Learning how to drive in Florida was a rushed life-stage that practically every kid reached well before they graduated high school; it was a sort of pressure-cooker coming-of-age scenario. I was late in the sense that I earned my driver’s license at eighteen instead of sixteen, but I was never too bothered. Driving didn’t catch my eye the way it gleamed in so many other teenagers’. Despite all this, I’ll never forget my first car… with a steering wheel on the wrong side of the road (or the right depending on where you’re reading this from).
Late in the spring of my third year in England my parents decided that buying a cheap used car would be more cost efficient than renting a car for the duration of their visit. This decision was helped along quite a bit by the fact that my mom hates driving on the other side of the road (just for the record, we hated being passengers too). Our solution was Agatha, a name very carefully chosen and endearingly called. Agatha was a seventeen-year-old red Volvo s60 with well over 100,000 miles on her, and my god, did she age well. In the first two weeks I had her, we collected mom and dad from Manchester airport, drove all over Sheffield, down to Peterborough (near Cambridge), and back. That would only be the beginning of her adventures. We had so much more in store for her.
My partner, Sam, and I decided that for our summer holiday we would take a once-in-a-lifetime kind of road trip from the North of England all the way to Austria and back again. We planned for weeks. Agatha got four shiny new tires for the occasion, and we both worked long shifts to put money aside for petrol and accommodation.
Driving Agatha onto ferry gangways was always a different kind of exciting to me. I had taken her across the Irish Sea before and made the drive from Dublin Port down across the country to somewhere around the Limerick/Cork border. She’d been good company that night and the two of us, her fueled on petrol and myself on gas station coffees, made brilliant time through the dark green country roads.
Several months after unloading her at Holyhead Port in Wales, Sam and I would drive her onto a boat to France, equipped with a small breakdown kit in the boot and European-approved light-reflectors on her headlights. Driving through France and Belgium on our first night in Europe was terrifying. I’d driven on the other side of the road plenty of times, but never with the steering wheel reversed. Trying to keep the sides of the road straight in my head at roundabouts and small junctions made my skin crawl. Nevertheless, we made it. She was good to us, always caring and trusting our judgement. One night somewhere deep in a remote Austrian valley, we took her miles and miles out of the way to visit a sign of a village called, and I cannot make this up, ‘Fucking’. Agatha obliged.
She patiently carted us through the bustling traffic of downtown Munich, along rainy Bavarian mountain roads, and across Swiss motorways carved delicately through mountains and rivers. Agatha kept up on the Autobahn, clocking 100mph at her top speed. We couldn’t resist seeing what she could do on the famous road with no speed limits. Sam and I marveled at her tenacity. She wore her mileage like a fine fur coat she’d saved up for years to buy, and she never shied away from a challenge.
Several thousands miles later, and with a car in desperate need of a deep clean, we loaded her back onto a French ferry to go home once again.
In October she allowed me to take my driving test with her, a totally different experience to the American driving test I took several years back. This time it felt more intensive and mature. I was terrified that I would fail and that somehow I would then feel undermined in any ability I had previously deluded myself into believing I had. Together we passed the exam, Agatha and I, the smell of her musty perfume lightly dancing across the dash board.
Several weeks later, she would inevitably fail her MOT (a yearly vehicle inspection of roadworthiness/safety that is mandatory in the United Kingdom for any cars over 3 years of age). It wouldn’t be a feasible to get her back up to speed (so-to-speak). Sam and I were crushed. I felt like I had failed her. I had hoped to get her through to 150k miles which felt ages away from the measly 116k we’d gotten her up to. But that’s how life works. We never got her up past that mileage, and we never took a misty early morning drive through the Peak District again.
We will make the drive again some other distant day down the road, in a different car with a different smell and different memories.
She was a good car and she did everything she could. Until she couldn’t anymore.