At this time of year, it is customary for many of us to give thanks for the blessings in our lives. We gather around the dinner table and express our gratitude for our families and friends, our health, and our ability to be together after a pandemic kept many of us apart.
As I began my annual inventory of people and things I am grateful for — something I should probably do every day instead of once a year — I thought of another blessing worth mentioning: A member of our family who deserves our recognition after years of service.
Her name is Carol, and she is a 2003 Toyota Corolla.
Before you decide that I have gone completely bonkers, a conclusion my family came to many years ago, allow me to explain myself.
In the 19 years that Carol has been with us, she has exhibited many of the qualities we admire in humans: She is uncomplicated, low-maintenance and ready to be of service at a moment’s notice. What’s not to like?
Carol’s uncomplicated manner has become more obvious as the car industry has undergone some pretty dramatic changes in the years since we brought Carol home. Instead of having a dashboard that looks like it belongs in a rocket ship headed for outer space, she has a simple, user-friendly control panel. I don’t need a degree in quantum physics to figure out which button to push or what each gauge measures.
Carol may be the only vehicle currently on the road that not only has a CD player but also a cassette player. While I can’t ask Alexa to play my favorite song while I am driving or tune to any Sirius XM station I feel like listening to, I can enjoy any of the dozens of CDs I purchased years ago.
What Carol lacks in technology she makes up for in driver-friendly simplicity. Although she can’t stop or slow down automatically when she is too close to another vehicle, she also doesn’t beep at you if you accidentally veer one-millionth of an inch into the other lane. Since I, like so many other drivers, tend to do that a lot, I am spared the sound of my car constantly beeping at me in a way that reminds me of a schoolmarm scolding a child. I realize that this sound is a safety feature, but even a safety feature can become a nuisance after a while.
Carol has aged well and wears her years and her scars with great dignity and an admirable amount of resignation. She has countless scratches and dents from her owner’s unfortunate inability to judge the distance between the car’s exterior and a fence, a tree or a pole in almost any drive-thru lane. She has acted as a dining room on wheels more times than I can recall and occasionally smells more like the inside of a restaurant than the interior of a car. She has witnessed more outbursts of profanity than I care to confess and could probably win a swearing contest thanks to my expert tutelage.
Perhaps Carol’s greatest quality is her ability to be of service no matter what the circumstances. Because Carol is the oldest car we own, she is called upon to carry us through ice storms and heavy rains. When the weather forecast is threatening in any way, she is parked at the end of the driveway until things calm down.
I like to think of Carol as “The Little Engine That Could.” She doesn’t have heated seats, a GPS system, or the capacity to do her own parallel parking. She has no connection to Elon Musk. She is from another time, when cars were modes of transportation rather than computers on wheels. She simply moves me from one place to another and then takes me home. I know that one day she will finally run out of steam and have to be towed away. But until that day comes, I will keep driving her and listening to my CDs.
By the way, I think Carol is a big fan of Ella Fitzgerald.