Friday, June 25, 2004

The Bittersweet Saga of Skippy

According to popular Celebration lore, the Skippy saga should never have happened. After all, we have a reputation as a town that does not tolerate disorder. The houses all sit in orderly rows, with well groomed yard and white-shaded windows. Those who do not edge their grass are place in public pillories, and if you actually dare to do something as radical as parking a camper outside your house, you'll be branded with a scarlet R for "Redneck" (or would that be for "Randy Quaid"?).

If all of the rumored rules were true, Skippy would have been hauled to the junk yard many years ago. But the trusty brown Dodge Dart with the cancerous case of rust sat like a sentry at the entrance of town long before I arrived. I read about him in one of the Celebration books before I ever saw him in person (pardon me for referring to a car as a "him," but I can't help but personify Skippy as he had a personality all his own, and he was a true town character). I saw his photo on the internet, so when I finally "met" him in person, I felt like I was in the presence of a celebrity.

The first time I ever saw him, he was parked in his usual spot, on Celebration Avenue right past the entrance to town, in front of the Marisol apartment complex. His owner lived in the red house across the street, but Skippy was too much of a free spirit to confine in the garage or driveway, or even right in front of the house. I had heard that he occasionally moved around town, but every time I saw him, he was within a few inches of his accustomed spot. I always wondered how long he'd be around, as the house had a "For Sale" sign in its yard for as long as I'd ever known it. But eventually I stopped even noticing the sign, as it seemed that no buyers would be forthcoming any time soon. Perhaps Skippy scared them away.

When Skippy greeted visitors to town, they knew his name right away. You can see why for yourself if you click here to view a picture of him. He may have been mute, but he knew how to announce his name loud and clear. Perhaps his last name was BEE FUN; at least, that's what his license proclaimed.

My husband and I quickly joined opposite sides of the "Skippy Camp." Skippy was an issue that had apparently polarized Celebration residents for some time. One camp (of which I was a member) had come to love Skippy. These people considered him something of a town mascot and viewed him with cautious affection in the same way you view the crazy lady down the street with 20 cats or the man who wanders the sidewalks mumbling to himself. Characters like that can be a bit frightening when you first meet them, but then you discover that they're harmless and they become a part of the neighborhood landscape. Soon you know that you'd miss 'em if they were gone.

Those in the other camp (my husband included) hated Skippy and thought he was an eyesore. It was an additional insult that he was one of the first things people saw when they entered Celebration. Celebration is a land of Hummers, NEVs, and Minis, and the poor ancient Dodge Dart just didn't fit into that upscale image.

There are regulations in the covenants governing abandoned junk cars, but Skippy technically wasn't "abandoned" (his status as "junk" was debateable). Although I never once saw him move, I suspect that he moved around just enough to skirt the rules. He was properly stickered and tagged, so as long as he was drivable and was parked within the prescribed regulations, there wasn't much anyone could do.

All the while our home was being built, Skippy welcomed me back on each visit. It was like seeing an old friend waving a friendly hello to pass him on the way into town. My husband, sitting in the passenger seat of whatever rental vehicle Bill Shatner and Priceline had conferred on us, would mumble some suitable nasty words as I beamed, "Oh, look, dear, there's Skippy! Hi, Skippy!"

Once our house was done, we started the 1500 mile commute. We would typically arrive at the airport around midnight, so we didn't get to town until 1 a.m. But no matter what the time, faithful Skippy was still there to greet us. I always knew that I'd arrived home when I drove over the bridge and picked him up in my headlights.

I did hear that he was a proud participant in the 2003 Fourth of July parade, but unfortunately we weren't in town for that. Since our house wasn't done yet, we didn't want to pay the prime holiday rates to travel to Florida that week. I was quite sad that I missed the opportunity to see him actually moving.

Then, one dark and evil night, the unthinkable happened. Someone vandalized Skippy! They slashed his tires and stole his customized license plate. The whole town was outraged; even those who had objected to Skippy's unseemly presence condemned the act of violence. Was it the work of a renegade Skippy-hater who wanted to render him inoperable so he could finally be towed? Or was it a random act of violence on a convenient target? Perhaps we'll never know.

Skippy disappeared briefly, and I thought that he might be gone for good. But soon enough he was back, sporting a new set of tires and a note in his window indicating that he had been vandalized and that his license was applied for.

Unfortunately, his return was short lived. After over a year (probably much longer, but definitely a year that I know of, since that's how long it had been since we had put the contract on our home), Skippy's house was sold!! His owner moved away from Celebration, and the old faithful Dart went along with him.

On the internet, there was some sporadic joking about taking up a collection to buy Skippy so he could located permanently in Celebration as a town icon. I think he would make a much more interesting logo that the biking girl being trailed by a dog that is currently featured on the town seal. But saner heads prevailed, and Skippy was gone for good. His only legacy was a few leftover oil stains on the pavement by his old sentry post.

The next time we drove into town, I felt that something was missing. I thought that my husband would be happy, but amazingly he turned to me and said, "You know, I miss Skippy." He would probably deny it now, but once the old faithful car was gone, I could see that it made him melancholy.

No car will ever take Skippy's place. There was a rusty, battered, bird shit-encrusted MG parked in the downtown area that was briefly in the running. But whereas Skippy had personality, the MG was just nasty and annoying. Happily, it was soon towed away.

I haven't even lived in Celebration a year yet, but I can't help but feel that I witnessed the end of an era. Those who have come after me might hear the legend of Skippy, but it's something you had to experience for yourself. Oh well, at least he's immortalized in oil stains and a photo on the internet. And perhaps wherever his owner moved, he's polarizing a whole new townful of people.

Skippy old buddy, I miss you.

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