Email from the Upper West Side

All Roads Lead Home Batmo Retires (October 2019)

By Aglaia Davis 

My one and only misgiving was what would I do with Batmo.

It was Batmo’s final weekend.  Not in his life, but in mine. Since sometime in mid-2008, after Batmo had long imprinted on me, I had never seriously imagined the day of parting from him.  But in October 2019, almost 12 years after his “adoption” (purchase) and arrival in New York City, Batmo was going “home.”

Granted, as readers of this column know, Batmo’s “home” had been the isle of Manhattan since his first set of license plates were affixed to his front and rear bumpers.  He had lived the punishing life that was New York City parking, complete with its smattering of dirt, sand, and scratches—and hours-long waits to cut the engine and actually park.  Mechanical misfires, near-breakdowns, and chunks of our lives spent sitting on the “Big LIE [Long Island Expressway]” or in Tunnel Traffic, I adored Batmo and Batmo adored me.  We were as close as a car and owner could be.

And then it happened.  Sometime in September 2019, I made the deal—an across-state-lines purchase of Batmo’s successor:  Black, tiny, stick shift, and brand new. The Honda SI that I’d finally steeled myself with the chutzpa to acquire was waiting for me in the southern tip of Maine (where the price was the best and the games were the least), and, hence, Batmo’s retirement beckoned.

It had not been easy.  Truth be told, my one and only misgiving – the “no” that kept me denying myself my next set of wheels – was what I would do with Batmo.  You see, unlike the “average,” “normal” (sensible) American motorist, for me, my cars were family.  I did not sell my cars; I retired them.  My first – a rusted-out 1977 Chevy Caprice Classic – sits (to this day), rusting in peace (painted pink) in my father’s field in Fayette, Maine.  That car – which I never actually named – became mine the year I earned my driver’s license at age 16, and I “saved” it from no uncertain death with my down-the-dirt-road neighbor, Alan Poland, who was a car enthusiast happy to take on a project and happier still to teach me how to care for a vehicle.  “Change the oil every three months like clockwork,” he counseled, “and don’t let it rust—and your car will run forever.” Alan was old when Batmo was young—and though I knew the answer, I called him on more than one occasion, as his health faltered and ability to work on his own cars corroded, to ask, “Alan, is it possible to change Batmo’s oil too much?”  He would ponder the question – if only to artificially delay the call – and then assure me,  “No, you can’t change the oil too much.”  At the tail end of the road of Alan’s life, my connections to him were the occasional long-distance phone calls about how proudly I was keeping my car—as he had taught me.

But, the Chevy aside, Batmo was my first – and truest – car love.  Yes, there was the tiny red Toyota Celica that my father bought for me the year I took off for (Baylor) law school, that I dutifully waxed every single weekend like clockwork.  There was the “hiccup” of a Celica I bought immediately after law school, when I misguidedly figured I would need one for my daily commutes to New Jersey. And there was the aged Toyota Avalon that my father bought me in or around 2006, which got me to and from various riding stables, until 2008, when I determined that I needed my own car.  And the rest is history.

As well as Alan taught me to treasure and care for my cars, I never doted on one like I doted on Batmo.  Even though Batmo was far bigger a car than I realized I needed (as soon as I got him from Maine to Manhattan); and even though he looked so utterly boring in his birthday suit (I quickly realized that “pimp” cars did not come like that), he quickly and surely became my most prized material possession.  Sure, it took many years before the Batmo of 2019 took shape – years of studying and copying other cars, ordering after-market parts, and sending Batmo out for work – but my adoration for him never wavered.  As temperamental as his operations proved to be, and as many schleps we made to Nissan, Batmo imprinted on me and I on Batmo years before his miles stalled at 75,000 when I broke my collarbone and sent him west to New Jersey for five months of R&R. 

It was never a question of Batmo’s replacement – for which none would do – but a question of Batmo’s retirement.  It was that notion I could not come to terms with.  The vehicle would never be owned outside of the family, of course – meaning a Davis or Malik  (who had all but co-owned Batmo with me) – would have to adopt him. In fact, I placed Batmo in my Will upon my untimely death.

Perhaps the slow unravel began when I finally faced the Blue Book reality that Batmo was valued at $1500 in “real life,” when, to me, no price could buy him – and that it was therefore fool-hearty to continue insuring him like he would not be declared “totaled” by a small fender bender.  That was April 2019; and, by August, purchasing his successor had become inevitable.

But the deal was not sealed until the day I resolved that Batmo would go to live with my father.  Alas, he (Jed Davis) was the only person I know who would keep Batmo in the style and shape he was accustomed to (immaculate), fill him up only with high test gas, and give him the quiet home he always deserved.

I scheduled Batmo’s retirement and the dawning of a new vehicular chapter in my life for a day and week that ended up passing by because, well, I fell ill and couldn’t drive.  But it bought me a few days—and another whole weekend with Batmo. That Saturday, perhaps, I was still refusing to think about what would occur on the Thursday next, but I enjoyed my day.

Then Sunday.  Batmo’s last day ever with me in our favorite state (New Jersey).  Batmo’s last drive to the barn; Batmo’s last drive on Route 3; Batmo’s last traffic jam on the Helix; and Batmo’s last roll through the Lincoln Tunnel.  Everywhere we went, I videoed and took pictures. I wanted to memorialize our final days together because, well, I adored my car. 

I officially retired Batmo on a weekday, October 3, 2019.  Eerily, for the entire drive north (which I documented numerous times on video and camera), my normally chatty business email was dead quiet.  Nothing was coming in. I fielded no phone calls, and placed none of my own. For eight solid hours, Batmo purred as well as he ever had in his life for approximately 350 miles to Maine.  That same day, he rested at Honda, where I officially signed the “adoption” papers for his successor (whom I met but did not take yet).

Only I would know and believe that Batmo drove better on his drive up to Maine than he had ever driven in his 12 years with me.  I dare say he knew he was going “home.” We drove out to Fayette together on October 4, 2019, where Jed was waiting with waiving arms to greet his new car.  The next day, Jed and I signed Batmo’s Title, and then dropped him off down the road at the mechanic for (of course) an oil change and look over. Batmo’s odometer read just north of 117,000 when I cut his engine for the last time.

Yes, it is true that Batmo let his “emotions” be known the first day that Jed attempted to drive him to the office in Augusta (by cutting his engine and refusing to move any further, about five miles from the house).  AAA had to come tow him. The diagnosis was “bad gas” – though it was the same gas he and I had driven the second half of our trip on (and of course high test). But Jed and I both knew it was Batmo’s rebellion against being left behind.  And, yes, he threw a typical “Batmo-style tantrum” when Jed left him all alone (in a garage, of course) for two solid weeks. I warned that he had never been left like that and would not be happy. He had a completely dead battery that had to be replaced upon return.  

But, aside from those small “expressions” of his personality, Batmo adopted Jed just as Jed adopted him.  It was a gift of sorts for both of them, and when I got into my brand new Honda SI (“The Black”) to drive back to NYC, I was for the first time overjoyed by all of it.  I – the car-crazy country girl-turned Manhattanite – finally had the black sports car I had wanted; Jed had an unexpected, but delightful, second car; and I had done right by Batmo. Alan Poland would have given me a nod.

So, Retire in Peace (R.I.P.), my beloved Batmo. May you drive many more miles with your new owner, and may every road always lead home.

I love you.

Aglaia

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