On Monday I got into a serious car accident on my way to work. It was traumatic, but by some miracle I escaped and was mostly okay.
I stood there at the scene, looking at the front of my car, smashed in and flaming. A terrifying thought crept in and kept water streaming down my cheeks. I could have died.
I didn’t die. I am very much alive. And as much as it sounds like a great setup for a “second chance”, turning-your-life-around kind of story, the verdict’s still out. For today, I won’t be talking about the accident, and I won’t be talking about any new ‘leaf’s to be turned. What I will be doing is bidding adieu to an old friend, recapping some of my favorite memories… with my car.
*Quick head’s up: There is an affiliate link in this post, when I discuss the laptop I use (and LOVE). If you buy it through the link I get a commission, if not none of my business. Carry on!
My little Kia Spectra, the go-kart as I called it, and the butt of many jokes of friends, family and lovers, has been kicking around since 2009. She came to me in 2010, and we have been side-by-side ever since. People talked a lot of shit about my little Kia. They called her old, small, said she wasn’t fast enough, asked when I’d get a new car or alluded to my being financially “smart” for keeping her around—the implication being that she was not great, but at least she wasn’t costing me a car payment.
Well, people could make fun of her all they wanted. I was not letting that car go until her wheels fell off and she took her last, gasping car breath.
I always knew the day would come eventually. But now that it has, I can’t help having some feelings about it. I’m not especially sentimental—she didn’t even have a name! —but we have been together a long time. And over the course of that time, we’ve done a lot.
She’s taken me to so many places. Seen the birth and death of relationships, babies growing to kids, to almost teenagers, workplace changes, and several changes of housing. She WAS the house for a minute there. She’s been there for my foray into photography classes, my in-person interviews when dabbling in journalism, my fair-weather sports-fandom, my weekend getaways. She’s heard every song I’ve ever written, most of them composed within her four doors. She’s felt every heartbreak with me, somber drives, and she’s experienced the joys and tribulations of driving through the four seasons of New England.
Today I’m counting down the highlights. The most memorable things (for better or worse) we did together.
Top Memories with Kia
10 Years on the Open Road
(I told the kids my car liked to wave to other cars. This was its arm.)
1. We drove cross-country. TWICE.
In 2013, just before taking my job as a flight attendant, I moved across country to Portland, OR. You can read more about this move and my Flight Attendant Origin Story here. In Portland, I slept on an air mattress on my brothers’ living room floor, worked at a little sports bar, went for hikes around the city and took long, leisurely drives to the coast. But before all of this, I had to get there.
My mom and I set off from New York to Portland in early October, in the wee hours of the morning to avoid city traffic. My little Kia was stuffed full of my clothing and necessary belongings.
We traveled through Virginia, Tennessee, where we stopped to stay with relatives, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. We saw waterfalls and snaking rivers, desert landscapes, and flat nothingness. We stayed in little motels on the way that would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Perfect scenes to set a murder. We belted Lady Gaga’s ‘You and I’ the whole way through Nebraska. (What else is one to do in Nebraska?) We had some great bonding time and a few hilarious eruptions of tension. One little spat caused us to narrowly miss a horrific car accident. One was over cowboy boots. We saw sunrises and sets, and my mom got to work on facing her fear of high places, steep cliffs, and winding mountain roads. And all of it with the backdrop of my little black Kia.
Just three months later, I was off again for another cross-country road trip.
This time, with my then-partner. We took the southern route. We made our first trip to the Grand Canyon, where I almost fell into the most famous hole on earth after trying to scare my nervous partner by jumping near the edge. We watched the Great Pinecone Drop and partied our asses off in Flagstaff for New Years Eve. (If you’re ever looking for an off-the-beaten-path NYE destination, it is a pretty cute celebration spot.) We stopped in Amarillo TX to see the Cadillac Ranch and eat at The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery—that restaurant that challenges people to eat a 72-ounce steak for street cred. Barf. This was obviously another time and place; I ate meat and drank beer! We stopped in Tennessee to see my relatives again, we partied in Nashville, and despite a few stinky situations, we had a blast.
