I once had a car salesman tell me that he would give me $1,000 in trade for my current vehicle, "If you can get it onto the lot under its own power," an offer he came to regret when he learned that steering damage made it necessary for me to make four right turns in order to accomplish one left turn.
The offer was, of course, contingent on the smoke and mirrors, creative arithmetic approach that some of those folks use, but I like to think he had a bad afternoon explaining that one to his boss.
The point is, I am hard on vehicles and don't trade them until the last possible minute. Okay, if you take a look at the final stack of repair bills . . . maybe a few months past the last possible, or at least the last practical minute.
And so it was with great sorrow and reticence on both my part and that of the guys at the repair shop where it was spending most of its time, that I finally traded in my old battered, white, bumper-sticker-plastered hippie van for something a little more staid, conservative and anonymous.
If you are looking for punditry here, I apologize in advance, although there is a bit of a spiritual, or at least philosophical, aspect to the decision and process. And I promise that, at least in this space, you won't see any references (other than this one) to Medicare, foreign policy, the economy or uteruses.
Before I retired, my vehicles were an extension of my persona. My column was titled "Off/Beat" and (even though the true origin of the name had to do with giving reporters a chance to write about something off of their beats) my personality and lifestyle doubled the meaning.
I am a nudist, a Buddhist, a Deadhead (diehard fan of the Grateful Dead) and an unabashed liberal.
Deadheads run to heavy use of bumper stickers about the band and other things and, having always followed the motto, "Nothing Exceeds Like Excess," I overdid it.
A Grateful Dead logo (Steal Your Face, for the faithful) and the legend "Jerry Lives" were emblazoned on the driver's side door, referring to my once-upon-a-time physical resemblance to Jerry Garcia, the band's late lead guitarist.
Other stickers proclaimed my views on things like gay rights (Straight, not Narrow) world peace, religion and what passes for music these days. One of my favorites read, "It's all right, I wasn't using my civil liberties anyhow," and another said, "I embarrass my offspring." I don't remember buying that one and they might have placed it there.
Also acknowledged was my service in the Marine Corps and in Vietnam and to the fact that I was a military parachutist.
Funny. I always snort at the sight of other people who display their social and political philosophies on T-shirts (as do I) and the bumpers of their cars, but I probably snort a little louder if they disagree with me.
Still, the vehicle and my former appearance (also toned down a little recently) had some promotional value and served as an conversational icebreaker, as it did with the state trooper in Texas I saw gazing at the back of my van (okay, over the years I saw a LOT of cops gazing at the back of my van). The young, polite trooper made note of the peacenik/military dichotomy and asked, "Aren't you a little confused, sir?" Word to the wise: If asked that while wearing a T-shirt reading, "Not all who wander are lost," just smile, nod and keep moving.
Also, when driving across the country, the view made a lot of people wave and gesture. Sometimes using all their fingers, sometimes just their thumbs and sometimes all of their digits.
I am trying to follow a spiritual path that calls, in part, for the abolition of ego and self.
I lost the trademark cowboy hat years ago, lost 87 pounds, the shoulder-length hair and most of the beard a year or so ago, and now I have lost the rolling billboard inviting all eyes to be on me and in a small town, advertising my whereabouts 24/7.
I traded on a four-door compact hatchback that I have sworn would bear no bumper stickers.
Proudly, I took a friend to lunch to show off the new me and the new wheels.
"Really," she said in the parking lot. "Red?"