My Jeep

In March of 2009 I was driving my 2001 Jeep Cherokee on the Beltway and hit a patch of black ice. I lost complete control of the vehicle, slid across two lanes and hit a concrete divider head-on going 60 miles per hour. I then bounced back onto the freeway in the path of oncoming traffic. Somehow, the speeding cars managed to avoid me. I was dazed; the explosion of rocket-fueled air bags in my face, the shock of extreme collision, and the uncertainly of the nature of my injuries momentarily froze me. Two young Israeli guys stopped on the shoulder, helped me out of my car, put me in theirs, gave me water, and called an ambulance. I didn't even get their names. I had cuts on my face and a minor knee injury, but it could have been much, much worse. As for the Jeep, it was gone. The front axle was broken. That and the airbag deployment made it an automatic total (see the photo below). My religious use of seatbelts and those airbags definitely kept me from serious harm. Maybe those factors, and the fact that this particular year and model Jeep is a beast, saved my life.

Today, I am driving my second Jeep Cherokee, a black-over gray 2000. This is the boxy model still frequently seen on the streets, though it has been over eight years since it has been produced. It houses the legendary inline 6 engine (the I-6) which, along with Mopars of a certain vintage, is one of the most dependable workhorses ever made. I still have my Mustang Bullitt, and I love it, but this Cherokee is my daily driver. The back seat folds down, giving me enough room to put my bike inside, and I can tie my kayak to the roof rails and take it out to the Patuxant River, the upper Potomac, or east to the Chesapeake Bay. When you pop the hood there is room to work. The part-time four wheel drive is for real; this winter we got over 60 inches of snow in these parts, and I was passing expensive imported SUVs that were struggling and fishtailing on hills. Change the oil every 5,000 miles, replace brake pads and rubber, and you're good to go. I've got 100,000 miles on my Jeep Cherokee, and I can reasonably expect to get 50 to 100 more. With its cult following, you've got to wonder why Jeep stopped making it. I'm glad to have mine.

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George Pelecanos