The Death of Monte: A Glimpse Into the American Love Affair with the Automobile

My husband’s 1998 Chevy Monte Carlo, which we less-than-creatively called Monte, died in the noble pursuit of alcohol on Sunday evening.  We wanted wine with dinner, but missed the 5:00pm cutoff to buy in Connecticut on a Sunday, so we crossed the border to Rhode Island.

As short as the trip was, it was further than we should have dared go in Monte, and as we were heading north on I-95, we noticed a funny sound and smell.  This wasn’t new for Monte.  We had known for a long time that she wasn’t going to get through another inspection.  We suspected that if we took her to a garage to get one problem fixed, no mechanic in his (or her) right mind was going to allow us to take her back off the lot until thousands of dollars of other truly necessary work was done—way more work than the car was worth monetarily.  I had often said that I felt bad for even putting the key in the ignition any longer.  If she had been a human, she would have been allowed to retire ages ago.  But Joe, my husband, faithfully did tune-ups, changed brakes, and took care of any vehicular ailment he could.  He assured me that smells and sounds are common to old cars and was confident he could squeeze another 30,000 miles out of her.  But as the noise got louder and the smell got stronger, I saw his confidence wane.  (He later admitted to me that he knew that this was the proverbial “it” on the highway, but didn’t say anything in an effort not to worry me.)

We purchased our libations and came out to start the car.  She coughed a puff of smoke in protest, and wouldn’t start.  It was the one day neither of us brought our cell phones because it was supposed to be a short trip, so Joe disappeared into the pizza shop beside the package store to call AAA.

I knew this was going to be tough on Joe; he loved that car.  He had purchased her while he was in the Navy and he and Monte had done a couple of cross-country trips together.  But what I hadn’t expected, as I sat on a nearby boulder staring at Monte’s hood, was that my own eyes were growing misty.  I had underestimated how much I loved that car.  I got off the boulder, kissed Monte’s hood, and allowed my memories—and yes, even a couple of tears—to flow.

Monte is partially responsible for me falling in love with Joe to begin with.  Back when we had just started dating, I called Joe one night to see if he wanted to hang out.  He said that he would love to, but he had to finish some work on his car first.  In my boredom, I asked if he would mind if I hung out with him until he was finished. I could stand to learn a thing or two about car maintenance anyway. He told me that of course he didn’t mind, and he was out back.  He’d be the legs sticking out from under the black Monte Carlo.

As I came around the corner, I saw the legs.  I announced my arrival and Joe scooted out.  Sweat poured off of him leaving streaks in the grease on his skin as he wielded a wrench, or some such tool, and cursed in frustration.  It was like Cupid had shot me all over again!  Maybe it’s the Pennsylvania redneck in me, but damn if there isn’t something about a man working on his car that just makes me grin all over!  He had me at, “Can’t get this f*cking bolt loose!”

Joe and I satisfied one of my greatest fantasies in that car.  I won’t say what it was because, much like Monte’s final road days, it may have actually been illegal, but we were “dumb kids” of 29 and 30 so give us a break.

I got my second speeding ticket (but the first in over ten years) to Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” in that car.  But Monte didn’t die in a blaze of glory.  She died with a sad sputter, begging us not to try and start her again.  She didn’t die on the interstate.  She died in a parking lot, telling us that this was as far as she could go.  We were safe.  We were near phones.  What more could we have asked of her?

Monte made trips she shouldn’t have made.  She saved us when newer, shinier cars weren’t up for the job.  She was Miss Kitty with a shotgun and a deadly aim from the second story window, saving the hero during the Old West shoot out, with nothing but a smile, a nod, and a request for more oil—because the oil leaked.

Later, as I sat there sipping my wine with dinner, it felt wrong.  I should have been drinking whiskey.  Monte was a tough old broad and if she had been human, whiskey would have been her drink.  So, we took the little bottle of whiskey from the counter, poured two shots and had a drink to her.  What a car!

How much more proof do you need that we Americans love our cars?

We love freedom and a car is more than just a symbol of that freedom. If we’re willing to make the drive, the car will get us there in comfort, with air conditioning and seats that recline.  The United States of America is a huge country, and that’s why we have famous highways, and humble truck stops that become famous.  It’s part of why we love the freaking cheeseburger!  It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s handheld, and if a fast food restaurant can do it right, a roadside joint can do it better!  The car is a huge part of America the Beautiful in the modern age. And Monte was one of the best.

*Disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of Chevrolet.  Everyone knows I’m a Dodge girl!  But damn…I loved that Chevy!

Rest in Peace, Monte.

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