Moving Forward, Looking Back

February 21, 1997
on the road to Billings, MT

My dad bought a brand new Ford station wagon in 1966. It had a 289 V-8 with a dark green body—sans the wood paneling down the side. Somewhere between the ages of six and ten, I remember riding in the back of the wagon, facing the rear window. I always liked riding in this fashion no matter where we were going. At first it was a little awkward in tight traffic or at a stop light because I was forced to look directly at the car behind us and its forward-facing passengers who couldn’t help but look at me. However, once I mastered a couple of silly faces, I didn’t even mind the stop lights and heavy traffic.

Often I pretended the car was a World War II bomber. As its tailgunner, I watched the world rush up and around my head and slowly disappear into the horizon’s infinity. But, no matter how carried away my imagination would get, I would eventually stretch out and fall asleep as the world continued to shoot by. Sleeping in the car was easy and became an enjoyable experience for me. I would venture to say that the best sleeping I’ve ever experienced was in the family wagon on long vacations out West.

Today I traveled to the city with a large group of students in a full-blown, Greyhound-like bus. This particular model has a row of seats in the rear facing backwards. I unconsciously selected one of these seats for the two-hour journey. I was astonished by the comfort I found in this location of the bus. Yes, it did remind me of my childhood, but my thoughts drifted far beyond the old ’66 Ford. I started searching for the source of my contentment. Why was I so comfortable in this particular orientation of travel—moving forward, looking back?

While muddling over my attraction for riding backwards, a sense of contentment came over me as we rambled down the road. I was reminded of romance as the whining resonance of the anterior-based engine became as intimate as a lover’s breathing. It didn’t take long to tune in to the delicate variations of frequency and pitch as the bus moved through its gears resulting in the slightest changes of velocity. After a while, the whine transformed into a lullaby—seducing the community of riders into a blanket of sleep.

It’s rather surreal to watch the world go by when you’re looking back. Here you don’t see anything coming—there’s no time for preparation—it just hits you. Without warning, a huge billboard demands your full attention, but slowly—even the obnoxious oversized advertisements blend into the landscape until it is reduced to a single point on the horizon. I’m reminded of how we sometimes fall in and out of love. We never see it coming but often we have plenty of time to watch it fade slowly and eventually out of our lives.

Most of us probably prefer to see something coming so we can prepare for its arrival—I guess this is why our eyes are mounted in the front of our head. However, living in a world that changes everyday with blinding speed, I suspect we have grown accustomed to things springing up on us out of nowhere. And it is only after the surprise attack that we have the luxury of watching its aftermath drift slowly out of our lives.

146,810.3 miles

The 1983 Honda in its final resting spot—Zier’s Auto Salvage near Deaver, Wyoming.

Deaver, Wyoming

We bought the ’83 Honda Accord in 1990. Considering the amount of rust on the body, it’s safe to say the car had spent most of its time on the salted roads of Northeast Ohio. I don’t remember the final price, but the monthly payments were $105 for three years.

When it came to reliability, the yellowish-tan import never let us down; however, like most used cars, many of its more dispensable features were just that—dispensed. The air conditioner never worked due to an electrical short somewhere between the control panel and the A/C itself. And the cruise control was extremely temperamental, sometimes staying on for hours as we cruised down the interstate; other times, it would disengage after a mile or two—never activating again for the remainder of the trip. I would guess that both defects were attributed to coffee spilled on or near the dashboard by its former owners.

In ’91 the car was towed behind our pick-up as we moved to Flagstaff, Arizona—never to see salt again, though the rust continued to spread like a cancer without a cure. While in Flag, we photographed the salt-free import the day it turned over 100,000 miles—as if it had graduated from some institute of higher mileage.

Before another year had passed, we were on the move to Northwestern Wyoming and the Honda was riding piggy-back again. From Wyoming, the Accord made two trips back to Ohio and a side excursion to Tennessee. By this time original parts were being replaced on a regular basis.

Zier’s Auto Salvage just outside of Deaver, Wyoming 20-plus-years after the Honda’s arrival.

We finally sold the car for $800 to our best friends’ daughter. Though I never expressed my true feelings, I felt reluctant to depart with the Accord. I pictured it as my second car and driving it into the next century. Two months after the sale, the Honda’s teenage owner lost control of it on a dirt road, causing the destruction of the entire front wheel drive and suspension. There was talk shortly after the accident of rebuilding and replacing the damaged parts; but in light of the vehicle’s age, a retired family mechanic suggested taking it off life support. Arrangements were made with a local junkyard to park the Honda one last time—in its final resting place—a junkyard outside of Deaver, Wyoming. There it has embarked on a journey toward extinction—a trip where tune-ups, oil changes or other maintenance-related work are no longer necessary. I wonder how long its identity will stay in tact as parts are stripped off and cannibalized for other ’83 Accords still in service? Perhaps one day it will be crushed like an aluminum can under a heavy foot, then shredded to bits, and finally used for re-bar soup.

Until it does meet the diabolical auto shredder, I’ll likely stop by for a visit on occasion to see how our old car is holding up to the turbulent Wyoming weather. And who knows, maybe Accords will someday be considered classics, like the early Mustangs, drawing me back to Deaver—to reclaim its tattered remains.