I was at the back of the queue outside the car wash, stationary, impatiently waiting my turn, when I heard the horrible sound of shattering plastic and metal crushing metal—and realized that a passing garbage truck had just plowed into the rear end of my 1997 Jaguar XJ6.
This was my father Mordecai’s last car. He drove it for four years, and then when he died in 2001, I took it over. I maintained it impeccably and it was mint. I mean that it was mint, and then all of a sudden it very much wasn’t.
“You, you speak Portuguese?” asked the truck driver, after clambering down from his battering ram, cellphone clapped to one ear.
About as well as you drive, I thought to myself.
He had not been travelling very fast when he struck the glancing blow, but the monstrous mass of his truck had nonetheless unleashed some wrathful laws of physics. A cursory inspection of my car showed a kink in the roof, and that the gaps around its doors had been compressed on one side and widened on the other. The frame was bent and the car was all but certainly toast.
“Sorry,” the truck driver said, and went on his way.
I reported the accident to my insurer and then drove the Jag over to my local garage, where the adjuster would come by to assess it. And with that in mind, I thought to take a few things with me. Like my father’s old hip flask, which I kept in the glove compartment, half full of Macallan 18-year-old single malt—designated exclusively for sprinkling on his gravesite whenever I visited. Insurance adjusters never understand such things.
My father bought the Jag early in the summer of 1997. Actually, in my capacity as his automotive adviser, I negotiated the purchase for him. When I did so for his previous car, a Saab, he had managed a morning visit to the Montreal showroom—but only to inform the salesman that the deal was off if the new car and any papers that required signing were not delivered to him at Grumpy’s on Bishop Street in time for the conclusion of happy hour.
This time we went one better. My father was in Toronto on business, staying at the Four Seasons. I dropped by his suite for drinks, informed him that his colour scheme should be British racing green with a tan interior, and then picked up the phone and ordered one up from Decarie Motors in Montreal as if from room service. All they had to do was deliver the car to his downtown apartment in time for my father’s return in two days, so that he and my mother could leave straight for the cottage on Lake Memphremagog.
All went according to plan—which is to say that he never had to be bothered with knowing where the dealership was, and he really enjoyed the car. The 1997 XJ6 was the last of the big Jaguar sedans to be designed with an aesthetic uncompromised by pedestrian concerns like legroom and cargo space—and consequently, it was a lithe beauty. He liked that. He also got a kick out of the bleeping noises the car made when he pressed buttons on its remote key fob (his first). After his noisy Saab, Volvo and Peugeots he savoured the near-silence of the Jag’s smooth, insulating ride.
A little too much, maybe. Once, after a busy day in Montreal, my father was driving alone on the Eastern Townships autoroute to the cottage, enjoying a cigar and lost in deep thought—or, just possibly, singing along to H.M.S. Pinafore—when he suddenly noticed a Sûreté du Québec cruiser shadowing him in the lane alongside, lights blazing. He pulled over on the shoulder.
“You know why I stopped you?” the cop asked.
Naturally my father had a pretty good idea that it had something to do with happy hour at Winnie’s Bar, on Crescent Street—but not the type to self-incriminate, he said nothing.
“You have a flat tire,” the cop said.
“Of course,” my father replied. “I was just about to pull over!”
Last week the insurance inspector came back with his predicted analysis: the car is a goner. But its ignominious end is not absolutely terminal: it will be auctioned for salvage, and raided for parts for old Jags in need. Donor organs—with pedigree.