A couple of years ago, in January, I totaled my 17-year-old Buick Skylark in an accident on an icy road. A day or two later, retrieving the license plates, I stood alone in a cold, miserable car graveyard with my caved-in old hulk of a car, surrounded by other automotive corpses, feeling the most awful sadness. I touched the Buick's scratched, faded maroon skin, said good-bye and felt not only grief but a kind of guilt for saying so many mean things about it over the years--about its three recalls, the engine's proclivity to vibrate severely between 45 and 55 miles an hour, the cloth ceiling coming unglued and twice collapsing around my ears, the brute force required to operate its nonpower steering in sharp curves and parking places. Even with all this, it had gotten me where I wanted to go most of the time for
nearly 20 years, and its solid shape had preserved me from serious injury in the crash that had demolished it. The Buick had served me well in its own clunkily loyal way, and I felt I had somehow let it down.
Where did this feeling come from? I can't say that I "loved" the car, except maybe for a few weeks in the beginning, when its new, slick, elegant little chassis purred along highway and byway. In fact, I often despised the car, and anyway, it was an object, a thing without justifiable claims on anybody's loyalties.
What is this compulsion that drives us, in spite of…