In 1999 I was 30 years old. I was thin, single, and much more professionally successful than anyone with a MA in literature ever thinks she will be. I had been driving a 1977 Nissan Sentra and one winter day, it finally died. The death was not unexpected. For a while that year little things would go wrong and various guys I worked with would fix them for me. On days the car wouldn’t work a friend I worked with would kindly pick me up in the mornings.
At the time that my car died I had been thinking a lot about what it would take for me to be a single adult woman. Obviously, I’d always been single, but in my 20s that had seemed like it was a temporary thing. At 30, almost 31, being single seemed less temporary. I thought of myself as independent. I had been living alone for ten years, but I also knew that I always asked a guy to change the light bulbs in my apartment, open jars, and fix my car.
I decided one of the necessary steps for being a successful, single woman was to own a reliable car. I knew that women routinely paid more for cars than men, but I decided it was important not to ask a guy to help me buy a car, so I decided to buy a Saturn, no negotiating required or possible. A friend (OK, yes, a guy) drove me to the dealer and two days later I was the proud owner of a 1999 Green Saturn SL1.
It was the first new car I’d ever owned. It was the first car I’d ever bought without my father’s help, financial or otherwise. It was the first car I had ever owned that was built in the same decade I was driving it. That didn’t last long.
I turned 31, then the year 2000 came and I wanted to make a change. I wanted to take advantage of my independence. I wanted to do something, anything. A few months after I bought the car I quit my job to go run a hotel in the desert for six months.
My Saturn and I drove for two weeks across the country, with no cell phone and no hotel reservations. I picked up a hitchiker in the Badlands, I fell in love with Mount Rushmore, I hiked and shopped and sang songs at the top of my voice. While I drove I wrote a complicated dissertation in my head about Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jack Kerouac that I wish I could remember. I occasionally stopped to visit friends. I saw Shakespeare in Montana and Seattle and the first X-Men movie in San Francisco.
The trip and my time in the desert remain the most important, and best, decisions I have ever made. After six months alone, writing and thinking, after six months of meeting people I never would have met otherwise, after six months of intense and amazing friendships with slightly older women who had been where I was, after six months of a really great, but possibly ill-advised and definitely future-free love affair, I decided I wasn’t quite as ready as I thought to commit to a life alone.
I drove my green Saturn, now with a Desert Hot Springs license plate holder home. I followed as much of Route 66 as I could, reversing the course of settlers before me. I got in my car and I left the golden land. I was stopped under suspicion of drug smuggling. I visited Lincoln’s home, and then one February day there I was, not just in Chicago, but in my old office.
Three months later I met Danny and a year later, I married him. Less than two years after that we drove our daughter home from the hospital in my green Saturn and less than two years after that we installed the second car seat and brought home our son. For years, the Saturn was the “good car,” the one we used for transporting the kids. It was still my car.
When my husband’s car of the same age died, I got a mom car and he took my Saturn. I rarely drove my Saturn and was possibly a little resentful when I had to do so, preferring the more comfortable, quieter microvan.
I can’t say that I’m a “car person.” I believe you should buy the most reliable, least expensive car you can and drive it in to the ground. I do not stop and look at cars on the street or dream about car features.
But, a week or so ago the Saturn started to go. Then, the other day, it died. Today, after 15 years of faithful service, after bringing me first to independence and freedom and later to love and family, my green Saturn is headed for the junk yard, and I’m a little more sad than I have any right to be.