I recommend everyone take a road trip across the U.S. if you have time. It is, in my opinion, one of the most fun ways to explore a new place. And if you’re from here, it will give you a new perspective and a fresh set of eyes with which to see your homeland.
'grams of said road trip
2. The Rat Hotel
Anyone remember the time a giant rat made its home in my trunk for three weeks? It’s a time I’ll never forget. A simpler time, before global pandemics, when all we had to worry about was Splinter taking over your vehicle. (Actually, I named him Wendel, but that is neither here nor there.)
Kids, if you’re going to park near a river in Chelsea MA, by Boston’s Logan airport, be mindful of what’s left in your car. Know that even in the freezing dead-cold of New England winter, a rat can smell an English muffin through a sealed plastic bag, wrapped in a paper bag, in a closed trunk. It is impressive how acute their sense of smell must be. Also impressive: Their ability to hide in a small space.
My furry tenant, Wendel, managed to evade us for weeks. The trunk was empty, we checked it every few days for evidence of his presence. (PETA & animal lovers stop reading here and just know I have a lot of guilt and remorse for this part. But it had to be done.) We set a trap, covered in almond butter, and checked that every few days. It was set, untouched, for so long that we were sure he must have found a way out of the trunk. Scurried off back to his rat family on the river. But, alas, three weeks after the initial discovery and two weeks after the trap was set, we finally got him. Sadly, Wendel met his end in my trunk.
I can’t stress how terrible this was while it was happening. I felt violated and ready to puke whenever I thought of his rat tail dragging along the floor of my trunk. But eventually, (sadly) he departed. The trunk was sanitized and cleaned with the force of 1,000 men. The drama Wendel brought ceased to exist, and my car was no longer a rat hotel. Now, this incident is just one more time I can look back upon and laugh. One more story that ensures I’ll never say my life was boring.
Another wild time shared between me and my little Kia. (And Wendel, of course.)
She provided shelter for furry creatures.
3. Cruising with Kids
Some of my funnest memories in my little Kia are of carting my niece and nephews around. I let the older kids play DJ, choosing songs on my phone to play in the car. And even with that great power, they were still great kids—always offering to alternate songs and listening through to the end, even when they didn’t love my choices. Ben and I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash. I introduced him to Tenacious D, and he introduced me to It’s Raining Tacos. Sophia and I listened to Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift and some country stuff that I couldn’t possibly remember. My niece is a great singer and performer. I loved getting a front-row seat to her unplugged car sessions. Little Bodhi didn’t get to choose many songs in the car because he was always strapped in a car seat in the back. But we had fun anyway. He did get to watch movies on his own personal DVD player in the backseat, which would have rocked my world when I was a kid.
In the more than ten years that I’ve had my little Kia, these kids have gone from toddlers to almost teenagers, and in the case of the littlest ones, from just an idea to a walking, talking, (dancing, sassing) being. It is amazing to look back. In recent years, I’ve driven my older niece and nephew up to Maine to visit with my parents. I loved these hours-long drives with these ever-evolving little humans. Get a kid alone in a car and suddenly they’re opening up to you in a way that they don’t when you’re playing in the pool or having a family dinner. Some of the most personal and interesting conversations with these kiddos happened while I was watching the road and steering the wheel in my little black Kia. They’ve asked me about gay and trans people, about bullies, about celebrities, about race, about family. They’ve told me about their friends, and things they worried about, and drama between competing YouTubers. They’ve let me into their worlds when we were tucked safely inside my car, on the open road. I hope to get more of these moments with my favorite little people when I finally get a replacement car.
Some of our favorite times were cruising with kiddos.
4. The Work Horse
Through wind and rain and sleet and snow, my little Kia Spectra got me to and from work at Logan Airport for seven years. Despite being dinged and scraped in the Chelsea garage, despite being snowed upon and serving as a rat hotel in Preflight parking, despite the heavy suitcases thrust into her trunk, and despite the several times I left her lights on and drained the batteries on my work trips. She just kept on going.
Even through the abuse in Chelsea Garage, she kept on keeping on.
