Oh what a feeling

Years back, there was a long-running ad campaign from Toyota featuring people jumping into the air with the title of this post.  As I prepare to take my Avalon on my road trip up the coast to Washington D.C. (and back, natch), I thought I would devote a bit of the blog to my relationship with Toyota.

Though a Toyota was the first new car I ever owned, my first new car was not my first Toyota.  Ironically, one of the people I’m stopping off to see on the way up to D.C. is my old college roommate from UF.  Some time after graduation, he got married down here in South Florida (in another irony, in the city I currently live now).

At that time, I owned a 1976 traffic paint yellow Toyota Corolla (it was well past 1976 by then…thanks, but I’m not that old).  This little car was in perfect shape and I had picked it up from a little old man for only $1,000.  It was dependable and all that I really needed.  It’s only real drawback (beyond the hideous color) was its absolute infirmity trying to get on the highway.  This was 0 to 60 in about 3 days.  Floored, you couldn’t be sure the car was moving any faster (and not because of the famed Toyota smooth ride).

Nevertheless, I was all dressed up and on my way to the hotel for the wedding (I was actually playing a part in the ceremony; his other friends must have been unavailable) and waiting at a red light about a half mile away.  Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw a large car approaching me at a speed not recommended for a red light.  With nervous anticipation I watched as the car drew closer and closer.  As it became clear to me the car was not going to slow, regardless of my being directly in front of it and the clear, bright red signal, I let off the brake pedal at the last moment to soften the impact (and avoid being scrunched into the intersection).

Scrambling out, I met the dazed occupant of the other car.  She was a woman of likely three times my age (at that point in my life) and, after a brief conversation, I determined she should not have even been driving in this direction.  Still, I had to wait for the police to arrive, with a mushed trunk and standing on asphalt in the middle of the day dressed for a wedding, in South Florida, in June.

When I arrived at the fancy hotel, I borrowed a line from Beverly Hills Cop (that should date the event) and told the valet to be careful because this is what happened to the car last time his people parked it.  The wedding was delayed, but not dramatically so and the couple is still happy today.

As to the car, the insurance reimbursement was $750, which I would have used to repair the vehicle had I not gotten hit in almost the identical spot on the car (this time by a turning vehicle who thought I wasn’t there).  This led to another $750, putting me slightly ahead on my $1,000 car.  Ultimately, the radiator gave out in the parking lot of the place I was working at the time and I sold the vehicle to someone standing there for $150.

For the next many years, I went through several used GM vehicles.  These were company cars used by my father for the company as a salesman throughout the state.  They had a policy of encouraging workers to sell the cars to relatives rather than turning them back into the leasing companies, thereby getting a better return on the vehicle.  The cars would be “refurbished”, having all current and potential issues fixed before sale, so I had a steady stream of high mileage but excellent condition used cars for years.

My last job was with a local company associated with Toyota.  Within a year of working there, I purchased my first new car, a Camry.  I would do the same for any company I worked for that sold products, be it laundry detergent, computers or cars.  I guess I should be thankful I never got a job with Anheuser-Busch.

I picked the Camry because it was four doors (needed for all the people I drove to lunches and stuff) and had a full size trunk (needed for all the golfing I did back then).  I got a smaller engine and passed on many luxuries (I was still young in my career).

The Camry was not a particularly pretty car, so I chose the color black because every car looks sharp in black.  I also chose leather, though I came to regret it.  Leather in a black car outside in South Florida is a singularly bad combination.

After the large engine, big body cars I had previously owned, the Camry felt small and underpowered.  I noticed something else early on:  the car was quiet.  Incredibly quiet.  Not just the ride, but there were no creaks, flutters, rattles or whistles.  Impressive.

Over time, I got used to the engine and found the car to be an excellent match of performance and convenience.  The gas mileage improved dramatically over my past cars and I was content to hang onto the now-paid off Camry for at least ten years, but it was not to be.  After only a couple years without payments, my sister ran into some difficulties with her car and I offered her my Camry (now just turning seven).  I popped into the dealership and did to my car what my Dad had always done to his before my owning them.  Then I gave the car to my sister (how could I charge my family when I didn’t have any payments?).

Although I wanted to pick up a new Camry when the body style changed, that was not going to be for three more years, so I stepped up to an Avalon (my career had advanced a bit since my last purchase).  Though known as an “old person’s” car, the Avalon had just had a body styling change to make it look more similar to the Lexus and had a powerful new engine (also shared with the Lexus).

I chose black and leather again, though this time I felt more at ease since the car had both heated and cooled seats (they work!).  And I made sure I added all the luxury items I left off my previous vehicle (like satellite radio).  The coolest feature was the push button start.  Within months, I had just about forgotten how to use keys in cars (I fumbled around with a rental car on a business trip).

My Avalon is turning seven this year and still in amazing shape.  I constantly get complimented on its apparent newness; akin to those people you see who look years younger than their actual age.  I just got it back from the dealership after I had dropped it off for a “once over” to make sure it’s ready for 2,000-plus miles.  Other than a little front brake work, it passed all inspections with flying colors.

I’m not one of those people who romanticize their cars, giving it a pronoun and claiming affection for it.  No matter the vehicle, it remains to me a tool for getting from point A to point B.  That said, my car provides me an easy, enjoyable ride and a senses of satisfaction from the admiration of others about its looks and performance.  I’m sure my road trip will be an easy one (for the car part, at least; not sure about my eyes and stamina).

Oh what a feeling indeed!

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