Monday was a sad day for me as I was forced to make a decision that no man or woman who truly loves his car would want to make. Bessie had seen her last engine repairs and it was time to part ways with the car that has been a part of my life for the past decade.
Today, I am breaking from the usual best and worst lists that have become a frequent part of ‘Comic Relief!’ – but that doesn’t mean I am breaking from the comedy that has become a regular part of this weekly column. On the contrary, as there were many comical times that happened involving Bessie.
For those of you who are wondering, Bessie is the red 2002 Dodge Neon SXT that I have owned since she was just a baby fresh off the factory room floor. She had just a few hundred miles when I first bought her in 2002 and it came as no surprise to my college friends, who called me “Red” among my many nicknames that the car would happen to be that cherry red shade I was known to wear, use and otherwise make a part of my daily life.
Now for those wondering about the name, it’s not uncommon in my family. Right now as I wait to transfer the registration to my newly acquired mode of transportation, I am having some bonding time with my sister’s Grand Am, “Lulu.” Lulu comes with Gerald, a rubber duck with a tie and sunglasses on. Good times.
I still recall the day that Bessie came into my life. It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon and I had just finished trying over a half dozen different cars out within my price range but wasn’t particularly fond of any of them. I pondered the options and went home with my dad to our house in Ashburnham, Mass.
Not 15 minutes later, the salesman showed up in the driveway with that cherry red car which was lightly used – less than 8,000 miles – by a Winchendon man whose wife was making him trade in the standard transmission vehicle for one of the automatic variety.
It was love at first sight. No, really. I took it for a test drive and agreed to go back the following day to purchase what would be my first real “new” vehicle.
I proceeded to immediately install a red strobe light in the car. Why? Well, I was young, dumb and in college so I thought it was cool at the time. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best decision I ever made. Actually, as I talk about it now, what was I thinking? If you know, please email me at Jason.Vallee@patch.com.
But the memories started in college and never ended. Syracuse and UConn won national championships and that, of course, meant road trips to each campus for parties. I think the car still has the mud imprints left on the windows when we packed eight people into it during a party at UConn one time. On a side note, it took an extraordinary effort and clown car escape to get everyone in and out of that thing.
The car also had some great college memories in the parking lot, but we won’t go there. Oh come on! This is a family website, what are YOU thinking?
By the time she was retired from public roadways on Sunday night, Bessie had traveled with me to 16 states and one crazy road trip to Toronto. She had survived two accidents, one very large mud puddle and a near-death experience that involved a tennis court, a mudslide and some very poor driving due to unsightly road conditions.
Despite all the craziness, her only run in with the cops came in a public park on a Sunday morning when I, while working for the Record-Journal and performing night crew shifts on weekends, was attempting to get an hour of shut-eye before an early softball game.
“Everything all right here? You haven’t been drinking, have you?” I remember the cop saying in the 2008 incident.
“No officer, just trying to get some rest before our game,” I responded.
“You are keeping the car running on idle for the next hour?” he asked. Yes sir, I was. Bessie was always very good to me even though the truth is I beat the crap out of her on occasion. OK, I beat the crap out of her often and we spent some time on the highway together, waiting for tow trucks and changing shoes, or tires if you want to be proper about it.
But I know I’m not alone as a man who loved his car. I’m certain many of you out there have your stories as I have already talked with a half dozen people this week who shared their favorite moments, names and more.
That’s why I nearly shed a tear Monday when Andy with Modern Tire in West Hartford called me. I missed his call, but immediately dialed back and let him know who I was.
“She’s done,” he said, the first words out of his mouth. “She’s seen her last days.”
Bessie had blown a piston and shred loose the spark plug above it. It wasn’t just me who would no longer be riding into the sunset with her, no one would. I already had a back-up plan in place, knowing this day would come sooner than later, but there was no smile on my face when the news came. It was certainly a sad moment.
My mind wandered to the night before when, on Easter Sunday, I found myself sitting by the highway watching the sunset to the west on Interstate 91 North in Windsor. Little did I know that as the sun set on the April holiday, it was also setting for the last time on Bessie.
By Friday afternoon I will be driving a green Chevy Impala. It will never replace Bessie, but I know some new memories and good times are about to come my way – which leads me to my next point. What should the new wheels be named?
R.I.P. Bessie, 2002-2012.
It's only Wednesday, but it feels like the weekend should have been here two days ago. You have a full plate ahead, lots of work left to do, classes at Southington High School or college to sit through or are just plain in need of a break. We have you covered.