“You’re 5,000 miles overdue,” he said reproachfully, “CherryBaby needed her tires rotated at 15,000.”

I puzzled over that one, since CherryBaby rotates her tires madly every time we hit the road. The ins and outs of automotive maintenance aren’t really my thing–when your dad regards tinkering with cars the way everyone else regards fine Belgian chocolate, there’s not much need. But the service dude seemed to think this was a terrible faux pas, so I apologized

“I’m sorry,” I said humbly (I’m not very good at humble), “But the last time I was here you guys said I should only come in every 10,000 miles, even when the little dashboard light says MAINTENANCE.”

Service Dude shook his head, “No, we meant you only needed oil changes every 10,000 miles. Poor little CherryBaby needs her tires rotated, her brakes checked and all that stuff every FIVE thousand miles.”

Well. I gave him 10 points for saying “CherryBaby” twice with a straight face…minus 6 points for the “poor little.” Obviously, somewhere along the line I let slip “CherryBaby-the-car,” instead of “Toyota Camry” in our conversation. Either that, or my penchant for naming cars is part of my permanent record at Toyota. Or maybe service dudes read blogs.

But yeah. My cars have names, and it’s been that way as far back as I can remember.

We didn’t have much money when I was a kid–Dad was still in training–and all five of us lived on Mom’s salary as an elementary school teacher. To save money, Dad would pick up old, broken-down cars for a song, fix them up and drive them for awhile, then sell them at a small profit.

And THOSE cars had names. My favorite was an old Buick named John.

I don’t remember much about John except that he was black and probably hailed from the late 40s or early 50s. He had a musty smell like my grandma’s basement and on cold, frost-bitten mornings my little sister was the only one who could make him go.

She and Dad rode in together–he’d drop her off on the way to the hospital. On weekdays he’d carefully strap her into the passenger’s seat, climb in himself, then wait for her to warble, “Let’s go, John!” John would obligingly rumble to life.

Dad insisted that whenever Becky wasn’t in the car, John took forever to start. Sometimes Dad even had to get out the jumper cables. He demonstrated–John’s engine steadfastly refused to turn over until Becky said the magic words.

Ever after, I was convinced that cars were actually humans with very hard skins. And wheels.

It sorta snowballed from there. I now live with Darius the Nikon, iMelda the iMac, Sheila the Windows machine, Ollie and Skooby and Jennie the kilns, Izzy the iPad, Sherry the iPhone, Vlad the bench grinder, etc., etc.

“How do you keep them all straight?” my neighbor Jan asked once, wonderingly, as she tapped on iMelda’s keyboard.

“Same way I remember YOUR name,” I said jokingly, and now Jan stands out on the front porch, warily, when she visits.

I’d like to think we kept John rather longer than most of those cars, but once they were running reliably they lost their appeal for Dad. A month or two of trouble-free driving and he’d be out at used car lots, seeking the next deal.

I don’t think he ever figured out the Becky/John relationship, though. It was probably something prosaic, like the one I read about a woman who insisted her car hated pistachio ice cream. If she bought chocolate ice cream, she told mechanics, it ran without a hitch. But anytime she showed up with pistachio, it broke down.

They thought she was crazy until one finally went to the ice cream store with her, and discovered that she was absolutely correct: If she bought pistachio, the car died. Chocolate? No problem.

Turned out that the lady would leave the engine running when she ran in for ice cream, and it had an idling problem that only showed up when the car had been sitting still for more than five minutes or so.

Chocolate was a popular flavor, so the ice cream store pre-packed it. It only took the lady five minutes to get to back to the car with her purchase. Pistachio, on the other hand, had to be hand-packed, which took about 15 minutes. Voila.

Probably the thing with starting the Buick was similar.

Or maybe John just liked to be asked.