A Farewell to Ellie

Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

A man's first car holds a special place in his heart, like his first girlfriend or his first viewing of a Star Wars film. I myself was a little late to the driving game, only having gotten a car of my own last summer, and I was so enamored of this little Saturn I named her Ellie after indie darling Ellie Goulding, who makes the sun shine brighter when she laughs.

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Touched up the photo a little, ya know, like how you dress up a corpse for a funeral.

And what a fine car Ellie turned out to be. Faux-Native interior, front snow tires, tape deck, sleek little burgundy frame, and to top it all off she barely sipped gas. Springfield to Newberg and back, 15 bucks easy. Sure her windshield was cracked, and her air conditioning didn't work, and she veered so far to the left she could take some turns for me, and her front right tire was still jacked up from running into a curb while it was snowing. None of those things made a lick of difference to me though, because, quirky as she was, she was my girl and I was fond of her in an old-fashioned sort of way. A man and his car.

She kept me company as we zipped all over Oregon at a frequency that would have plumb-tuckered out even the most dependable of cars. From Thurston to the far end of Eugene to the coast to Portland, from Newberg to Canby 3 times a week for months; you can hardly blame her for what happened next. I sure don't.

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Ellie burned bright and fast for those few too-short months until one fateful afternoon about a month ago. That Friday at about two I set sail for Springfield, my land of origin, giddy with anticipation for it had been five or six weeks since I'd been home. That may not be long for some college students but for my homespun self it is a torturous length of time. Indeed I was so jazzed about returning home that for the first fifteen minutes of the drive I was flying high, singing along to Ke$ha on the radio (sassy as you please). Once I'd popped out onto I5, though, Ellie's temperature gauge spiked and two lights came flashing on the dashboard, lights I'd never even noticed before, both seeming to indicate something liquid-related was happening in my engine (I know nothing about cars but I have a fair handle on semiotics). I pulled over onto the shoulder, hit the hazards and popped the hood only to be swept by a wave of dread as I witnessed smoke and oily brown sludge (henceforth to be referred to as "the sludge") bubbling out of the engine's coolant reservoir. 

Now I learned from my mother at a young age to panic first and ask questions later, so I responded to this crisis by huddling in my backseat, fetal. I wasn't sad so much as I was overwhelmed; nothing in my pool of experience had equipped me to handle such a disastrous scenario.

When my heart rate stabilized I called my best friend Isaac because he's my car guy. He also seldom if ever huddles in back seats when things become stressful. He is the the reasonable one. He foils me.

I could tell as I described the sludge to him that the prognosis was bleak. He tried his best to sound optimistic but what I lack in car know-how I make up in knowing-when-people-are-sugarcoating-bad-news. Still, when he suggested I flush the sludge out with water and finish the drive home it was my only workable option, so I pulled into Woodburn and bought a few jugs at a gas station.

There some good Samaritan caught me with my hood up and offered to take a peak at the engine. The look of sheer terror on his face as he beheld the sludge, however, did not inspire confidence. "I can't believe it's doing that!" he kept exclaiming, so I thanked him and sent him on his way.

After pouring as much water into the coolant reservoir as the sludge would allow I took off for a little while, praying the temperature gauge wouldn't spike again. Sure enough some miles down the road it did, so I pulled over and repeated the process (this time on an overpass). The next time Ellie drove longer before overheating and I was hopeful that she might have been purging the sludge from her system, but as I mentioned in my "healing" blog a few months back, that's not how cars work.

She got me home, though. Ellie got me home that night after some four hours on the road driving and overheating and stopping and sludging. And it would turn out to be our last ride together.

The next morning my mom, my sister and I called every mechanic in town asking what might have caused my car to vomit so, and the news was uniformly terrible. Blown head gasket, an $800 to $1,500 repair but they wouldn't know exactly how bad it was until they were half way through the job, so I would potentially have to pay $400 only to discover I could not afford the fix. It was not a cost-effective repair on a car barely worth $1,500 to begin with, so I made peace with the fact that I must say goodbye to my darling Ellie.

I had about $1,000 left from my scholarship refund check and resolved to buy a new car off craigslist the following weekend. For the details on that fresh hell check out part two of this story, coming soon.

In any case this was a sobering experience for me, a shaking of my foundations, a test of whether I can walk my post-materialistic talk and find meaning in life even when my car isn't running. And that still remains to be seen.

A car is just a car after all. Even if it's a car you really care for, it isn't worth more than even a single human relationship. Possessions are utterly contingent, love touches on the eternal. I'm learning, or trying, to live in the kingdom of love even when everything I touch seems to fall apart.

Hebrews 13:5 

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”


  1. I thought I posted this last night. Anyway, this post cracked me up. Really loved the homage/love story to your funky car, especially coming from someone who doesn't know cars too well (sound like myself at 19). Now I know a thing or two, but just enough to get hired on at Les Schwabs and fired a month later.

  2. Thanks Chris! And thanks a million for the promotional tips! I really do owe a lot of my continued blogging to your support. Thank you.


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