I’m not a car nut or anything like that, but I DO love my car. It enables my life, spread out as it is over the entirety of the Puget Sound. It’s been with me longer than I’ve lived in Seattle. You don’t TRULY realize how important something is to you until it disappears, even if only temporarily.

I bought the car new in 2004. My boyfriend at the time and I both worked at EA in northern California, but our schedules didn’t match and I needed to be able to come and go on my own. But since this was our second car to drive to the same building, I felt rather guilty about killing the ozone layer and all of that. Plus I wanted to buy a car that would last me the better part of a decade, since I’m not really one to get new things for the sake of newness. (Essentially, I was looking for a long-term committed relationship with my car, not casual car dating.) That led me to limit my search to hybrids. They were a bit of a risk since they were so new – no one knew how long the battery would last or how reliable these engines were.

Conveniently, this also saved me from a bunch of decisions I wasn’t necessarily qualified to make. There were only 2 hybrid options in 2004: the Prius, which in California had a months-long waiting list and was going for about $8000 OVER sticker… and the Civic Hybrid. When the Honda dealership quoted me a price slightly under sticker, I hightailed it over and by the end of the day owned my first new car. Which was a little overwhelming – you’re just letting me drive off the lot with this? Do I really know how to care for it? What does it eat? I named the car “Skarmory”, which is the name of a Steel-type Pokemon. It was doubly appropriate since it’s a steel gray car, and the word ‘car’ is phonetically embedded in it.

At the time, many people questioned the wisdom of my purchase since the hybrid Civics cost about $2.5K more than standard ones. “Gas would have to get up to $3 a gallon for that to make sense!” Well, how about $4? I think it’s more than paid for itself.

And, seven years later, here we are. My car has been with me every step of the way. It took some time to figure out how best to care for it… I once made the mistake of taking it to Jiffy Lube, where they stared at the engine like it was a spaceship for 30 minutes before realizing they didn’t carry 0w20 oil. And it gets cranky at me in the winter, as I think “snow” isn’t in the vocabulary of California-born cars. 😉 But it’s been really dependable, and everything that I need. I love owning a hybrid – I only gas up twice a month/three times in a long month and the brakes seem infinite since much of the kinetic energy is being recaptured for recharging the battery before it gets to the brake pads.

My car is my freedom. I recognize that it’s a very American sort of life, for better or for worse, but I’m all in. I can see why pirates were supposedly so passionate about their boats. It’s my voice studio, where I can practice singing with abandon. And my car is also my sanctuary – it is where I take stock of my life on the drive home across the bridge, reflect on what I’ve accomplished and what is yet to come. When I take the steering wheel in my hands, I feel connected to all the earlier versions of me driving the car and I want to send them messages. (Like, “don’t trip in that parking lot!”) I’ve experienced the full range of emotions in that car, from elation to sorrow.

A few months ago, I took Skarmory in to have an uncharacteristic problem (delays in restarting at stop lights) checked out, and was told that there was a transmission leak they couldn’t trace. They topped off the fluid and gave the car back, telling me to return after driving it for a bit. I returned later than I wanted due to my stupidly crazy schedule and dependence upon the thing… topping off the fluid fixed the problem so it didn’t seem urgent.

This Thursday, I finally got the car in there for a follow-up. They STILL couldn’t trace the leak – oh, and by the way, did I realize that my warranty expired two months ago? Crap. I couldn’t really blame anyone but myself for that; should have brought the car back sooner. I couldn’t leave it there overnight because of rehearsal for my next show. Instead, I had to bring the car in yesterday (Friday) to drop it off for an indefinite period of time for them to take the engine apart to diagnose the problem. This didn’t sound good. I felt so bad for my car, sitting there as I filled out paperwork. I kept looking over at it like a worried mother.

Last night, I got a call from the service department. Bad news: the leak is in a seal that can only be reached by removing the transmission, which makes it an $850 repair. But the service advisor went on to say that they had discussed this with the Honda reps, and that Honda was “on board” to cover all but about $60 of the cost of the repair.

I was dumbfounded. Here I was, bracing to pay for car repairs… (and up until now it’s only ever been tuneups and oil changes, so I’ve gotten off well) and without even asking these folks turned it into an almost negligible event. (Of course, I’m out rental car fees too, but they’re not terrible.) The advisor also explained that because I was paying for part of the repairs, I’d be eligible for a full warranty on the work – as opposed to fully covered repairs, which do not come with a warranty. I’m not sure exactly what went on. This could be entirely kindness and coincidence, since the reps were apparently in on Thursday. It could be a gray area – since the issue was discovered before the warranty ended, it could technically still be covered. All the same, I’m certainly grateful for the positive development – Honda managed to turn a bad situation into an opportunity to inspire long-term customer loyalty.

So today or Monday I’ll get my car back, happy and finally repaired. I had a realization while all this was going on – my car is REALLY a reflection of myself. Looks fine, works fine, but has an insidious internal problem that no one could track. We also both have visible scars from incidents in parking lots! And when they DID track the problem, it turns out that both my car and I have excellent healthcare.

I don’t get the cosmetic blemishes fixed because it seems a waste of money – the car drives fine! I often remind myself of a story Randy shared during the Last Lecture, where he intentionally ruined the interior of his new car to make his nephew feel comfortable. In the end, I love my car, but I don’t love it for what it makes others think of me. I love it because it helps me do what I love.

Posing in 2004 outside the Maxis offices with my brand new Honda Civic Hybrid, dubbed “Skarmory”. The wind is NOT a paid actor and is harassing me. My T-shirt is a show T-shirt from one of my last performances at Carnegie Mellon. Of course, my keychain is a Pikachu.