On this day five years ago I made arguably the worst decision of my life up to that point and bought this 2003 SVT Focus as my first car. In that time our relationship has had its trials, mostly due to it being a horrific piece of shit; I’ve spent too many weekends and too much of my life’s savings nursing it back to health in a hot, cramped garage, trying to convince myself this was the last thing the previous owner never got around to fixing before he sold it (it never was), spent hours and hours of my nights and weekends on the phone and computer sourcing parts and information from England to Australia, sweat each and every new noise it makes to the point I lost sleep, and more than a few times contemplated unloading it on some other poor soul just to save myself even more heartache and anxiety. It’s been a constant source of worry and distraction during the worst time in my life for it and even today I don’t fully trust the car, paranoid it’ll bite me in the ass for the umpteenth time every time I get in and turn the key.

And yet...

As I look out my apartment window overlooking the parking lot, there’s no other car in the world I’d rather see sitting in my spot. Even as I’m typing this I can’t keep myself from smiling. It was the car I learned stick on, spending the half-hour between school and work for weeks mastering the third pedal, overjoyed when I could finally launch the car without bogging down or roasting the clutch and ecstatic when I nailed a heel-and-toe downshift for the first time. It transported me to and from high school my senior year, where I was proud to park it amongst the Mercedes and BMW’s and Mustangs of my classmates. It served as the vehicle of choice during my pizza delivery driving days as we logged uncountable hours together traversing neighborhood roads and side streets, back roads and highways, the car just as glad as I was to be out for a drive regardless of whether it was a beautiful summer evening or whiteout blizzard in the middle of January.

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It’s heard the laughter and stories shared by the best of friends during midnight runs to Steak N Shake and late movies and other friends’ houses on the weekends; hell, in a way it is some of those stories, like the time we tested the effects of weight distribution on handling by putting five people in the trunk and did handbrake turns in the snow, or how we would go ‘drifting’ (aka just driving slightly fast enough to get the rear tires to break a little bit of traction) down this shitty gravel road just outside of town when we were feeling particularly stupid. The car took me to college and my first apartment, its trunk swallowing all my life’s possessions with zero complaint, just as happy to carry me down the highway at 85 as it was to bound down twisty back roads.

And above all else, despite the lows, it’s brought me indescribable joy. It’s made me grin at how well it grips on perilous, winding country roads taken at speeds I’d previously thought far too quick for a lowly hatchback to handle, roar in maniacal glee at how easily it slides its back tires under hard cornering, and shake my head with a smile at the incorrigible, insistent exhaust note that sounds equal parts indignant puppy and Orange Amplifier and rally car. Even just driving around town, being jostled by the stiff suspension and inconvenienced by the six-speed and terrible gearing, the car still gives me a zen-like peace I’ve yet to find elsewhere, a feeling like, at that moment, I belong in the driver’s seat more than I do anywhere else in the world. I don’t really know what else you could ask for in a car.

So thanks for the last five years, you piece of shit, my life would be nowhere near as interesting without you. Here’s to another five. And five more after that.