Last week an alert reader sent me a link to some breaking news from “The Onion,” that peerless source of fake journalism that has given us such headlines as “CIA Realizes It’s Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years,” “Winner Didn’t Even Know It Was a Pie-Eating Contest” and “Rural Nebraskan Not Sure He Can Handle Frantic Pace of Omaha.” Famed for its pseudo stories and dead-on parodies of newspaper jargon, “The Onion” has been cracking wise for over 25 years.
But sometimes the mockery hits a little too close to home. A link was sent to me last week by someone who may be spending too much time messing around on the Internet. Anyway, here’s the headline: “Toyota Recalls 1993 Camry Due to the Fact that Owners Really Should Have Bought Something New by Now.” The article quotes a Toyota spokesperson explaining the recall: “We understand that the 1993 Camry was tremendously dependable, but honestly, there’s no excuse for driving a 22-year-old car at this point.”
I drive a 1997 Toyota Camry, though I want to be clear that I have only owned this particular vehicle since 1999. So it will be at least another eight years before I can in any way be implicated in the satire of this spurious recall. Just because my car takes a little extra time to warm up even in the summer, and just because a wise guy once rolled down his window at a stop light and asked how I was enjoying my Model T — does not mean that my car is out of date.
I still remember the day my 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera finally gave up the ghost. It had been more-or-less reliable through my college days, even though the interior ceiling fabric was drooping onto my head, and despite the fact that it once left a 300-foot trail of transmission fluid on the campus of Oglethorpe University that is still visible to this day. But when my Ciera finally handed in her notice in the spring of ‘99 at the corner of Franklin Street and Columbia in Chapel Hill, a tow truck took us both straight to Toyota of Durham.
The salesman’s name was Ian. I know this because I still have the letter he sent me after I bought my two-year-old Camry from him. He was an Englishman, and since I was working on my Ph.D. in English literature, no doubt his accent helped close the deal. I wonder what he would think if he knew I was still driving the car he sold me during the Clinton years. Somehow, I suspect his sentiments would be rather close to those expressed in the “Onion” article.
But my Camry and I have been through a lot together. We’ve traveled all over the country, from Atlanta to Dallas to Los Angeles to Chicago to Detroit. We’ve been to the Grand Canyon, the Blue Ridge Mountains and to almost 200 Cracker Barrel restaurants.
We survived a timing belt that split in half on Interstate 85 in Greensboro. We made it through a broken ignition switch in Birmingham. We blew a tire on the way to Yadkinville. We caused a slight dent to a parked vehicle at UNC, but we left a nice note with hardly any misspellings.
The paint on her hood may be peeling, her cassette deck may no longer play and she may still be rusty in spots (by the way, we’re still talking about my car). She may have over 265,000 miles to her credit, but I have no plans for trading in my Toyota anytime soon. I read once that the average age of U.S. cars is 11.5 years, so I look at my vehicle as just one of many ways in which I’m beating the national average.
I’m sure the 2015 Toyota Camry is a sleek model. I’m sure it’s loaded with impressive features and horsepower and whatnot. But does it have a driver’s-side floor-mat worn to just my foot shape? Does it have the remnants of a UNC parking sticker that peels off another centimeter each year? Does it have the quirky turn signal that sounds like an old typewriter? I think not.
My friend Shane Fullerton loves to tell the story about his first Toyota. He said he bought it when he was a teenager and couldn’t wait to tell his grandmother about it. “Hey Granny,” he shouted when he called her on the phone, “I got me a new Camry!”
“Well, bless your heart,” she said. “Does it take good pitchers?”
I’m keeping my car as long as possible, even if I get my own “Onion” headline: “Cheapskate Professor Ignores Recall, Keeps Driving Clunker, Blames Smoke from Hood on Arkansas Humidity.” Incidentally, as this article was going to press, the door handle came off.