(A note from Amanda: My dad, Steve, was inspired to write a few words on one of his favorite pastimes, and then I was inspired to force him to let me publish it here. For the rest of you, you don’t actually need to be related to me to share a story with the readers of North Dakota Nice. You just need to contact me by clicking here.)
I’m one of those people that watches automobile odometers. Yep. One of…those people. Sure, there are bird watchers, armed with super-duper binoculars and expensive scopes with cameras built right in them, birder books in their backpacks, trooping through field and forest looking for that one bird. There are also people watchers. You know the ones: They go to the mall or to Vegas, not so much for the shopping or the gambling, but to sit in front of the M&M’s Store or in the lobby of the Bellagio and just watch the people go by. Turning their heads from side to side. Watching. All. Those. People.
If you’re an odometer watcher, you don’t have to go anywhere like a bird watcher does. You just sit in your car. You don’t have to go to the mall or to Vegas, for that matter, and turn your head back and forth. You just get in your vehicle and look straight ahead and slightly down. I am acutely aware of my automobile’s odometer every single solitary second I’m driving. I’m not kidding. My goal: be present, paying attention, taking note, and commenting when the odometer reaches a milestone.
These moments can be little moments. Like when your odometer goes from 9299.9 to 9300.0. It can also be big moments. I was traveling Highway 75 near Halstad, Minnesota, when I stopped twice to take a picture of my odometer. I pulled onto the shoulder the first time when my odometer hit 99,999. I took a picture of my odometer. Then I crawled down the road with grain trucks whizzing by and honking until it flipped to 100,000. I stopped and took another picture. Twice, in two different vehicles I owned, I’ve stopped to take a picture of my odometer at precisely 111,111. Other notable moments include 012345, 123456, 151515, and 33333. I could list more but you might think I was a little eccentric. When I posted one of those photos to social media I mostly got a bunch of derisive comments like, “Who does that?” Sheepishly, one of my contacts wrote, “Ya, I do that too. My family thinks I’m nuts.”
The genesis of odometer watching goes back well before digital instrument panels. In the good old days of V-8 engines and Ethyl gasoline, odometers were mechanical. They rolled from one number to the next. With a sense of anticipation, we would watch the odometer slowly roll from .9 to .0. When it was partially there, the numbers next to it, nines or whatever, would also start to roll. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen 09999.9 roll to 10000.0. Six columns all moving at once! A moment later (or moments later depending on how fast you were driving), the number would slowly advance from 0 to 1. Life just became so ordinary after that.
Besides that guy whose family thinks he’s nuts, many others have been known to odometer watch. When she was a teenager, a friend of mine and her brother, along with some friends, drove their 1967 Chevy Nova around town for over two hours until the odometer slowly rolled over to 100,000.
In those days, a lot of odometers didn’t go past 99,999. After all, cars were ready to be traded in or sent to the junk yard by the time they hit 50,000 miles. What happened when one of those cars went over 99,999 miles? It started over at zero, of course! I remember being in a New York cab once. Naturally, I checked the odometer when I got in the back seat. It read 346 miles. “So,” I asked the cabby, “Did your cab just turn over 100,000 miles?” “No!” he replied. It just turned over 300,000 miles!”
Today, one of the worst things happened to me that can ever happen to a dedicated odometer watcher. I got in my car and noticed the odometer sitting at 12999.7. That was going to be an easy one. Drive just 2 blocks and I’ll be the sole witness to 13000.0! Ten minutes later, my eyes dropped to the odometer: 13004.0! No-o-o-o! I missed it! Shrugging my shoulders, I thought: well there’s always 13499.9. If I miss that, I can wait for 13,999.9, or…