December 8, 2018
A long trip that takes us back to a logical place
It took a while to appreciate her virtues.
Not young or silly, she has an air of understated elegance but wouldn’t immediately turn heads. Around the block she has traveled a few times, to say the least.
When my mother died suddenly last year, I struggled with emotions and remained guarded about a new relationship, staying true to the one who got me here.
So, Gayle’s champagne-color 2000 Toyota Avalon sat for a couple of months as my brother Philip and I began the long ordeal of settling our parents’ estate — filing documents, paying bills and cleaning out the house, sifting through six decades of jam-packed, carefully-preserved memories.
Several times a week, I drove over the Blue Ridge to Luray and back.
As things moved along, I suggested my 16-year-old nephew Peyton might want the Avalon. Eventually, however, after months of deferring a decision, my brother insisted that I keep the car. Peyton, it turns out, would get something newer, with more safety features and, yes, sexier.
After evicting a colony of mice, I’ve adopted the unassuming little sedan as my “daily driver” — a huge change for someone who has made payments on a series of six pickup trucks in the last 37 years. They’ve ranged from a 75-hp Chevy LUV (Light Utility Vehicle from Isuzu) to a 7,000-pound behemoth, a no-frills “work truck” that will pass anything but a gas station.
But, I’ve grown accustomed to wheeling around a 22-foot land barge to haul dogs, gravel, firewood, mulch, building materials, trash, furniture, whatever life throws my way. A few taillights later, I’ve learned to back trailers through tight gates and around trees.
Mountain roads and rural byways, however, sometimes demand all my skills to stay between the ditches. It took the great spotting of two attendants to get me in and out of a Richmond parking deck near the Virginia Supreme Court without ripping sheet metal.
Despite its occasional impracticality, the one-ton crew cab truck feels safe and handy for the way I live.
Still, it guzzles gas and drives . . . like a truck.
Enter the Avalon. Leather seats. Sunroof. Six-CD changer with JBL speakers. 103,000 miles. And, perhaps best of all, 30 mpg on the highway.
Thanks to 19 years of my parents’ great care, she wears it well.
So, the less-frequent drives to Luray take less work. As we glide along Route 211 and climb through a couple dozen curves to Thornton Gap, she makes driving less work and more fun.
After my father’s decline into dementia about five years ago, Gayle took over maintenance for her and pumped the gas, something she’d never done, because attendants took care of that back in the day and Keith took over when self-service replaced them.
She took great pride in dealing with oil changes, state inspections and tire replacement.
Gayle and Keith left me yet another gift after lifetimes of doing so.
The car’s CD collection serves a time machine soundtrack — “Three Coins in The Fountain” from a 1950s disc, Benny Goodman, Dean Martin and more. Mostly, I listen to news on WTOP and haven’t swapped out Gayle’s music for mine.
The Avalon also takes me back to the gas-sipping ’70s, when I piloted a red Pinto hatchback and then a Mazda GLC, my first new vehicle.
The big truck hasn’t moved in a week, saving a bunch of fuel and reminding me of a time when mpg — along with a starting journalist’s very meager paycheck — drove my vehicle choice.
The Pinto and I also survived a rear-end collision of the sort that spawned explosions.
But, that story must wait for another day.
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sax1955 · December 9, 2018 at 10:11 am
Good stuff Lew... Thanks!
Jim Griffin · December 8, 2018 at 11:09 am
Fine writing for a Saturday morning. Perfect to accompany a cup of coffee.
This is a wonderful way to address the losses you've suffered, Lew. We readers are beneficiaries of your fine writing, your confronting the matter in black and white, brimming with shared feeling.
Your Avalon is metaphor for the highway of life and loss and the realization both you and the Avalon have many miles ahead. Make them count.
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