My brilliant friend
Many people have written love letters to their cars.
My favorite is E.B. White’s “Farewell, My Lovely!,” about his old Model T Ford, published in the May 16, 1936 issue of The New Yorker. I’m a fan of anything E.B. White writes, and this is no exception. He writes with adoring specificity about his long-lost Model T.
White sets down a description of his Ford that fits my 2010 Ford Focus to, well, a T: “As a vehicle, it was hard-working, commonplace, heroic.” Indeed, that’s precisely how I feel about this car I’ve owned and driven for thirteen years. I love my Ford Focus.
I bought it at a dealership in the Bronx in New York. It was sitting in the showroom, and the salesman was clearly eager to have it relinquish that prized spot for something more profitable. I saw that the windows were not automatic. You had to roll them up and down manually, like I had in the cars I grew up with. The accoutrements were minimal, if not Spartan. Its color was an appealing light green. Four-door. Automatic. He gave me a good deal. I went with it.
Not a single day has gone by that I have regretted that choice. This little hard-working, commonplace, heroic car has taken me here and there with nary a problem, save for a few expired batteries, worn tires, and a matter of air conditioning that stopped working. That’s it—in 13 years. It’s reliable as the sunrise.
Driving this car makes me feel many virtues that I hold dear: simplicity, loyalty, hard work, efficiency, modesty and uncomplaining. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it, and more. It’s transported me four times from Louisiana to Maine and back without a hiccup. It ferried me faultlessly to and from my apartment in New Orleans to the University of New Orleans campus where I worked for eleven years at least 3,960 times. It steadfastly ushered me to my girlfriend Gaywynn’s house in rural Louisiana the thirty or so times I went to see her when we were falling in love for a total of around 8,100 miles. It’s brought me to weddings, doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, parties, weekend visits, movies, drugstores, garden centers, to beaches, lakes and forests, in rain, snow, sleet, fog, bursting sunshine, in heat and cold—all cheerfully, without a hitch.
I’ve faithfully taken my Focus to the Ford physician through the years for its annual check-up. I’ve learned that mechanics have a special affection for the Focus. Once I brought my car to a Ford dealership on Long Island, and, as I handed the service manager the keys, he said, with a sweet look, “Ah, the little Focus.” What does the venerable Consumer Reports say? “The original Focus was nimble and fun to drive, with quick and communicative steering and a comfortable ride.” Nimble! Yes! Nimble as all get-out.
I’ve been in many different automobiles through the years as a passenger while owning my Focus. Never once have I had a glimmer of envy. So many of these automobiles have dashboards that look like the console of a nuclear reactor. My minimal controls—radio, heat, AC (same dial), lights, wipers—that’s it, I think—are all adjusted by my, or, more likely, Gaywynn’s hand. I have nothing—nothing!—controlled by a computer. I’ve seen countless times those devices that do everything but monitor your blood pressure—wait, was there one car that did that?—go wrong and die, costing the owner considerable time and money to fix the temperamental machine. The Focus’s modus operandi? Less means less can go wrong.
I’ve neglected to mention its size—small. Not diminutive, but small, just 14.5 feet in length. Its turning radius is brief. It seems to be able to turn a complete circle on itself. Parking my Focus has been a driver’s dream. I’ve been able to edge myself neatly into highly improbable spaces between cars that 97% of other drivers have had to pass by forlornly, silently cursing the length of their vehicles.
Yes, I admit, the Focus is not the most solid of cars. Its frame and chassis have a tinny sound to them as does its trunk. But let me tell you, I’ve never felt concerned in high winds that it would be lifted away. And, yes, it has some flaws. Its headlights are not as brilliant as I wish they were, and on dark, late-night roads, I mutter about their feebleness. As for its engine—I knew you’d ask—it’s got four cylinders and 140 horsepower. Well, that horse must be some thoroughbred, because the Focus has a great deal of spirit. If called upon, by a quick, definitive press of the foot on the accelerator, it jumps off like Seabiscuit. I ask, it responds.
I refuse to think about the day when my Focus will begin to show its age, began to break down, and, eventually, require hospice. (Well, it is showing its age a bit, if I’m completely honest.) I’ve learned that Ford no longer makes the Focus model. Why not, for heaven’s sake? My Focus and I are as close as man and machine can be. I know some people would say, it’s just a car. It may be a car. But it’s not, and never will be, just a car.
Randy, thank you for reading my piece and especially for your words. I appreciate them very much. I will seek out the Updike story. Why don't you write about your Nissan? You'd have one reader, I assure you! I hope you are enjoying your return to UNO. Thanks again for your kind note.
Another fine one, Richard. I sense an excellent collection gathering.
"My brilliant friend" makes me regret even more that financial need forced me to sell (as an antique) my little Nissan truck, which I drove from 1995 through 2021.
John Updike, who also admired E.B. White, has an early story--"Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, A Dying Cat, A Traded Car"--that closes his collection, Pigeon Feathers (1962) on meaning that can exist between us and our cars.
Thank you for writing.