Monday, April 08, 2013


I'll never forget the day I met her.  It was a humid, overcast morning in September, 2002.  I was headed to work at WAKA TV-8, the local CBS affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama.  I put the key in the ignition of my car and started down the road.  But I quickly realized that something was amiss.  The normally cold and refreshing air from the air conditioner was blowing warm and unpleasant in my face.   I could just feel it in my gut that whatever might be wrong with my car, it wasn't going to be cheap to fix.

WAKA shared a property line with the Montgomery Saturn dealership.  My parking space at work literally faced rows and rows of Saturns for sale just a few dozen feet away from the station's satellite dishes.  So on that fateful September morning, instead of pulling into WAKA's lot, I pulled into the Saturn service bay.  The mechanics opened the hood, prodded around, and told me that my air conditioner was kaput.  The cost to fix it would be at least 3 times what the car was worth.  And anyone living in Alabama knows that come spring, the heat inside a car without a working air conditioner is akin to riding around in a sauna for 5 months.  Unwilling to face that prospect, I turned and looked out at the dealership window and spotted a shiny, silver-blue sedan sitting in the corner.  I turned back to the sales guy and said, "I'll take that one."

A few hours later, after a quick test drive and a lot of paperwork, I drove off the lot in my brand new 2002 Saturn SL-2, complete with CD player, power locks, power windows, and working air conditioner.  My initial ride in my new car was fairly short, only the few hundred feet from the dealership to the WAKA lot, but the new car smell filled my nostrils and the music was cranked up.  I showed off my new transport to my fellow co-workers, then went up to my office to catch up on my work for the day.  It was only a few minutes later, a half hour at the most, that my office phone rang.  The voice on the other end was Robin Citrin, the location manager for the film Big Fish.  Weeks before, I had interviewed with her for a possible job on the set of the movie which was in pre-production in the city.  She was calling to tell me that the film had officially been given a green light by the studio and that the job was mine if I wanted it.  I was to start in 3 weeks for a 7 month shoot.  I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.  In the span of a few hours I went from having a broken air conditioner to owning a new car and getting a job on a Tim Burton movie.

That was just the beginning of the adventures of Loretta and me.  Yes, my car was named Loretta.  It's a reference to a line in Monty Python's Life of Brian ("I want to be called Loretta and have babies").  I don't know why that line stuck with me, it has absolutely nothing to do with cars, but it just seemed like the right name for my car.  I never called her that in public, but when we were alone, she was Loretta and she was my baby.  My car.  There was the Betty Page air freshener that hung from her mirror, the rapidly fading Daffy Duck that sat in the rear window, and all the other quirks and eccentricities that she possessed.  All cars have their own unique personality and Loretta was no different.  And in the nearly 11 years I owned her, I got know her very well.  She was with me every single day on the set of Big Fish, taking me to and from all the magic and wonder that I witnessed on that film on a daily basis.  And after the film wrapped, she was my ride to Los Angeles when I moved away.  She was forced to endure the slog of the trip that is Texas, the miles and miles of dirt, oil rigs, and Whataburgers that you have to suffer through to get to California.  But she never complained, she just hummed along and kept me on the right course, with cool air and loud tunes the whole way.

Loretta survived 4 years of L.A. traffic, safely navigating the 10, the 101, and the 405 the entire time.  She drove me up the Pacific Coast Highway to watch the sunset over the ocean countless times.  I took her to every movie set I worked on and she always got me back home, even when I was bleary-eyed and exhausted from another 15 hour day.  She was there for me when I moved back to Alabama, she was there during my marriage and all good times that came with that, and she was there for me during my divorce, helping me literally pick up the pieces of my life and move forward.  She took me to on trips to visit family at the holidays, to weddings, to funerals, to the biggest moments of my life and the lives of the people around me.  Maybe it's silly to wax poetic about an internal combustion engine with 4 doors and a radio, but my car really did mean a lot to me. She was the place I collected my thoughts, the place I listened to music only I wanted to hear, and the place where I often did my best thinking.  We take it for granted, but when you think about it, you really do spend a lot of time alone in your car.  It's one of the few places where you get to be alone, inside your own little bubble of sanity that only you and the car know about.  Loretta knew a lot about me, that's for sure.  She saw me at my best, my worst and all points in-between.  But she never said anything, she just kept her wheels on the road and got me home at the end of the day.

She wasn't perfect.  The windshield washer never worked right, and the driver's side window wouldn't roll down.  And like all cars, despite regular oil changes, tire rotations, and tune-ups, she just got to be too expensive to maintain.  When she started having the symptoms of a major problem last week, I took her to the Tire Pros downtown and it was clear her time had come.  It was sad cleaning her out and saying goodbye, but life moves on.  It's just a car.  And by this time next week I'm sure I'll have another one to carry me around.  I'm not sure what kind of car it will be, and I don't know what kind of adventures we will have together.  I'm sure they will be just as amazing and strange and unpredictable as the ones I've had with the last one.  But I'll always look back fondly at my time with Loretta.  She was with me during some crazy days and even crazier nights.  I've never been much of a car guy, but I'll sure miss this one.  Thanks, Loretta.  I hope your rest in peace is rust-free.