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Yesterday I traded in my beast of an SUV – the chariot (if I may rhapsodize so over a mere vehicle) that has carried me all over the country in the past 13 years. She was a brawny gal (even though she was muscle-bound and powerful, I have always thought of her as a “she”) and she ate up the roads of America mile after reliable mile. Like any aging queen, though, she began a downhill slide eventually, passing the 220,000-mile mark recently and weathering one too many winters of cold mornings and salted roads.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I am incredibly sad! Her cozy interior was my second home in my daily life and my front-row seat for the travel show I watched from her windows over the years. My maps (remember those?) were stashed in the side wells, my pens and scissors and grocery bags and Band-Aids all had their storage spots, and my muscle memory knew the locations of every signal, radio station, and compartment. I kept her clean, inside and out, and more than a decade in, she still drew admiring glances from the car salesmen loitering outside the dealership when I brought her in.

As much as I love jetting miles away from home to an exotic foreign land, I still relish a good road trip more than almost anything. I know we Americans are laughably attached to our cars, but for me the appeal is the freedom – to go slowly, to pull over and marvel at fields of grain or tumbling streams, to stop at a kitschy store and stay as long as I desire, to pack all my favorite foods and drinks and consume them whenever I want, to sing aloud at high volume, and to take way too many pairs of shoes and all the big stuff that won’t fit in a carry-on suitcase. I loved my car not as a possession but as the vehicle (literally and figuratively) for my wanderlust.

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From her home in Chicago, my girl carried me on trips to New York City and the Northeast, to Texas, Florida and the entire Southeast, on a huge loop out west through nine Northern Plains states on the way to Montana and back, throughout the Great Lakes region, on a handful of excursions to Georgia’s coastal islands, and on scores of trips straight east to the Mid-Atlantic states and the eastern shore. She was welcomed along with the relatives she carried to Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Virginia, Missouri, and Colorado.

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A little sister in the Toyota line-up has taken her place in my garage today – the smaller, lighter version of my sleek, dark beauty. I don’t know yet what her first long-distance destination will be, but I look forward to the next several hundred thousand miles aboard. But for now, it’s so long and farewell to this lady!

Isn't she lovely?

Isn’t she lovely?

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