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Memories flood back when it's time to give up a reliable vehicle

When it's time to say goodbye to an old car, a peculiar set of feelings is certain to be evoked. If the auto caused nothing but trouble, you may experience relief mingled with a sense of good riddance. But if the vehicle could be depended on to get you to your destination with no problems, it's difficult to let it go without experiencing some poignancy.

Such was the case recently when I bid farewell to my trusty old Nissan, Reliable Roada. Roada had more than 170,000 miles on her, and to her last days, each time we changed the oil, it flowed out clear and clean. She never burned a drop of oil; her five-speed manual transmission always ran smoothly, and I could count on more than 30 miles per gallon each time I took her on the highway.

We bought the car in 1997 when she was already nine years old. The story was the proverbial little old lady from Green Valley had previously owned Roada. Though Roada had more than 50,000 miles on her, she looked like new.

We hoped she ran as well as she looked, because within a few weeks of purchasing the car, my daughter and I were planning an extended cross-country trip to celebrate her college graduation.

Heading east along Interstate 10, our final destination was Connecticut. Along the way, however, we planned stops in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., the Outer Banks and New York. It was a leisurely trip with many memorable moments.

In Houston, finding vegetarian food off the interstate proved impossible. One waitress told us she could provide lettuce and tomato, but that was it. We enjoyed our epicurean feast accompanied by the smells emanating from the adjacent oil refineries.

Next stop: New Orleans, where my husband joined us the same day we arrived. Who knew it could ever be so humid? But the Big Easy was a wonderful place with great food and fascinating places to explore. Besides the requisite swamp tour, we managed to get off the beaten track and discovered an old plantation that hadn't been prettified for tourists. The old slave quarters were still standing, and the energy emanating from that tortured ground weighed heavily on us all. After a few days enjoying New Orleans, my husband flew back to Tucson, and we resumed the rest of our journey.

Eventually, we made our way to the East Coast, where we spent a night in Savannah, Ga. The weirdness described in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is not a manifestation of the author's bizarre mind; it really is that peculiar, but in a neat kind of way. Savannah is a place I hope to return to when I've got the time to revel in its eccentricities.

Our next major stop brought us to North Carolina and a ferry ride to the Outer Banks. We stayed at a lovely inn on the water. For some unknown reason, we had the place virtually to ourselves and enjoyed the solitude before the onslaught of Washington and places north.

Meanwhile, Roada was proving equal to her name. With the exception of a flat tire somewhere along the back roads of Georgia, we were experiencing an effortless trip.

In Washington, we stopped for lunch with my brother-in-law, then promptly got on the road in time to beat the rush-hour traffic. I'll do anything to avoid the Interstate 95 corridor, so instead of heading directly north, I veered west and approached New England via Pennsylvania.

Driving through Pennsylvania is almost as tiresome as Texas, but the scenery is better, and with our final destination less than a day's drive away, it proved less burdensome than it might have. Besides, where else can you spot Amish in their quaint carriages?

Finally, Connecticut, where my family greeted us with some of the finest Italian food on the continent. We spent several weeks visiting assorted family and friends and enjoying the fruits of summer, as well as some grilled sausage. (Or at least I did; my daughter wouldn't hear of it.)

As June slipped into July, it was time to head back. Since Roada had proven so reliable, we didn't anticipate any problems. We took a northern route back, driving through places like Ohio and Indiana. Now eager to get home, we didn't dally and eventually headed south on Interstate 25 through New Mexico.

That's when things got hairy.

Monsoon season was upon us, and for what seemed like an interminable stretch of road, we were terror-stricken as rain, falling virtually horizontally and accompanied by a gale-force wind, made it a treacherous several miles. But Roada served us well, and eventually we were able to find shelter at a roadside restaurant and wait out the weather.

After this inaugural trip, more followed. We traveled to California and Oregon, and enjoyed day trips in the Southwest desert. And Roada never left us stranded.

I hope her successor proves as reliable as Roada, but regardless, she'll always be first in my heart. Goodbye Roada. You'll be missed.

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