About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Farewell, My Four-Wheeled Friend

This week, I said goodbye to my intrepid 2006 Ford Focus. I don't have an emotional attachment to cars, but I am for damned sure connected to the memories associated with my vehicles. I bought this Focus as a new car eleven years ago. It has nearly 134,000 miles on it now, but it still runs, and its body is mostly intact, with almost no rust. Alas, it needs new brakes, and the driver's seat is twisted into a grotesque mockery of the quaint idea of comfort, and sheer torture for a driver with a bad back, a driver like, y'know, me. Even worse, the CD player is long dead, the radio works selectively (the antenna fell off years ago, its space covered by duct tape), and my iPod is no longer on speaking terms with the car, condemning my commutes to a soundtrack of fuzzy FM signals which, when I can tune them in, might play The Kinks or The Smithereens, but might also play The Eagles or something else I don't wanna hear, and which never play The Ramones. The cost of remedying all of this, or any of this, is more than the car is worth. This Focus was the best car I ever had. It owed me nothing. But the time had come to move on.

The 2006 Focus was the only new car I ever drove on a daily basis. We prefer to buy new cars--we are nowhere near an acceptable level of savvy to deal with used cars--but the newer car always goes to lovely wife Brenda, and I happily claim her previous vehicle. This works out well for us, because honestly, I don't really care about driving a new car; I just need something a little newer than whatever set o' wheels I've driven into the ground.

Our first car was a pale green 1969 Chevy Impala, which had belonged to my grandfather in Missouri. The Impala wound up in my Dad's hands, and Dad gave it to Brenda and me in 1983, when my new job at Mighty Taco in Buffalo required me to have my own transportation. The Impala was a classic, and I wish I could have maintained it. But I couldn't, and it stalled constantly, so we replaced it with a blue '78 Mercury Bobcat, a truly shitty car that never should have left the lot of the weasel dealership that smiled as they swindled us. The 2006 Focus I just relinquished is in better shape now than that goddamned Bobcat was then (except for the driver's seat, anyway). We somehow kept the Bobcat on the road from 1984 to 1990, feeding it with money we didn't have as it hemorrhaged oil and its floor literally crumbled to dust 'n' debris. We moved from Buffalo to Syracuse, and then from an apartment in the city to a house in the suburbs, still clinging to that car I'd nicknamed the Death Trap 2000.

Even as we hung on to the Bobcat, it became clear that we needed a second car. While still living in the apartment, we bought a new white 1987 Plymouth Sundance. When the Bobcat gave up, we bought a blue '91 Sundance, and I started driving the '87. When the '87's day was done, we made the mistake of buying used again, though the green '96 Chevy Cavalier was still a better car than that damned Bobcat. It was never really a good car, but we kept it until 2006. In the mean time, the '91 Sundance was replaced by a new black 2001 Ford Focus, our first Ford purchase since the Bobcat debacle.

The 2001 Focus? That was a decent car. We have only considered new Ford Focuses since then. We traded the Cavalier in for a new silver 2006 Focus for Brenda, and I got the 2001. Heaven!  I had it for about a month before I totaled it. Back to the dealer for another new 2006 Focus, a red hatchback. Suffering under the weight of two car loans was a burden we never wanted, but we paid both cars off over time, and enjoyed a few years with no car payments at all. In 2014, with both of our 2006 Focuses still running well, we knew we had to be proactive to avoid ever having two simultaneous car loans again. So we traded in Brenda's silver 2006 toward a new ruby-red Focus. That 2014 was paid off last year, and I assumed its piloting privilege when we bought a new 2017 Focus hatch (also ruby red) last week. My red 2006 hatch went off to the auctioneer on Wednesday. Someone will get some use out of it, and the proceeds will benefit Make-A-Wish. It was a good car. It doesn't owe me another mile.

It's odd to think of all the memories attached to a car I owned for eleven years. The week after we bought it in August of 2006, I drove Brenda and our daughter Meghan to Ohio for a party honoring Brenda's Aunt Alice. Both Brenda and I are fortunate to have married into terrific families, and I enjoy the rare opportunities we have to spend time with Brenda's relatives. I can't remember for sure, but I think this was the last time we ever saw Aunt Alice, who passed away within some time after that. Brenda's four-door sedan may have been a bit more convenient for travel with three people in the car (versus my two-door hatch), but my li'l red hatch was the car I preferred for long trips.

Also for short trips. And, like, to the store and stuff.

