|Echo at the Manitoba Welcome Center up the road
from the Canadian border
One of my favorite experiences as a kid was going on road trips with my parents; few things excited me as much as the prospect of seeing a new state welcome sign. Part of it was the fact that visiting a new state felt akin to stepping foot on foreign soil--embarking upon a journey to a new world. I mean, to a seven year old, Virginia or Maine might as well be halfway around the globe!
Through my adolescence, I often dreamed about the trips that I would go on when the freedom of adulthood would finally wrest me from the bondage of high school. The cross country road trip always held a special allure, reaching Colorado in particular partially because it was something my father had done before I was born. There was just something invigorating about the idea of having nothing but open road ahead of and behind me while I cruised towards whatever destination lie in wait.
Sometimes, the realization of our dreams leaves us wanting--aching for the expectant anticipation rather than the underwhelming realities we experience as adults. In a few rare instances though the actuality of that attainment far surpasses anything we could have dared to imagine. Looking back on all of the journeys that I have been blessed to have undertaken, I can only smile and be thankful that the latter proved to be the case time and time again. Each of those trips had its own identity and none would have been the same without the woman sitting across from me and the car that we drove in.
This is the story of our 2001 Toyota Echo.
At first glance, she might not seem like much. An atypical shade of blue (supposedly "sea foam blue," which, to this day I argue makes no sense whatsoever! I've always heard sea foam green but, apparently Google agrees with the paint namers since there are more results for sea foam blue than green. Whatever!), the Echo served for years as the stalwart sentry of the entry level economy market for Toyota. Thusly priced, named, and colored, it would prove to be the ideal car for my wife as she graduated from high school.
I can still remember hearing people talk about Heather zipping along in "that little blue car of hers" early in our relationship. Separated by the Verrazano Bridge, we spent a fair amount of time traveling between Staten Island and Brooklyn in Heather's first and only car. It was the site of long talks and daydreaming sessions, of late night, after-movie snacks, and of course the requisite amount of making out.
During those early years, Heather and I would often go driving aimlessly around at night, happy just to be spending time together and to be away from our respective situations. It reminded me of nights spent in "the van" with my best friends towards the end of high school. Though that was a brotherhood in its own right, there was undoubtedly a relationship of sorts being fostered between Heather, her car, and me. Then in my early twenties, I once more enjoyed the thrill of exploration as I learned the lay of the land in Staten Island, sharing in Heather's history when we visited certain places and forging our own as we encountered things neither of us had ever seen before (like the lighthouse and the South Pole on Staten Island).
One day during a petty argument, I took out the Starburst that I had been chewing and placed it on the outside of the windshield while Heather was driving. I don't remember the exact context of the moment but I will never forget the vehemence in Heather's demand that I take it off and the obvious hurt that I had caused her by essentially defacing a part of her. Until that point, I hadn't realized just how much her Toyota Echo had meant to her and it was only then that I began thinking of how integral a role the car was beginning to play in our lives. I had gone to visit Heather a handful of times in Staten Island but anytime she came to Brooklyn, either to pick me up or to drop me off, it was in that car. In a sense, it was what literally and figuratively brought us closer together.
It wasn't until 2005 that my relationship with Echo began. As graduation loomed on the horizon, Heather and I discussed a number of trips that we wanted to take together in the future. Ultimately, we decided that since I had never been to Florida before and that she loved Disney World as much as she did, that we would head down there following our commencement from Baruch. Now, though I had taken driver's ed in high school and spent some time practicing with my Dad, I ultimately never went for my license. With the road trip of my dreams dancing tantalizingly close, I decided that I would freshen up my driving skills and go for my license so that I could partake in the driving. To that point, Heather had done nearly all if not all of the driving for us including a day trip (!) to Niagara Falls that took nearly 22 hours round trip.
