My beloved Dodge Neon recently reached the 100,000 mile marker.
It’s not that I haven’t owned a vehicle with more than 100,000 miles before. In fact, I’ve purchased most of my vehicles at the 100,000+ marker. But I purchased this particular vehicle at 2,945 miles, and if you know anything at all about my history with vehicles, you would understand why this is cause for jubilant celebration. Maybe even streamers.
When I bought this car seven years ago at the age of twenty, it was (and still is) the seventh vehicle I had owned. At that point in my life, to say that my fortune with automobiles was less than ideal would be a like saying that the city of Detroit was just a bit behind on rent.
What’s that? You’d like me to elaborate? I’m so glad you asked.
My third vehicle, after investing 2,500 teenage earned greenbacks into it, died within two months. I ended up having to sell it to a boorish man who owned a strip club who continuously harassed me for declining his offer to join him at his establishment throughout the purchase. I sold it to him for parts – $400.
When I was preparing to visit Judson University outside of Chicago for a college visit, I found myself, as I often did, without adequate transportation. I decided to purchased a 1981 Mercury Lynx from a friend to remedy this situation, but forty-two hours later and fifteen miles into my trip, the car exploded. Not like a cool cinematic tough-guy walkaway kind of explosion. More like an infant’s indigestion, baby burp kind of explosion. None the less, my Lynx had met its end.
My dear and lovely Aunt Patti was kind enough (as she always is) to pick me up, let me sleep in her home, and lent me a mini-van to drive out to Chicago in for the weekend, while my car was towed to a parking lot behind my house. Upon returning from the trip, however, a band of anti- Lynx revolutionaries had smashed out all of my windows and torn out the back bench, throwing it through my rear windshield. It would appear that repair was not a likely part of this vehicle’s future.
I had the brakes fail once in while driving my first car, resulting in a pretty nasty collision with a couple of other vehicles outside of our local grocery store. One of my cars didn’t have any seats in the back, and a rotting floorboard under the front seats. One had garments that we shoved into the holes of its body. One had it’s front grill kicked out by a complete stranger. I loved these vehicles, but for the most part they didn’t seem to love me back all that much.
But my eulogized Neon, he has stood the test of time. Weathered the waves, endured hardships, and stayed faithful throughout it all.
As I watched the odometer digitally “roll over” to the visually pleasant “100,000”, I just couldn’t help but reminisce a bit about the journey my pal Ivan the Neon and I have taken over the years.
I remember being a tad restless the summer before I left for college. I would be leaving my home in Southeastern Michigan and moving to the Northwest Suburb of Chicago in the hopes of pursuing collegiate academia with all the tenacity I could summon. The problem was that I found myself, as I often did, without a vehicle. I could’ve certainly taken the train or the bus, but I knew I would need to quickly find employment upon arrival if I had any hopes of staying afloat financially with my many financial obligations, included what would become a hefty student loan.
For months I had been fervently scanning the “Auto Trader” magazines and searchin’ on that thurr internet thang, with no luck. My chain of unfortunate automotive outcomes had left me with inadequate funds to purchase anything even remotely reliable. Then again, it didn’t appear that I possessed the skills to be able to decipher what such a vehicle would look like anyway.
One day a man from our church named Dave called me up and asked “How much money do you have?” I thought that perhaps he was trying to rob me via telephone, so I just laughed and make some wise crack about the oddity of his question. But he persisted “How much money do you have in your bank account?” he asked again. “I’m not really sure, Dave. Why?” He went on to explain that he may have a car for me, and that I should come by the house sometime.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to be a part of a shady deal like this was shaping up to be, I did what any curious young man would do; I went to his house.
Now it’s important to note that Dave owned a number of shops that specialized in custom moldings for major automotive companies and was also the manager of a Dodge racing team, so as a result he had some interesting connections unique to his position. He explained to me that Dodge had a fleet of thirty “relatively unmodified” Neons that they would redline on tracks for clientele and potential business patrons.
