Tag Archives: automobile

Spud Everlasting

We have Spud back, and the forces of placeness seem to be in ascendancy and proper alignment once more.

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.

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No Place Like Chrome

My observations tell me that people feel more at home in their cars than they do in their homes – probably because the amount of time spent in cars far exceeds the time spent at home. I have noted, too, that the younger set in our neighborhood – granted many are renters – dwell in their cars: they talk on the phone and text; stow clothing and books and computers in the trunks; apparently, their best music systems are in their cars; they have fights with exes inside their autos; eat while driving, and even drink. And in the newest models, movies and games are part of the deal, keeping the boredom of long commutes at bay while being transported by a mobile entertainment unit. Outfitted inside.

A car is a peculiar space, a kind of capsule that seems protective and insular, but it isn’t really. We all know that it can be a death chamber, too. Many of us feel as if it is a military tank that is armored, allowing us to muscle through any annoyance that we deem an obstacle. With the addition of four-wheel drive, although largely unnecessary, the attitude of conquest and invincibility is fueled by the belief that roads or no roads, we can forge ahead. In vehicles outfitted with air conditioning, sound systems and tinted windows, we can fool ourselves into believing that we are special or above the fray, despite being one of hundreds stuck in an unmoving line, all identical in our sense of uber-individuality. We are such ridiculous creatures, we believe that our choice of style in a car can create a persona for us, one that can even change our lives.

Maybe I am old school, but to me a car is a mechanical device, a tool, not an identity, and not a home. Even as a renter, home was home. I have owned the same car for 26 years: a 1984 Toyota Van Wagon. To me it is close to perfection in its function. This was a car with a soul, a member of the family. Albeit its exterior looked strange and futuristic in the mid-1980s, and does still today, it was reminiscent in color and shape to a potato on wheels, hence its name, Spud. The interior was basic: manual transmission, not a single cup-holder (these say a lot about living in cars), manual roll-up windows in front and sliders in back, it seated seven, or you could remove the seats and fit 4’x8’ sheets of plywood or drywall and still close the back hatch. Part of its charm was its flexibility, that it could be either a cargo van or a passenger vehicle – even a camper: the seats reclined and grouped together to form an amazingly comfortable full-size bed. To me, it was a three-in-one combo, and it was so much more (I can’t imagine most people using their cars for these purposes): we moved furniture in it, even tall stuff; we took demolition debris to the dump; I moved my sculptures to and fro, no matter how large; and when we would prune trees of huge limbs, they could easily be accommodated by Spud – as could anything we asked it to do. This was the miracle machine, the all-in-one genie.

I enjoyed the benefits offered by this incredible automobile, Spud – that is why we still have it and all its age-related problems. Affection, yes. Usefulness, yes. But not a sense of self. I guess what I am getting at is that no matter how much I loved or valued our car as an object, I didn’t desire to spend a lot of time in it because, to me, a car lacks placeness. And I fear that this society of ours has somehow deluded itself into thinking that there is a sense of place in a car: that our otherwise general lack of placeness, created in large part by the predominance of cars, has made people think that now the place is in the car. Au contraire.

Whether it be our need for escape, or our sense of finding a destination (and with GPS, what’s not to find?) or, perhaps, just our roving and circling – a migration of animals, all thinking that they need to be somewhere else other than where they are (like remote-control flipping or internet surfing) – the urge is to get in the car. The car somehow substitutes for real placeness. And I think that that is because we have lost our sense of place elsewhere, transferring our need for that into a moving object that nurtures our imagined sense of self and keeps us in motion, but ultimately provides us with nothing but conveyance. A car is like a pacifier for our loss of placeness, shuttling us about on our daily rounds so constantly that we have come to believe that the motion is the place, that the delivery system is the reality, that by keeping moving we are there. We are not there. When you find placeness, you will rarely want to be in a car. Maybe the car brought you there, and it can also take you away, but it is not in and of itself placeness.


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