Last month, I traded in my beloved Minerva, the 2005 Hyundai Sonata that I bought in 2012. It was the first car I bought on my own, puchased a few months after I graduated from college. I was home full time for the first time in four years, stepping into the real world and in need of a car that I didn’t share with my brother. It cost just under $10,000, and I put $2,000 down—most of my savings at that point, a lot that had come from graduation gifts and cards.
I named her after Minerva McGonagall, the Harry Potter professor/headmistress/witch extraordinaire. I thought they shared some similarities: the car was already old at that point (almost eight years and over 90,000 miles), but it was sturdy and ran well. It unfortunately didn’t randomly transform into cat—which could have been cool, but also kind of annoying when trying to remember where I parked in a big lot.
When I bought the Sonata, there was an old cassette tape in the deck, “Uncle Bonsai” scrawled onto it. I got it into my head that my time with the car would would be cursed by whoever the heck Uncle Bonsai was if I threw it out, so I kept it in the center console. Turns out Uncle Bonsai is a folk band, the members of which probably did not put a curse on a homemade cassette mix. I never listened. I don’t know why. Still, I decided to leave the tape in there when I cleaned the car out last month, my dumb superstition still weighing on my mind. May the next owner be as creeped out by it as I was.
I do still think about her often. It wasn’t you, Minerva. It was me. I needed to move on, and I’m sorry. No, YOU, just Googled “2005 hyundai sonata nj” just to get a look at her!
Our relationship got off to a rocky start. The first time I took the car to get gas, I realized I didn’t know how to pop the door to the gas cap. I looked down at the driver’s side door, and realized there was a hole where the switch, I assume, once was (something I’m sure the salesman just forgot to tell us). The gas station attendant suggested opening the trunk to check for an alternate way to open it, and there it was—a neon green latch that opened the small door when pulled. I got out of my car, popped the trunk and pulled the latch every single time I got gas over the last five years.
Then, the week after I bought the car, the air conditioning crapped out. It was mid-July. It was very hot. I was still cranky about the gas cap. We took it back to the dealership and, because it was a pre-existing issue, they fixed it for free. Minerva—a used, nonsentient mass of metal and plastic—somehow had better health coverage than most Americans.
‘She was with me through the dreaded period of postgrad uncertainty that hasn’t quite ended yet…’
These were the first of many issues I had with the car, some that were definitely my fault. A snapped belt here, two new sets of tires there. I had a cassette adapter that I put in the tape deck so I could listen to music from my phone (auxiliary cables weren’t a thing in 2005, so there was no port), but it got lodged into the tape slot and never worked again. It’s probably still stuck in there right now.
Something was always out of whack, chugging, rattling. I stalled out in the snow at least once a winter. Sometimes the steering wheel would lock up in the rain. Before I got the second new set of tires, the whole car rattled and shook any time I drove above 50 miles per hour. A few of my friends recently revealed, independently, that being in the car made them nervous. And I don’t blame them! I kind of agreed, especially toward the end.
But I still felt bummed the day I went to trade it in for a (still yet-to-be-named) 2014 Honda Civic. I drove to the dealership, my stepdad in the passenger’s seat, and because I aim to be as cliché as possible at all times, I thought about some things I’ve experienced with that car: trips down the shore, mutiple stress cries in Taco Bell parking lots, driving around Washington for an hour looking for the Union Station parking garage and only finding it after stopping to call Hamilton Post community editor, self-described D.C. “expert” (and my life coach) Rob Anthes for directions.
She was with me through the dreaded period of postgrad uncertainty that hasn’t quite ended yet, for many fast food dinners in between interviews and games, while picking my brother up at the bar or being the designated driver when my friends and I went out. Any mechanical issues she had were easily (though not cheaply) fixed. She never straight-up died.
The radio was on during the 10-minute drive from my house to the dealership. I started thinking about what the last song to play in the car would be, when Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” started up. That synth (especially coming from one of my favorite bands) felt like the perfect way to go out. “Exit the warrior,” frontman Geddy Lee sang, a fitting tribute to Minerva. It was fate.
I don’t know what the dealership’s plans for the car are, whether it’ll go onto the lot or just sold and scrapped. My heart sinks a little when I imagine Minerva sitting bare and rusted out in a junkyard, old, alone and stripped of her parts. So instead, I like to think of her as an organ donor. If she’s parted out, whatever she has to offer will go on to, presumably, help another car thrive. If she’s put back on a lot and sold, I think she’ll have a lot to offer another owner.
For now, though, is she feeling OK? Does she have enough fluids? Please tell her to call if she needs me.