In my senior year of high school, my mom drove from D.C. to Atlanta with a silver 2002 Pontiac Sunfire. Yes, I’m talking a whole two doors, with carpeted seats resembling waiting room chairs in an ‘80s dentist’s office and roll-down windows comparable only to a butter churn used by some poor orphan two centuries ago.
It was perfect and, more importantly, all mine. When my grandpa realized that the only miles he was accumulating were to and from the grocery store to buy copious amounts of Cheerios, he graciously decided to gift the car to me. I can’t confirm, but I’m pretty sure he just struck a weekly delivery deal with the folks over at General Mills.
As soon as I saw the Sunfire parked in my driveway, my grandpa’s un-ironic Nixon stickers glistening in the sun, I was in love (although, sorry grandpa and Sean Hannity, I pulled those stickers off immediately).
The fact that the car looked like the way a six-year-old might try to draw a sports car? Quirky! The sound system that consisted of maybe two buttons total? Great, I’d just listen to the random Atlanta R&B stations that change their branding every other week.
As far as I was concerned, I’d hit the jackpot for that nonexistent lottery of cars that not even the slimiest guy on Craigslist would go for. Now, the fun was to really begin.
Early into my relationship with the Pontiac (which would shape up to be a very maternal, albeit one-sided one), I decided there was only one name sufficient for his caliber: Gus. His full name? Gus Gazzler. Get it? If you don’t, it’s not worth me explaining because it is very, very stupid.
Like any good mother, I began to pick up on the minutiae of Gus’s personality: his headlights that were about as powerful as that one 20-year-old lightbulb that hangs from the rafters of your attic, his toy car-esque horsepower and weird musty smell whenever I turned on the AC. You know what they say: the unmistakable traces of an old, Nixon-loving man really make the car.
Over the last two and a half years, Gus and I have been through the ringer together in all the ways that could possibly be inferred from that expression. I don’t know how much of that has been his doing as much as the fact that my competency at driving fits somewhere between Spongebob Squarepants’s and a dementia patient’s, but the more important thing is that we’ve seen each other at our highest highs and lowest lows.
For every time I’ve rear-ended someone and subsequently been sued (yes, this is now a recurring experience in my life apparently), Gus has taken the brunt of the pain and reminded me that things could always be worse.
Sure, he has his battle scars (and dents, and scratches, and craters), but this absolute mad lad has survived it all with not a single serious engine problem. He’s like the Michael Myers of cars from the early 2000s: every time you think you’ve killed him off, he’s rising from the ashes, just maybe without the deadly vengeance part. Plus, the physical imperfections make him a hundred times easier to find in a crowded parking lot.
What’s beautiful, too, is that Gus has stuck with me during some of the most chaotic and fraught years of my life. He’s been a rock of stability during a time in which I moved across the country, moved back, kicked it over in Europe and, most notably, got a spontaneous septum piercing. Even when I was gone for long periods of time, my 14-year-old brother was kind enough to sneak him out of the garage, take a cruise around the neighborhood and get caught by neighbors in a matter of 10 minutes. Thanks, Chance!
And how could I forget the many formative memories collected in Gus’s hallowed, crumb-covered seats? Can Greta Gerwig write and direct a young adult, coming-of-age film where every single scene takes place in an 18-year-old sedan?
I won’t go through a whole list of cherished moments, but a couple that make my point include hotboxing before a punk show, crying to Sufjan Stevens in the rain, and watching my friends limbo under seatbelts and contort themselves into unspeakable positions to reach the back seat (have I mentioned that my car is a two-door dreamboat?).
Gus’s left rearview mirror may be totally gone as the result of me scraping against the wall of a parking garage, but his positive spirit and right rearview mirror are safe and sound. For now, I plan on enjoying his company until my insurance company decides I’m too dangerous for him. Like all the best relationships, ours is one of unpredictability.