The Nissan: A Love Story

As the Jaywalker* and I start our own little family, I typically think of us as having two members. Me and Jessica. This is not really up for debate. We are hoping to get a dog some day soon, and then we’ll have three. And then we’ll have a baby** or two, and maybe some more pets, and then we’ll have a f’reals family.

*[Jessica’s last name is Walker, and her first initial is J, so I sometimes refer to her as The Jaywalker. Like, “Hey, the Jaywalker and I are going to the movies,” or “did you hear the Jaywalker passed all her CSET exams on the first try?” or “Omg, The Jaywalker looks so pretty in her new dress” and so on.]

**[Over the weekend, Drew and Jessica and I spotted some beautiful blue flowers, which brought up the issue of fancy color names at weddings. Someone suggested we call blue “cobalt,” and right there on the spot I decided I’m naming my son Cobalt. Jessica’s not on board for some reason but I am sure she’ll bend. I mean come on – Cobalt! Everyone wants to be friends with Cobalt! Hey, let’s invite Cobalt to our party! Hey, you know who can fix your car? Cobalt!]

But, in a sense, we do have a third member. Jessica and I own a 1987 Nissan Sentra SE, a car my parents bought new when I was little and drove all over the Western states many times on long camping trips. It has 180,000+ miles and we have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with it – I love it, and Jessica hates it.

Just kidding, baby. I know you love the ol’ girl. But it’s true that Jessica does not have the sentimental attachment to it that I do, nor the history, and even though it means well and tries hard it can be a very difficult car to love. It’s like the Kanye West of cars.

This is a picture of our Nissan:

This is another picture:

“Ouch,” you say under your breath, recoiling slightly, as you see the dent. A local city bus, perhaps a bit too big to be winding its way through the narrow streets of Mount Berkeley, cracked into it while it was parked in front of my parents’ house when they still owned it. If you’re the type of person who names your cars and otherwise anthropomorphizes them, you might picture a sweet, elderly, sleeping lady being barreled into by a young, brawny, brash bodybuilder, and in doing so you might weep softly into your sleeves and raise a fiery fist to today’s youth. She never meant anyone any harm; all she wanted to do was take the nice people on errands around town.

Some unsatisfactory exchanges with insurances companies later, the dent was not going to be fixed for any reasonable sum of money, and the poor little car was on the verge of being sent off “to live out its days with a nice family on a farm upstate somewhere.” Miraculously, the lights and trunk remained functional, though a few bulbs needed replacing, and you could no longer pop the trunk from the driver side seat.

It was there that I spied a golden opportunity: I needed a car, but I didn’t have a lot of money. I phoned my parents and pleaded my case.

“I’ll pay you a little for it,” I said, “and Jessica and I can drive it for a little while until we can afford  a newer car.”

They thought on it, and agreed. I gave them a single dollar, they signed over the title using what’s known as a “family transfer,” and the little silver sedan was mine. Then Jessica moved in, and it became ours.

She’s never really had a name. My mom on occasion has called her Rosie – the letters RZY appear on the license plate – but for the most part we call her The Nissan. Mom mom used her to teach me how to drive, while my dad was teaching Katy with our other car, a 1979 Honda Civic – a lovely little blue station wagon that my paternal grandparents had bestowed upon my parents as a wedding gift. The Nissan, being 8 years younger, was our “nice car” – the one we took on camping trips and long drives, the spacious one, the one with 5 gears instead of 4 and no manual choke. A little of that has stuck steadfastly in a corner of my mind and to this day, I still occasionally think of it as “the nice car,” even though it really isn’t. I like to think I learned to drive fairly quickly, especially given that it was a stick shift and we lived up in the hills, which is not to say my mom didn’t deem it necessary to have her hand on the parking brake at all times while in the passenger seat.

The Nissan has had a few issues, to be sure – a broken water pump, alignment problems with the tires, blown out front speakers, brake light problems – but all in all, it hasn’t taken us an exorbitant amount of money to keep her running. She still has enough left in her to get us 60 miles up to Sebastopol and back again on occasion, and weekly trips into San Francisco. She starts reliably, doesn’t overheat, and is small-ish and easy to park. The radio works, the AC works OK, and the front seats still recline.

