COAL: 2004 Honda Element EX – Through Thick and Thin

Corporate life was over. After about twenty years with the same family-owned commercial printing firm, a resignation was submitted. We had been bought out, the shop closed, and friends-associates, except the president and I, sadly gone. Huge change, no longer fun. The new parent company was located about two hours away. Understandably, long-time clients didn’t take kindly to their orders being manufactured by strangers in an unseen, distant factory. Attempting to adjust to this new normal, bam: another buyout, now by a larger corporation, in a city several hours away.

Out-of-town trips for boring boardroom meetings and press checks got old fast. More bad news for our customers, turnaround times increased, levels of service decreased. The phones stopped ringing, incoming orders dwindled to a mere trickle. Something had to give. At 49 years old, was it too late to start over? Saying farewell to my boss, a most trusted and valued friend, I felt like a deserter. Never one to let emotions stray, seeing Bruce’s eyes well-up as we said goodbye brought realism and finality to the departure. No more Friday afternoon Tequila shooters. No more lunchtime Frisbee in the parking lot. No playing hooky together to attend one or another car-related event. Farewell my friend, good bye forever to a most productive and gratifying phase of my life, on which I’ll always look back with fondness and gratitude.

After arriving home, the shock set in; it became clear that everything with my career had changed; I had none. No more income; no coat and tie; no leisurely lunch with a client in a nice restaurant… the plush car had to go. Thinking about purchasing a mountain bike, I had previously looked at the Honda Element as a possible next vehicle, but the seat didn’t feel right, not because it was neither power, heated nor leather; the car was just so different than to what I had grown accustomed. Could it work?

I returned to give the Element another look. I had first seen one years ago on the highway while traveling, and thought What was Honda thinking, a unique looking package, with the industrial fenders & and roof panels. It seemed like if an acquisition was going to be made, it needed to happen now, before credit checks revealed my new financial status. After getting a guided tour and taking a test drive that evening, I asked Melanie, the saleswoman, to leave me alone for a little while with the Shoreline Mist candidate.

Yes, I could stand under the opened back hatch without hitting my head; yes I could reach over the top while standing on the door sill to wash and dry the roof. Yes, a new bike would easily fit inside, wheels on, standing up, tailgate closed. No, it wasn’t a Transporter or other Volkswagen, but, the time had come so paperwork was signed. Melanie did shuttle duty in her Pilot so both old and new cars ended up in the garage that night. Done; now what? 

Mom and Dad, 30 minutes away, were showing signs of aging. I had begun to accompany them on doctors’ appointments. While still working long hours, Tuesday evenings and Saturdays were spent with them at their home, learning their routines, assisting with meal prep, errands & chores, attempting to gain their trust with the goal of being in the position to help make decisions about their care before options disappeared. Now, I could spend all day Tuesdays with them as well. Dad had suffered a stroke, yet Mom proudly wanted to independently continue to do everything. Dad needed help navigating the house and assistance with everyday necessities. Then came his fall. Although no new major damage occurred, his needs increased as mobility decreased.

I had been spending the rest of my time continuing work around my then three-year old home. The Element would be regularly called into duty to haul rocks, mulch, trees, shrubs, lumber, concrete mix and anything and everything needed. The mountain bike had given way to a rescue dog, Amazing Grace, who upon first ride, staked her claim to the entire rear seat compartment. Every day, she waited patiently for me to finish work around either or both homes so we could head to the beach, a welcome ritual for both. On many trips, there was just barely enough time to hike down to the water for only a moment, yet Grace never seemed to complain. We may all learn acceptance and how to derive more joy from life through our dogs.

I was also writing and producing a design publication, assembling a large body of my fine art for marketing, and was preparing mentally for offering architectural design consultation. Would anything stick; would income be generated? The Design Guide was ready for advertising sales and printing. The paintings were finished and framed. I was ready to pursue my passion for great architectural design. Then, the telephone call was made.

Barely able to walk and stand, and no longer able to do anything else on his own, Dad had become such a burden to Mom that stress caused her esophagus to swell, preventing her from eating. Always robust, healthy and steaming full-speed-ahead, these were completely different parents. They were in bed dying. I packed a couple of suitcases; also into the Element went Grace, her bed and kibble, along with a my basics.

Little did I know that Mom’s and Dad’s care needs would run the duration of a decade. I have no regrets, and give thanks everyday that they never suffered, had absolutely everything they needed and desired, were empowered to remain at home until the ends of their lives, safe, secure, living with dignity, where each passed in their bed, asleep. They had always been here for all of us; mission accomplished. A job very well done, with lots of help. A privilege. 