Though I learned the mechanics of driving from both my coursework in school and from my Dad, it was through my experience with Echo that I really learned how to be comfortable in the driver's seat. I brushed up on all of the technical aspects while learning the nuances during the dozens of hours I spent practicing with Heather. I had already learned how to drive but my then-future wife had taught me how to drive. I made it through the tollbooths at the Verrazano, drove for the first time on the highway, and laid the seeds of all the future miles ahead of me under Heather's tutelage with Echo's pedals beneath my feet.
If you're reading this wondering why I'm spending all this time on explication then it's probably worth taking an extra moment or two for something more direct. Heather and I have gotten all kinds of comments from people throughout the years about our car and, no matter what's been said, we each just silently shake our heads because it's obvious that people just don't understand. I've been asked how I can possibly be comfortable in "that little thing," we've both been asked about how many miles she has on her, followed by a shake of the head and an "isn't it time to upgrade?" We've been ragged on for the no-frills design--mocked for the lack of power windows and power locks. Echo's even been referred to as a "clown car."
The thing that people fail to understand though--and the overarching point of this entry--is that neither Heather nor I consider Echo just a car; she's a part of our family. I've mentioned this from time to time to people and have been met with polite eye rolls or hostile laughter--something that never fails to amuse me in this era of pet parents and rescues. If a pet can be considered a family member then why not a car? If home is where the heart is and our Echo takes us wherever our hearts desire, then how can she not be considered home? Hell! With all of the time we've spent traveling in her, she basically is a home of sorts.
To me, Echo's the type of car from a bygone era--a time when cars were given names and had personalities. No, I'm not referring to those ridiculous eyelashes that you see on cars or the myriad decorative stickers, ribbons, and decals that adorn vehicles these days. I'm talking instead about the days when a first car mattered--when it offered the opportunity to build a personal history with its driver(s). Momentous events that occurred in the lives of these owners were made all the more special because of the involvement of that car.
See--that's it. It's the history that we share with this car that makes it so cherished. That Toyota Echo took me and Heather on our first date to Chevy's at the Staten Island Mall; she's driven us on every single road trip that we've embarked upon within continental North America (the only three drives we've gone on without her were in Hawai'i on our honeymoon, from San Francisco to Carson City (also during our honeymoon), and throughout Puerto Rico during our trip a few months later); she was present for every one of our amazing Adirondack adventures with Dick Doux and the crew up north--all seven trips into the mountains during the heart of winter; she helped both Heather and I move out of the houses that we had spent our respective childhoods growing up in and then again helped to move our growing family into our first home. It was within Echo's friendly confines that Heather and I had the discussion that helped us to realize that we could get engaged after all and it was Echo's front passenger seat that held the ring on my way home from the jeweler, rife with a torrent of excited emotion. She drove us home from our wedding reception and twice to the hospital for the deliveries of our children. We brought each of our children home from North Shore LIJ in Echo--one to Staten Island and one to Hazlet. She was there when we dropped off our son for his first day of school and when we picked him up later that morning.
Sure plenty of people experience those things...but to be able to do them all with the same vehicle? To me, that's priceless.
But that's the serious stuff! My personal relationship with Echo has been forged through long, long hours spent driving along the highways of the United States and Canada. I've listened to countless minutes of music and passed innumerable mile markers as the macadam moved beneath our feet and enjoyed a nearly equal amount of conversation with Heather on our trips. I mean, people know that we've traveled a lot but I'm not sure that they're quite aware of the extent of our journeying. Here's just a sampling of the experiences that we've had with our Echo or the things that she could knock off of her bucket list were she to have one:
Echo has driven us to 19 of the 21 Major League Baseball parks that we've been to.
She's been across the U.S. Rocky Mountains three times and the Canadian Rockies twice.
She's been to the Everglades and the Bayou, the Nevada desert and the Colorado mountains including up and down a 14,000 foot mountain during which we lost the brakes (Mt. Evans), up a volcano (Mt. St. Helens), and over the Mississippi River four times.
