Once upon a time, there was Harold, my sister-in-law’s alleged car.
Harold had four wheels, and he would get you where you were going … most of the time. During the exceptions, you couldn’t help wondering if Fred Flintstone’s leg-powered rockmobile wouldn’t have been a better bet. After all, you always knew that your two feet were going to work. The same couldn’t be said of Harold’s less-than-mighty engine.
And yet, despite this infamous standing – maybe even because of it – Harold had a name. That was never in question. In fact, we had ourselves an unexpected laugh when a card game about apartment living turned up a card called “Harold the Hoopty Car” – a confirmation from the universe that yes, this was actually meant to be.
Some of you, I suspect, are nodding. You know what I’m talking about. You, or someone you know, has christened metal and steel and given it life, like a gasoline-powered Frankenstein.
Heck, we even have our own day.
That, at least, should come as no surprise. When you live in the United States, it seems like everything under the sun has its own day, week or even month. I’ve written about Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 – Oct. 1) and organized Longmont Power & Communications contests for Public Power Week (Oct. 2 – Oct. 8 – is your entry in yet?). Some I know, but keep forgetting about, like National Procrastination Week in March (I’ll get to it next year).
And every year, there’s some odd day that surprises me. Such a day is October 2 – National Name Your Car Day.
I don’t know who created it. I really don’t know why. But I couldn’t be happier. After all, it’s an impulse I’ve surrendered to more than once myself.
Granted, my vehicle nomenclature hasn’t usually been as dramatic as Michael Knight’s Kitt Car, or even Herbie the Love Bug. Although there was my sister Leslie’s declaration of the Masterful Audi of Death, a used car my family had when we were teenagers. The MAD sounded ominous, but in truth, the death it pursued was mostly its own as it became caught in an ever-increasing spiral of repairs and maintenance needs. We learned a lot from that car – mostly about the need to get a vehicle at the right moment of its life cycle.
The Battered Blue Buick, more ordinary in name, was no less mythic in structure. It gained its name from a Garden City, Kansas hailstorm that produced a lot of cosmetic damage, a nice insurance check, and no impediment whatsoever to its vital functions. It would actually take a major elm tree branch to bring it down, courtesy of a Kansas ice storm.
And so it’s mostly been since. Some have been named for appearances, like my sister-in-law’s Goldfinger, others for a vital quality, like our old Chevy that a friend dubbed the E-Z Bake Oven after a hot summer’s drive. We’ve even occasionally extended the privilege to other products, like the Qosmio laptop that my wife Heather dubbed “Quasimodo.”
It’s an odd tendency. But it makes sense. What we name tends to have a story attached, or sometimes even what feels like a personality. It’s something we can argue with, complain to, even plead with. (“Come on, Harold, just one more mile.”) It gives us the feeling that we can somehow control this assemblage of glass and steel that our lives so often depend on.
And when we’ve moved on, that name means it sticks in the memory a little harder.
I like that. I like having more stories, more memories. They help us not just exist, but live, paying a little more attention to the world around us and how we move through it.
As I write this, it strikes me that Heather and I have never given the Sonata a name. Maybe Mozart would be fitting – brilliant, a host to much music, a little cracked – though in car years, it’s already outlived its namesake.
We could even honor my sister-in-law’s long-gone car. But I wouldn’t want to invoke its luck as well, on this vehicle or any to come.
Our auto that art in future, Harold be not thy name.