Almost 6 years ago, I was preparing to leave behind the comfortable confines of Provo for the wilderness of medical school, UPenn, and Philadelphia. I had gotten through undergrad with no debt (thanks to scholarships, help from my parents, and my own work), but neither did I have a cent to my name and I would be living off student loans over the next four years. A month or so before I was to leave for Philadelphia, as I puzzled over how I would get there and whether I would be able to make do without a car to get around, my dad came to me and said: Ty, I was reading the other day about how the Lord prepared the way so that Nephi and his family could travel safely in the wilderness and I had an impression come to me that I can’t let you head off to medical school without helping to prepare the way, so, even though you haven’t finished paying for it yet, I want you to take the Camry with you, I hope it’ll help you as you start your life back East.
Now, as any of you who have had the privilege to ride in the Camry know, in terms of looks and speed, it is nothing to write home about; and yet, living up to its make and model, it has proven to be one of the most sturdy and reliable of cars. Though it was already 12 years and 150,000 miles old when my Dad gave it to me, I knew it would serve for many years to come and that it would get me where I needed to go and that was really all I wanted. I thanked my dad and, a month or so later, my mom and I loaded all my earthly belongings into the back seat and trunk and then headed east on I-80 toward Philadelphia.
Fast forward now to this last fall. I had registered the car just before leaving Philadelphia and that registration has lasted us until last August. With the end of summer, however, came time to renew and so I headed to the CA DMV. There, I was informed that the old car wasn’t up to California snuff: I would need to have the brakes worked on as well as some of the steering. I had those fixed and tried to finish the registration, only to be told that, no, the car still couldn’t pass Cali’s heightened emissions standards and so that would need to be upgraded too. I also learned that registering a car in California from out of state, even if the car’s in perfect shape, is very expensive. Well, Becca added up all those costs, as well as the insurance, and the increasingly frequent odd maintenance required to keep it running, and it soon became clear that it made no financial sense to keep the old thing, especially since I almost never used it, Palo Alto being about as bike-friendly as any place you’ll ever go.
Still, I hated the idea of letting the car go. There was really no good reason–certainly no good financial reason–to keep it around, but somehow I hated to get rid of it.
Around the time all this was happening, the car began to malfunction more and more often and, finally, a few months ago, it simply shut off completely with me in the middle of a busy Palo Alto thoroughfare right in the middle of rush hour. I literally had to wait in the broken car until some nice strangers stopped next to me and helped me push it to the side of the road so that I could then figure out a way to get it home. I think somewhere between this dangerous and embarrassing incident and a lot of reminders from Becca, I finally decided it was the camry’s time to go, and so a few days ago I placed a call to “cars for cancer” and we worked out 5:00 PM, today, as the time the tow-truck would come to pick it up.
And so it was that, yesterday, I headed out to the Camry, sitting on the side of our little road as it has for months, to clean it out and get it ready for donation. I went to the glove compartment first, then the front seats, the rear, under the seats, and finally to the trunk. As I did so, and being the cluttered fellow I sometimes am, I found a remarkable hodgepodge of the miscellany of the last six years of my life: Sacrament meeting programs from at least four different wards, the cracked lens from my old camera, a bag for the poles from my tent, a book about Africa Becca gave me when she went to South Africa four years ago, the cords that tied the bike to my bike-rack when I traveled from SLC to Philadelphia, the jumper cables donated to me on the spot by some nice stranger who once gave us a charge in DC, CDs I’d collected and then burned and forgotten–ranging from the BYU Singers to Tower of Power, manuals and other momentos from time teaching young men and primary in Philadelphia, and on and on and on went to list, the debris of a life well-lived (I hope) and I car well-loved from Salt Lake to Philly and back.
With each object came a memory and soon I found myself, in spite of myself, traveling in my mind’s eyes along all the roads the car has taken me/us down over the last six years and even before. During college, it carted me and my roommates back and forth, to and from Provo, as we traveled from home to BYU (though, I must admit, Dave Hansen drove much more often than I did, as I had this strange inability to stay away coming around the point of the mountain…). Then, the summer after graduation, it took me, I don’t know how many times, from SLC down past Kanab and to the parking lot of the Zion Ponderosa Lodge, where I worked as a trail guide: it was witness more than once to the flying, burning arches and spires of Zion national park, to the idyllic cattle-strewn countryside that is Eastern Utah, and to the endless stream of stars that would light up the night-sky as soon as the headlights were off. Then, in August of 2005, it came with as my mom drove with me from SLC, through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and finally into Pennsylvania, past the farmland, and around the big bend of the 76 as it curves past it lush dense humid greenery into Philadelphia and then dropped me off on the doorstep of the medical school fraternity house on 39th and Spruce.
There, it would serve first me, then a host of Philadelphians, and then my wife and I, well as we went about our business there in that bustling City of Brotherly love. It took its hard knocks there, broken into more than once. But the car never really cared; with its chipped paint and never-ostentatious exterior, it was never really a big deal when its windows were broken anyway. More importantly, it was the camry that drove me to pick up the young men when I worked in the South Philly branch, and that carted us out any time we needed to leave the city, that took us to DC to see Cindy and Con or to visit the Temple. It was the camry that once nearly ran into a cop car when I was driving the wrong way down a oneway street and that waited for literally 45 minutes with the temple in sight as we were trapped behind a train that had stalled on the tracks and that took me to pick up a home teachee who had been kicked out of her house on 55th and Baltimiore at midnight one spring morning and who needed a ride to a place to stay. It was the camry that figured in this story. And, finally, it was the camry that turned around, after four years, and headed back around that same green-clad curve, and took me back through the same succession of states, plus Nevada, and finally deposited me here at my new California home (and, for anyone who’s counting, the car actually made one other round trip from Philly to SLC and back with first Andrew and I and then Missy and I the summer after my first year of med school).
It occurs to me, then, that, in some funny way, the car has been with me through most of college, and all of medical school, and the beginning of my life as a doctor: it has seen me hike the glory of Utah’s redrock, head east to learn medicine, fall in love, get married, serve as a teacher and counselor, and finally head back west to become a doctor. Somehow, though it is after all only a rusted collection of bolts, pistons, tires, and wires, it has come to take on a life of its own, as if within its metal and gears, it had somehow developed a soul. And so it was that yesterday as I removed the things that made it mine, and today as I lovingly unscrewed the few bolts that held the crooked license plate on the battered bumper, I couldn’t help but imagine myself preparing a body for its funeral. I know that association is strange, and, as weird as it is, so be it. But somewhere in the course of all the things this car has seen and done, it has become like an old friend and I can’t help but feel a little nostalgia to know that after it is picked up this afternoon I will never see it again. I will miss the way it smells, the way the clutch feels going down and coming back up, and, perhaps most of all, the feel of the gear shift in my hand working through up to freeway speeds. Most of all, though, I will miss the small part of me the car has somehow become.