Thom and I went out to the Oakland tow yard today, a place with which our Colorado-based insurance claims people deal so often that they didn't even have to look it up when they told us where we'd need to go. The place, on G Street and 87th Avenue, is a bit surreal. The property is surrounded by chain link and barbed wire. The main edifice looks like the former headquarters of an established manufacturing operation, combining some elegant deco details with a squat sturdiness. The building looks like it would stand up to a 2,000-pound bomb. The rest of the facility consisted of sprawling workshop buildings roofed with corrugated metal. One of them housed what looked like newer cars in decent conditions–maybe vehicles that had been towed for being illegally parked. Behind the buildings was an open concrete-paved lot littered with what I took to be stolen, abandoned, and wrecked cars. Our '93 Honda Civic fit right in. Whoever stole it left the body, engine and wheels intact, and except for tossing the interior contents around, didn't take any personal belongings. What they did take–the glove box unit, the stereo speakers, an electrical fuse panel, a door-latch assembly–seemed almost surgically removed. If we'd known they'd wanted the stuff, maybe we just would have turned it over and avoided the drama and incovenience of dealing with the police and the impound lot. An insurance adjuster is going to look at the car next week, and we'll decide whether we're going to fix it or let it be declared a total loss and–yeah, I feel a pang when I say it–just let it go.
That's next week. Now here's the rest of our Berkeley household automotive history. I came out here in 1976 and was really a resident in early 1977. The first few years out here, I didn't own a car and on the comparatively rare occasions when I drove anywhere, I borrowed friends' cars. I got a job driving a cab in Oakland in 1980 and spent a couple years tooling around in beaten-down Ford Granadas. In 1983 or so a friend gave me her horrible old 1977 Ford Falcon–this was the era when Detroit thought the answer to the influx of small Japanese cars was to take its few compacts and make them bigger. That car starred in a few moments of career and romantic drama but eventually got towed and I never missed it. Then in 1985, just a few months before we got married, Kate and I bought a car together. And thus the life list resumes:
1985 Ford Escort station wagon. It was sort of a sturdy car of a silver color, with a 5-speed manual transmission, and we got about 145,000 miles out of it despite two cracked head gaskets and a penchant for becoming disabled at critical moments. We eventually gave it to charity.
1998 Dodge Grand Caravan. This is the teal-blue vehicle that's in the driveway right now. It's got miles galore on it and bears the scars of backing into a tree or two along the way. Given our less than sky-high expectations, it's held up well and made 20 or 25 round trips up to Eugene while Thom was up in college there.
1993 Honda Civic hatchback. The little red car stolen earlier this week in Oakland. We bought it about six years ago from our neighbor, who was moving up to a BMW station wagon. The car had 133,000 miles on it and showed signs of a botched repainting job. But mechanically it has been great and still gets 42 miles per gallon on the highway. Thom learned to drive in the car, essentially, and to drive a stick, too. It's a little low-slung given the last decade's penchant for giant military-assault-style backwoods-adventure boxes, and the '93 does not come with a passenger's side airbag, which always made me a little queasy.
2003 Toyota Echo. My dad's car, really. He just gave up his driver's license, and my brother Chris and I just drove it out here from Chicago. We'll see where this one fits into the family.