During winter, especially February when the snow really hits the fan, you realize several things. First, that you shouldn't live in Ohio. I know all states have issues, what with hurricanes and mudslides and alligators, but sometimes I think I'd rather die warm.
Following grief, denial, bargaining and acceptance, you may also learn to appreciate your mainstay through these trying times - who fought battles at your side, shared your madness and tears, guided you through danger to safety, both of you damaged and traumatized - your trusty (or not so trusty) steed. Your car.
A lifelong Ohioan, the importance of a car is not lost on me - especially a winter car. The phrase "winter car" was once explained by comic Drew Carey, who pointed out that your winter car can be the ugliest beater there is, as long as it has a working defroster and snow tires, and it only has to last to the third week of Indians season.
Your car should be able to stand the abuse of roughly five-to-six months of salt pinging off your windshield, hundreds of pounds of snow-garbage piled upon it in mountains that never quite melt (my friend Karen calls them snow boulders - they lurk around curbs and parking lots), wayward shopping carts and other hazards sliding into it, a constant supply of slush and filth tracked in and out by you and your passengers, and a near-criminal constant running of the heater and defrosters.
Ohio's not the place for style over substance. Your sports car may be a blast the four or five salvageable months, but in winter it will leave you spinning 360s across four lanes of traffic, and with new gray hairs. The ill-fated winter my brother drove a Mustang will always be a testament to maturity (he now drives a Trail Blazer). Whether you're a teen or a midlife crisis in progress, don't let shiny paint and vroom-vroom dreams cloud your judgment - winter should loom in the back of your mind like a meteorological boogeyman.
That being said, I look back at cars I've loved and lost:
1984 Buick Skylark: My first and favorite car, a hand-me-down from my late great-uncle Bob. Blue metal-flake paint (like a bumper car), plush bench seats, floated like a cloud on hydraulics. Tons of room inside for friends with no cars. I was young enough that I didn't think twice about covering it in dozens of stickers attesting my misguided musical taste. The only hiccups were an alternator or two and some steering problems. Sorry I had to bust out your back window when I locked my keys inside after a White Zombie concert. The Skylark was passed to my cousin after a new job and debt-free teen years afforded my first (and only) new car, and I'm happy to say she lived out her days out in the country like an old dog.
2001 Pontiac Sunfire: I wasn't always immune to the lure of shiny new toys. I got the black, sporty two-door with sunroof and rockin' sound system at a pretty good deal. I soon learned my lesson as I spun out across I-480 while driving home in a snowstorm (I also learned not to date guys who live an hour away). The Sunfire held up well mechanically despite its penchant for fishtailing. But she met her fate on Midlothian Boulevard when a car clipped her front end while I was waiting to turn left. Somehow, the airbags caused more damage than the actual crash and she was put down, taking more stickers with her.
1989 Buick Regal Coupe: My most infamous car. I drove this sucker for five of my most adventurous years, my first in Youngstown. It too floated like a cloud, and the ultra-low miles from its years as an old-lady car made up for its age in spades. This ultimate winter car could steer out of any fishtail and free itself from any snowbank. However, life in the city was rough on her. She suffered a gunshot wound one day while sitting outside (in broad daylight no less), but kept chugging with the slug still stuck in the door. The bullet hole was a real talking point, with oil-change guys poking it and saying "I thought it was one of those stickers!" Adding insult to injury, she was then sideswiped by partygoers leaving the house across the street, further jacking up the already shot-up door. Still, this car endured being laden down with junk and friends and thousands of newspapers until the engine seized in the middle of downtown Youngstown, at 4 a.m. no less. When trusty mechanic Gus declared her DOA, I was devastated. It was truly the end of an era.
2004 Hyundai Santa Fe: My current car, and my first real grown-up car. After my Regal died, I needed to escape - specifically, to the lake with a boat. I always wanted a kayak, but another two-door coupe would just be an excuse for someone not to give me one. Buying a car to get a boat may seem weird, but you can't argue with results (BTW, thanks mom and dad). And boy, does it handle snow. Last week's weather is a testament to why the good Lord gave us all-wheel drive. And if nature throws us a flood, I can hop on the kayak and paddle home. May she live long and dent-free.
Cars, you served me well. I'm sorry for whatever I did to you when we were together. I hope you're doing doughnuts in car heaven.