Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why a Citation?

Back in early 1996, I couldn't have picked a Citation out of a lineup. I know I'd seen them, and I remembered the jingle from the commercials, the way the singers accentuated the name--"Chevy Ci-TAAAAAAAYYYY-tion!"

And here it is on youTube--the 1980 introduction.

Wow. What a hideous song. It reeks of marketers trying to get the disco demographic. Yuck.

But the interior space? Hell yes it's got interior space. More about that in a moment. It's January, 1996. My '76 Impala has died, I'm riding a 10-speed bike around Tallahassee, and I need wheels. My parents found an '83 Citation, shelled out the $1200 for it, and brought it to me.

Love at first sight. It was mostly white, but years of neglect (and crappy GM paint) had garnered rusty spots on every horizontal surface. I didn't care. She was fun to drive, got great mileage (about 22 in the city, close to 30 on the highway), and even looked happy. I pretty much had to give her a name as soon as I set eyes on her: Tori (because of Tori Amos, not Tori Spelling; I liked the name and her music).

Over the years that little car went everywhere I wanted to go with few breakdowns and fewer mechanical issues. We weathered hurricanes, drove through a flooded Tallahassee after a day-long deluge that followed a months-long drought, got Number Two to church and work on time. When I was depressed and thinking of ending my life, the car gave me something to focus on other than myself. There was always some little thing I could fix or tweak. I liked thinking that the car needed me--and in a way, it did, for maintenance. But I needed it, too--needed that focus, that little piece of the real world, to keep me going.

Her biggest trip was in 1999, when I had to move out of my Tallahassee apartment. I had nowhere else to go, so I moved back to Pensacola. I didn't think I could afford a truck, so I used the Citation.

This is where that "interior space" comes into play. I quickly found that I could put a pattern of 3, then 2, then 2 milk crates in back, with the back seat folded down, and lay up 7 more on those. I used crates for bookshelves (hasn't everyone?). But I quickly realized that I had more books, magazines and papers than crates to put them in. I pulled everything out, unbolted the rear seat, and started pouring books, magazines, papers, and miscellaneous small stuff into the back of the car.

When I was done, it filled the rear compartment from floorboards to just below the top of the seat back. Then I filled up the front seat and made the run. I logged close to 1600 miles, I think, just running back and forth 200 miles at a time.

In Pensacola, we went even further. Fort Pickens is only 30 minutes away. We went to Tampa in '99 for a Tori Amos concert, and I saw Fort DeSoto. I made several trips to Forts Gaines and Morgan over in Alabama, strapped a kayak to the roof and wandered to a river or bayou to explore or just sit and float with the current. She always got me there--and always brought me home.

I always intended to do the body work. But the rusty spots grew, the small leaks around the windshield grew larger. And the gas mileage started to fall; there were some irritating drivability issues by the time I parked her for the last time and started driving a '92 Tracker. That was supposed to be a temporary thing--I'd drive the Tracker and fix up Tori, bring her back to factory condition, make her better. Good intentions, yes...but there never seemed to be time or ambition.

I'd always intended.... But she sat under a tarp for nearly three years until one of the County's code-enforcement dicks gave me 2 weeks to get rid of her. I pulled a few parts off, thinking that I'd have another Citation as soon as I could get the money together. I kept a set of keys; they hang from the X-11's rear view mirror now.

I made arrangements. On September 29, 2008, a flatbed wrecker came for her.

She was gone.

I was left with $100 and an empty spot in the yard.

Yeah, it's just a car, just an inanimate machine, but a year later I still miss her.

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