Odometer Lessons

99,999. When I spotted the numbers on my car’s odometer, I pulled off the highway onto a rural road. I wanted to be out of traffic so I could celebrate 100,000 by honking the horn, a family tradition.

When I was growing up, my family never had new cars. High mileage — not miles per gallon but miles travelled — was the norm. Whenever the odometer was about to line up the zeroes, the driver would alert all aboard. We’d wait in hushed excitement. Time itself slowed as the odometer rolled out a perfect symmetry of ovals. The horn would honk and onward we’d travel, a milestone reached with jubilation and relief that the old sedan had managed to transport us across yet another ten thousand miles. 

I was a teen by the time my parents managed to achieve the status of actually having two cars — both used, of course — in their two-car garage. My mother wryly explained that we needed a car that started so we could push the one that didn’t. It was sometimes tricky to tell which was which.

My current vehicle — the one that just turned 100,000 — had fewer than thirty miles on the odometer when I bought it ten years ago. It’s a 2009 model, a special order that sat unclaimed on the dealer’s lot for two years. The original buyer apparently suffered an economic setback and forfeited their deposit. It still had the new-car warranty when a neighbor tipped me off that it was there.

“You’re the only person who could manage to buy a two-year-old new car,” a friend observed.

Those 100,000 miles are only a portion of my travels over the past decade. For three years I also owned a camper van in which my dogs and I crossed multiple states, West to East, North to South. What adventures we had! But like many RV owners, I ultimately decided maintaining the van was more burden than blessing. 

Down to one vehicle now, I ceremoniously honked the horn as the zeroes rolled into place. The road was quintessentially rural: a field of corn stalks growing tall and green on one side, a wooden fence looming tall and brown on the other. The fence shielded the sight but not the smell of one of Okanogan Valley’s more odoriferous crops, cannabis.

Instead of heading back to the highway, I meandered along the backroad, no particular destination in mind. The skunky smell of marijuana gave way to the pleasant perfume of ripening apples and pears. As I drove slowly alongside orchards, I thought about another measure of travel on my dashboard — the speedometer.

A friend recently remarked how time passed so slowly when we were children but races by as we age. Just like the speedometer. Drive slower than 10 mph, and you feel like you’re barely moving. But over 70? Hey, wait! Slow the heck down! I can see 80 on the horizon. 

With aging comes the dilemma of when to give up driving. I hope to see the zeroes line up at least a few more times before I get there.

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