Old Gold: the girl who will not quit

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

If Willie Nelson’s iconic guitar, “Trigger,” had an automotive counterpart, my 2001 Toyota Sienna van might very well qualify.

Like Willie’s famously road worn 1969 Martin N-20, “Old Gold” has traveled many a mile — 209,862 to be exact — over many years, and though she may appear worse for wear, she too is still making beautiful music.

Old Gold has been part of our lives since 2009, shortly before my son Everett was born. She had 70,000 miles on her at the time, was tidy and fully functional. It was a practical move: Everett would soon be joining his two sisters, 4 and 8, and we needed room for his car seat, stroller, diaper bag, and the inevitable collection of mostly necessary baby accoutrements.

I remember thinking she might be good for another 50,000 or so before the repairs began adding up. Little did I know of her will to serve, and the hardworking cut of her elegant Japanese jib.

I was compelled to write this tribute now, as Old Gold has once again become my daily driver, though not by choice: the heretofore sturdy 2013 Volvo XC90 in which I’d been happily bumping around since 2017 passed away last week from unnatural causes at 142,837, felled by a plethora of “check engine” lights and a potentially obscene repair bill that would have far exceeded its value.

So once again I turned to my familiar, loyal, if neglected friend.

Like Trigger, Old Gold has some holes and spots where decades of use has worn through her finish. Some parts have broken off and fallen by the wayside. She has scratches, stains, dents, and headliner splatter (hot sauce?). Ancient In-N-Out stickers have become permanent features of the interior. But she’s also home to a cherished necklace my middle daughter — now a college junior — made for me when she was in the first grade that has been hanging from the rear view mirror ever since. A “Mr. Awesome” bracelet, my thank you gift for volunteering from an adorable first-grade classmate of Everett’s at Condit Elementary, adorns the turn signal arm.


“Old Gold,” Courier Editor Mick Rhodes’ indefatigable 2001 Toyota Sienna van and future family heirloom. Photo/by Mick Rhodes


We’ve known her comforts for a good long time. She’s ferried middle-aged musicians on tour, transported my newborn son home from the hospital, and conveyed his sister and me on a long, heart-heavy journey to San Francisco for her freshman year of college.

The cracks in Old Gold’s veneer no longer embarrass. On the contrary, they’re tactile evidence of our family’s robust, sometimes raucous life. To outsiders they may be defects. To me they’re a survivor’s souvenirs from 14 years of service to my family, badges of honor in fact.

It pains me to admit that unlike Trigger, Old Gold hasn’t been steadfastly maintained over the years by the best mechanics in the world. There was a time where she fell out of favor. In fact, since 2009 there have been several suitors that have temporarily usurped her spot as my daily driver.

An Infiniti QX4 was the first to catch my eye, with its chic black leather interior, shiny woodgrain dashboard, and onboard DVD player wooing me away with promises of newfound luxury. But after a few years the Infiniti’s seats disintegrated, its engine began making alarming noises, and the DVD player gave up. And if I’m being honest, it rode like a skateboard. My butt was sore after long drives. Finally, in an ironic display of blatant false advertising, the Infiniti came to an end, too far gone to be resuscitated, and off it went to its new owner.

Old Gold and I were then reunited, and it felt good.

Aside from periodic hauling duties (music gear, moving, etc.) Old Gold had been languishing in the driveway, her neglect so profound she sprouted cobwebs in her wheel wells. I had to call AAA for a new battery, as the old one had dried up and expired. Guilt addled, I took her to the car wash and paid the extra for the “platinum” service. It was the least I could do.

She eventually forgave me, and we had some good years after that.


A necklace made in the first grade by Courier Editor Mick Rhodes’ now 21-year-old daughter hangs from the rear view mirror of “Old Gold.” Photo/by Mick Rhodes


But my wandering eye got the best of me again in 2017 when a friend offered to sell me his late father’s near mint condition 2014 Volvo S60 for a great price. I jumped at it, seduced by the intoxicating new car smell, premium JBL sound system, and its sleek, Swedish figure. But after a couple weeks of trying to cram my 6-foot, 2-inch frame and three kids into the adorable little thing, I came to realize we were just not right for each other. The gleaming little Volvo literally couldn’t contain us.

Meanwhile, my best friend, hearing me whinge about my tiny car dilemma, offered to swap her 2013 Volvo XC90 — a much more practical and roomy SUV — for the S60. Great! Everybody won.

And so it went until about a month ago, when the big blue XC90’s moans and persistent warning lights got the best of her. Off she went, as-is and on the cheap, to a go-getter 20-year-old kid from Santa Ana who will no doubt spend the next several weeks wrangling used Swedish catalytic converters (my mechanic: it has three!) from Southern California wrecking yards.

Then, inexplicably, Old Gold took me back again.

I polished up her aging quarter panels, scrubbed her curb-gouged alloy wheels, and vacuumed up the latest accumulation of candy wrappers and petrified ChapStick tubes. I filled her up with regular unleaded and took her home once again, my daily driver, battered, beautiful, and unwavering.

Truth be told, even with all her aforementioned “defects,” Old Gold at 209,862 is more comfortable, easier on gas, and certainly more roomy than any of the various suitors who endeavored to dislodge her over the past 14 years. She’s a genuine pleasure to drive.

I know the day will soon come when she’s once again relegated to backup duties. (I’m shopping for a low mileage used hybrid as we speak.) But after all this time and all we’ve been through together, I hope she knows she’ll always be our indefatigable, irreplaceable, and cozy number one, imbued with the memories — and hot sauce splatter — of a family that loves her.


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