Elegy for a 1997 Ford Escort LX

Published 11:52 am Saturday, November 23, 2013

…Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Matthew 25:21 (KJV)

Mourn with me, Western Tidewater. For in the twilight of this past Monday afternoon, my car died at 339,122 miles.

As you’ll note in the headline, the vehicle was a Ford. I actually bought it as an Avis rental in 1998 with only 30,330 miles on it, and it was a sweet ride from the start. Which is not surprising when I recall my car before that was a Mustang.

As my father once said, “We’re a Ford family.”

Over the past few years I occasionally crowed about the ever-increasing mileage, and not a few people told me rather directly that Ford-built cars aren’t known for such longevity. Even my folks would roll their eyes from time to time when I sang the car’s praises.

I have to quickly thank my parents, who came over that night and lent me the use of one of their cars, which was made by you know who.

But I’ve long known that the Escort and I had a simple, but special relationship. I would fill it with fuel, change the oil and keep it relatively clean, and it would take me places.

And oh, the places we would go.

For example, 10 years ago this past summer, my friend the late H.R. Gray Jr. needed a ride to Washington, D.C., to obtain residency papers for living in Honduras, where he had retired.

Long story short, on arrival the bureaucracy of the State Department told him his documents had expired, and even Richmond said he’d need to go home to Suffolk and get new ones. I told him that rather than wringing our hands, we should get driving. We made a successful round-trip. The car never faltered, of course.

Even many times before and after that hilarious road trip to hell and back, the chariot faithfully transported the two of us to the nation’s capital to enjoy the high life (visits to my brother or the museums) and the low life (go-go bars).

Until recently, the Escort has also brought me to another important place for the past three years, The Tidewater News. The new car, whatever it might be, will continue to do the same. Coming to work here is reason enough to get up in the morning. I drive with antici…pation.

As my car was towed to a trusted repair shop near my home in Suffolk on Monday night, I clung to the hope that the sickness was actually minor, such as a weak battery, an affordable new part or easily repaired leak. Even that morning enroute to work, I was calculating when the 345,000 mark would be achieved.

That was not to be.

“Your motor blew up,” the mechanic told me bluntly on Tuesday afternoon. He added there was a crack in the block and also no compression. It wasn’t going anywhere. Worse, to install a used motor, fluids and labor would be about $2,600. Urk.

At this point, you might expect tears. But by then I had accepted that the time had come to say farewell to a faithful, albeit fading, Ford.

All is not lost. On the third day, the car rose again, so to speak.

On Wednesday, one of the other mechanics offered to take it off my hands and said he’ll make an effort to restore it. You can’t keep a good car down. I asked twice that he call me should his powers of resurrection prove successful.

But until I learn if the miracle occurred, I can only presume the car’s time has run out.

Requiescat in pace.

STEPHEN H. COWLES is the staff writer at The Tidewater News. He’s shopping for a fuel-efficient car this weekend. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or Stephen.cowles@tidewaternews.com