First Friday Fiction — Old Faithful

I buy used cars. I take good care of them, and I try to keep them as long as I can. Until recently, I had been driving a car that was built during the last century and was older than my two youngest children. Recently the repair bills were becoming too frequent and too big. I decided to visit the used car lot and trade Old Faithful for something a bit newer.

I looked at a lot of cars and test-drove a few, and finally made my selection. The price was more than I expected, and the trade-in for Old Faithful was pitifully small—would you believe five dollars? Still, newer wheels were what I wanted, and newer wheels were what I brought home that afternoon.

The next morning I was astonished to see Old Faithful back in my driveway, right behind the newer used car. I had to wait until nine o’clock to speak with the dealer, but I called him from work right at nine. He was surprisingly dismissive over the phone. “No, J,” he told me, “no one drove your car back to your house. It must have found its way back overnight.” I shook my head in disbelief and asked if he wanted me to bring it back. “Don’t bother,” he said. “We found almost seven dollars in spare change in the seats and under them. Nothing else in the car is worth our bother.”

I wasn’t sure what to do next. I don’t need two cars—the insurance alone is too expensive in my neighborhood. Finally, I decided I would have to abandon Old Faithful. I asked my neighbor to follow me in his pick-up truck. We went to the mall, I parked Old Faithful, patted it on the hood, and got in my neighbor’s truck.

The next morning, Old Faithful was back in my driveway again.

My neighbor and I tried all sorts of tricks. We tried leaving Old Faithful in the state park, knowing that the gates would be closed at sunset. The old car still made it back to my driveway. We took it to another town, but ten minutes after we got back, Old Faithful was back as well. We left it in a parking garage, and somehow it still came home again. Everything we tried—disconnecting the battery, deflating the tires, even emptying the gas tank—only managed to slow it down a little bit. Old Faithful was determined to return, and I had no way of stopping it.

Finally, I told Old Faithful to my regular mechanic. He had worked on the car for years and knew all its faults and all its needs. I started telling him what had happened, but he interrupted me to look at the car himself. He opened the hood and looked at the engine, he kicked the tires, and then he started the engine and listened to its sound. After thinking quietly for a minute or two, he turned to me and said, “Well, J, I know what I would do if this was my car.”

“What would you do?” I asked him.

“I’d go ahead and buy another car,” he told me.

At first his advice seemed silly, but my mechanic is a wise man, and he’s never given me bad advice. So now I have three cars crammed into my little driveway. Old Faithful seems happy, and the other two cars don’t seem to mind sharing me with it. I just wish I knew where to find the money to take care of all three cars. J.