5. Who Needs a Moving Van?
That drive out to Portland, Oregon was not the first nor the last time my little Kia would be loaded up with all my worldly possessions. Not by a long shot.
In the ten years that my car and I were together, we have seen somewhere between six and eight moves. I went from Beverly to Marblehead, MA, to Oregon, to Florida, to Quincy, MA, to Salem, MA, to Rhode Island. There were many stops to Salem, Boston, and Maine along the way. At one point, in 2019, I was basically living out of my car. I had a place in Mexico City and a crash pad in Boston for sleeping between trips. I kept a coat, toiletries, and a few changes of clothes in my car at all times since I was constantly on the go. It is crazy to look back at my life 10 years ago, living in a little one-bedroom apartment in Beverly, MA, bartending and dating god knows who. That was my first apartment that I lived in alone. And now here I am, a homeowner in my first home, that I bought and live in by myself. (People, please don’t read that in some kind of depressed tone. I’m writing it in happy amazement with how far I have come and how well I have always done on my own.)
Through all the moves, my car became the constant. The only anchor to an otherwise free-wheeling existence.
It feels weird, sitting here in my now fully furnished house, noting the absence of my car outside. The day I was supposed to close on my house last December, I loaded up my Kia and left for Rhode Island in the early hours of the morning. But when we showed up for the final walk-through at 9am, it was apparent that none of the agreed-upon repairs had been made by the seller. What ended up happening was me and my Kia, stuffed door-to-door full of everything I owned, driving around Rhode Island aimlessly for many hours. It was a very Toni afternoon. But we got through.
When I did get to move in, not owning any furniture, there were no movers, no moving vans, no trucks. It was me and my Kia. Two trips to bring my things to Rhode Island and many trips up and down the stairs. And that’s all we needed.
Also, a great place to snack.
How would I let people know I voted without her?
6. The Robbery
If you have already read the Welcome post to this blog, the very first post on awheelinthesky.com, then you know about the robbery. For those of you who haven’t, consider checking it out. And in the meantime, read on.
There was one unhappy time that my sweet little Kia was the scene of something dark. A theft. She wasn’t stolen, thank heavens, but my suitcase was. Packed for a three-day work trip, including my laptop and all of the several blog posts I’d written for an as-yet-to exist website. This one.
“A 4am surprise I wouldn’t wish upon anyone,” I called the incident in that post. The theft of my items, my labored writing all for naught.
It’s funny, it was so traumatic then, but now it makes me smile to think about. It is a part of the history of this site, along with the history of my car. (And of a shitty, but important relationship, if we’re getting really real.) Maybe those blog posts weren’t good enough in their original form. Maybe I needed some adversity for better storytelling. Perhaps, as I suspected then, the universe was telling me to get the F out of the situationship in which I was dabbling.
I was reminded of that dark day after my accident this week.
Waking up to find my stuff gone was traumatic. I felt violated. It made me shudder to think of what could have happened if I’d walked down earlier, while the act was in play. That day, just like this past Monday, I saw a lot of silver linings despite the trauma. My things were gone, but I was safe. A blessing. I had my most important items with me—my passport, phone, work iPad, wallet—saving me a lot of hassle after the fact. This is true now, too. Though I fled my vehicle taking nothing with me, the paramedics got all of my things once they arrived and it was safe to do so.
The computer that replaced my long-gone stolen one is way better. Smaller, light enough to bring with me on every trip, and it has a soft fabric covering the hand rests that is really freaking lovely. (It is a Microsoft Surface Laptop in case you’re curious, and I never stop raving about it!) I used it to write new blog posts to replace the ones that had been lost, and this little baby is where A Wheel in the Sky was born and continues to grow.
I suspect my next car will be a slight upgrade, if for no other reason than it won’t be 12 years old. And while I loved my little Kia, all the memories and miles she gave, I am ready to let go.
May you rest in peace little buddy. Thanks for the memories.
I haven’t purchased a car in more than ten years, so if y’all have any tips then holler at your girl. Otherwise, have a safe and happy weekend. AND WEAR YOUR F*CKING SEATBELTS.