Constable: Prius, columnist are racking up miles on the way to the finish
My first road trip in our new Toyota Prius was to Springfield in January 2007 to watch a promising young politician, whom I had been touting in my columns, announce that he, Barack Obama, was running for president.
That seems a lifetime ago. For our country. For that Prius. For me.
Purchased during the administrations of President George W. Bush and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the Prius was driven off the lot in the same month that Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House, and Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone. The TV season of "The Apprentice" that kicked off that month saw a large drop in viewership, perhaps making host Donald Trump think about another career.
Fifteen years later, that Prius has an odometer reading 274,658, and I've written about 5,000 columns. And we're both still ticking ... mostly.
That Prius transported our three sons to events ranging from tee-ball games to their college graduations, with a few dent-filled years in between. When our sons were learning to drive, our garage proved to be an obstacle course.
The Prius has made the trip to my family's farm in Indiana so many times, I'm convinced it knows the way. It was the vehicle that ran out of gas during a bittersweet road trip with my brother, Bill, three months before he died in 2010.
I drove that Prius to President-elect Obama's election night rally at Grant Park, to cover the Dalai Lama in Chicago, and to World Series games at Wrigley Field. That car got me through the end of the Bush administration, two terms and eight years of the Obama administration, four years of one-termer Trump, and into the administration of Joe Biden.
That Prius is the best car I've owned. At 16, I drove a white 1963 Chrysler Newport, famous for its push-button gear shift and a huge front bench-seat that comfortably slept four. Other cars I used during high school included a couple of old Ford Mustangs, a Buick station wagon with a bubble top, and a used AMC Javelin that I bought with a handshake from an aspiring Lafayette, Indiana, car dealer named Bob Rohrman.
I inherited my sister's hand-me-down AMC Gremlin, bought my brother-in-law's lemon Renault LeCar, and briefly owned a soul-sucking Pontiac 9000. As a single guy, I bought the drabbest Toyota Tercel before upgrading to a Nissan 200SX with popup headlights and a breathy female computer voice that would let me know my "right door is ajar."
But cars always have been nothing more than transportation for me. I get the oil changed on time and get maintenance repairs, but I don't care about looks. I've spent more on glove compartment light bulbs than I've spent at carwashes.
As we aged, my Prius and I developed lingering issues. The metal cover for the gas cap was the first to go. It simply rusted off in my hand one day, making my car easy to identify from a distance.
My once-perfect eyes needed glasses to read. The "low tire" light never goes off. The radio volume button fell off, which would be a big deal if the antenna hadn't been knocked off, leaving me with no options but static.
Trimming ear and nose hair became a thing. The icons on the key fob have worn away, but it still operates every door except the driver's door. I have to crawl in from the passenger door to unlock the driver's side.
The floor mats are holey rags, and there are bald spots in the upholstery and on top of my head. Cruise control stopped working. So did my knees.
The hatchback no longer opens, and the cover is held on with duct tape, as are a couple of bumpers.
I was in my 40s when we bought the Prius, and the car and I are showing signs of age now that I'm 64 and it's 15. I'm still writing columns, and the Prius still gets me where I'm going. But this is my penultimate column.
Nearing retirement age, when the company offered buyouts, I decided to accept, and I will write my last column for the Daily Herald this Sunday. The Prius and I are not ready to be put out to pasture, but we are headed down a new path.