In the summer and early fall of 2014, long before our fateful trip to New York City that ended with David’s death a month after we returned, David and I had decided to buy a new car. Nagging can, on occasion, make people change. I’d rant at David about everything I found wrong about the vehicle we shared: a 2005 silver Hyundai hatchback with a stick shift that he had bought the year before he met me.
The Hyundai and I did not get along. Back in my glory days I had loved my blue VW named Lindequist (another story.) I drove Lindequist across the United States; she became as famous and as infamous as I was. But by age 71 I was done with stick shifts. I’d had enough of stalls on the steep hills of San Francisco and Berkeley; I hated rolling backwards in a panic toward the car behind me while trying to restart the Hyundai’s engine, the acrid smell of burning clutch pad polluting both my nostrils and the air inside and likely outside the car.
On top of that, the Hyundai didn’t fit my body. I drove either with the steering column wedged like a log between my legs or with the seat so far back I needed to be a gymnast to reach the gas and clutch. I like to give my car names; David, as I recall, named the Hyundai “Harry,” but I did not feel attached enough to it to name it. At best the car and I tolerated each other.
“When I bought this car, I told myself it was the last car I would ever buy,” David used to say about the Hyundai, his tone regretful. But he did concede. Which left us with the question: what make and model car? New or used? As was his way, David did meticulous research on-line, especially with Consumer Reports. We set a budget. David arranged a financing package with our bank. We would buy the car together at the Christmas sales. We test drove four cars, narrowed the purchase down to either a Mazda or a Prius. David preferred the Mazda, me the Prius.
“You’ll be the primary driver, so you get to make the decision,” David told me, reflecting, I now believe, his increasing physical vulnerability. How could I foresee that by Christmas David would be dead? And that the Hyundai would indeed turn out to be the last car David bought and I the new car’s only driver?
Dewey, you may recall, is my imaginary combination of David and Stew. By the time I was emotionally stable enough after David’s death to hold my own in the profit driven, male-dominated world of car sales, and after I’d recruited my friend Merle with her Chicago chutzpah to accompany me to the Toyota dealer, I talked with Jessica and Dan. What, I asked, would Dewey advise about buying a car? Having David and Stew as partners meant, among other things, I could talk weighty decisions through. But now both were gone. David was a detail freak who loved his numbers; Stew an expansive personality who lived by Jerry Rubin’s motto: Do It!
“You wanna buy a car? Get a Mercedes! Whatever if you want.” Jessica, Dan and I agreed is what Stew would have said had he been available for a consult.
“Here’s the budget. We should try to stay within the limits,” is what David and I agreed to when he was alive.
I love my new red Prius. I’ve driven her for three full days. She satisfies my expectations of everything I want – in a car, that is. I brought her in for a mere $800 more than the $20,000 budget David and I had allocated. More important, talking with Jessica and Dan helped me to figure out Dewey’s role in my life: to compromise between contradictory positions. While I tell myself I’m skilled at making decisions for myself, Dewey helps me synthesize opposing yet equally valid points of view, both of which I agree with. While I haven’t named my Prius yet, I’ve come up with a bumper sticker I’m determined I will make for her: “Better Red than Dead.”