By Frank/Michael McCormack
The first time I laid eyes on the Jeep was 18 years ago. I was in the 6th grade. When I went to school that day, my mom was driving a baby blue 1980s Toyota Cressida. And when I got off the bus that afternoon, she was in a brand new hunter green Jeep Cherokee Sport.
It was 1994. I was 12.
I don’t remember much out of the ordinary about the Jeep between 1994 and 1997, when I got my license. We usually went on trips in my dad’s truck, so we didn’t pile the miles on the Jeep those first few years.
When I took over, things changed.
My first solo ride after turning 16 was to Dreamland Barbecue (the original location) with a friend. Dessert was milkshakes at the hospital snack shop (yes, they’re that good). I parked in a daytime only parking lot and had to hop the curb and drive around the gate.
Later, the ole Jeep became the vehicle of mischief for me and my friends. There were pranks (not mentionable in the public domain), explorations and sneakages. One of our favorite pastimes was looking for puddles after big rain storms. The loading dock at Eastwood Middle School (now American Christian Academy) always made for good puddle splashing.
We also discovered the Jeep was perfect for scattering grass and leaf piles at high speeds.
During my high school years, the Jeep’s crowning achievement was the day it flew. I was riding with my friend Blake. On our way to my house, we turned off Loop Road onto Fairmont Drive, which leads to 15th Street. Fairmont Drive goes down a pretty steep hill. At the bottom, 17th Street crosses Fairmont, which makes for a nice “ramp” if you’re traveling down Fairmont.
As you might guess, Blake yelled “floor it, Frank” as we started our descent, and I did. By the time we hit the ramp we were going 50 or 60. Then, there was silence.
We were in the air long enough for me to put both hands on the wheel, look over at Blake and say “oh no,” and turn back to the road. Blake laughed uncontrollably all the way home. I was worried that I’d broken the Jeep. For weeks, I imagined that it was listing to one side or the other.
The Jeep had its share of road trips. There was the Cocoa Beach trip after high school graduation. Some friends went to the Keys one spring break in college. My friend Drew and I went to Nashville to audition to be in the “Centrifuge” band one weekend. There was a New Orleans trip after Hurricane Katrina.
The greatest road trip was my honeymoon in June/July 2004 to Virginia, D.C. and later to the Smoky Mountains. The Jeep will always be remembered as the getaway car after our wedding. One window read “Just McMarried” and another “the New McCormack.”
It turned over 100,000 on our way back.
Since 2006, the Jeep had been our main ride to Saints games during football season. When I was reporting for The Plaquemines Gazette and St. Bernard Voice, the Jeep went countless times “down the road” to Venice, La., during the BP Oil Spill. One time in Venice, with the wind out of the south, water was washing over the appropriately named “Tidewater Road” and, as a tribute to the Oregon Trail, I forded the stream. My friend Nemo and I explored most of St. Bernard Parish in the Jeep. He’d always say afterward, “Frank, I feel like I’ve been beat to death!”
The Jeep spent the night on Canal Street once when the battery went dead. It slept over on Iberville at Galvez once when the water pump died.
As of May 3, I’d made it to 161,000 miles and change in the ole Jeep. My last ride in the Jeep that day was as a passenger. I’d met its new owner at the bank and he gave me a ride home. I’d spent 18 years of my life with the Jeep.
To say I’d lived a lot of life in the ole Jeep is an understatement. I first saw Jennifer in the Jeep. Our first date was in the Jeep. In prior years, the Jeep was a primary mode of transportation for my circle of friends. It ran laps around Samford. It transported “acquired” goods like an abandoned Samford hurdle, a grocery cart and a “Caution Manatee Area” sign.
In later years, the Jeep didn’t look as pretty. The headliner drooped, the paint was faded. It still had a dent in the hood where a hoodlum threw a brick at it. But still, May 3 and every day prior, all the way back to 1994, the Jeep was always good to me. Regardless of its looks, it was still my dear ole Jeep and it will be missed. The Jeep wasn’t a classic by any standards, but it will always be my first ride.
But in a way, it was nice to see it go. First off, my new ride is a million times better. Also, seeing the ole Jeep go reminded me that “things” like the Jeep are just temporary. The Jeep took me many places, but where I went and who I went with is what matters to me.
And I’ve got a lot more places on the to-go list.