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To be sure, it wasn't love at first sight: the bond between Blue and me took two years to develop. It didn't ripen until halfway through the college-interview tour I made with my daughter, Rachel—a tour that took us 2,000 miles in six days, with me as solo pilot. Before we left, my wife questioned whether both Blue and I could make it. Beaten up and broken down, neither of us, I guess, inspired confidence. As for Rachel, at 17 and invincible, with life just down the road, her thoughts lay elsewhere. Besides, since the day I'd brought Blue home, she'd found it an embarrassment. An otherwise good-natured and generous kid, she repeatedly pointed out Blue's mottled headliner, ravaged body, and unfortunate odor—"Daddy, it smells." Because of a shallow puddle of water that had collected on the passenger's floorboard, she rode the whole way sitting on her feet.
Coming down the back nine of life overweight, tired a lot of the time, and sleeping poorly, I know I should exercise more, work fewer hours, and find a less stressful job. I push too hard, says my wife, and maybe that's what impressed me more and more about Blue as the trip went on and I spent so many hours in its company. No matter how hard I pushed, Blue was right there with me, pushing as hard as I wanted, noises and all, running metal on metal, doing whatever it took.
Out on the open road, as I spent hours and hours every day traversing dauntingly vast distances, I got a kick out of pretending that I was thought-transmitting to Blue. "Okay, we're in Syracuse, and we're going through Ontario to Ann Arbor," I'd say. "And we're doing it today, in one stretch. Got it?" Without question or complaint, I always got back "Roger that." And each day, whatever our destination, I got used to getting there in one stretch, without a hitch, a glitch, or a blip on the screen.
Blue and I really bonded one stormy night somewhere in the mysterious outer reaches of Michigan, in the middle of a blinding downpour, which made it impossible to see even an inch beyond the wall of water that engulfed us. Exhausted after a long day of driving, I didn't know what to do. If I stopped, a car could have hit me from behind; if I continued, I felt sure I'd drive off the road or hit another car from behind. It was as if my worst fears had come to pass, and I'd suddenly grown very old very fast, utterly uncertain of my abilities, my whereabouts, my capacity to deal with the challenges of life. At that moment, somehow, Blue took charge. I just knew that the car was going to continue on and on through the rain, no matter what, emanating perfect confidence, keeping us safe and protected. Athletes and artists have a word for that kind of grit and determination and persistence: they call it "heart."
Racehorses have heart. Dogs exhibit heart all the time. Why can't a car have it? By the end of the trip, energized by my bond with Blue, I felt reborn—lighter, faster, stronger, ready to meet whatever challenge I had to face—with Blue's help, of course.