Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ode to the Celica

On September 30th, a Monday afternoon, I was asked to go to Publix. Instead of taking the Car of the Week, as is standard procedure, I grabbed the keys to my 2003 Toyota Celica GT.  Raider, as he was named, chirped twice happily when I pressed unlock. He was saying “Hi, friend.” His engine fired immediately, despite having not been driven for nearly a month. When we arrived at the end of the street, we faced a choice: left for the quick route, right to drive along the beach. I opened the sunroof, put down the windows, and flipped the turn signal up.
            This was to be our last drive together. The next day, October 1st, I received a phone call from my father while I was in the Atlanta airport. Someone was interested in buying Raider and for a decent number. Months before, I’d listed Raider for sale. It hadn’t dawned on me that he would actually sell, and especially when I wouldn’t get an opportunity to say goodbye.
So this is my farewell to a best friend, a loyal Celica, my first car.

            January 11th, 2007 was a pretty great day. No homework was assigned, which for junior year was a miracle. My soccer game had resulted in a 4-0 shutout, which as a keeper means I was a spectator for most of the match.  Upon arriving home, I found a lovely bouquet of flowers from my high school sweetheart. So when my Dad asked me to turn the light out in the garage, I didn’t even consider the strangeness of that request. Without complaining, I walked to the garage, and cracked open the door. To my immense surprise, the garage was not occupied by only one car as normal…there was a second.
            It sounds cliché to say that I burst into tears and fell to my knees. But it’s true. Good thing I was still wearing my shin guards too, because I collapsed on the threshold to the garage, about a ten-inch drop. What sat before me was more beautiful than the thousands I’d stared at longingly online.  This one possessed sleek lines, aggressive body paneling, and an inexplicable feeling of soul. This car had a personality, one that shone through its headlights. It seemed to smile at me, as if saying “Hi! You want to drive me!” I walked like a zombie over to my car. As my fingers hesitantly grazed the polished roof above the passenger door, the Celica chirped twice. What was merely my dad pressing unlock on the keys seemed like a proclamation of a bond which had been formed, a friendship for years to come.
            That night, I was only permitted to do one lap of the block, not even engaging second gear. Dad made it very clear that while this car was mine to drive, I would have to learn everything about it before getting miles under my belt. On the Saturday after, I woke up bright and early to begin my education. Before even turning it on, Dad had me take the brake off, roll it out of the garage, and wash my new car. Once the 2-hour fluff and buff was complete, I looked to Dad for permission. He shook his head. It was time to learn how to change a flat tire. So, for the next hour, I used the jack that came with the car, a pathetically small scissor jack that looked as if it couldn’t hold me up, to change all four tires. Two at a time came off at a frustratingly slow pace while a hydraulic jack stared at me from the garage. When that task had been completed, I was sore and greasy but ready to drive! Nope. Pop the hood and learn how to change the oil, add fluids, check fluids, disconnect and reconnect the battery, change spark plugs, and clean every nook and cranny (A note: one thing Dad didn’t show me that day was how to change a headlight bulb, a feat I had to learn how to do on my own a couple years later). After the engine work was complete, Dad had me use a leather treatment on the interior. He then informed me that we needed to let that dry and so driving the Celica would have to wait for another day.
Raider had the privilege of parking
beside some beautiful cars.
Raider carried me throughout high school…literally. Together, we ventured to senior field trip, 2 proms, countless soccer games and theater performances. Most importantly, Raider got me to graduation.  After high school, the next place Raider would take me was college. But he wasn’t allowed to stay.
            If you don’t know the carrying capacity of a Toyota Celica, prepare to be amazed! For one 500 mile trip, Raider held 2 suitcases full of clothes, 3 plastic containers, 1 lacrosse stick, 1 comforter, 2 sets of sheets, 1 laundry bin, 1 wake board and toe rope, and that’s just the big stuff. Oh, and did I mention the front seats weren’t mashed up against the dashboard? And I still got roughly 35mpg averaging 75mph? That’s when I learned the secret of the Celica: Ferrari F40 exterior with a Ford Excursion interior.
            I took a picture of Raider parked in the FSU lot nearest my dorm and vowed he’d live with me some day. Mom unpacked my room and helped me set up the TV, a generous donation by my uncle. We found SPEED, which was showing a Grand-Am race (at the Glen if memory serves). Quietly, she snuck out with my car keys and took my car away. Freshman year was miserable to say the least, and I know having my best friend there could have appeased it.
            The following year, Raider and I ventured out together on our first big road trip alone. Safely, he took me back to Tallahassee, to a new roommate, new classes, and with a new outlook on my new town. Tallahassee was a very different place when I had a car to explore it. We drove down to the coast a few times, to Daytona (not for spring break but rather a HSR race) and explored the Georgia border. All in all, we drove 4,000 miles that year…for fun!
One of our adventures that years was
to Daytona International Speedway.

            But the best times I ever had with my little Celica came in Canada. Twice, he and I drove up in caravan with my parents. The first time was when I was leaving Tallahassee for good, having served my time and been promised a sheet of paper with my name on it. The night before I left was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After staying up the whole race, my body clock was a bit skewed. When I loaded my kitten in the car, our journey toward a new life began. Raider drove on one tank of gas all the way from Tallahassee to Jacksonville (where we met up with the parental units), and continued on to South Carolina. My parents were driving an M3, which was thirstier than a frat brother on St. Patrick’s Day.                      The BMW needed gas when I was only at half a tank. Part of that could have been my drafting strategy, but that’s another tale.
Raider helping to launch our old posing for pictures.
            Anyhow, once we finished the 1769-mile journey and arrived at the cottage, the true fun began. Anyone who says the best driving in the world isn’t Peninsula Road in Muskoka, Ontario is just wrong. That road in a Celica is a 40-mile loop of joy.  Ups and downs, sharp curves, apexes galore! The whole drive, Raider’s entire ownership, my realizing what pure bliss behind the wheel of a car, culminated in the first trip we took. A year later, when I didn’t really need my own car in Canada, Raider and I drove up just to tackle that road over and over again.
My niece learning about a age 2
            So now we come to the sad part of this tale. Since that last summer, Raider has sat for the most part. His odometer increased 200 miles in the span of 6 months. And I felt very guilty for this. Here, I owned the best car in the world. And all he was doing was sitting. Thus, Raider was listed for sale.
            I never expected that he’d sell while I was gone. Alas, on October 1st, Raider went to a new home. He lives somewhere down here still, to be used by the crew of some yacht while they’re at port in Fort Lauderdale.  I never imagined our drive on September 30th would culminate what has been such a meaningful and important relationship.  Raider was stability, put a smile on my face when there had only been tears. Raider made sure I kept traveling this road of life at a decent speed. He was the car that brought my kitten home for the first time, the car that I sat in and cried to when my heart was broken for the first time, the car that I wanted to have in my garage when I’m 90. If I’d had any inkling that our final drive would’ve been our last, I would still be driving. 

A few thank yous are in order: First, to my parents who bought Raider all those years ago. Dad, you looked for months to find the perfect car and you succeeded. To Jaime Galceran, who first suggested a Celica would be my car-soulmate, and who always offered to help fix any issue. To Rachel Somers, who tolerated a very long drive with me when Raider’s power steering pump failed and struggled with very weak arms to navigate the roads. To the Township of Muskoka Lakes for maintaining Peninsula Road. Please, please can we shut it down for a day so I can just one lap at speed? And finally, to Toyota, for building the perfect little sports car.

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