Monday, June 13, 2011
The Millennium Falcon
I imagine that most of my readers remember the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. In the Star Wars films of my youth, Han Solo piloted an old ship that (almost) always came through tough situations. It didn't look like much, but it was Han's pride and joy. I am proud to say that I also owned a Millennium Falcon. Both of them carried beautiful women, hairy creatures and precious cargo. Both were driven by rugged dudes with sketchy backgrounds and plenty of scars. Both of them took part in plenty of amazing stories..
The main difference is that my Falcon was an SUV. A decked-out 1993 Nissan Pathfinder SE. In true early 90s fashion, it was teal green. It had custom-moulded running boards and a tint package that I paid way too much money for. Like many young professionals, as soon as I signed a continuing contract, the first thing I bought was a new set of wheels. All of my roommates at the time had taken the plunge. The truck I started my teaching career with was a gift from my parents, a nice little Ford Ranger with jump seats and a cool box cover. I really liked that truck, but it was 2 wheel drive. During my first year of teaching, we went on a New Year's ski trip to Whitefish and I couldn't push my little Ranger up the hill to catch our last day of skiing. I swore that day I would buy a 4 wheel drive vehicle (and I've owned one ever since.)
I clearly remember the June day I picked up the Falcon. We were into our middle school exam week, so we were going out for lunch. I picked up my new wheels, then sped back to the school to pick up "the boys". On the way, it sputtered and spat. Like Han Solo's Falcon, my truck couldn't reach the speed limit, let alone light speed. It was probably a vapour lock of some sort and it NEVER happened again. Nonetheless, I could see obvious doubt in the faces of my colleagues. I'm sure they believed that dumb old Ted got taken to the cleaners on his Japanese P.O.S.
From that day on, though, my truck never let me down. Ice fishing, off roading, long journeys on the highway, scooting around town, pulling trailers, trips to the dump. None of it fazed the Falcon. I went through several sets of tires, a transmission,a few fender-benders and my fair share of repairs. For the most part, though, I tried very hard to keep it running smoothly. Mechanically, it was a dream. Right to the end, it started happily in the winter and hummed like a top. It was a very sure-footed and well-balanced offroad vehicle, too. I never got it stuck (and I pushed it through plenty of scary spots.) It had all kinds of extras like "sport suspension", an 8 speaker stereo, a sunroof , plus power locks and windows that didn't like cold weather. My brother-in-law, a complete car junkie, loved the look and smell of my Pathfinder. This kind of compliment, coming from someone who has owned so many vehicles, always made me extra proud of the Falcon.
From a memory point of view, it was also fully loaded. I proposed to my wife in the Falcon. We took it across western Canada and through the Pacific Northwest. The console was extra worn because our pooch would stick her head between the seats so she could see where we were going. It seems fitting that our pup took her last breath in the Falcon. She went with us almost everywhere and when we had two car seats filling up the back, Bailey had to ride in the hatch with the luggage, but she didn't mind. It's a good thing my truck saw me through plenty of sad drives, because the day Bailey died just outside of Sherwood Park, I needed the Falcon to run on autopilot back to Red Deer.
More than anything, I remember going fishing in my Millennium Falcon. Ice fishing, fly fishing, lake fishing, bellyboating, canoeing, fly-in fishing. It had a second sense for finding fish and getting me home safely. Sometimes, it was my accommodation for the night. It was always a place where I had great conversations with great friends. My good friend Wayne called it the "Finder of Paths...Fishing Paths" and my buddy Dave immortalized it in a song about fishing on the North Ram River.
At times, my Pathfinder stunk. I usually had a Vanillaroma stinky tree dangling from the rear view mirror, but there were certainly times when other stenches overpowered the faux vanilla. A hatch full of wet neoprene or hockey equipment would billow the rankness of man sweat. After a night of eating red meat and drinking draft beer, it smelled like ass.. Following a ski trip where we tried to drink every Corona in the town of Canmore, the Pathfinder reeked of limes and onion rings from Peter's Drive In for a week.
The worst smell, though, was provided by the Falcon's most frequent flyer, Bailey the Chesapeake Retriever. My buddy Brian and I took her fishing on the Red Deer River a couple days after a freak September snow storm. We must have timed the trip to coincide with the arrival of the water from the Blindman and Medicine Rivers to the west of town, because our poor pup came out of the river smelling like manure. She could barely stand herself and we had to drive home with the windows, sunroof and rear hatch wide open.
I believe that you can tell a great deal about people by the vehicle they drive. Even when the rust started to wear though, I was proud to hop in my Pathfinder. It was me, from the roof rack to the upgraded stereo to the various dings, scratches and dents. When I sold it for $1000, it had over 320,000 kilometres on it. If you approached from the rear, it definitely looked worse for wear. The moment I got inside, though, I couldn't help but smile and think of all the great adventures made possible by the Falcon.
In my lifetime, I have not owned many vehicles. A '69 Olds Cutlass, an '80 Olds Cutlass, an '89 Ford Ranger, a '99 VW Jetta (The Red Rocket) and a '10 Subaru Forester. My present truck is an '06 Nissan Frontier. Each vehicle has special memories and I'm sure that many of them will appear in a blog at some point.
None of them match up to the Falcon and none of them ever will. Get ready for the jump to lightspeed, Chewie!