Yesterday, I junked the two most expensive pieces of metal I ever bought — a 2001 Volvo S40, and a Macintosh G5 I purchased in 2005. Even though we got them new, both proved to be problematic from the get-go, especially the S40, which almost qualified to be returned under the state’s lemon law. The Mac died a couple of years ago and was being used as a stand for the computer that replaced it.
I won’t miss them, and, given the trouble they gave me over the years, I should have been happy to be free of both. Instead, I found myself wistful. I got the Mac when I quit the Herald-Sun and struck out as a full-time freelancer; it was The Big Purchase, the keystone of an exciting new venture. I had three big clients and work lined up for a year. Two days after I ordered it, Apple announced a whole new line of computers, but for those two days — and for the first and only time in my life — I possessed the cutting edge in technology.
Within a month, my primary client imploded, the result of an internal feud between partners. By spring it became clear a second client had promised more than they could deliver, and in short order I realized I could no longer work with the third. Luckily I landed at the Independent, but less than a year after it launched, my big adventure cratered.
As for the car, we got that when my wife was working in Raleigh and feared for her life every time she got on I-40. She wanted to feel safe commuting, so we got her a Volvo. Thanks to her new job we were actually in a position to afford it so … you probably know where this is going. Of course she got laid off a few months later. No problem, we thought, Volvos are still great cars and a great investment!
It seemed when Volvo was bought by Ford, they didn’t have a smooth integration: the 2000s and 2001s turned out to be the most unreliable cars they ever produced. When we’d bring it into the dealership for repairs you could see the guys’ shoulders sag from the parking lot. “What is it this time?” the mechanics would sigh. Usually it was the electrical system or the onboard computer. (I always wanted a car from the Year 2001: just my luck I got HAL.) They kept fixing it, nursing it along until they were clear of the cut-off date for the lemon law, at which point they washed their hands of us. Our S40 limped along for the next decade, literally falling apart around us — sometimes ON us, as when the sunroof fell in and hit me while I was driving — until it finally failed to pass inspection this year.
Again, I should have been happy when it was towed away.
Neither prospect ever delivered on their promise, but I couldn’t entirely write them off, disappointing though they were — I could still feel all that potential I felt when we bought these centerpiece items. If we had done things differently? — things still would have failed. Even with this knowledge, I could still see the plans we made, the goals we were hoping to reach. Failure somehow didn’t erase these when it took the rest.
Does that echo ever dissipate? I had a project once, a big one that took years to complete, and I needed a certain item from a certain store that happened to be on the way to a friend’s house in another state. Turns out they didn’t have it, and it forced me to find a different — and in the end, better — solution. Except…
That project has been done for over a decade now, but every time I drive down that highway I think, “don’t forget to stop and check.” Hell, not only is that store gone, the store that replaced it is gone, yet I can’t drive past it without thinking of getting off the exit and seeing if they have that part.
Unrealized potential, it seems, doesn’t have a half-life.