Mor­pheme

Powder - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By John Clary Davies

All-wheel drive to free­dom

We met in a Safe­way park­ing lot in Ana­cortes, Washington. I was a re­cent col­lege grad­u­ate—home­less, tran­si­tory, ready to ex­plore the West, and in need of some wheels. She was a mid­dle-aged emer­ald-green beauty with a moon­roof. It was the Fourth of July. I named her Lola Amer­ica. I wasn’t sure I could ac­tu­ally af­ford the monthly pay­ments, and I didn’t know where I was go­ing to be in a mat­ter of months. But at that mo­ment in time, be­hind the wheel of my first car—a healthy Subaru with all-wheel drive—i thought any­thing was pos­si­ble.

It felt that way for a while. Our first win­ter to­gether we lived at Alta, Utah. Lola got buried by all 800 inches of snow that fell that sea­son. Over time, we storm-chased through the Cas­cades, Sierra, Wasatch, Rock­ies, Te­tons, and San­gre de Cris­tos. It wasn’t al­ways easy—all that gal­li­vant­ing led to a lot of self-doubt and a lack of di­rec­tion, not to men­tion a dearth of cash. I broke down cry­ing in that car more than once. Some­times, I couldn’t make the pay­ment. On one par­tic­u­lar low point, I crashed Lola into a Dou­glas fir af­ter hit­ting some black ice on a snowy for­est road, break­ing my hand and a good chunk of her body. An­other win­ter, it was past mid­night and I was driv­ing a ru­ral high­way on my way to Jack­son Hole, took a turn too hot and put her in a snow­bank.

We have a ten­dency to ro­man­ti­cize our au­to­mo­biles in Amer­ica. I’m leery of over­stat­ing her per­son­i­fi­ca­tion, but Lola did be­come more than just a car to me: She was the sym­bol of my reck­less in­de­pe­dence in pur­suit of a life in the moun­tains.

For a sum­mer in 2007 and a win­ter in 2012, I lived out of Lola—but for most of our time to­gether, I had a phys­i­cal ad­dress, too. Lola and I moved into 12 houses in six states. Each time, all of my stuff fit en­tirely in, and on top of, the car. Through­out this time, Lola was my con­stant and most con­sis­tent part­ner. Then, one sum­mer day, af­ter surf­ing, I stood alone in an empty park­ing lot in a drenched wet­suit in the wan­ing evening light, con­fused. Lola, I re­al­ized, had been stolen. A week later, I found her parked be­hind a CVS one town south. All of my things, with the ex­cep­tion of a pair of beat-up boat shoes, were gone.

At that point, she wasn’t worth much—but I was an­gry that some­thing im­por­tant to me was taken away. Plus, get­ting a new car is a pain in the ass. It was some com­bi­na­tion of an emo­tional con­nec­tion and stub­born­ness (and sure, fru­gal­ity) that kept Lola and me go­ing well past 250,000 miles on the odome­ter, de­spite the fact that she was per­ma­nently dusty, rusty, and sandy, the A/C had long stopped work­ing, I couldn’t get the rearview mir­ror to stay on, the wind­shield had a crack from one side to the other, the left blinker didn’t work, the alarm went off at ran­dom times, and the tires were com­pletely bald.

But hey, we were both get­ting older. Af­ter 11 years and 160,000 miles to­gether, I loaded her up for one last move. I had met a woman—a part­ner the likes of which I had never be­fore thought pos­si­ble. Lola and I were trav­el­ing across state­lines again to move into the house that my fi­ancé and I had bought. Mid­way up a moun­tain pass, I pulled over on an ac­cess road and slept in the dirt for the night. The next morn­ing, Lola and I suc­cess­fully made it to the down­hill side of the drive. Soon af­ter mov­ing in, our coun­try home came to ne­ces­si­tate a coun­try truck. I got Lola de­tailed—damn, did she look good!—and posted a few photos to Craigslist. We didn’t need her any­more. As I was clean­ing her out, I found a bot­tle of wine and the Can­ter­bury Tales I had stashed years ear­lier just in case I broke down some­where and needed to en­ter­tain my­self. I sold Lola for $800.

Two days later, I got a call from the new owner. The Subaru had bro­ken down and needed a new en­gine. Had I no­ticed any prob­lems? No, I said earnestly. She had been my rock. John Clary Davies was the Ed­i­tor of Pow­der from 2015 to 2018, and is now the Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor of New Mex­ico Mag­a­zine. The Pow­der staff does not miss long, hot road trips in Lola.

Photo: Mike Schirf

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