Today, at approximately 12:30, about a half-mile east of the 405 onramp in the Seattle burb of Kirkland, my black Geo Tracker, affectionately christened the Deathtrap, rolled over into its 100,000th mile. [editor's note: for it's 60,000th to 74,000th mile, I owned this Tracker. I called him "Walter".] I was heading west from the gymnasium, where I had been tossing about the medicine ball with a half-dozen other strapping young men, and I was now sweaty and a bit sore, but was in a good mood from the flow of endorphins, a caffeine buzz from the morning's tea, and the spirited rocking of the String Cheese Incident blasting "Miss Brown's Teahouse" through the speakers.
At the sight of this centemillenial mile, though, I knew I needed to celebrate--plus, the arrival of this impressive number had prompted the Deathtrap to switch on its Check Engine light, an admonition I rank up there with the postcard from the dentist reminding me that it's time to schedule a cleaning. But, not wanting to be callous on this occasion, I pulled off the thoroughfare I was on. Acting like a true Seattleite, I did an instantaneous left turn across 3 lanes of traffic without using my blinker or checking to see if there was any opposing traffic. Once I was safely on a residential street, I pulled over to the curb and gave the car a congratulatory pat upon the dash, which, now that I examined it in the morning sunlight, was looking quite reptilian and dusty as Peanuts' Pigpen. "Way to go, DT," I said. "You have transported me many a mile, and I salute you."
Now, it is one of the distinguishing (and less than flattering) aspects of my personality that in all my relationships, be they with car, woman, vegetable or mineral, I go through phases of supreme attentiveness followed by what can only (in all honesty) be described as neglect. An oil change and tire rotation three weeks ago had been the high point of my attention to the Deathtrap's needs in the last six months (with the obvious exception of gas), and so it was a blind leap into a rattlesnake pit when I asked "What would you like as a token of my appreciation on this, your quite exceptional mileday?"
"I've been waiting for this," Deathtrap spoke after first coughing up something fleshy from somewhere near the exhaust manifold--I say this only to try to impress; truth is, I couldn't tell an exhaust manifold from my Isle of Langerhans. I remain convinced that cars are powered by a colony of tiny gnomes on treadmills under the hood, and that by pressing the accelerator I parcel out more booze into the glowing flagons that give them the will to keep at it, day in and day out.
"I have a list of grievances," DT said. Anyone who has ever heard these words or a facsimile thereof from anyone, be it a lover, a friend or an employer, knows the terror it strikes into one's heart. "First of all," the Deathtrap continued, "listening to Car Talk on the radio on the way home from the grocery store on Saturday afternoon does not qualify you as a responsible automobile owner. And E stands for 'Empty,' not 'Eh, what the hell, I can make it home.' And there's these little things called belts under the hood. If you think I'm squealing with delight every time you turn the key, you're sadly mistaken."
I started to say something but the Deathtrap was on a roll now.
"And you may not have noticed, but if you cast your mind back, you'll remember that I'm actually black, not mud-colored, a fact you'd realize if you ever even once took your lily-white collegiate hands and rubbed a moist rag across my surface. And I'm buried under three feet of dust inside, I'm like the goddamn lunar surface here. And while you're at it, you might want to do a little research and discover that I actually require more fluids to run than gasoline and your half-empty soda cans in the drink holder. And will you buy me a new canvas top already? I look like Little Orphan Geo with this decrepit, shriveled up old thing strapped to me; then maybe you can park me next to the Cherokees and Lexuses at that hoity-toity place you work and I wouldn't be embarrassed every time we pull into the goddamned lot. That's what I'd like."
"I was thinking more like a tank of super unleaded."
At this point the conversation entered something of a "blue" area, which I waited out without protest, an effort that gained me some points with the Deathtrap, and eventually it ran out of things to say, although by now it was quite some time later. I promised to "look into" the new canvas top, made a solemn oath that I would go around curbs and not over them, and purchased a wash-and-wax (with the underbody rinse) at the Chevron just down the street, where I poured eight gallons of the merchant's most expensive liquor into my beast, who purred quietly home, the Check Engine light still on, a spot of glowing red text in the darkness like a cryptic reminder whose meaning you can't quite remember, like a glimpse into the vast mechanical mind that lay just on the other side.