The Man Machine, 1988-2014

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FROM MY RECLINER, NY – My car, a 1988 Toyota Camry Wagon known as The Man Machine, which might have been but probably wasn’t also owned by Jon Voight, was taken off the road this week. It was 26.

That’s old for a car, very old, older than me. The stereo system stopped working long before I got it. The motorized seat belts, which were meant to descend over your chest when the car turned on, had gone dormant. I needed to disconnect the battery each night for fear of it dying completely.

These days, the air conditioning didn’t quite work, which was fine during winter, except the heat didn’t quite work either. Like a muggy island breeze, the fans just blew a frustratingly coolish-warm air that was either too hot or too cold for the elements outside my window.

It was also blue, very blue, blue inside and out. The steering wheel was blue, the chairs were blue, the dash was blue, the carpet was blue, and the ceiling was blue. My dad called it the Blue Streak or the Blue Goose, but it was The Man Machine.

It was given its name by a college friend of mine, a guy named Ryan, who makes his own hummus and has locks of wavy blonde hair and an impressive collection of penny loafers. He’s a man with a lot of interesting stories, many of which I’ve heard over French toast and bacon slices at the breakfast joint we both like. That’s one – of many – reasons why I like Ryan so much, not because he reminds me of maple syrup and confectionary sugar, although he does, but because he appreciates a good story. A good story like The Man Machine.

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A good story like the time an old woman broadsided me while I was returning home from buying a gallon of milk. She hung too wide a right and smashed into my car’s front passenger side door, only you’d never be able to tell because there wasn’t a scratch. On The Man Machine, at least.

I’m not sure why that name stuck in my head the way it did. Despite its scars and old man grumble of an idle, I didn’t view the car as particularly manly (and neither did my friends who made fun of it mercilessly). Maybe it’s because I dig the way it flies in the face of traditional manliness, of muscle cars and big egos, or how it survived a Syracusean winter and lived to tell the tale.

I got the car after my freshman year in college, a freebee from my dad’s boss or something. I probably don’t remember because, at first, I wasn’t too enthused about it. But despite the musty smell and nest of yellow jackets, which fortified themselves somewhere in my side-view mirror (and then came surging out to sting my brother mid-drive), it was mine and that meant something.

Fast cars and freedom, am I right?

The Man Machine has been semi-retired as of late. It’s Juwan Howard winning a title with LeBron James or Kirk Gibson on one bad leg in the World Series. It’s the wily old vet who can’t make long road trips but still comes up clutch. As Jalen Rose would put it, a “keep gettin’ them checks” all-star.

The Man Machine spent its final days driving me to and from internships and on retainer for my brother while his BMW was in the shop.

Excuse me for a second. Hold on …

Sorry, my brother was being waterboarded by irony again.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you all this is because, well, I like to tell stories and The Man Machine has been a great one. I’ll never regret owning the Rudy of first cars and even though it will probably be sold and crushed Breaking Bad style my next car has mighty big, blue, rusty shoes to fill.

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