Lazarus Rises Again
November 20, 2020
This is the story of Lazarus, a vehicle that has risen from the dead more times than its Biblical namesake and which continues to reside proudly in our driveway – 22 years and many adventures after its birth on the auto assembly line.
(Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending.)
Lazarus, a.k.a. my husband’s fire-engine-red Jeep Cherokee Sport, first came into our lives during the summer of 1998 when Ted’s ancient Volvo wagon finally gave up the ghost. A bit of research and a trip to the local Chrysler dealership sealed the deal: a shiny new Jeep would be joining the family. (I also joined the Wachter family earlier that summer when Ted and I finally got married after a five-year courtship. Both of his “acquisitions” from that summer, Ted likes to joke, have aged well and are better than ever!)
Lazarus took its first road trip that autumn when it carried us to Washington, D.C., where Ted’s younger son was beginning his freshman year at Georgetown University. The car was filled to bursting with three humans and Patrick’s belongings, but Lazarus energetically got us there and back in a breeze.
For the next 12 years, until Ted retired in 2010 from his position as principal of Rosewood Elementary School in Columbia, his faithful Jeep took him to school each morning and back home each evening. Ted’s dependable chariot squired him enthusiastically to the pub, to visit friends, to the supermarket, to the movies. Lazarus also took us on several more road trips until I bought a new car in 2015 and my Honda CRV became our vehicle of choice for longer jaunts.
Lazarus soldiered on, aging but unbowed.
About five years ago, Lazarus got a total make-over – new Bluetooth radio, new tires, new inside ceiling fabric. A year later, Lazarus was fitted with hand controls; because of a progressive neuro-muscular disease, Ted needed hand controls to drive. Lazarus rose to the occasion (the car was also lifted a couple of inches to make it easier for Ted to enter and exit) and continued to chauffeur Ted around town.
Then, tragedy struck. Lazarus’s engine died, and our usual mechanics were stumped. For two or three months, Lazarus sat in our driveway, silent and forlorn. Difficult discussions took place: Should Lazarus be sold for parts? Had the time finally come to move on and visit some automobile showrooms?
Just in time, however, and miracle of miracles, someone recommended that we take Lazarus to the crackerjack mechanics at Mooneyhan’s Auto Service in West Columbia. Two days later – hallelujah! – Lazarus sprang back to life and jauntily returned to its usual spot in our driveway.
All went well until last month, when a trip to Trader Joe’s turned into a scary affair. Without warning and while cruising along at about 35 miles-per-hour, Lazarus’s hood suddenly shot up and butted against the windshield, totally blocking our view. Cautiously, Lazarus eased into the right-hand lane and then into a stranger’s driveway, where we stopped hyperventilating long enough to figure out how to tie the hood down so that Lazarus could limp home safely.
Our insurance company recommended taking Lazarus to Gerber Collision and Glass, a local body shop, where the manager methodically searched their cross-country data base for another hood to replace the damaged one. A replacement hood soon arrived but with rusty hinges, alas. A second hood did the trick, though, and Gerber’s master painter orchestrated an almost-perfect color match.
Triumphantly, Lazarus returned home, where it continues to be a trusty companion to Ted, whisking him wherever he wants to go—in style. And here is the kicker: we’re told that the 1998 Jeep Cherokee, a model introduced in 1984 and discontinued in 2001, is now considered a classic. If you can find one, this model today sells for approximately what Ted paid for it new, more than two decades ago.
Lazarus is now a collectible. I told you this story had a happy ending.
Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).