A love letter to Stinkbug, my first car

I’m always impressed when people can identify the make and model from a single glance, but to me they’re just, transportation machines. However, I did have a love for one car, my fist: Stinkbug, the white 1996 Chevrolet Blazer that stole my heart.

It was my grandmother’s old car, and it had sat outside, unloved and undriven, for two straight years. I came home one day to see it in the driveway, the car my grandmother drove me around in before she traded up for a Cadillac…most kids would have preferred the Cadillac, but this beat up baby wasn’t just some random car—she was mine.

“We got the beehive out of the front seat,” my dad said, which would have been troubling enough if he didn’t follow up with “But there’s still a ton of stinkbugs.”

I thought he was joking. Stinkbugs? No way. No way…

There were three on the driver’s seat, groggy and creepy as ever. Okay, well, no big deal…four on the dashboard, two in each cupholder, six or seven crammed in the cracks between seats. A few dead bees still on the floor of the passenger’s seat.

With Indiana Jones-like care I slowly opened the sun visor—two flopped onto the floor, one clung to the mirror. They fell out of the sunglasses-holder in the ceiling, inside the steering wheel cover, the heating vents…it was a hive. There were more bugs than there was car.

We got a big Ziploc and heavy-duty gloves. I held the bag open and my dad dumped them in by the handful. The whole driveway stunk of grass and green apples—the smell of stinkbug death. Just when we thought we were almost finished I bumped into the car door and three fell out, so we had to unscrew the door and fish out about fifty more from each door.

Then we gave her a thorough washing, inside and out. We found about fifteen more stinkbugs in the process. Some were so far under a seat or so that we couldn’t reach it, but they also seemed pretty dead, so we left them. They’re probably still in there to this day.

I didn’t mind, really. It was my car! And after hosing her down, making her grayness white again, I cleaned the inside with Lysol, trying to  get it to smell more like lemons and less like death. It was then that I fell in love with her. Her extremely loud engine that whined when you pressed the gas, the dead moth stuck in the indoor light, the wonky gas meter, the radio that only played out of the back right speaker, the leather seats that either stuck to your skin or were cold as ice, the fact that she vibrated violently over 60 miles per hour, the fact that she always veered to the left, the mirrors that wouldn’t budge, the brakes that sometimes chose not to work…I loved that car.

And I named her Stinkbug.

Stinky became part of the family! My friends and family still refer to her by name, and when my freshman year roommate visited it was deemed that a ride in Stinkbug was part of the quintessential experience. When it came time to buy my sister and me a new car, I almost didn’t want to. I love the bounciness of Stinky, I love her color, the way you sometimes have to give her pep talks to make it up big hills…I even grew to love the smell of stinkbug death that never truly went away, even after three years. I didn’t want some shiny new car, I wanted the car that felt like she was alive. Cranky, sure, and more than a bit stubborn, but alive.

Only I knew how to drive her. Her personality was of a horse that only liked me. My friends were afraid to drive her, but were okay riding in the back. She responded to me and only me, and bucked and kicked when others tried to tame her. My wild stallion of a Chevy Blazer.

It was probably the fact that she WAS a pretty terrible car that I felt this connection. Driving 2 exits down the highway to go to the movie theatre? It was a challenge, and adventure. We had to work together: I had to give her just enough gas to keep from vibrating, and she had to hold it together so she didn’t explode. Cold morning? I had to clear her of snow, and she had to work hard to start for me so I could get to school. It was a partnership.

Stinkbug was the closest I got to feeling what “car guys” must feel. When it came time to put her down, I patted her armrest, her steering wheel, her hood. Her headlights seemed sad.

My new car feels—funny that I have to say this—like a machine. Her name is Kitty Green, and she works perfectly. I don’t have to worry about her, outside and cold, alone. I don’t have to give her pep talks about climbing a hill or braking at the bottom. She never surprises me, vibrates, or drift left, and I can hear the music fine on a low volume. She’s like a robot, and I do miss my rough-and-tumble Stinkbug sometimes.

I can only equate me driving Stinkbug to school to captaining a ship in a tumultuous storm. It was actually the Punch Brothers’ song about this exact experience, Another New World, that inspired me to write this post.

The moral of the story? Sometimes the newest and shiniest doesn’t mean the best. The one who works the hardest and loves you back…that’s the one you want.

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