two hundred some odd thousand ain’t so many

Two Hundred Some Odd Thousand Ain’t So Many

by Ed Collins/April, 2001

A car to drive around in. One that doesn’t need much attention. Or gas. Something used, reliable, not hard to look at.

A Volvo. An old Volvo. A boxy four-door sedan with character. A car Columbo would drive.

The seller told me to check it out if I want. “It’s in a parking lot at the end of Shelter Island,” he said. “I’m on a boat in the bay. I’ll meet you.”

There it was. Maroon. Paint peeling. Some dents. Tires good. Salmon colored upholstery. AM/FM radio with built-in CD player. Power door locks.

Two hundred and fifteen thousand miles.

“I’ve dropped the price to a grand,” says the seller, who explains that he’s returning to Australia, his homeland, on his sailboat. Alone. He’d been gone fourteen years, he tells me.

“Nice roomy trunk,” he says. I stare at an electric waxer, an hydraulic jack, a 10-amp battery charger, a tire inflater, a brand new spare tire.

The loneliness, I thought to myself. Eight months it’s going to take, he said. With a couple stops in places I’d either never or barely heard of.

I ask if he has repair records.

“Got ‘em all,” he says.

Shoulder to shoulder, we stand over the hood as he flips through a two-inch stack of receipts. A stiff breeze threatens to blow the papers into the bay. He braces them with an elbow.

“I replaced the center U-joints and the front strut housing in March of ninety nine,” he began. “A new steering coupler and trailing arm bushings––that was in October of last year.

“In January I replaced the torque converter seal and the motor mounts, and put in new valve dampners. That was six hundred thirty bucks.”

While I was thinking about what it would be like to be in the middle of the ocean in a tiny boat, he told me that he’d always maintained a regular schedule of oil and filter changes. I wasn’t surprised.

A minute or so later I say, “That’s good, I can see you’ve taken care of the car.” He ignores me.

“In March I replaced the rear brake pads and rotors. “I had the air conditioner serviced in ninety eight. Let’s see, I replaced the fan motor and fuel pump then too. Three hundred and twenty five for that.”

I know absolutely nothing about car mechanics. I don’t have the faintest idea what a rotor is or where on a car you can find one.

“That’s good enough,” I tell him.

Like he was reminiscing, he went on to say that he bought four new tires in October of ninety nine, and that in December he replaced the muffler and the generator. And he got a new battery, a special one that lasts longer, he said, proudly.

There was no point in interrupting him.

Judy and I sit on a curb and chat with him about sailing, sea life and a foreigner’s appreciation for travel in the United States. “Southern Utah is another world,” he tells us.

Later we resume our position over the hood. “Sure you want it?” he asks. I was thinking, half seriously, that if I said no, he’d change his mind and stay.

“I guess so,” I answer hesitantly.

Then I sign the pink slip.

For the longest moment he holds the pen over the line that says “seller”.

Then he scribbles his name: Brett Dash.

“Well, that settles it,” he says. “There’s no turning back now.” He stands, motionless, his head low, pretending, I think, to read the form.

We talk some more. He tells Judy that he’s divorced, that he has a nine-year-old daughter in Los Angeles, that she keeps all his letters and souvenirs in a large wooden box.

Then I make an excuse to leave.

In the rear view mirror Brett stands and watches me drive away in his Volvo. Twice I look back to see him not move.

In the few weeks that have passed the Volvo’s been very reliable. Someone even described it as “Edish”. That pleased me.

And get this: At night the receptacles for the seat belts light up.