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The Black Light Retires

By H.G. Miller

There was an awkward silence when I came back from a trip to Spring Training in Phoenix last week. I’d left some papers from work in my car and I wanted to look them over before returning to the office the next day. The moment I saw my car, I stopped.

It knew.

Three days of dust couldn’t conceal the longing in those headlights. I’d been gone. It didn’t know where, but it could tell I’d driven somewhere. Burned highway miles in the plush interior of another.

I had cheated…

x x x

My car earned the nickname ‘The Black Light’ from a co-worker who was trying to reward my generosity in giving him a ride home by insulting the purple hue of my vehicle.

Officially listed as ‘plum,’ the dark violet color of my car looks best when waxed and wet under the nighttime illumination of halogen street lamps. Otherwise, it does resemble the soft glow emanating from the electric tendrils of light found in college dorm rooms across the country, bringing life to highlight markers and posters of cannabis.

So, we call it The Black Light. It sounds like a cool action hero. My car’s superpower has always been sustained forward momentum across the highways of America.

20 hours to Florida for spring break in ’99? The Black Light took us from Kansas to intoxication even as our group’s other car conked out in Columbia.

When that small blonde suggested a last-minute trip to Dallas for New Year’s Eve, The Black Light tore through the red dust of Oklahoma and still had enough in the tank to cross six lanes of Texas traffic when we saw our exit with a quarter mile to go.

The Black Light can practically drive itself to Vegas by now. In a word: Money.

The Black Light took me home for dinner and laundry on many college nights, and it willed my entire family through the Grand Canyon states on the way out west for a better life in Los Angeles.

The crowning achievement will always be a road trip my best friend and I took in the summer of ’98. We vanquished 11 states and even crossed over the northern border into the Canadian province of British Columbia. Two weeks through mountains, deserts, forests and scenic ocean freeways. The Black Light Never faltered.

I’m telling you, if you’ve only got one day to get from Vancouver, B.C. to Reno, Nevada and you want to have breakfast at Little Richard’s Cafe in Coos Bay, Oregon along the way, The Black Light will make it happen.

Yes, The Black Light’s been a lot of places. It’s even been to Phoenix a few times…

x x x

I’d been in Los Angeles for about six months when my car started having problems. Flat tires, blown circuits and faulty fuel pumps kept me in good with the Southern California Tow Truck Association. The credit card took a beating for about four months and I began to doubt my traveling companion for the first time.

The car pulled through, though. After a busted alternator and cracked radiator took it out of commission for a few days in the summer of ’02, the sailing was smooth for over a year.

The LA driving scene finally got me when a wreck took out the front end of my car last year, and for the first time, I had to seriously consider the costs of repairs versus the costs of getting a new car.

And now…

x x x

Superheroes never die. The get re-animated or updated with 21st century digital effects technology. Jerry Bruckheimer casts hot young talent and suddenly, the hero relates to the kids of today.

The Black Light keeps toiling in development hell. The air-conditioning went out in February and the engine coolant needs to be re-filled on a monthly basis due to small leaks.

Spring training was coming up fast, and I needed to decide if I was going to drop 100 bucks on a rental car, or hope that the AC could be fixed for cheap and that ‘small leaks’ stayed small.

Six-hours East on the 10 is an easy trek for most days. The Black Light and I would have laughed at such a journey a few years back. We would have blown by Blythe, Arizona and gotten gas in Quartzite just to put a few more minutes onto the odometer without stopping.

But, not this time.

There was no ceremony, and little fight from the hero of so many road trips past. For three days, the car quietly sat in the parking lot behind my apartment, gathering dust and choking on memories. There’s a daily commute to Culver City, and an occasional jaunt to Long Beach or Orange County, but those excursions are merely quotidian events, with little challenge and small reward. The larger adventures have been passed on.

The Black Light has retired.