Dave's New Jeep

Mastering the “art of letting go” seems to be the persistent lesson that affects every corner of our lives.

That’s a general theme this year and as materialistic as it sounds, this lesson played out with my old Jeep Cherokee.

I’ll be the first to admit too that I simply get attached to things. Usually one thing – for a long time.

After 11 years and more than 260,000 miles, time caught up with my old 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport last month and as much as I much as I regret parting with my trusty green companion (and taking on a payment), the time had come to let something else go – but I’ve taken on a shiny new toy and yes…it smells new!

In 1999, I drove on to Jay Johnson’s auto lot in Bristol TN with a ’87 Saab 9000 that was billowing blue smoke. There was no hesitation trading this Swedish bucket for my first Jeep either – the most dependable auto thus far.

After all these years and my personal goal of keeping the old girl t0 300,000 miles, the symptoms were obvious. I had just come off the Virginia Creeper in early March – one of my first bike rides of the year and a knocking noise worried me.

When I made it to Grant Tire the next Monday, Steve, the mechanic lifted the hood, leaned in close and turned to stare at me over his glasses saying, “that doesn’t sound good.”

After 12 years of driving, loading the “gigmaker” for music performances and bike rides, landscaping jobs and other adventurous spills in snow and mud, the engine had a lower knock which seemed terminal.

The finality in his voice, convinced me the goal of 300k goal wasn’t going to happen this time. When I asked him how much longer, he said, “1,000 – 10,000 – it’s hard to tell.” Thus began the search for a new car.

His inability to offer an easy solution or a way to cheat entropy became fixed in my mind as I drove the old Cherokee through Kingsport with a clanking engine.

Over the past several years, there have been only two vehicles within my budget and of mild interest to me – specifically another Jeep or an Acura TL.

The TL is a sporty looking European sedan and from one perspective, it seemed like a nice evolution for my prep for middle life. A little elegance, a little pimp and style – but when it came down reality, my activities clearly made it easy to narrow down my choices.

Jeep has split their brand into a number of flavors now. The Cherokee seems to have moved up the luxury line and appeals to soccer moms and active families. There’s the Liberty, Patriot, Compass, Commander and the rough and ready Rubicon in the Jeep Lineup. I’d never thought about a Wrangler, but that was until I saw the Wrangler Unlimited.

Earlier in the year, Steve Marshall, bassist for These Undowners drove me to Knoxville for a wedding gig in his 2007 Wrangler Unlimited. I immediately fell in love with this Jeep and it’s road-warrior style – black pearl coat color and especially enjoyed how it handled. He easily packed a bass rig into the back of the vehicle along with my keyboards and we had a great experience that night.

I kid him that I became envious that weekend, but it wasn’t until I started to look that I realized this was the car I wanted too.

Thus began a comprehensive online journey to AutoTrader, TriCityWheels.com and regional auto websites. This was interesting in itself as each dealer had their own sales personna.

Clay Royston at Royston Jeep in Rogersville was the most personal dealership responding to me via his iPhone and entertaining several options. His dealership was the first place I test drove a used Wrangler and it was there my mind was made up – at least – what I was going to buy.

It was a sunny afternoon when I left Rogersville and the folks at Friendship in Bristol were helpful too, but not so saavy with technology. They were friendly and even though I’d spotted a rust colored Jeep and was sentimental about buying a Jeep from the same lot as the old Cherokee, I wasn’t persuaded.

After all, looking for a car is stressful. When I told the saleperson at Friendship I hadn’t experienced a car payment since 2004, his response was…”You ain’t American.”

Maybe so, but it was this added expense that added to the anxiety. There were plenty of choices and places to buy. I lingered for a couple of more weeks as the old Cherokee was gasping its last breath.

Finally, my colleague George Coleman suggested a bit of advice. He said, “just do one thing – get what you want.”

That statement echoed all week long too. After all, I’ve been working for more than 30 years. Life is short and I had to ask myself what I was saving/waiting for?

Steve Marshall called me on a Friday night, March 4th. He was on his way to perform with Wise Old River and he had to tell me that there was a auto carrier parked on the Bristol Highway outside Carl Gregory Jeep Dodge. He asked, “I wanted to know if your new Jeep was on this truck?”

The next day, I drove to Johnson City out of curiosity. It was a cloudy day and although there weren’t that many Jeeps on the lot that day, their sales team was hungry. I shared my story, told them about my options, my proposal and thus began the struggle/negotiation.

I’ll admit these guys were probably the most aggressive sales staff in the Tri-Cities, but they must have smelled my frustration. The old Jeep was loud, my words were settled and I was ready to get on with it.

Although they didn’t have a Jeep on the lot, I asked about the truck Steve called me about the night before. According to their sales manager, they did have a shipment, but they hadn’t processed the new arrivals. We walked to the service center and there it was – a 2011 Jeep Wrangler Sahara edition. Black pearl coat, the perfect wheel package and a black/tan (ala Ellington) interior. As cheeky as it sounds – love at first site.

Coleman’s “get what you want,” Steve Marshall’s coolness with his own Jeep and my own appetite for something nice was the perfect trifecta of responsibility. Besides, I fell in love – once again. After a short test drive, it was hard to leave without it.

Thus begins another era of Jeep ownership. Over the past few weeks, the shiny new SUV still makes me feel good and as the weather warms, I especially love removing the top and driving down the road with the radio loud – blasting my new Sirrius Alt-Nation channel.

It feels good to be back in a Jeep and the Summer looks better than ever!

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