself down to CarMax in pursuit of a car of my own.
I knew that the CarMax I was heading to had a Honda Civic that was dark green, just like the Accord I'd wrecked the year before. I loved that car, and was hoping for something as close to it as possible. I test drove the green one, but something just didn't feel right. I had a second and third option picked out from the website, so I asked to drive the white one next. The white Civic felt GREAT, and I decided, since there's no going back, it was time to move forward. I put half down and drove my new car off the lot. In that first week, I fell in love, so much so that I decided for the first time that my car needed a name. In that instant, the name that came to me was Otto. I swear it's because I'd been reading Willa Cather for grad school, and there were characters in the stories named Otto. I didn't see the pun until half a minute later, and I laughed out loud, sitting there in my car in the dark, on Sunset Blvd. near Ashby. That pretty much settled it.
I moved out. I lived in some friends' spare bedroom. I moved into my own apartment, in the same complex as my first very own apartment, back sophomore year in college. I went to work. I went to grad school. And Otto got me where I was going. The first months weren't all smooth road, though. In exchange for a ride up to Caddo Lake after the semester was over, a friend offered to let me stay at his family's lake house for a few days. The sun on the cypress trees and the smooth lake water covered by lilies, the quiet magic of Caddo, was just what I needed, wound tight by end of term finals and my own personal demons. After a couple of days, I felt myself again, and more at peace. And it's a good thing.
We'd been out on the Cypress River on the boat, up to Jefferson, TX for chicken fried steak. When we got back, the winch to raise the boat out of the water wasn't working. We had noticed smoke on the shore, and now we realized it was coming from very near the house. We hurried up the slope to find that a tree limb had fallen into the driveway, taking out the power to the house. The live lines had set a retaining wall for the parking area smoldering, and the upper limbs of the branch had engulfed... my car.
Otto meets a tree! - Near Caddo Lake
Really, we got off easy, Otto and I. If I'd parked six feet closer, the main bole of the limb would have landed directly on the roof of my car, causing major damage. The large dents and scrapes caused by the smaller limbs required quite bit of body work, and explaining to the insurance company how a tree limb fell onto my car on a clear day of calm weather was pretty amusing (the agent thought my speculation that it might have been a squirrel frat party was hilarious). Still, there was no damage to the frame or structure of the car, and the body shop fixed my Otto up just like new.
Later that year, we got a chance to really bond. Katrina was a horrible, horrible disaster, so when Rita threatened to head to Houston, way more of us than really needed to hit the road out of town. My mom was between houses and my sister was in her freshman year up at Texas A&M, so I headed north to Bryan, where my godparents live. Or I tried to. I threw a box of Poptarts and three 2 liter bottles filled with water into Otto and hit the road early in the morning. Over the next seventeen hours, I ran the air conditioner as little as possible. I ran out of power in my cell phone. I went crazy quietly in my car. I heard someone else go crazy loudly in a car up ahead of me. I became entangled in a Keystone Cop style farce trying to evict a tree cricket from my back seat while traffic was stopped, only to have to suspend my efforts when traffic began to move again.
I reached Plantersville, TX at midnight, and there everyone else when either right or left, and I took the road less traveled, and went straight. Thirty minutes later (after a final, successful stop to get rid of George the tree cricket), I was finally in Bryan at my godparents' house. And after a full day of idling and about a hundred miles of travel, Otto still had a quarter of a tank of gas left.
That was our first year. We've been all over Texas together, from Houston to Big Bend. In 2009, Otto came with me to New Orleans. He got his brake tag and a plate with a pelican on it. We've had our break downs here and there, but he still gets 34 miles per gallon on a good day, and no less than 28 on a bad. I've kept him well maintained, and he's been something I could count on while I went through so many other changes.
Otto takes me home - Near Medina Lake
It had been in my head last year that I might buy a new car in the next couple of years. Well, a used car, new to me, at least. When some friends mentioned they would be selling their 2006 Prius, I had to start doing some hard thinking. When they made me an absolutely fabulous deal on it, the decision pretty much made itself. I was getting a new car. And I would need to find a new home for Otto, knowing that any trade in offer I got would probably be auction block prices, and he might just be sold for scrap. I didn't want that. Call me sentimental, but my Otto is still a damn good little car, with 70K miles left, easy. That's a good five or six years, give or take, with continued maintenance.
Otto on our last trip - Near Big Bend National Park
I have a friend who didn't have a car, and took public transportation or had to bum rides or walk wherever she went. I could only see this as an opportunity to get a little return to put towards the new car, and give someone else, at a great price, what Otto has been for me since the day I bought him: independence, safety, and freedom. My friend was more than happy to buy my little car. Yesterday, ten days short of what I've always considered his birthday, Otto got a new home. Today he is titled and registered under someone else's name, with brand new plates and everything.
I'm liking my new car a lot, but it doesn't have a name yet, and I'm not sure it ever will. I don't know if any car will ever mean to me what Otto has. We've been through too much, during the hardest time of my life. But I know this was a good... no... a GREAT decision, because now I know that this great little car has gone on to mean just as much to someone else.