Jack stares at a stud welder as the machine beeps and lays a piece of metal onto a tray. He’s done this for 30 years. Mick, a co-worker, comes from behind and takes the metal off the tray and onto a cart. Jack watches him then take the cart to another machine, lay the part on a tray, and press a black button on a metal box that hangs on a pole. The machine spits out sparks. The metal becomes one with the frame of the automobile it’s being welded to.
Jack started working at the Jeep plant when got of the military thirty years ago. He had no skills and the job paid well. He’s never missed a day and even goes to the union meetings. The union members call each other brothers and sisters.
Every day Jack leaves work and drives by the parking lot outside the plant where the cars he helped build are stored. He dreams one day about getting his own new car from that lot but refuses to give up his old Jeep, a Wrangler, which has 220,000 miles on it. The girl’s been by his side for 20 years. She squeals when she starts and has a leaking gas tank, but she still runs
But then a few days later the transmission goes. Jack calls the mechanical for quote. It’ll cost two grand to replace. His wife tells him no. He goes out to the garage and rubs his hand along the Wrangler and kisses her hood. He says goodbye.
Jack visits the local Jeep dealership and explains his situation. The salesman stares at the old horse, which is faded red and covered with rust spots.
“Well, Jack, she must have been a fine one in her days,” the salesman says. “I’ll give you $500 for the trade-in.”
“What’ll happen to her?” Jack asks.
“Oh, the usual. She’ll be sold to the junkyard, picked for parts, and melted down.”
“There ain’t no tombstones for the old ones, are there?”
The salesman flashes a smile. “No one will know she ever existed, but she’ll live on through
other cars. There’s a certain poetry in that.”
Jack nods. “Can I keep her name?”
“Don’t see why not.”
A mechanic pops the logo off the hood with a screwdriver. Jack signs a contract and drives his new Jeep Cherokee home, the name of his old girl sitting in the glove department box. Later that night he nails it to the wall in his garage.
The next day at work Jack loads the metal on a tray that feed the rivet welder. A robotic arm swings around and lifts the metal off the tray and holds it in place as the welder sends sparks flying across the factory floor. The arm places the welded metal on a different tray, where it waits to be transported by a worker and fed to a different welder. Jack does this for ten hours.
That night, Jack drives past the new car parking lot as usual, and in his rear-view mirror sees a rusted Wrangler leave the factory and park among the new cars waiting to be sold. “Must be a ghost,” he whispers to himself. He doesn’t realize in that moment that he has swerved into the wrong lane, and drives headfirst into the front of a moving semi-truck. His last image is that of the rusted Wrangler.
Jack’s doesn’t die from this tho. He ends up in a hospital bed, frozen in place from the confines of bandages and casts, a busted leg and a few cracked ribs. He slowly declines after this, never quite recovering from the malaise. First it’s his vision, then his voice, taken from too many years of smoking. His wife get goes down as well, old age and dementia, and is placed in a nursing home. Their house is sold and the logo is taken down from garage wall. He’s kept alive on an oxygen tank and eventually a feeding tube. When Jack dies his body is donated to the university, like his will states. His corpse is dissected for an anatomy class, his skeleton scanned and entered into an anatomy software. His family tells everyone his body will go on in the minds of younger folks.