I love to write short stories that offer inspiration to those who read them. I have decided to capture these stories, like My Saab Story, in a book that I hope to publish in 2017 (or maybe 2018). Every few months, I send out another chapter that I am considering for the book so that I can get some feedback. Please note each story is only the introduction to the chapter, not the entire chapter. I value your comments, thoughts, and observations- so please send them to me!
On May 14, 1983 I bought a red Saab 900S Turbo. 370,000 miles and 33 years later, I still drive it to work every day. When I wash it, it almost looks brand new, and each year around its birthday I get the Saab detailed. When it is clean and shiny it always seems to drive a little faster and the engine seems to purr more than rattle. Driving around, I receive the occasional honks and thumbs ups from people who probably still wish they had their old Saabs. My car has survived fender benders, break-ins, and trunks full of Little League baseball equipment or home improvement materials. As much as friends might have expected me to get a new car years ago, I just can’t pull the trigger. God willing, I think the Saab is here to stay.
I’m 62, and I must admit it seems a little strange to drive the same car I bought when I was 28. But why not? It works, looks good, is very safe, and still gets 25 miles to the gallon. I can afford a new car, so it is not about saving money. It’s actually probably more expensive to keep it running seeing as how parts are tricky to find and there aren’t many Saab mechanics around anymore.
Why do I do it? I think the message is quite simple: if you buy something of quality and take care of it, it will last a long time. Rather than getting rid of it if something breaks or isn’t working properly, my first instinct is to try and fix it. I believe with a little bit of determination you can mend most anything and take pride in having fixed something that was broken. 370,000 miles is a lot to most people, but the Saab seems almost new to me. I hope to see the odometer cross 400,000 miles in a few years.
There’s no chance my Saab would still be functioning if I hadn’t changed the oil often. My grandfather told my dad and my dad told me to change the oil every 3000 miles, so I do. Taking the extra effort to monitor my mileage and oil levels is a simple task in practice, and it proves to be beneficial for my car. Changing the oil reflects a routine maintenance and attention to detail; my Saab is not the only thing that deserves this care.
I’ve applied the same principle in other aspects of my life. Whether it is possessions or relationships, you can make them long term with some TLC. I have been on 56 backpacking trips over the last 45 years. The trip that began it all was with a group of friends from first grade. The tradition continues with those same old friends, my brother, my son, and his friends. Each year it gets a little harder to hike some 50 miles and even harder to coordinate scheduling around everyone’s busy lives, but I care about these trips, so I put in the effort to maintain them. I have some equipment that has been on all 56 trips. My favorite piece is a lightweight folding steel frying pan that my sister-in-law’s father gave me over 4 decades ago. He had it for over 30 years before that. With a little math we can figure out that the frying pan is 75 years old yet works like I could have bought it yesterday. Why would I ever get a new one?
The loyalty stretches to other areas of my life such as the fact that my children are 5th generation San Francisco babies. Our family has stuck together for decades, and by some luck and good fortune my siblings, parents, and I, all live within a few miles of each other; the furthest two are only a mere 15 minutes away. This helps keep family dinners and holiday attendance high.
Beyond my personal life, in my professional career I’ve had client relationships and friendships that have spanned 30 to 40 years. This is a proud accomplishment, but without constant effort and care, they wouldn’t exist. The loyalty and trust that these relationships require is not easy, but it is worth it. Keeping in touch could be a phone call, email, holiday card with a written note, or even a text. It’s about being there when people need it or making an effort to remain in each others’ lives. Starting a new company a few years back would have been impossible had it not been for many long term clients who agreed to take a risk and join our new venture. With this support we have grown our small firm from 7 to over 40 employees in less than 4 years.
So what is the overall message? Why am I telling you a story about a car that is over 30 years old? The point is about making an effort with the things you value. It is about your legacy, what you choose to cherish, and what you’ll leave behind. Taking the time to understand what in your life you have put in the effort to maintain, to grow and to develop is a great indicator of your values. When people are at your funeral, hopefully they won’t be talking about how hard you worked, but rather how full your life was and how much you impacted the lives of others.
With Labor Day approaching, it’s a time of change- the traditional end of summer, kids going back to school and the long road to the Holiday Season are all upon us. This gives us a chance for reflection. Whether you are looking back at the past couple months, the year, a decade or 6-7 decades, Labor Day offers a momentary pause to observe and to ponder what has remained an important part of your life, what you have put effort into, and what deserves more of your time.
Contrary to this title’s sad connotation held within a pun, my “Saab story” has brought out values such as loyalty and commitment rather than tears. I hope to inspire you to have a reflective conversation with yourself, friends, family, or all of the above.
Have a wonderful long weekend. A quote I have in my office from Ralph Waldo Emerson is a good way to end:
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
For more stories like this one, check out my book, The Toughest Guy I Ever Knew and Other Short Stories.