300001: A Road Odyssey

Should’ve planned it better. Some exotic background like Mt. Rushmore or the Golden Gate Bridge. After all, this car has been my steed for 17 years. But the milestone sneaked up on us, along a busy interstate.

You wouldn’t pick her for World’s Greatest Car.

Her headlamps have filmy cataracts. Her doors are dented, and she suffered the insult of a salvage title after her complexion was pocked by a hailstorm. She smells of antifreeze. Her transmission whines. Her brakes squeal.

But she’s a keeper.

I met her in a car lot 17 years ago. She was sleek and new and lipstick red, and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, she would set course on a journey no other car has made; she’s driven every mile of every road on Missouri’s highway map.

Her name reflects the auto company that built her, a company that folded and faded in the rearview mirror, leaving Erifnus Caitnop to fend for herself. Yet she remains strong, reaching an age when 99 percent of her peers have been pounded into refrigerator magnets.

With little planning, Erifnus and I began a string of shortcuts that lasted beyond a dozen years, a journey that left our tire tracks along every inch of state-maintained pavement, every county road from AA to ZZ, plus thousands of miles of gravel and dirt.

This 1999 Pontiac Sunfire became my Trigger, my Lassie, my Old Faithful. She’s dauntless on dirt roads and fearless beside 40-ton truckships. She’s crossed Skull Lick Creek and Rabbit Head Creek. She’s climbed Long Tater Hill, descended to Devil’s Well and the Little Grand Canyon and three Toad Sucks. Oh, and the Garden of Eden.

She’s witnessed OcToasterFest and the Testicle Festival, and a mineral springs with two iron pipes that deliver separate healing waters to Democrats and Republicans.

She’s outlived the company that made her. But I wouldn’t trade her for the Mona Lisa.

This car won an Emmy. Oh, I went along for the ride, but the car was the star of the show.

Erifnus doesn’t care. Even as she nurses a small patch of rust beneath her passenger door, she’s a workhorse, performing flawlessly, for the most part. Blame her brushes with danger on driver error.

I drove into danger because I was curious. Erifnus did it because she had no choice. But she’s a gymnast, handling like a thoroughbred through curves and mud, dodging texters and tweeters and road ragers and drunks and texters and squirrels, dogs, cats and deer and terrapins and texters. We’ve slid sideways in sleet, jumped curbs and low-water crossings. We’ve passed every pun on every roadside marquee, every time-and-temperature sign, every clip joint and carny barker and corn dog vendor, every barbecue shack and taco stand.

And we’ve stopped at most of ’em.

That’s why I should’ve planned better when her milestone sneaked up on us as we left hometown Columbia’s city limits. We pulled off I-70 and into a parking lot, where I made Erifnus Caitnop turn in circles until she reached 300,000 miles. It was an insensitive thing to do to an old horse who has served so well. But I wanted photos...and not on the shoulder of I-70.

During our short celebratory detour, I-70 had backed to a standstill. So Erifnus did what she does best: hit the backroads. Blacktops to Millersburg through Mark Twain’s deep forest past Tonanzio’s tables where in a different millennium we feasted like Bacchus. We passed white-fenced farms raising white-faced horses, followed a river that led past Dan’l Boone’s grave and a dozen vineyards. We reached our destination late, with more stories than a barrel o’ bards/troubadours.

Come to think of it, we got a good start on 400,000.

John Robinson is considering one of two titles for his upcoming book: 1) Pioneers Need Pants and Other Stories from the Road or 2) 300001: A Road Odyssey. Which do you like? Read more of the author’s stories at JohnDrakeRobinson.com.