In 2007, my back problems escalated dramatically. Following a series of misdiagnoses that had failed to alleviate my persistent ache, I had difficulty getting in and out of any car, including my own. One evening in September, as I sat sullenly at home watching TV, the pain spiked as it never had before. You know how doctors and nurses ask you to rate the intensity of your pain on a 1-10 scale? I felt like I was at 11, and feel free to insert your own Spinal Tap joke. I had never felt so much pain before in my life. Stupidly, I crawled off to bed to try to sleep it off, but I couldn't sleep, and the pain was just as bad in the morning. Alone in the house, I showered, dressed, and got to my Focus; please don't ask me how I accomplished these tasks, because I have no freaking clue how I did it. I was in tears--God, it just hurt so much--but it didn't even occur to me to call an ambulance for back pain. By some miracle, my Focus delivered me to the medical center, where I could start the process of a fresh diagnosis.

(You think "miracle" is an exaggeration? I guess it is. All I can tell you is that, as I drove to and from the medical center, I couldn't understand why I was having so much difficulty braking. Later, I would discover that my pain was caused by a herniated disc pressed up against my spinal cord--an emergency condition called Cauda Equina--which had robbed my right foot of almost all feeling. My foot had no real oomph with which to brake. I should not have been driving. By all rights, I should have crashed into something or someone. Maybe there was some higher benevolence at work on my behalf. Whatever it was, if it was, it manifested itself in my Focus.)

In October 2008, my niece Stephanie was killed in a stupid accident down in New York City. Almost nine years later, it remains likely that I may never come to grips with that loss. That awful month lingers as a parade of sorrow and misery, capped by an All Souls service at church on the night of November 1st. Stephanie had lived in Europe most of her life, but she was a U.S. citizen, living in the States for the first time since she was little, and looking forward to casting her first ever vote in an American election. I know she had planned to vote for Barack Obama, so it annoyed me to see posted notices in the church, stating that while the Catholic Church couldn't tell its parishioners how to vote, it was impossible to reconcile Catholic beliefs with any pro-choice candidate; good Catholics, therefore, should vote for John McCain.

I managed not to curse out loud in the church's vestibule. My restraint did not last much beyond the end of the service, when I went to reclaim my Focus from the parking lot. All the cars in the lot had been leafleted on behalf of McCain, and there was McCain propaganda beneath the windshield wiper of my Focus. I saw red, a specific shade of crimson deeper and bloodier than my car's own brilliant hue. I stopped being a Catholic at that second.

My Focus survived a couple of minor crunch-ups. The most amusing fender-bender occurred in the lot of a dental surgeon, while I was undergoing a root canal. A nurse had to interrupt my procedure to ask me if I owned a red car. Yep. Another driver had misjudged his space, zigged when a zag would have been more advisable, and nailed my Focus nice and proper. It was an accident, the driver was beside himself, and it just wasn't worth getting flustered. (And I love to end the story by saying that, on a visit to a dental surgeon's office, with a root canal and a dented car, the worst part was that Fox News was playing on the waiting-room TV, and they wouldn't let me change the motherlovin' channel.)

My Focus was also the preferred vehicle when trying to teach my daughter to drive. The car was once struck lightly while she was at the wheel; it wasn't her fault at all, though she was mortified by the event when it happened. But there was no damage to either car, and she determined that she would complete her driving lesson for the day, and other, more careless drivers be damned. I wish that old Focus were in better shape now, so I could give it to her, as my Dad gave me the Impala decades ago.

And I used to take my Dad around in my Focus whenever he needed transportation. Even recently, my Mom still regards the Focus as the easiest car for her to get into and out of. For a few years, I picked up Dad once a week to drop him off somewhere, usually at his Italian-American Athletic Club, where a friend of his was waiting to take him to the casino. Dad was legally blind, so he would often grab the middle console storage compartment between the front seats to help position himself. Over time--a pretty short time--the weight and the pressure caused that compartment to break, and I could never quite get it to sit properly in its space.

Dad passed away in 2012. On Sunday, I cleaned out my Focus for the last time, stripping it of all its contents and identity. I brushed against that console piece, which fell aside at my touch, like the knob at the base of George Bailey's staircase in It's A Wonderful Life. I remembered how it broke. I thought of my Dad.

And I started to cry, standing there in my driveway. I was crying.

I tried to brush away this silly display of emotion. I knew it wasn't the car. It was just a car, a car that had been there when I needed it. The memories weren't going to fade when the tow truck hauled it away. It was a good car. It was the best car. It's gone now. But the road goes on. The road goes on for as long as we have the will to drive it. The cargo space can store myriad moments of our lives, cherished seconds and cursed alike, side by side, impartially. Turn on the lights. Put your foot to the floor. Drive.

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