And miles to go... He hopes

'Two hundred twenty nine thousand and fifty three miles," my husband greeted me when he walked through the door last night.

I just rolled my eyes. This man forgot my last six birthdays. He routinely guesses at the ages of our kids. Yet he can tell you to the mile how many there are on the odometer of his 1987 Toyota Corolla.

Gerard used to be embarrassed about driving the shabbiest vehicle in our family's fleet of three. When he took a new job - 78 miles round trip - two years ago at the university in neighboring Kansas, he couldn't help but notice that all of the students were driving newer and nicer vehicles than his. Even the kids on bicycles.

Then something funny happened at 200,000 miles. I call it reverse snobbiness. No longer is he mortified to be driving an AARP car with a sun-faded hind quarter, crow's feet - one has been wedged under the wiper since July - and multiple dents. He's the opposite, in fact. Gerard is downright snobby about driving a car that he bought secondhand for $500 from our niece and has traveled many thousands of miles beyond its shelf life.

"Wonder if I'll hit 300,000?" he muttered one day out of the blue.

I told him to quit wasting his money on lottery tickets.

"My new goal," said the reverse snob as if I, too, fantasized along this same wavelength, "is to make it to 300,000 miles."

While his car purrs and intermittently growls down the highway, Gerard takes a perverse pleasure in being the senior model on the road. He feels an immediate kinship with drivers of similar heaps, akin to the instant sisterhood of pregnant women or the brotherhood of baldies.

He nearly drove off the road one day admiring a 1982 Toyota pickup that looked as if it'd been clawed by a pack of wild panthers. The truck's ticker, though, seemed fine.

Gerard whistled. "Look at that beauty!" he said.

I looked everywhere, but all I saw was a beaten-to-death truck pulling out of a gas station.

"I wonder how many miles he has on that thing," Gerard said.

More than a year ago, we swapped our minivan and bought a new Toyota, which I drive. I'm still thrilled to be driving a new car that hasn't acquired the bait-bucket odor of the old Toyota. I wouldn't dream of hauling cow manure in my backseat as Gerard has in the old car. I refuse to let cigarette smokers fog the interior. I even bought seat covers to keep the greasy doughnut fingerprints off the seats.

It's a thrill a mile to drive a new car. But the reverse snob will tell you that the pleasures of driving a new car can't begin to compare to the pleasures of driving an old car that, by tonight, will have 229,131 miles on it.

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