We often call a fateful moment, an instance of irreversible change, a “turning point.” Just a few weeks ago, I quite literally encountered such an event while turning from Hwy. 65 unto Hwy. 210 just outside the town of McGregor. My 2004 Saturn Vue, a vehicle that my family has put its trust in for over a decade, let out a horrendous clatter as I began to accelerate down the eastward highway. For nearly a year, the vehicle had made it share of worrisome sounds, but there was a finality to its grumbling and shuddering that day. The metaphorical bells were tolling, and I recognized the death throes for what they were.
It was a day or two later before I got the full prognosis from a family member with a bit more mechanical know-how than myself; the front and rear wheel bearing were both in bad shape with a decent chance of just falling off the vehicle outright. With little hesitation on my or the family member’s part, it was decided that the car should be retired as a mode of transportation as quickly as possible
And all things considered, it’s about time. There were certainly a great deal of memories invested in that Saturn Vue, but the vast majority of them were unpleasant. Driving the vehicle often seemed a burden, or perhaps penance for some past life crime. To at last bid the cantankerous beast farewell was, in many ways, a relief.
There was that drawing of first blood, so many years ago in my early high school career. At that point, the vehicle still belonged to my parents though I occasionally drove it to work or school. I had been backing up in my aunt’s yard and, misjudging an angle, came to an abrupt stop against a tree. While the tree came away relatively fine, it gave the Vue’s back door the first of many beauty marks to come, and those marks, and the ordeals that caused them, would be plentiful.
The remainder of the high school years passed with relatively little incident. The back door garnered another mark in a parking lot, fortunately with minimal additional property damage. The family’s Labrador retriever at one point bolted beneath the car while it was in motion, but she survived the incident and is still alive to this day.
When senior year of college rolled around, circumstances were such that I needed a vehicle on campus. The Vue was at this point starting to show its age, and my parents and I struck a deal to acquire it from them. Given the car’s uncanny ability to attract and cause crises, the time on campus passed with relatively little incident.
The next major catastrophe happened maybe a year or so later. I was making my usual morning commute to work when the radio cut out mid-song. My naive hope that the radio was the extent of the issue was quickly proven false when all of the dashboard lights went out, followed by the power steering. The Vue rolled to a stop in my employee-designated parking spot, and it sat there for two days before I was finally able to replace a snapped transmission belt.
Over the course of the next year, the car blew out three tires, one attributed to a brick and two to general happenstance. One of the later two happened in the dead of January, and had it not been for the assistance of the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Department, I would have perhaps have frozen to death putting on the donut. That same year or so also saw me taking long sojourns through three blizzards and as many severe thunderstorms. I half-suspected that, through some dark rite, the Vue was summoning hazardous weather when I drove it 100 miles or more in a single trip.
Even within the last year, the miserable luck had continued. The transmission belt gave an encore performance, snapping one cold winter evening. I was barely out of Isle and missed my rendezvous with friends in McGregor. Earlier this summer, a deer also dashed out from behind another car, colliding headfirst with my left headlight and leaving a basketball-sized hole in the front fender.
Regardless of the headaches and frustration, there’s a sense of normalcy that comes with driving the same vehicle everyday, and I’ll admit there was a wistful regret seeing the Vue finally go. Like the picture of a certain Dorian Gray, vehicles can be bedeviled talismans that wick away our mistakes and misfortunes, blemishes that should fall rightly on our souls. When it came to absorbing calamity, the Vue was the best of the best.
Here’s to the next car. May it selflessly eat my roadkilled sins.
Evan Orbeck is a Messenger staff writer.