John Steinbeck named his Rocinante. William Least-Heat Moon, who wrote Blue Highways, named his Ghost Dancing. Michael Knight, of course, had KITT, and somebody (although I forget who) had Herbie.
I have Li'l Smoky.
I resisted it for a while. “Does your car have a name?” people asked. “Nope,” I said, “Just Honda Accord.” But after all we'd been through, it didn't seem enough. It felt oddly impersonal for a machine I spent so many hours steering, the wheels that spun across thousands of miles for my benefit only. I felt like a bad mother, like the crack addict who lived down the street from me in Austin, who called her scruffy mancoon “Cat” because “it just sounded right.”
I knew something would come to me, and then one day it just did. Li'l Smoky. I could pontificate on the appropriateness of the name — its association with rap stars and Burt Reynolds movies, its double entendre — but at the time, I knew only this: It fit.
I think it was Los Angeles when I first started talking to Li'l Smoky. “Don't worry, Li'l Smoky, pretty soon we're gonna get you a nice oil change, a warm soapy bath. Won't that feel good?” I kept referring to this as “Li'l Smoky's Day of Beauty.”
When we drove through town, I gawked at the classic Oldsmobiles, all sparkle and curves. My jaw swung open at the adorable pink and purple Karmann Ghias. “Don't be jealous, Li'l Smoky. They're pretty, all right, but they're too high-maintenance. I wouldn't even know what to do with a car like that. You're the only one for me.”
But it wasn't until San Francisco that I knew I was far gone. I was spending an afternoon in Japantown, not so much a neighborhood as it is a mall of Japanese stores and sushi restaurants. Like always, I was itching to buy something, but like always, I was trying not to be frivolous.
“A store full of stuff for your car,” I thought. “I'll buy Li'l Smoky a li'l present!”
So I went inside and marveled at the ridiculous Japanese gadgetry. All manner of air fresheners and steering wheel covers, decorations to hang from the rear-view mirror (but before Li'l Smoky was so-named, I had appeased my consumer urges in Vegas with a pair of fuzzy blue dice). That's when I saw the string of lights. How do I explain these? They were like Christmas lights that you plug into your car lighter and string along the dash, only instead of simple Lite-Bright-style bulbs, they had shapes. A dolphin, a martini glass, a heart.
Li'l Smoky will love these!
My heart started beating faster, the excitement of finding the perfect present. They cost $25. A stiff price, but Li'l Smoky deserved it. He'll be so proud, I thought. He'll be so fashionable!
I was halfway to the counter before I realized Li'l Smoky was, in fact, a car.
I put the lights back on the shelf and got out quick.
Lately, I've been buying Li'l Smoky 50-cent stickers from the grocery store vending machines. Stickers of low riders and monster trucks. I wanna decorate Smoky's interior with these; I figure it's the automotive equivalent of boys putting posters of sports stars and rock idols in their room. I try to save the big money for gas and oil changes and the occasional tune-up. Don't get me wrong: Nothing's too good for Li'l Smoky. I just figure if he breaks down, a $25 string of fancy-pants lights ain't driving my ass nowhere.