In memory of Benny, gone but not forgotten

In memory of Benny, gone but not forgotten

I’ve owned only four cars in my life, and there won’t be another.

The last one was hauled away on a dreary November morning and is probably now just a crushed cube of metal in some awful landfill.

I should have done more to save Benny — that was his name — but there just wasn’t enough time, and now he’s gone and I feel so sad.

Like so much that’s happened lately, surrendering Benny felt like an inevitable final act in a tragedy, sort of like Hamlet being poisoned or the Titanic sinking in the icy North Atlantic waters.

Benny only had about 180,000 miles on his odometer, which made him middle-aged for a 1991 Honda Civic, but he hadn’t run since summer 2012 after I’d spent a considerable sum to get him the repairs he needed. That was an expense I couldn’t repeat these days since working a part-time job doesn’t generate a great deal of discretionary income. I could have tried harder to fix him, but you’ve heard the expression about throwing good money after bad.

So that’s that.

A car has always represented personal independence, a peculiarly American sense of having one’s future under control, a fierce unwillingness to allow others to hold the keys to a better tomorrow.

As I mentioned, Benny was the last entry on a very short list that began with a 1969 Chevy Impala, which came into my possession during my senior year in college. My Aunt Clemmie — the most generous and thoughtful of all my relatives — signed the Gold Goose over to me in a $1 title transfer transaction.

“You can’t be riding that bike of yours in the winter,” she said, and being a native of South Bend, she knew what she was talking about. “Just let me do this for you. It’ll make me feel a whole lot better.”

That was the kind of woman my aunt was, always looking out for someone else, and I was beyond fortunate to have her on my side.

That gold Impala, with a righteous 327 engine under the hood, served me well during winter 1976-77, one that saw South Bend’s all-time snowfall record get buried under 147 inches.

Notre Dame, for the first time in her history — dating back to pre-Civil War days — closed and canceled all classes, and it wasn’t just the days and days of snow that caused the decision to shut down.

There also was the matter of sub-freezing temperatures including a spate of zero and under days that made all travel quite hazardous. I was living off campus that winter in a rental house shared by five (or six, depending) guys, a house that had a very balky gas furnace.

It, of course, failed miserably, so we called the landlord, who said, in effect, that we college boys could afford a nice hotel suite, so we had just better pack up some clothes and get out while we could.

That was my introduction to the mindset of those in the landlord class, a species of human beings closely mirrored by gulag guards.

I exaggerate, but you get the picture.

I killed the Gold Goose a few years later when, after sleeping for a few hours on my office floor, I fell asleep at the wheel while driving to cover a baseball game 50 miles to the east. Luckily, no one was hurt, including my best friend who, with his left arm in a cast, tried to steer the car as it careened across three lanes of traffic.

So I bought a metallic blue 1973 Buick Centurian that encountered so many mechanical problems I hadn’t even paid it off before it died on me as I made my way to get a needed haircut.

That was in what I liked to call “In Cold Blood” country, a remote expanse of rural nothingness reminiscent of the Clutter homestead.

By then I’d been seeing a woman for several years, an older and smarter person than me, and it was her opinion that, no matter how much I didn’t want to go into debt, it was time to buy a new car.

“Get something sporty,” she said, “something that goes real fast.”

Which is how I found myself behind the wheel of a silver 1980 Ford Mustang, a five-speed beauty with a front spoiler and a killer sound system I installed myself. I should have been more vigilant with the servicing of the car since it didn’t even make 100,000 miles and kept stranding me in places I never wanted to be.

And that brings us back to Benny, the best (and last) car I’ll ever own. He was as stripped-down and basic a ride as I could find, listing for just over nine grand in fall 1991, a time when the dealership was eager to liquidate before the new models arrived.

A short list of things he didn’t have would include power windows, power steering, air-conditioning, air bags and a CD player, though there was a spare tire and a jack I never figured out how to use.

Benny got me everywhere I wanted to go including North Carolina after I left home in late 2000, not knowing what my future held but sure in the knowledge I had a dependable car.

And now he’s gone. The tow truck driver and I had to push him out of the garage, out to the street, where I watched as Benny got hooked up and taken away, one of the saddest days of my life, the kind that makes you wish you’d done more and failed less. I’ve been nothing but depressed since I saw him disappear around the curve in the road, realizing that from now on, I’m on my own.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to find him on Facebook, where real regrets are just an unfortunate fact of life.

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