He explained to me that because of the racing suspension, role cage, fire extinguisher, racing seats, and dozens of decals, these cars could not be sold to the general public. But due to some previois legal agreement, Dodge was not allowed to sell these vehicles for more than $1,250 -regardless of who it was sold to.. So they approached Dave, told him that they had three of these unique Neons left, and asked if he was interested. He responded “I could give one to my daughter, use the other for parts, and there is the guy in our church who has had the worst luck with cars I’ve ever seen. Let me see if he’s interested.” Which is what brought me to his house that day.
So I ran home, added up how much money I had in my checking and savings accounts, and combined I have $1,275 – just enough to buy one of these cars and keep my accounts from closing. I called Dave the next day, and told him that I was in. He said that they wouldn’t be delivered for a few more days, and that he’d let me know when they came in.
After a few days of dreaming what life would be like with a vehicle that started on demand and made it from A to B without requiring a serious detour into the freeway of my wallet, I got the call. Coach was putting me in the game.
I met Dave at one of his shops to decide which of the three cars I wanted. When he opened the large bay door, it honestly felt like that scene in Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi brings Daniel outside to his lot of beautiful classic cars and simply says “choose”. There before me, was three beautiful cars; two red and one black.
I must’ve looked like a giddy child running up to each vehicle, looking inside of every one of them as if there would be any variance in interior. I’m sure I expressed my gratitude with mature utterances like “Dude!”, “No way!” and the like.
That week, Dave gave me free reign to work on my car to get it ready before taking it to school. Among other things, I needed to replace the seats, take out the roll cage, and remove the fire extinguisher. He also permitted me to take parts from the three wrecked Neons Dodge had given him as well. So I replaced brake lights, switched out tired, ran antennas, installed a radio, and even put on a dual exhaust that he had given me.
That week was bittersweet for me. I had some of my best friends in the world there with me at all hours, helping me get this car ready for the trip. But I also knew that in just a few short days, I would be leaving them all for quite some time. I remember feeling God saying very specifically “Okay, I’ve given you this car -it’s your turn to use it to serve others.”
We kept all of the ridiculous racing decals on because we all thought they were funny, but they ended up not being as humorous as we had hoped. At red lights I was constantly challenged by other vehicles that actually had the qualities of a car that could be raced. People would provokingly rev their engines at me until I would roll down my window and say, plainly “It’s a Neon”. Cops often pulled me over simply because it looked fast, and then once they were at my window, they’d want to talk shop, curious as to “what was under the hood.” They were always so disappointed with the “2.0 litre, 16 valve, stock Neon engine” answer I would give them. I almsot felt bad, like I should do something outlandish just so they had some excitement.
I eventually ended up taking off all of the decals from my car. I said “Goodbye” to the Goodyear, and “Farewell” to the Firestone. But I decided to keep the big white Dodge logo on the hood. I knew it looked a tad ridiculous, and I didn’t especially want to be tagged as “that guy” when driving around town, but the memories behind it were important to me. When I see that logo, I am reminded of the generosity of a man in our church who owed me nothing. I remember the love and sacrifice of friends and family who spent countless hours helping me get this car ready to take on the next leg of my journey. I remember my roots, my story.
I am the kind of person that needs those silly reminders. I have two bracelets on my wrist that remind me to pray for my sister and my mother. There is nothing special or flashy about these bracelets, nothing that even stands out as peculiar or even interesting. But I know that when I see them, I remember my committment and desire to always be praying for them. Even when life is hectic and overwhelming, even when “home” seems like a million miles away – I pray for them.
I know my tendency to forget even the most important things in life. “Out of sight, out of mind” is such a powerful reality sometimes. I wish that it wasn’t so, but sometimes it just is.
And so I allow things like decals, a bracelet, or a 100,000 mile mark to draw me back to Earth. It may sound cheesy, because it actually is. But I’m more than okay with that. I make a fool of myself for no reason at all often enough as it is, I have no issue with making a fool of myself for the cause of love and family.
My commitment is to better examine the internal, more closely ponder the historical, and more fully embrace the communal. Through it all, may our stories even more fully reflect that which God has drawn us out of, and is drawing us toward.