THROUGH THE FIRE: The Long Goodbye


(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on February 9, 2011.)


My car finally died last week. She was my first. She never had a name, but if I was to give her one posthumously, it would be Tabi. We had an incredible journey together…and my feet wouldn’t have been the same without her.

She died like the superstar she was—dramatically, and in one hell of a ball of smoke.

I’m sorry to say but I didn’t treat her as well as she deserved. Two trips to New York and back, more than a dozen to Northern California, and a handful of road trips involving rock quarries or ditches. I’m not a terrible driver. It’s just that Tabi, as many great women tend to do, gave me a sense of confidence I didn’t necessarily deserve.

It didn’t help matters that I got in a little fender-bender before her demise. I won’t give too many details. Let’s just say that the 10-110 Connector isn’t the best place to multi-task. But she came out of it in working condition and miraculously ran another two months.

But one day, as I pulled in to work, she started to smoke. A lot. She probably had a cracked radiator. I could have fixed her—I wanted to—but the cost was prohibitive for a car with that many miles. I was forced to leave her on the roof of the parking garage until I was able to hire a tow truck to take her to a better place.

The Car Gods had a lesson in store for my shallowness. On Tabi’s last day I got a call from the tow truck driver when I was at work. He had arrived an hour early and was calling to tell me his truck couldn’t fit in to the lot. Worse than that, there were customers in the store, and I was the only one on duty. I told him to wait for me across the street. As for the customers, I put on my best smile, and since it was past noon I offered to get them reservations at a nearby restaurant. I would finish building the toy they were working on, I said, and they could pick it up after lunch.

I couldn’t believe it but it worked. They left happily and I rushed to lock up the store behind them. As I raced up to the parking lot, to my poor disabled Tabi, it dawned on me…how was I going to get her down? The last time I turned the engine over I almost got carbon monoxide poisoning. But as Hunter Thompson once said, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

So I climbed into Tabi for one last ride. I stroked her dash, said a quick prayer, and turned the ignition. There was nothing but smoke. Thick, bilious clouds of angry ash, spewing upwards into an unsympathetic sky. There was nothing I could do but throw her into drive and turn up the radio. So I did. The song that came on—and I wish I couldn’t make this up if I wanted—was “Born to Be Wild.” If I had a pair of sunglasses I would have put them on. But there was no time.

By the time I got to the first security checkpoint my temperature gauge had stopped moving. The engine was so hot that the marker was several inches past red line. To make matters worse I put my parking pass against the sensor but the toll wouldn’t come up. I realized they must have voided my card since I left my car on the roof for over a week. I frantically dialed the parking office. On the other line was perhaps the worst parking attendant in the world. We’ll just call him Dick.

Dick picked up and asked me what the problem was. I told him my card wasn’t working and my car was about to explode. Then he asked me for my ID number. I said there wasn’t time for that. My car was smoking and the engine was melting itself. Then he asked me why I wasn’t getting it towed.

That’s when I started yelling at him to check the security camera to see I wasn’t kidding. When Dick actually did go look at the camera I thought I was going to lose it. When he was satisfied, he scolded me for a few seconds for leaving my car for a week, then made me assure him I was going to go into the parking office to get a new card. By the time he let me through my engine was starting to shake. I flew down all eight floors, smoke billowing out of my hood, Steppenwolf blaring out of my speakers. I had to hold my breath, not that I would have been able to breathe from all the stress.

When I got to the bottom, there was a red light, which I couldn’t see from all the smoke and I actually drove a few feet out into the intersection. Cars honked at me, people stared, and I had a couple heart attacks. When the light turned green, I bolted out of the garage, racing over to the tow truck driver waiting for me across the street. By the time I pulled the car up to him, Tabi was gone.

“Long day?” asked the tow truck driver.

“Yes,” I said. “But I’d do it again for this car. Take care of her.”

And then I said goodbye.


Alex Isao Herbach is a freelance writer and sales director for a Southern California toy store. He can be reached by e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



  1. Another Alex on

    If you get a new car, and it asks what happened to your old car, spare the details and just tell it that things went “downhill.”

    And put one vote for “Manfred” as your next car’s name.

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