It was time. After close to nine years of more physical abuse than should ever be experienced, our family car was finally put out of its misery. Chugging along in its final days, as it emitted unrecognizable noises from the bowels of the worn out engine, I became surprisingly nostalgic about this hunk of metal that had served us so well.
I remembered the three car seats that secured our little ones behind me as I drove. With one hand gripping the wheel, I became proficient at servicing all manner of needs with the other. Miraculously, this limb could stretch out behind me , like a freaky female version of Plastic Man, and return dropped sippy cups, locate a fallen pacifier or hold the chubby hand of the child most unhappy.
One by one, those baby seats were removed, leaving permanent remnants encrusted in the upholstery that would make even the strongest stomach gasp in disbelief. And the abuse would only continue - windows left down in a pouring rain, forgotten lollipops entangled in the carpet, and spilled milk that would sour in places unreachable. Many brave souls attempted to detail our car only to walk away in defeat, shoulders slumped discouragingly at trying to accomplish the impossible.
Over the years our family car has suffered through carpool lines, been assaulted by wayward birds, and presented a humiliating award in front of thousands. It has served as my office, as a traveling closet, as an impromptu infirmary. This car has been ridden hard and has the vomit stains to prove it.
When looking for a new family vehicle, I didn’t have a long list of expectations. I wanted it to be large enough to tote our children and their friends as well as the sports equipment that would take up permanent residence. In addition, I wanted a working air conditioner, having spent the last year with one that only functioned sporadically.
We narrowed down the choices, and on recommendation from my sister and a close friend with a similar vehicle, we chose the one that seemed to be sturdy enough to withstand the battery our family would surely bring.
Because we haven’t owned a new car in close to a decade, it was with childlike joy that we discovered the bells and whistles available to those in the current century. Seat warmers that ensured one’s tush is never cold and a DVD screen that flips out of the ceiling were unexpected bonuses to the simple list of wants that included an operable cooling system. The added delight of the lady from outer space that can be summoned with the push of a button labeled OnStar, providing direction, area interests and companionship when one is bored, seemed almost too good to be true.
I liked my new ride and as evidenced by the tone and affection of the OnStar lady, it liked me.
That is, until the car decided to punk me last week.
I was riding along the interstate, talking on my cellphone to my good friend, Tricia. In mid conversation, a phone began to ring loudly inside of the vehicle.
“What’s that noise?” Tricia asked me.
“Um, I’m not sure, but I think my car is calling me,” I responded.
(loud ringing continues)
“Don’t you think you should answer it?” my friend prompted.
“I don’t know how,” I said a little panicked. “Hello! Hello? Who’s there?” I said into the air. The ringing continued. Obviously.
Tricia burst out laughing. “I don’t think its voice controlled. There has to be some button you can push to answer the phone.”
I began pressing random buttons and the ringing suddenly stopped.“That was weird,” I told Tricia, relieved at the absence of the noise.
Five seconds later the phone began to ring again.
“Wow, your car must really want to get in touch with you,” said my friend. “You better answer it. What if your SUV has an emergency?”
“Very funny,” I responded, frantically pushing the random buttons that previously stopped the ringing phone.
“Hello?” said a deep, husky voice through the speakers in my car. “Hello? Can I speak to Raymond?”
I punched a new button and the phone cut off again.
“That was bizarre,” said Tricia. “But I have to go now. Hope you work out things with your car.”
Soon after hanging up with my friend, the phone rang again. After more random button pushing, the same,
deep voice came through the ceiling of my car. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
My heart beat out of my chest. Was I about to have an experience with God? Sort of a modern day version of Moses and the burning bush, but instead Joni and the fuel burning car?
“Hello?” I croaked out in a shaky voice.
“Can I speak to Raymond?’ said the speaker voice.
Raymond? I don’t remember a Raymond from Scripture. I don’t even know a Raymond. Who is God talking about?
“There isn’t a Raymond here,” I told the caller/God
“Well, what number is this?” demanded the person looking for Raymond. I was starting to get that it wasn’t the Almighty on the phone. I am quick like that.
“I don’t know,” was my intelligent response.
“How do you not know your own phone number? And where is Raymond?!” responded the man with more contempt than necessary.
Now that I knew it wasn’t God, the initial shakiness in my voice turned a little sassy.
“Look, mister, you are calling my car. MY CAR! And no, I do not know the number. I imagine it is the same number YOU JUST DIALED. If you are looking for Raymond, I suggest that you call the OnStar lady in outer space. She can find anything.”
And with the stab of a button, we were disconnected. I rode home in silence, waiting anxiously for the man from who knows where to call back. But it seemed as though he realized I was a dead end to his search for Raymond. Or maybe OnStar pointed him in the right direction.
For a brief instant, I missed my old car, lacking in complex features and complications. Its stereo speakers had only harassed me with static, not random voices from way out yonder. However, the melancholy moment didn’t last long. The remembered appreciation for a functioning air conditioner quickly replaced the misdirected emotion.
Not to mention the opportunity now available for a warm tush.