It’s a Jeep Thing

June 19, 2011 By Lauren and Tom

I’m not quite sure if many other people hold a 1998 Jeep Wrangler Sport as close to their heart as Lauren and I hold ours.  At times the nickname for Jeep meaning “Just Empty Every Pocket” certainly holds true, especially with gas prices currently bouncing around and even more so when the transmission decided to throw a synchro key and grenade itself last October.  The thing has 145 thousand miles on it, granted Jim blew an engine and I killed a transmission, so it’s more like new and running better than it ever did before all that…but still….

But the back story is needed here; The Jeep belonged to Jim before the keys wound up with me.  I bought it from him not long before his death, I’m not sure why; I really didn’t need yet another man toy in my garage, but something inside me just knew it was the thing to do.  Little did I know what comfort it would bring in the months after The Crash.  I remember the day Jim texted me a picture of it after he bought it when he realized his attempt to survive with just his motorcycle in Indiana including winter wasn’t really the most logical concept (and his then-girlfriend was getting awfully tired of driving him around I think), so he got the Wrangler.  I distinctly remember sitting at a favorite restaurant of ours called Brugge here in Indy with him in July of 2008 after a night of track racing, and the engine had let go in the Jeep earlier in the week and he was pondering what to do; and deciding to rebuild it with the help of his dad, and get it back on the road.  I remember Jim picking me up in it to take me to shoot guns for the first time ever, or later on; him picking me up with the shotguns in the back and going up to the Geist Gun Club to shoot skeet.   I’m not a big believer in the “what you drive is what your personality is” concept; but I must say the Wrangler fit Jim perfectly; loose and airy, a bit temperamental when cold or being worked hard, but always able to provide a smile and a bit of relaxation with just a few minutes of time together.

Every time I get into the Jeep I feel a connection with him.  It’s not that I’m not often thinking about him anyways, but there is something about using the same keys he had on his key ring to start it, put my hand on the same gearshift that he had, enjoy the breeze with the top off and doors off just like he had; the Jeep has been a place of almost Zen like reflection for the past year.  In some of my toughest moments where I had no idea how to get through it, that Jeep had made me smile and breathe, just like Jim would have if he was still here.  It’s not exactly the most practical of vehicles, it doesn’t go fast, is loud, the top gets put on in October and comes off in April and if it rains during the summer everything gets wet; and when I got it from Jim I never planned on it being my daily driver but it certainly has become just that, the daily driver unless I need my Subaru to haul bikes or stay dry from summer rain.

That’s not to say the Jeep doesn’t give me trouble, it’s been known to act up and gets a bit out of line, I can only smile and laugh, figure it’s Jim saying hello, and making sure that I’m taking care of the car he loved when he had it.  When something goes wrong, it gives me further time to reflect and get greasy, work on something mechanical, and find comfort in my favorite pastime of being in the garage on a Saturday afternoon.  So when the idler pulley and serpentine belt started chirping a few days ago, I quietly picked up the parts (I was quiet, the Jeep sounded like a thousand birds), got situated in the shop, opened a beer, and went to work.  It could have been done faster and without a thought in mind; but instead I found the blissfulness of the stereo on, grease under my nails, and being able to fix the mechanical flaw the best therapy in the world.  Maybe it’s because there is no way to fix the non-mechanical things currently existing in our life, but the success of a repair, be it a half hour pulley install, or a 2 month transmission rebuild; brings the same smile to my face.
(it’s not rocket science to figure out what to do in there, just requires patience!)

Lauren laughs and teases me, she says “in a fire you’ll grab the Jeep, the dogs, a bicycle or two, and then worry about me” (which is by no means true, the dogs come first!); but I also know she gets the same feeling in the Jeep that I do, I see it with the smile on her face when we’re in it, I hear it in her voice when she asks if we can take it to run errands, and since sometimes it’s impossible to hear with the top off and the wind blowing, it’s comforting to know we’re thinking the same things for the same reasons without being able to verbalize it at that moment in time.

The only addition to the Jeep in the past year has been the JD sticker that Zipp created in the months after The Crash; it sits on the driver side window pillar, and I figure it just means he’s still in it, along for the ride with me.

So, to the strangers that exchange the Jeep Wave with me every day around town; the big smile on my face isn’t just because the top is off and the weather is good (or that it’s now running quietly), but because the Jeep is an extension of everything Lauren and I hold near and dear to our hearts in its Chile Pepper Red paint and windblown interior!