Most car fanatics would know better than to honor their ‘99 Honda Civic, ‘92 Chevrolet Impala, or ‘95 Ford Explorer.
But today, I’m pouring one out to my little red 2002 Dodge Stratus R/T coupe.
Originally made to be a sports car for people who couldn’t afford a sports car, I’m proud to say it goes from 0 to 60 in about 11.9 seconds. With 200 horsepower hiding somewhere in its V-6 engine, a driver’s side window that no longer rolls down, and an air conditioner that leaks when it manages to run, its most impressive feature is probably the hood ornament – wherever it is.
The real story, though, isn’t what’s beneath the hood.
This car used to belong to my ex boyfriend, the same one who I first moved to South Florida with. He used to show up in that car to pick me up, back when it was in much better shape, and I’d feel like royalty as I climbed into the passenger seat.
I remember us hooking up this little red car behind the U-Haul, both of us checking the rear view mirror constantly to make sure it didn’t drift away as we headed to the Sunshine State. To my great joy, he bought a new car after we moved – and I was given the keys to the Stratus so I could drive myself to class every day.
Back then I was in a straight relationship.
Once I realized I was trans, things got strange. The Stratus became my refuge, where I would change into men’s clothing before class and change back out before I drove home.
It was also the car I began to pack my things into when my boyfriend realized “this trans thing” wasn’t going to go away.
Hey, I got a great deal. As a last way of showing he cared, he sold me the title for only $300. If he hadn’t, I’m not entirely sure what I would have done.
After moving out, it took awhile to get back onto my feet. I ended up moving around a lot, and my little red Stratus became the only consistent in my life (when it wasn’t broken down on the side of the road). It became my quiet space, my shuttle to every new sofa, my chariot on the long road towards stability.
It was the car I got pulled over in for doing 78 mph in a 45 zone, feeling a little too confident after getting my second ever shot of testosterone. It’s also the car I still drive every day to my job in Wilton Manors, a place where so many other cars have ended up after a road that was much too long.
I would never recommend this car to anyone, and yet I don’t know what I would have done without it.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what makes the best car, though?
It’s not the McLaren GT where the real memories are. Lamborghinis and Ferraris make great toys, but the rust buckets (with an oil leak and seat adjusters that stopped working in 2017) that carry us to a brighter future are the cars we never forget.
So here’s to you, 2002 Dodge Stratus R/T. You’re a piece of shit, but thank you for carrying me into the next chapter of life.
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