The Mystery Wagon

Why, yes, that is a street parking spot directly in front of the office. Thanks for noticing!

There’s an ongoing, lively debate between gearheads and greasemonkeys regarding what is the greatest car of all time. Audi drivers prattle on about luxury and German engineering, while Toyota drivers are big on reliability and fuel efficiency. GM drivers are all about raw power and also the inherent huge dickness of driving an American car, and pretty much nobody has anything good to say about cars made in England. Everything I’m saying right now, like most facts I state on my blog, is based on conjecture and Wikipedia, but I think it’s acceptable in this case because the car superiority debate is pointless and stupid – we already know what the best car in the world is.

The best car in the world is a 1997 Subaru Legacy station wagon, light blue, with power locks, rear seats that fold down, and a bike rack. It’s a pretty specific package, I know, but coincidentally it happens to be the exact car that I drive, and I’m here to tell you that it’s better than literally all other cars, and also some countries. (I’m looking at you, Slovenia.) I call it The Mystery Wagon.

By the time I was old enough to drive around the apocalyptic, suburban expanse that is Salem, Oregon, my family owned not one but two Subaru Legacy station wagons, one of them blue, one of them silver. At the time, we called them ‘Ol Blue and Hi-Ho Silver. (I only include this detail so you understand that my whole family is like this, not just me.)

We’d bought Hi-Ho Silver from my late Aunt Karen when I was in middle school to replace my Dad’s old Ford Taurus. A ’95 Legacy, Hi-Ho Silver was the elder statesman of the pair, and my parents’ preferred car.

We picked up ‘Ol Blue, which would eventually become The Mystery Wagon, a couple of years later, due largely to how impressed my parents were with our first Subaru, when my parents bought it from the insurance company my Mom worked for. It had been a company car for several years, and at some point in its service either one asshole acting independently or a crack squad of assholes smoked in the car, leaving a thin film that coats the inside of the windshield to this day. The possibly carcinogenic film is probably why ‘Ol Blue was, by default, my car.

‘Ol Blue turned into The Mystery Wagon somewhere between me using it to learn how to drive, a thousand-odd late night Muchas Gracias runs*, and the 9/11-meets-Deliverance disaster otherwise known as my senior prom, in which it served as our limo. I wouldn’t call myself a people person and I have limited patience for animals, but let me tell you: I fell in love with that car – a deep, binding love that continues to this day.

*Muchas Gracias is a small 24-hour Mexican fast food chain in Salem and the greater Willamette Valley. Think of it like Chipotle but with the ingredients they use in prison food and no health and safety standards whatsoever. They sold a six-dollar burrito that was so big you could probably hide a Glock in it if you wanted to assassinate somebody. (And knowing the clientele at Muchas after 11:00 PM, that probably happened at least twice.)

I didn’t take a car to college, both because I didn’t feel like I needed one in Eugene and because my parents didn’t particularly want to give me one. They moved up to Portland with their two Subarus (keep reading; it gets more liberal) and traded Hi-Ho Silver for a Prius, which they own to this day. No word on if they’ve given it a cute name yet.

The arrival of the Prius only strengthened the bond between The Mystery Wagon and I. Dad takes the bus to work and Mom uses the Prius, so throughout college The Mystery Wagon was just an extra car that they had parked out in front of the house, for use on Ikea runs, during snowstorms (did I mention The Mystery Wagon has all wheel drive? Because it does.), and as the car I used whenever I came home to visit. After graduation, it was essentially mine to take to LA.

I love everything about The Mystery Wagon. Sure, it’s a reliable car that gets great – okay, good – okay, decent – okay, not terrible mileage, but more than that, it’s the last line of defense between me and Hollywood douchebaggery. Nothing says ‘I don’t give a shit about your fucking yoga class’* more than tooling around the city in a 15 year old station wagon that hasn’t seen the inside of a car wash since the Bush Administration.

*Or any yoga class, for that matter. Fuck you, yoga!

That said, I still take pride in my car, so imagine my frustration when I scraped up the side of it trying to pull out of the alley behind my apartment last week. In my defense, it was dark out and the entryway to the alley where we park is a narrow, Death Star-style easement between two buildings, and I’m definitely not the first person to have trouble with it.

All the excuses in the world, though, don’t make up for the fresh row of scratches along the rear end of my beloved car. It’s kind of embarrassing for me to drive now – driving an old, dirty car in LA says, “I don’t view my car as a status symbol,” while driving an old dirty car with noticeable damage in LA says, “I’m just as bad a driver as any natural born Californian,” which is very much not true.

That’s why I’ve decided, per my last post, to spend my Saturday afternoon fixing up my car. Thanks to a handy Popular Mechanics tutorial I found on the Internet, I know how to buff out a scratch, and the AutoZone down the street from my apartment has all the necessary tools (a rag and a bottle of scratch remover.) I might even take a radio outside with me and listen to Bruce Springsteen while I work, since I feel like most of his songs, on some level, are about a guy working on a car.

It’s not just a pride thing, though. As I may have mentioned a few times before, I really do love this fucking car, and I want to take good care of it, because in addition to being The Greatest Car On Earth it’s also my car, and I want to keep it looking nice. This car carries me over a mountain pass every day; the least I can do is spend a couple hours tenderly rubbing salve onto the rear portion of… Okay, you get the idea.

So Saturday is going to be a big day – at least, big by Truman Capps standards, given the sort of stuff I usually do on a Saturday. I’m heading to AutoZone to pick up the necessary supplies, getting the car washed on the way back, and then seeing how much of the damage really will ‘buff right out’ the way that I nervously whimpered it would when I first saw the scratches. I’m giving it 50/50 odds that the car somehow explodes in the course of the maintenance – if it does, you’ll see it on the news Sunday.

Truman Capps was going to explain how The Mystery Wagon got its name, but opted not to, because like most things that happened in high school it’s a serious case of ‘you had to be there.’