“Things are Opening Up”

Now that “things are opening up,” I’m behind the wheel of my car every day. I asked my sweetheart, “How many miles do you think we drove the car during the pandemic?” We live outside the city limits of Tucson and most of our local needs are met within the 30-mile loop of Safeway Grocery, Sprouts and Whole Foods, Ace Hardware, and the side-by-side, in what belies that they are competing for the same markets, CVS and Walgreens. 

Pandemic Car Mileage

From March 2020 to March 2021 I had hardly driven at all out of my own abundance of caution. A past history of Epstein Barr, hepatitis, and shingles (twice) brought about the strong medical advice to stay at home. My reaction to sequester at home was actually an opportunity. I’d been paying lip service for months to the idea of “scaling back” on activities and spending more time exploring new things and being with Hank. Well, the scale back was on. I was one of the lucky ones. It was a bizarre luxury. I did not have to go to work and I had no other person that absolutely needed my care. Other than the quirky pockets of past illnesses, I am mobile, strong, healthy and don’t have a small pile of Rx’s to be downed each day. 

Of course I was very anxious about COVID as news spread across Asia, Europe, and trickled, then flooded North and South America. I cried with my colleagues who were bone weary, overworked, understaffed, and dealing with kids at home who needed help they could not give. I feared for my friends who worked in ERs, and drove or took buses to work, college kids who were studying in their dorm or at home- my great-niece in her final year at William and Mary and my friend’s grandson beginning his college career during an historic pandemic, and New York City friends who struggled to survive and invented ways to stay safe.  

I didn’t see red clouds of killer disease swirling like locusts across the sky and under doorsills like in science fiction movies. But the unfolding of the pandemic did have earmarks of a science fiction movie. And then there was the image of droplets of coughs and sneezes spreading and cascading down on counters and clothing like in the ads for tissues and the futile protection of sneezing into your crooked arm. 

So home I sat and in the garage sat my car. My neighborhood is in the desert so we can walk to take groceries to a neighbor’s doorstep, and hike and bike safely all year round. But no driving to restaurants, friends’ homes, no road trips to national parks, museums, and events downtown. 

“OK, about how many miles?” I repeated. Hank thought. Hank has countless files of number facts in his head and sprinkles them in our daily conversations as liberally as he does salt on just about everything at meals. Since we were home together for thirteen months, these verbal droppings increased my opinion that he knew all number calculations. 

He did not fail me. “Well, we usually drive only about 12,000 miles in a year, so I’d say this year was 4000.” A pretty dinky number. This led to sharing about cars we had owned, how long we had them and the mileage. My mileage longevity was with a 1970 Plymouth I drove back and forth from the upper westside of New York City to West Caldwell, New Jersey when was a teacher. 60 miles round trip.180 days a year. 5 years= @ 51K miles just for work. My sister literally drove her old Volvo into the ground. It had a long baton-length floor stick shift not to mention some aged ventilation holes around it where you could see the road through the floor.

Car Talk and Lily

When I mentioned this mileage thing at a Zoom meeting, it was a call for reminiscing. K. and G. have a 27-year-old Buick Regal with 89K miles. D. had a Toyota Camry that was the family car, hardy enough to pass through the driving hands and habits of various family members. Other friends regaled me with their car’s history along with an array of names. Peanut. Blue. Toy. Spider.  

Back at our meeting, M. chuckled and said, “Let me tell you about Lily.” Lily. Such a romantic, almost dreamy name for a car. I was intrigued.

“It was the longest relationship of my life,” said M. “Forty years with a 1980 Toyota Corolla. She had 300,000 miles. I had her fixed, repaired, repainted, rebuilt. Her full name was Lily Rose Parker.” M. looked off as if Lily was actually parked outside her window. “I sold her to one of the members of the church where I belong so I got to see her every Sunday in the parking lot… I know I gave her to a good home.” 

2018 one or two years after her paint job

What car holds the most miles and memories for you? 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.