Parting With A Clunker: Such Sweet Sorrow As the Cash for Clunkers program screeches to a halt, an estimated 600,000 cars will have been traded in. Many of them — like the Ford commentator Julie Zickefoose once thought she would drive until it died — have rich, redolent family histories.
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Parting With A Clunker: Such Sweet Sorrow

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Parting With A Clunker: Such Sweet Sorrow

Parting With A Clunker: Such Sweet Sorrow

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Say your goodbyes. Tonight marks the final sales deadline of the Cash for Clunkers program. An estimated 600,000 low mileage cars have been traded in and three billion federal dollars will have been spent.

Well, commentator Julie Zickefoose, a former clunker driver herself, has this appreciation for the brief and wildly successful program.

Ms. JULIE ZICKEFOOSE (Commentator): I was going to buy a used car, eventually. Just one not quite as used as mine - a 1995 Ford Explorer with 178,000 miles on it, dicey shocks and transmission and an insatiable appetite for fuel.

Before the Cash for Clunkers program came onto my radar screen, I had said it again and again: I'm going to drive this thing until it falls apart under me. I was sure we'd pass the 200,000-mile mark together. After all, we'd been through a lot.

That Ford carried me into the hospital twice when I was in labor. We strapped our new babies into its back seat, fumbling with the buckles and straps. Both kids grew up in it, and the slow and steady rain of Cheerios gave over to Nerds and bubble gum and an orange DumDum embedded in the back carpet, stick pointing up.

There were bumper stickers from Maine to North Dakota. There was Give Turtles a Brake. There were dog stickers and Flower Power Daisies and Life is Good stickers. And during the 2008 election, there were some pointed ones that got me more than a few hairy eyeballs from other drivers, maybe even a ticket or two.

Mice lived in it off and on, including one mama mouse who had the bad judgment to make a big, fluffy nest and have her babies in the false fabric ceiling, which was a tenable plan until I drove the car and parked it in the sun. It took a month for me to find the defunct nest. You can imagine.

The half-gallon of milk that tipped over and leaked one summer day didn't help. Neither did the chicken that rolled out of a grocery bag and festered quietly in the cargo area for a week until a small flock of vultures circling low told me there was something of interest in my garage.

It broke down on me only once in a parking lot only three blocks from my husband's office. That car took care of me. And so, between the memories and the stickers and the mingled smells and the familiar, dependable roar of its engine, it became part of our family. I would drive it until it fell apart -until Cash for Clunkers, until it hit me that nobody was going to walk up and offer me $4,500 for the MouseMobile, ever.

And I began to see the wisdom of starting over with a new car. No, the heady, intoxicating appeal of it. I struck the Cash for Clunkers lure like a hungry bass. But the thought of having a dealer fill its good, true heart with goo and rev the engine to death, of crushing its still strong, if rusty, body broke my heart. It seemed so unnecessary. Couldn't they give it to someone who needed a car?

When I finally closed the deal on my new car, I asked the dealer to leave the Ford on the lot for awhile, not to lead it into the back pasture until after I was out of sight. He chuckled. People get attached - they do. I sat quietly in it for one last time, breathing its many aromas. I looked at its stickered rump in my fancy, new, auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass, stepped on the gas and headed home.

BLOCK: Julie Zickefoose is an artist, writer, naturalist and new car owner living in Whipple, Ohio.

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