Body(shop) and Soul

Rolling into a new decade


By Nancy Oakley

A totaled car wasn’t how I expected to start the new year. To the anonymous hit-and-run driver who mangled my beloved 14-year-old Scion xB — those funny, retro-looking Toyotas resembling breadboxes on wheels — I wished a bad hangover, since he or she had left me with one of my own: untangling the red tape of dealing with the body shop, the insurance company, and — cue the score to Halloween — the DMV, not to mention the expense of buying another car. In spite of the New Year’s mantra, “out with the old, in with the new,” I wasn’t ready to replace Quicksilver.

Yes, I’m one of those people who names cars. But if the Navy and cruise lines christen ships, why not? And what was more apropos for my dearly departed Scion than the moniker acknowledging its paint job and agile maneuvering into tight parking spaces and heavy traffic — and only on the rarest of occasions (Cough! Cough!) breaking the speed limit? Hi-ho, Quicksilver!

His predecessors were The Woody, my mom’s old five-speed Toyota Corona station wagon with peeling faux wood paneling, and the Merlot Mobile, a Nissan Altima, so dubbed not because I drove under the influence, but because the car was a deep burgundy color — a magnet for state troopers on the lookout for vehicles exceeding the speed limit.   

These were part of a long line of named autos, starting with my parents’ unreliable Renault, the Fire Car, then a behemoth station wagon, Betsy and Herbie, a standard Volkswagen Beetle]. OK, so I lose points on originality for that one, but, hey, I was only 7 years old. The first car I ever owned was a gas-guzzling Chevy Impala that my eldest sister had cast off when she moved to New York City. We called her “Swix,” after the license plate letters, SWX. A friend of mine referred to her as “The Sled.” He, by the way, owned a Honda Civic he named “Tojo.” 

Another friend of mine also drove a Civic named Barbie because it was such a ubiquitous model in the IBM parking lot in the Research Triangle. She even attached a Barbie doll head to the car’s antenna to identify it among the other look-alikes. That was before she bought her Scion, Tuk-Tuk, an onomatopoeic moniker replicating the sound of the car’s four-cylinder engine: tuktuktuktuktuk. Her sister also had an xB, Toasty. As in, a toaster on wheels, get it?

Tuk-Tuk carries on, but Toasty, like my Quicksiver, has crossed the rainbow bridge. My friend’s sister has since relied on a Fiat, Ravioli. Me? I tooled on borrowed wheels for a time while mourning my boxy vehicle. Nothing could replace him but something had to. I didn’t want a Camry like my middle sister’s white one, Blanche. I looked at a Honda Fit, like my nephew’s Bean (because it’s black and resembles a coffee bean), before taking the advice of two gearheads (thanks, Glenn, thanks, Sparky), and settling on a charcoal gray Kia Soul.

But how should I address, thee, little car? As “Kingsford,” or “Briquet” or simply “Brick,” owing to your sedate color, which won’t attract the attention of state troopers? And then he named himself while I tried to master his multiple bells and whistles: back-up camera, Bluetooth, music that plays when you open and close his doors, and a “sport” feature on the gear stick for pulling out and ahead of slowpokes. It seems there isn’t any job this car can’t do.

And that’s how he became Oddjob, after the badass Korean henchman in the Bond movie Goldfinger (though Hollywood being Hollywood, Japanese-American actor Harold Sakata was cast in the role). Dispatched by the film’s titular villain, Oddjob is bodyguard, chauffeur, caddy — and destroyer of statues, which he beheads with the flick of his razor-edged bowler. 

It didn’t take long for my Oddjob to live up to his name. While cruising down the highway recently (and watching my speed), I happened to gain on, of all things, a silver Scion xB. I felt a sudden pang for my old cute Kleenex box-on-wheels, noticing, as I pulled closer, that the corner of its hatch door was bashed in. I recalled how the handle of my old hatch had fallen off, the front grill, too. 

The xB plodded along, tuktuktuk, and I edged closer, feeling less sentimental and well, irritated. I suddenly remembered how the sales guy with a man bun had remarked how I probably wouldn’t be using the “sport” feature much. Instinctively I tapped the gear stick into sport mode, and in the blink of an eye, I had shifted lanes, passed the xB and shifted back. 

I looked in the rearview mirror for any sign of a state trooper, only to see the xB leagues behind. “Out and around,” I murmured, patting Oddjob on he dash. “Over and out.”  OH

Technologically challenged Nancy Oakley is still trying to figure out the electronic gizmos on her car. 

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