A Toyota Vanwagon – atop the short list of the greatest overlooked and undersold of motor vehicles – Spud (so named because, when we first met up with him, we thought he looked a bit like a potato on wheels) has been with us since he (Spud’s a he, by the way – don’t ask, he just is) was in low double-digit miles and still had the aroma of Japanese factory about him, back then in 1984. For that quarter century Spud has been a trusty steed, a family member and a friend who never outstays his welcome. Who among us can claim such achievement and pedigree?
For three recent months he was in the clutches (no pun intended, though he does have manual transmission) of alleged repairers and restorers who did nothing of either, but were able to lube a path between our wallet and their pockets. But now that he’s returned to his rightful spot on our driveway – a spot on which, despite the alleged r&r, he continues to leave a spot – a brief discussion of placeness vis-a-vis Spud is in order.
First and, perhaps, least profound, is merely the matter of his being gone: There, on our driveway, he was for those three months not there and yet very there. In other words, his presence was felt by his absence. There was just thin air where Spud should have been hunkered, ready to roar, yet we could “see” him there, nonetheless. (Persistence of memory and the mechanisms of personal apparitions make the thin air somehow thicker.) We would no more have moved our other car (name: Junior; gender: undetermined) into Spud’s empty spot than one would sleep on that side of the bed left vacant by a temporarily or permanently departed loved one. That sort of a-place-for-everything/everything-in-its-place placeness is the most basic kind.
Beyond that, there is Spud’s role in getting us to arslocii places. In truth, for the past few years it’s been Junior who has been our magic carpet, affording us the transport to places as far-flung as New England, Canada, the Midwest and points south that have been the subjects of a lot of our writings here and on our www.arslocii.com website. But, for two decades before that, Spud hauled us (and hauled ass) all over the place; Junior has been a champ, but we equate road trips with Spud. Junior – a 2007 Ford Focus wagon – is a terrific, zippy, gas-sipping and highly accommodating vehicle, but Spud was always the third traveler on our trips.
And therein resides the third bit of arslocii: Spud didn’t just take us places – he is a place, and one just oozing placeness, maybe because he is so full of nothing that he can be anything. For us, he has been not only the repository of transported stuff but a repository of memories: of journeys, of our younger selves, of time spent with those we miss with all our being. Spud was like a room, an intimate personal space, where souls met and dreams came true and new worlds were encountered, and minds and possibilities grew with ever-increasing experience. We slept in Spud, would feed ourselves even as we “fed” him in dusty or icy service stations across America (his sustenance usually more hi-test than ours). He appears in photos we cherish. He transferred lots of people, cats and things between locations, with rarely a complaint. And, when he was incapacitated for long-ish periods in our driveway, he became, without any evidence of sadness or ego, a willing storage shed, a handy wintertime refrigerator-freezer.
We know that, someday, Spud will die, as all things do, and that that occasionally empty spot in the driveway will be empty of him from then on. As you might have guessed, we have a tendency to anthropomorphize, perhaps to the point of clinical interest; so, then, we will mourn Spud’s passing and, with him, the end of a grand period in our lives and, to the point of this piece (there is one, somewhere in here), the loss of palpable placeness. Even then, and being us, we likely still will not park Junior in Spud’s spot. (We still have cat beds placed around the house, and our guys have been gone for some time. It helps us to “see” them again, every once in a while, out of the corner of our eye, and, for that moment, the world seems a better place.)
But that’s another day. We hope. Because we are about to take Spud out on the road again, today, for the first time in a very long time. There’s a bit of trepidation – a fear of a late-night breakdown, but not enough of a fear to derail the pleasure of climbing back up behind the wheel, turning the key, and knowing that we are, for now, in all senses of the phrase, in a good place.