The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Aug. 23, 1990.)

It's too sad to talk about, but I'm going to talk to you about it. If I'd had a gun, the humane thing to do would have been to shoot it. I didn't have a gun, so I turned it over to a stranger. I hate to think what he's going to do with it.

After 14 years, during which it gave me dependable service, I turned in my 1977 Ford Country Squire with 141,327 miles on it. "Turned in" is not exactly the phrase, though. When I asked the dealer how much he'd give me for it on a trade, he took one look and said, "I'll tell you what. I'll take it off your hands and won't charge you anything."

I have to admit it was no creampuff. It had seen more action than most M1 tanks.

Last week, I dropped a quarter on the floor and realized the car wasn't in tip-top condition when the quarter fell through a gaping hole to the street.

The front seat rocked back when you sat in it because the bolts that held it to the floor didn't have much of a floor left to hold onto anymore.

When the car was three years old, I had it undercoated. I still have the guarantee they gave me against rust "for as long as you own the car." It had rusted out in a lot of place, but I didn't have the heart to take it in and demand my money back. Even so, companies ought to be more careful about those as-long-as-you-own-it promises.

The car was yellow and brown, the brown being that fake wood they decorate station wagons with. Over the years, some of the stripping came loose, and for a time I'd go in and have it replaced, but I gave up on the trim years ago, and the car didn't look good where it was missing along the sides.

There were no hub caps, either. The original ones were lost, and every time I got second-hand replacements, they'd fly off when I was going fast on a major highway. They'd roll along with me for 10 or 15 yards and then turn off and bounce into the ditch.

There's no question about it, the car didn't look good, but the engine was still good, and until I got worrying about the rear end dropping out and the brakes failing, I stuck with it.

People were often surprised to see me driving it.

"Hey, Andy!" they'd yell. "You can do better than that!"

One night last winter, Margie and I went to dinner at a fancy restaurant with valet parking. It was a terrible night with slushy snow, and I hated to take my good car out of the garage with salt on the road, so we used the station wagon. When I pulled up to the restaurant, I thought the kid parking cars was going to call the head waiter inside to warn him there was a guy coming in who might not be able to pay the check.

I was never much for turning a car in while it still ran well, and the old wagon's enthusiasm for humming along, eating up the miles, was undiminished. The hood didn't close tight, the back door lock was broken, the knob kept coming off the window handle by the driver, and the window washer squirter hadn't worked in years, but the car always got me where I was going.

The hinge on the glove compartment door jammed a while back, so I had taken the whole glove compartment box out of the car. There was no place to keep papers after that, so I put them in the well in back, a space under the floor toward the tailgate door. I emptied out the well before abandoning the car and found some treasures. One paper was the odometer guarantee the dealer gave me when I bought the car. There were two miles on the car then, so I only actually drove it 141,325 miles.

The booklet that came with the car, called simply "FORD 1977," was unopened. I leafed through that.

"Ford welcomes you," it starts, "to the growing group of discerning people who own and drive Ford-built vehicles." I wish I'd known that all the years I drove the car. It would have been a comfort to me to know that I was welcome and discerning.

The neighbors are going to be pleased that I've given up on the car. I leave the house at 6:10 every morning in the winter and the car would start up quickly, but it would always stall twice. Always. They must have lain there in bed morning after morning, waiting for the start, the stall, the restart, the stall, the restart.

It was a sad time for me when I pulled away in my new four-wheel-drive car and left that dependable old baby behind.

"Goodbye, old pal," I mumbled. "We all have to go sometime."

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