Grand Canyon


A lot of down time while there, the 40-year old home looked like it was in pretty good shape, but since my parents’ declining health meant deferred maintenance, lots of things needed attention. Dad passed in 2009, Grace left a few years later, Mom in 2017. By this time, my previous residence had been sold, and the Element was an invaluable tool for home projects at Mom’s and Dad’s, now my place of residence, for the time being.

Depression hit hard; getting out of bed seemed impossible. Not because of their deaths, as each had enjoyed a long, productive life, and their times had clearly come. Not knowing where I would land, who my new identity would be, what I would do to earn a living, now in my 50’s, having been out of the job market, away from technical skill updates and having lost business contacts, the added responsibility of now clearing out the family home and getting it sold all seemed like too much to process. Yet, now enabled to escape the house after having been limited for three hours at a time for ten years, cross-country travels to see friends, family and spectacular scenery were surely good for the soul.

Not quite a Lincoln Continental, the center-opening doors (and no B pillar) allow for easy cargo loading from both sides. Shorter than a Honda Civic of the same era, 8′ board lumber fits inside with the hatch closed. Loading the Element looks like a cartoon with an unending procession of cargo (that is actually going out the other door); it’s capacity has never let me down.


Forward movement was simply a given. The Element made countless trips to donate household effects, furnishings, personal clothing and belongings to the Presbyterian church thrift shop. People were always amazed at the amount of things that it holds. The car also brought home new, major appliances, loads of gravel, bricks, countless bags of mulch, lumber for a new front porch, supplies for regrading the back slope, new power tools, and anything and everything that was needed to ready the house for it’s new life. Offers to buy the family home were received before it even went on the market. In the first week after being listed, two buyers bid against each other with cash, at much higher prices than neighborhood comps, and astonishingly above the asking price. For months on end, working every day for 12-14 hours without a break, the incredible stress and demanding labor paid off. Time for another trip…

South of Flagstaff, Arizona


Although Mom had expressed that she wanted for me to be able to remain in the house, the will was never changed. We’ve all heard stories about what happens in families when monies are involved. Without detailing, the manner in which the inheritances were distributed just didn’t make sense. I have not seen my siblings in over a year, but hope is held that someday a meaningful relationship may again be possible. Life must and will go on, one way or another.

Southwestern American desert in bloom.


Through it all, the Element continues to be a faithful, reliable companion. Great memories of it’s first off roading always bring a smile. The other vehicles were open Jeeps, in which riders were tortured by the blazing hot sun, ingesting thick clouds of dirty dust. With it’s air conditioning at a whisper and CD making beautiful music, the Element proved fully capable while comfortably civilized. It’s great on trips, both short and long. 

One of the first expeditions in the summer of 2017 was driving to Colorado and back. Proceeding non-stop from the southwestern US, Zion was transited in the middle of the night, which was ok, as a previous stay there was memorable. After heading north past Bryce at 80+ mph, around 5:00 in the morning with Bob Seger at full volume, I looked up at the immediate right front corner of the hood to see a deer looking back at me. No warning, no glimpses of jumps through the meadow. Wham… the deer didn’t fare well, but the Element was drivable, just barely.

The smashed inner right front fender was only about 1/8″ clear of the tire, the radiator fluid line about the same clearance from the strike zone; I was that close to being stranded in the wee hours in the middle of nowhere. But, hey, it’s a Honda: a bungee cord and we were back on the road. Apprehensive that insurance would consider the car a total loss, the valued amount was a welcome surprise. Since Elements, long ago ceased from production, are in demand, it’s as good as new again

Still serving duty at over 200,000 miles, the only non-scheduled service that comes to mind has been two sensors and one headlight bulb. With no plan to ever let go of this vehicle, the Element remains by my side, always ready for whatever comes next. No complaints from either of us. While life holds a lot of uncertainty, dependable transportation delivers us to enterprises that enable us to grow as humans, spiritually and emotionally. Thanks for sharing the Element’s tremendous contributions to mine. 

2004 Honda Element EX Specifications: 2354 cc displacement aluminum inline-four cylinder, 16-valve dual overhead cam i-VTEC engine; 160 horsepower @ 5500 rpm; torque 161 @ 4500; compression ratio 9.7:1; real-time (automatic upon-demand) 4-wheel drive;  wheelbase 101.4; length 169.3; height 70.4; width 71.5; minimum ground clearance 6.9; curb weight 3578; unit body construction; MacPherson strut front suspension; compact double wishbone rear suspension; front and rear stabilizer bars; variable assist rack-and-pinion power steering; turning diameter 34.9 curb to curb; electronic brake distribution system; anti-lock braking; 16″ alloy wheels; all season P215/70 R16 99S tires; total cargo volume 77.1 cubic feet; 270 watt am/fm/cd audio with 7 speakers including dedicated subwoofer; MP3 jack; auxiliary power jack;  (US measurements). 2004 purchase price: $21,100.