Saturday, November 07, 2015

Ode to a Protege

Unfortunately, I remember quite well the circumstances that led to the demise of my 1994 Ford Escort, Fester. I rear-ended a Corvette (yeah) on Elverta Road one sunny morning in March 2003. Thank goodness, no one was hurt, except, of course, poor Fester.

Fester, in his glory days. 

Dad came to pick me up at work, where I'd been sternly-but-lovingly told, "Go home! Take care of yourself!!" by my bosses when I suggested putting in my standard day of work. One of them, upon receiving my "I'm going to be a little late..." call, had driven the few miles out to the accident scene, given me a big hug, and then taken me back to school to wait in a safe place for Dad to get there. As he drove me back home, he glanced at me from the driver's seat and said, "Dry your tears. Might as well stop and get you a car loan."

Within a few hours, I had secured a loan at my credit union, and a few hours after that, I was at the Roseville Auto Mall, buying a Mazda Protege. I chose a sort of gold color, with tan interior. It was a complete departure from the electric blue Fester.

As I drove my new car--my first "grown-up" purchase--off the lot, I decided I was far too mature to name it. I got Fester as a 16-year-old, and now that I was in my 20s, well--wait. Good song. "Kissed By a Rose" by Seal. Crank up the volume.



Oh, this car is so a Rose. She's just got that vibe about her. She. Yes, definitely a she. This car is all girl. I shall call her Rose.

And so it goes, in my brain.

Eventually I realized she really preferred Rosie, and so Rosie the Protege and I set off on our adventure together.

Proud new car owner, circa 2003. 

I've had so many adventures with my little gold Protege. She's covered a lot of California (as far south as Santa Barbara, and as far north as Eureka), and she's been from Sacramento to Bremerton, Washington, and later, from Seattle back to Sacramento (and, it bears noting, Rosie has long outlasted the friend who made that return trip with me). She's driven a good chunk of the Northern California coast, visited Yosemite National Park, been to Nevada (briefly), and had her photo taken in a famous California Redwood. She's even been to Canada, by way of the ferry boat, the Coho.

Well done, Ro! 

Waiting for the Coho. She had Washington plates for about a year-and-a-half, but
she's really always identified as a California Girl. 

She was rear-ended in 2007, and when I called my insurance, they asked if I needed any repairs. "No. There's a small ding on the back bumper. I'd really rather not go without my car for a few days over that." (The only reason I had to report to insurance is because car #3 in the accident--I was car #1, with least amount of fault--was pretty much totaled and there was a police accident report filed.)

I never regretted buying a Mazda--I went that route after years of watching my parents have really great experiences with Mazda vehicles. I learned to drive in a 626, and Dad had a Miata for something like 15 years. They're just good, solid cars. Dad still drives the 2001 Tribute they bought while I was still driving Fester, and Mom has a 2006 MPV that has covered a good portion of the Western United States. Rosie is a rock star.

No special reason to take this picture. I just turned around from the ocean and
thought, "Damn, she's a cute car." 

If you haven't guessed yet, I'm writing a maudlin blog post about an inanimate object because the time has come to consider replacing my trusty steed. I've known it was coming, and while it's not imperative that I replace her soon, year-end seems a good time to make the investment in a new car. I want a 2015, and waiting for the 2016 models to be on clearance might mean waiting too long. Rosie has close to 165,000 miles, and every time I take her for servicing, it seems another expensive part needs replacing. A few months ago, it was the engine block mount. That was pricey. I'd just rather put that money towards paying for a new car, instead of keeping an older one alive, especially as I don't feel really comfortable taking her on longer trips anymore.

So I've been doing my homework. For a long time now, I just assumed my next car would be a Mazda, and likely the 3, because it's the updated version of the Protege. But I've considered a few other contenders--most seriously the Ford Focus. In the end, the 3 prevailed because it has slightly better gas mileage (I commute somewhere between 65-70 miles round trip every day), a slightly higher safety rating, and...well, it's just a wee bit sexier in the looks department. Buying through my insurance provider, USAA (also my credit card company), means getting a really terrific deal...and Mazda offers an owner loyalty bonus of $500 off MSRP. Every little bit helps, right? Plus, the 3 gets fantastic reviews. (This is but gives it an A grade, and it's actually getting harder to find a 2015 because they're selling out. People want this car.)

Tonight, I sat down and started the loan application process online, and within about ten minutes, was approved for a loan that exceeds my needs by almost ten grand. It's nice to know that after the last five years, with job loss, extended unemployment, then partial employment, I'm finally back to a stable place financially. I have good credit, getting better all the time. I'm making a salary that will allow me to make monthly payments on the car I want. With all of that settled, and 2015 stock selling out quite fast (my local dealership is out of the Sport sedan, which is what I want), it seems that I must strike while the iron is hot, so it could be as soon as this coming week that I make a move to get my new car.

The only thing makes me sad to think of saying goodbye to Rosie.

I get it; a car is an inanimate object, and not a living, breathing entity. But it's occurring to me that this year, with replacing Rosie and losing my sweet Millie, that I'm sort of shedding the very things that made me a responsible adult in my twenties. Maybe it's a sign that one phase of adulthood is morphing away into a new phase. I'm also, for the first time, completely financing my own trip to England, without any help whatsoever from my parents. There's so much to be proud of in this...but I reserve the right to look at Rosie and think, "Well, thanks for the adventures, old girl," and mourn her departure from my life, even as I welcome an exciting new car in--complete with blind spot detection (really, really cool), a back-up camera, and gorgeous lines. I am not a car person in the sense that I drool at good-looking cars on the road...but even I look at the 3 and think, "Oh, yeah, that's hot."

Just look at that gorgeous car.

I test-drove the hatchback on Thursday, and loved how it drove. There are bells and whistles that were not around when Rosie came off the factory line. The car is comfortable, and drives a lot like her--but newer. It's hard to explain. I felt a almost bad gushing to the sales guy how much fun it was to drive, as though in praising a new car, I was automatically trashing Ro, who has kept me safe and taken me on so many adventures since that sunny day in March 2003 when "Kissed By a Rose" came on the radio and I sternly reminded myself that I was simply too grown-up to name a stupid car.

After over twelve years of driving here, there, and everywhere in my intrepid little Protege, it's sad to think of signing her over to a dealership, knowing she won't be driven anymore, but just taken apart for scrap. Even with the excitement of test-driving last week, when I got back into Ro for the drive home, I sort of sighed with relief. "Oh," I thought. "Familiarity." I'll find that same level of comfort with my new car, too, and I am, of course, excited to have something new and shiny to zip around town in.

I feel like I need to give her proper due somewhere--why not my blog?--to thank her for being a great car for so long. So thank you, Rosie, for the adventures, and for keeping me safe.

As for the new car, I'm sure there will be a name. I have to meet it first, to see what kind of vibe I get from it.

Stay tuned.

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