She's driven through a blizzard with complete white out conditions, a hurricane, impenetrable fog, and complete and utter darkness in Arizona, she's hit tumbleweeds while thunderstorms rolled in across the vast valleys of the southwestern United States, and she's had the red dust of Wyoming on her tires.
She's been to all 48 contiguous states and 42 state capitols.
She's been to the Jack Daniel's distillery twice, Central High School and a yard sale in Arkansas, Disney World, a Pony Express station, and more than a half dozen lighthouses including those at Montauk, New York and Ponce Inlet, Florida.
She's driven up a magnetic hill in Moncton and over the world's longest covered bridge in Hartland, New Brunswick.
She's driven through Times Square on a Friday night in the summer, to the September 11th memorial lights a few days after they first blazed towards the heavens, to Boston on Patriot's Day, and in Indianapolis during the Indy 500.
She's driven on both an official NASCAR track in Watkins Glen, New York and on the very beach where auto racing was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. She even dipped her tires into the Atlantic Ocean while on said beach!
We've driven to places that many people have flown to like Seattle, Washington and Las Vegas, Nevada...
She's seen Mile 0 on Route 1 in Key West
And, most impressively of all, the first 250 miles of the Alaska Highway including Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia!
She's driven on 46 of the 66 official Interstates in the continental United States:
I-84* (separate highway in a distant state)
I-86* (separate highway in a distant state)
She's also seen her fair share of adversity on the road having been involved in one collision in Brooklyn and a hit-and-run at the Staten Island Ferry parking lot. She got stuck in the sand in Daytona when the local roads' commission decided to open up a stretch of beach previously reserved only for AWD vehicles. She had a 70 mph encounter with a runaway construction barrel in Tennessee. And, most notably, she survived driving through a mudslide on the Alaska Highway.
So from Route 1 to Route 66--the Trans-Canadian Highway to the Alaska Highway, we've covered A LOT of ground in our Echo. Not counting the scores of mini-road trips that we've gone on throughout the years, Echo has endured a full dozen trips of 1,000 miles or more including SIX of 3,000 miles or more and, of those, THREE were 4,000 miles or more with TWO eclipsing 6,600 miles apiece. Our longest took us through fifteen U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, covering over 8,500 MILES in a mere FOURTEEN DAYS! When we finally made it home, I took this shot of our trip odometer:
|8,583.6 miles--the LONGEST single trip we've ever done!
We recently completed our first long road trip with our daughter Sarah. It was Timmy's third such trip but also his longest as well. I'm sure if we would have discussed our intentions with people they would have scoffed at us and declared that it couldn't be done. "There's no WAY you're going to fit all of that stuff into that tiny car!" Well, not only did we manage to survive two seventeen hour-plus days of driving (the first and last days of the trek), we also were able to fit the strollers, luggage, souvenirs from Downtown Disney, other souvenirs, and almost two cases' worth of beer for ourselves and our friends back home. Comfortably, I might add.
Still, though, successful as our trip had been, I had and continue to have the sense that it might very well be our last long one with Echo. Despite our ability to make things worth with the spacial restraints we face with her, it is undeniable that our family is growing and will likely someday outgrow what she can offer. We're already eying a larger vehicle that will likely be purchased next year or the year after. When that time comes to pass, it will make all of the past experiences with Echo all the more special. Despite the suggestions we've been given about trading her in, I have absolutely no intention to do anything other than put Echo on a pedestal when her driving days are done. We wouldn't trade her in or put her down any more than any of you would do the same with your respective pets/family members.
Her place in our family has been solidified through years of service--long miles up mountains and through deserts, across two countries and back again. Revisiting my earlier maxim that home is where the heart is, I made one important request when I surprised Heather with a customized ornament after we moved in to our first home last year. The ornament was meant to be a miniature representation of the first space that we could truly call our own. Thankfully the artist honored my request as you can see from the picture below.