It’s odd, the relationships we form with objects. One of my guitars, a Tacoma, was the first thing I ever spent significant money on; I bought it (and a hard case) for around $600 when I was in high school from a little shop in Tiburon. It was one of the most exciting days of my life, and I see no reason why I won’t still have that guitar when I’m 80. I love it. It’s dinged up, has some cracks in the bridge, and needs a serious tune-up, but it’ll always be my first guitar and it still sounds lovely. And while I perhaps don’t have the same attachment to the Nissan, I still have very fond feelings towards that car. It’s the first and only car I’ve ever owned, and I spent a lot of time in it as a kid, as a teenager, during the summers in college, and now as an adult. It’s a link to my youth and represents more than just a hunk of metal.

Drew and I saw Toy Story 3 last night, which is all about growing up, possession, and loyalty. It’s a beautiful movie with deep, serious messages, and it touched me quite a bit. Like the first two, it gives life and personality to objects and imagines the way toys might feel about being played with and being loved if they could think and feel. When their owner grows up and is preparing to go to college, his toys wrestle with feelings of abandonment, and the film raises surprisingly affecting, difficult questions about what it means to get older and move on from childhood. The Nissan is a relic from my youth that I’ve hung onto because it still has value to me and to my life, but it’s slipping away and likely won’t be with us much longer.

It does seem silly to think about inanimate objects in this way, but I also know that everyone probably understands what I mean and has objects they feel similarly towards, whether it be a car or a stuffed animal or an instrument or something else. It’s perhaps not so much that we are connected with the objects themselves, but rather to the memories that they evoke. When my dad eventually donated the Honda Civic to NPR, I recall him being surprisingly saddened watching the tow truck haul it away, down the hill and out of his life.

I imagine I’ll feel a little weepy when the day comes. It’s just a car, in the end, and I do get embarrassed when I think about it. But like my guitar, like my bedside table my dad made me as a little kid that I still have, like the first pair of glasses I wore when I was 4 years old and keep in my closet, the Nissan feels like home. And a little piece of home will be gone when she gets hauled away someday soon.

To our little old lady, our Rosie, our Nissan. I know that I’m giving her a gentle goodbye, which is what she deserves.

– Bret

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10 responses to “The Nissan: A Love Story

  1. Is she really getting too old to go on much more? The dear Nissan Rosie, the courageous? Is she showing signs of being sick? Does she need a doctor? She isn’t too pretty any more, especially from the back, but, yes, she’s a wonder. She once was a super brand new car that everyone loved, one super model that made people working in gas stations ask me whether I’d like to sell her (the nerve!), the first car with air conditioning your parents ever had. Thanks for writing this ode to RZY.

  2. You always find the sweet details in things we look over- cars, bedside tables, and also cats.

    I felt the same way when my mom got rid of our old Aerostar van. That van as a p.o.s., but it took us up and down the east coast so many times. Each of those drives we recorded on an old camcorder. We watch those videos to this day and still crack up.

    Ahh… the random things that make us feel like we’re at home.

  3. Beautiful.

  4. This was a lovely tribute. I think we all probably have things that we associate with our childhood.

    When I was little, my mom brought home a red armchair and ottoman. All three of us kids would climb all over that chair together. My oldest brother used to hang upside down from the ottoman to watch television.

    It has been recovered twice, and it now lives at my brother’s house, but it is still the Red Chair. Even my brother’s wife calls it the Red Chair, and it hasn’t been red since I was in junior high school.

    • I love that! It makes me wonder what things I have now or will have soon that might play major roles in the lives of my future children.

  5. 1983 Volvo Stationwagon, beige. Best turning radius of any car I’ve driven. Drove like it was made of steel (maybe it was?). I’m looking forward to a midlife crisis where I can find it, or one like it, buy it and fix it up real nice. You got yourself a nice website here, Turner. Take care.

    • If I had to choose between a couple essential things, like say AC or great turning radius, I’d take the radius. It’s so awesome. Our car has a very good one and it makes a huge difference.

  6. The car subject: I’d like to enter into the debate on AC versus great turning radius. When one has children, AC wins the vote BY FAR. Just thought you young ones should know this.

  7. When I was a kid there were two chairs that I absolutely loved. One was my grandmother’s rocking chair at her house up at the Russian River, while the other one was a huge (to me as a child) reading chair that was upholstered in a hunting pattern of ducks and dogs that you could just curl up in and read to your heart’s content. Both were wonderful so thank you Bret for bringing back those memories. Also, I LOVE the name Cobalt – I think it sounds very dashing!

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