A Car Story

My car’s temperature gauge readings had been erratic for a while. Sometimes it rose rapidly after driving through side streets for half an hour, other times it stayed put for the same amount of driving time on the freeway. We would have to crank up the heat, even on the hottest day, to help vent the hot air and keep the engine cool. My mechanic’s response to the symptoms was, “It’s an old car.”

Last week, as I drove home from the grocery store, a funny smell started to come in through the vents. About 15 minutes later, white smoke was seeping out from under the hood. I had dreaded this. Pouring money into repairs for a 15-year-old car I hardly ever used didn’t make financial sense. It was time to let it go.

As I cleaned it out, I found old gas and toll receipts, expired store coupons, pens, coins, and pieces of Kodak Portra film wrappers underneath the floor mats. I started to get sentimental, remembering the many shoots I had driven to, and hauled equipment for, in this car. I also thought of the many unforgettable vistas—two rainbows appearing on the horizon after leaving Santa Barbara for the drive to San Francisco on Hwy 101; the thick night fog just past Novato en route to Petaluma where I lived with my aunt for a few months; the ever-changing views of the bay at dusk, around the bend from the Bay Bridge turn-off into Treasure Island.

I made the call yesterday to donate the car to KQED, our local public broadcast station. T suggested it and I thought it was a brilliant idea. It made so much sense. For years, we’d tuned in to their news and commentaries during our weekday commute. On the weekends, we’d laughed heartily listening to Car Talk while running errands, and This American Life kept us thoroughly engaged while we were stuck in midday traffic. These programs have been part of our everyday and it felt right to make the car donation as another form of support.

Mike from Charitable Auto Resources preparing to tow the car. / ©Stella Kalaw

The empty space in the garage will now give me a place to shoot. I’ve been mulling over the idea of doing a still life project. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to begin the process, try out a few things, and see where it goes.