By Chi Varnado
The time has come to let go. Some things are easier to let go of than others. Two weeks ago my dog, Job, and I hiked up to the Saddle (the dip between our mountains to the east). For reasons unclear to me, I felt a little antsy, not quite myself. I figured a good huff and puff up the mountain might clear my head and set things right. It was a beautiful Friday morning so why not?
Once up there, gazing out over the distant mountains and valleys toward Cuyamaca, I got the sensation to simply let go and let it be. About what, I wasn’t sure. But OK, I thought. Good message. I’ll try. On the walk back down I found myself humming the Beatles’ tune “Let It Be” and had to chuckle to myself.
A few days later I took my beloved old 1985 Toyota Tercel wagon to the shop for a smog check after, of course, running a tank of premium gas through it with the “Guaranteed to Pass Smog” additive. It did not pass. This has been a great car for me. I bought it when it was two years old and had 32,000 miles on it. My 3-month-old daughter and Mom came along with me. It was a miserably hot fall day so we kept a wet cloth diaper over Kali’s little head to keep her cooled off. I paid $7,500 for that car.
Years later, after fixing the radiator, the mechanic said that the car had more serious issues, including low compression, and wasn’t worth repairing. The vehicle was worthless. He told me that I probably would not even make it back home. That was 15 years ago. The car has rattled and sounded like it was going to fall apart any day for a long time now.
Ten years ago my mom borrowed it to drive the grandkids around and wondered why I hadn’t gotten rid of it yet. For the last several years the mice have co-inhabited the car with me. I set traps in there and had a battery-operated gopher contraption that beeped every 10 seconds to scare them off. Sometimes when driving, a mouse would run out from under the seat and make me swerve. This past year I had to take just about everything out of the car to keep the rodents from shredding it for nesting materials. My registration that I kept in the glove compartment was completely nonexistent. They ate it. Great. Hopefully I won’t get pulled over before renewing it.
That car took our family on vacations all over the western states. We’d put a clam shell on the roof and pack it full of bedding and camping gear. It’s been to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Four Corners, the Tetons, the Oregon coast and the desert. With four-wheel-drive it’s been the vehicle to get us in and out of our washed-out dirt road. To me, it feels like part of the family.
But when it didn’t pass smog this time, I felt, logically, that it might be time to let the state retire the car for $1,500. After all, I could use the money and neither my husband nor I are mechanics. If your car fails smog, but still runs, the government has this vehicle retirement program.
However, I was torn and going into severe indecision mode. The motor still ran strong. If I kept it a rat might chew through a wire and cost me hundreds of dollars or it could break down and I wouldn’t get a dime for it. But I loved that car. We’d been through so much together. It’s been in the family for 25 of its 27 years.
After turning in the necessary paperwork and receiving my letter of approval, I called the salvage yard where I would have to take it.
“What happens to the car?” I asked.
I had assumed that it could have a new life in Mexico or be parted out for other cars in need. But no.
“We crush it,” the lady said.
“You crush it? It’s not recycled?” I implored. I didn’t want to add, unnecessarily, to our already toxic, overflowing landfills.
“Well, yes. It is recycled,” she said.
But I wondered how. I was told that after crushing it would go through a shredder and become 1,800 pieces. At that point, a magnet would separate out all the metal parts from the upholstery and wiring. A further step would pick out wires — and what was left for the landfill would be cleaner than the dirt it was going in. That’s what she said.
The whole crushing idea was obviously bothersome to me so I sat down to meditate for clarity. What appeared tipped me into decision. “TMS,” as a friend had said. Too Much Stuff. And then I pictured all my dad’s old vehicles and piles of things that he couldn’t part with. As a hoarder, he left us plenty of junk to sort through. So I guessed that the time had come to “Let Go.”
My Tercel had been a just-around-town car for quite a while, not one to drive off the mountain on a regular basis. Driving down to National City to the dismantler’s, white knuckled on the freeway holding back tears, I persevered. Kent followed in the other car since I’d need a ride home. I pulled up the dirt drive next to the wind-torn canopy where a man wearing an orange vest requested my paperwork. I handed him the letter of approval, my ID, and the registration renewal page.
He said, “This isn’t the registration.”
“It’s all I have. The rats ate my registration,” I told him.
He stared at me blankly, then said, “Well, you’ll need the real registration, not this.”
So I parked the car and asked where the closest AAA might be. Kent and I hurried to the Clairemont office hoping to get what I needed in short order before the yard closed and impounded my old car. Luckily they weren’t busy. After spending $18 for the replacement registration, we got back just in time.
I pulled the Tercel back up to the tattered canopy and handed the man my papers. He looked at them before setting them down on the dirty picnic table heading over to wave a few loaded trucks through the scales. A huge semi-truck was parked over to the right next to a big tractor, which was ramming recycled contents down into the bed with its long, clawing arm. I wondered if the shocks and springs on that gigantic truck could stand up to such abuse as it shook and rocked with each sharp compression. The noise was deafening.
The man came back and spray-painted big, red Xs on my car and some numbers. Do they have to do this in front of me? Can’t he wait till I’m gone? I had been fearful that they would actually crush it before I left. I did not want to see that.
I was then instructed to drive over to the scales. Waiting in line I was nauseous. Finally, I pulled onto the platform and felt it sway. That didn’t help my queasiness. He waved me forward. Then he told me to get out of the car to go back and stand on the scale myself. That way he would know how much weight to subtract.
What next? I opened the door and walked back to the swaying platform-bridge thing and stopped, wondering if I was in the right place. It didn’t seem like he was paying any attention to me, but I guess he was because he waved me back. I thought it odd that I couldn’t have just left the car and have it weighed without me, but this is bureaucracy. It doesn’t have to make sense.
After parking my scarred, X’ed up car I walked over to a little building with a window and waited for my check. They told me it would “be a while,” so I got in Kent’s car. We talked about how some couples our age, mid-life, get divorces after their children are grown. We decided that might be rather lonely for us and decided against it. We talk like this sometimes, knowing that we’re pretty secure with each other.
At last, the check was ready. It was dated with a time of 3:35 p.m. I could not cash it for another half hour or so. Another interesting (not really) bureaucratic idiosyncrasy. But it didn’t matter. It was Veterans Day, a holiday, and the banks were closed anyway.
So, there you have it. Letting go was not easy and I’m working hard at not having second thoughts. Just Let It Be, I tell myself, and then hum that old familiar tune.
Ramona resident Chi Varnado’s memoir, “A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire,” is available on www.amazon.com. “The Tale of Broken Tail,” her children’s book, should be coming out this spring and she is working on a novel set in her father’s Mississippi homeland. Her collection of essays, “Quail Mutterings,” will appear here every month or so. Visit www.chivarnado.com.