Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Car Fire

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was on my way to an appointment. I had not driven my classic 1976 Cadillac Eldorado since that morning, when I dropped the kids off at daycare. In fact, I had only driven it about 5 miles since I picked it up from a local Cadillac repair facility, after spending about $600 on it. It ran a little rough, but the service man told me it was a "stuck lifter" and that it would get better. "Just drive it," he said. So I did.

I stopped at a red light. The light turned green, I stepped on the gas to go. But the car didn't go. It would never go again.

"Damn!" I thought, as I saw what I thought was steam coming from under the hood. I reached under the dash and pulled the hood release. The hood popped up, air rushed in, and flames leaped out from under the hood. I struggled to release my seat belt, and ran a safe distance from the car. Flames were engulfing it, and I thought it would explode. Some samaritans ran up to the car to see if anyone was trapped inside; I screamed "get back!" and waved them off. I thought it was going to blow any second.

On my cell phone I called the fire department. I could see a fire station just two blocks away. Surely they would be here in a minute. 15 minutes later, they came rolling up, cut open the hood and poured water on the engine. The car was a total loss.

This vehicle had been in the family since 1976. My dad had bought it new, and it was my baby. It got a lot of attention, and about $2,000 of primping each year. I grew up driving this car, had taken my date to prom in it, had brought my newborn kids home from the hospital in it. It was the car of memories. And then in virtually an instant, it was a total loss.

My whole family was upset. The kids called it "the family car," and they knew that a ride in Daddy's caddy with the top down would inevitably end with a stop at the Tastee Freez for ice cream.

I tell you what -- now that I have some distance from this situation, I don't really miss the car. In some respects, it was liberating. I don't have to worry about where to garage it. I'll save a lot of money on repair, licensing and insurance. I think we all carry around a lot of baggage in the form of who we are or who we were, and what we own. It can be a real burden to carry these things through life, whether the baggage is emotional or physical.

Yes, I'll miss the car. But the day the Cadillac burned up wasn't a tragic day, although it could have been. It was a miraculous day. Had the car burned up with my kids strapped in the back seat-- that would have been an unbearable tragedy. The end of my life. The miracle is that it burned up and no one was hurt. I'm a lucky man!

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