The magic moment happened as I crossed the Montana-North Dakota border last week on my way home from Arizona. I had looked forward to it for weeks.
Slowly, the row of nines on the odometer turned over to zeros. Without fanfare, my Ford Ranger arrived at one-quarter million miles.
To put this moment in perspective: Silent Night by candlelight leaves my eyes dry. Tear-jerker movies bore me to death. Funerals? By the time they happen, I am usually pretty composed.
But when those zeros line up on the odometer and a new vehicular milestone is reached, I get verklempt. The lump in my throat grows almost as large as when the Twins win a World Series.
This particular Ford Ranger was the runt of the litter, having sat on the dealer's lot unpurchased and unloved for over a year due to its lack of power windows.
Between the time I went home to think it over and when I called back to say I wanted to take it home, the dealership cut the Ranger's price $2000. They wanted it gone. I would have paid full price!
My black Ford Ranger and I have been together now for 10 years, through highs and lows, ups and downs, good times and bad, sickness and health.
At seventy thousand miles, I took it into the dealership for the last free oil change that came with the purchase. The sleazy salesman said, hey, you'd better get a new pickup, things start going wrong about now.
I ignored him. I believed the guy who sold it to me who said that as long as you changed the oil and rotated the tires, the thing would run forever.
At 170,000 miles, the "check engine" light came on. I think I know why, but I haven't had it checked yet. If the light went off, I'd get worried.
Major repairs? There have been two. Some sort of rocker arms on the suspension went bad. And the alternator went out in the Badlands last fall.
The other repairs have been routine. About sixty-five oil changes. Three serpentine belts. A few air filters. Several sets of tires.
There was an incident this past spring. After a long day of work, I dragged myself into the pickup for the quarter-mile commute to my house.
I was so tired that I couldn't face backing out of my parking spot as usual. That would have required me to crane my neck and strain my eyes to look back to make sure I didn't hit anything.
Spread out in front of me was a broad lawn of freshly greened up grass. Instead of backing up, I put the Ranger in "drive" and headed across the lawn.
Bam! I had forgotten that when I parked that morning, I had pulled right up to the snow bucket attachment for the loader. The bucket was below the hood, so I couldn't see it and forgot it existed.
The collision knocked off the fog lights. In keeping with the Ranger's tendency to repair itself, the front wheels later ran over the dangling lights and pulled them off, which saved me the trouble of cutting the wires myself.
A mere flesh wound, really. The plastic molded part of the bumper was damaged but lasted until midway through the trip to Arizona before it fell off. It is now in the Tucson landfill.
The back bumper is twisted from the incident with the oak tree eight years ago, but it still serves its purpose.
The remaining bumpers are a bit blistered with rust, but the rest of the pickup is still intact, a picture of perfection.
And when I am driving down those perfectly smooth highways in the Southwest, highways that have never been cracked by frost, the Ranger purrs quietly at seventy as if it were brand new.
Once recently as I was walking around a shopping mall parking lot looking for my Ranger, I saw this attractive, sporty pickup and I said, now isn't that about the perfect pickup?
I quickly realized: it was mine.
How many people can say that they are just as in love with their pickup today as they day they drove it off the lot?
I am truly one lucky man.