While not necessarily a great commercial for erectile dysfunction drugs, at least there aren't any fucking bathtubs in this one...

What I’ve come to realize is that The Mystery Wagon is basically a one and a half ton Tamagotchi with power locks and a cassette deck. In 5th grade, the kids who had Tamagotchi virtual pets were always busy attending to their needs – the little keychain-mounted toy would beep whenever it needed to be 'fed' or 'walked' or 'played' with, and the kids would always rush to push the necessary buttons to keep their virtual pet in a good mood.

The Mystery Wagon is similar – whenever it needs something from me it activates a cryptic warning light, or vibrates and rattles at stop signs, or starts making a funny smell. Then, unlike Tamagotchi, instead of pushing a button I give my mechanic a bunch of money I don’t want to spend, which then restarts the countdown until the whole process begins again in a couple of weeks.

Yesterday I drove out to visit a friend at UCLA. It’s early October, so the temperature was a crisp 91 degrees, and to save time on the trip I opted to take Laurel Canyon Boulevard, an extremely steep and windy road through the Santa Monica Mountains. On an unrelated note, were you aware that high temperatures, steep inclines, and running the air conditioner at full blast have a tendency to make cars overheat?

As I neared UCLA The Mystery Wagon was chugging and rattling more than it normally does, and while waiting to turn left onto campus the engine outright sputtered and died on me twice. As I frantically and profanely tried to coax the engine on again, I saw that the temperature needle on the dashboard was pointed squarely at H.

I limped The Mystery Wagon into the nearest public parking garage on campus I could find, popped open the hood, and looked glumly at the steam pouring out of my radiator. There wasn’t much that I could do, because I wasn’t keen on the idea of fiddling with a steaming hot engine, so after a few minutes I closed the hood and left to go visit my friend while The Mystery Wagon cooled off.

For the next two hours as I hung out on UCLA’s (shockingly beautiful) campus I was preoccupied with thoughts of The Mystery Wagon. I knew that it had overheated because I drove over a mountain on a hot day; the problem was that the only way for me to get home was to drive back over that same mountain, and it was still just as hot out. At one point, while using the bathroom, I pulled out my phone and Googled “when your car overheats is it possible for it to catch on fire and kill you.” (According to some kid on Yahoo! Answers four years ago, maybe.)

I returned to my car to find it no longer steaming and popped the hood to try and prepare it for the trek home. I don’t know a lot about auto maintenance, but I did remember a Viagra commercial I’d seen where a handsome old guy’s muscle car overheats and he pours a bottle of water into the radiator in order to get home. As it happened, I had one bottle of water in the car and no better ideas, so I unscrewed the radiator cap, poured it in, and hit the road.

In the commercial, the silver fox who can’t sustain an erection drives home and suggestively parks in his garage while the narrator encourages viewers to talk to their doctors. I, on the other hand, was about a mile and a half down West Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills when the temperature needle started rising toward the H so fast that I wondered if The Mystery Wagon had popped some Viagra before we left.

I tried running the heater to vent the engine, but all that did was make me overheat just as much as the car was. Desperately, I pulled off the road onto the first sidestreet I could find – a narrow, windy, sidewalkless road in an extremely rich neighborhood full of gates, security cameras, and the occasional passing Lamborghini.    

After consulting with my Dad and my cousin over the phone, I decided to just suck it up and call AAA to tow me home rather than risk any further damage to my engine. When I pulled up my map to give my location to the tow truck driver, this is what I saw:


Yes, my car had broken down pretty much right outside the Playboy Mansion – this, I think, would make a much more fitting ending for that Viagra commercial. Hell, maybe this was The Mystery Wagon’s plan all along. Maybe it made a point of overheating where and when it did because it was trying to get me close to a concentration of Playboy Bunnies; a four wheeled wingman with a hatchback.

I suppose I could’ve tried to talk my way past the gate guard and then see if any of the girls at the mansion wanted to chat about the government shutdown or the finale of Breaking Bad, but instead I just sat in The Mystery Wagon for an hour and waited for the tow truck, waving to the tourists in the Hollywood Star Tours vans that drove by every five minutes.
Hey folks, if you take a gander to your left you’ll see a mostly-unemployed writer in a defective station wagon, and… Yes, it looks like he’s wondering if there’s more to life than this! Okay, and coming up on our right we’ve got Drake’s house!

Finally, the tow truck arrived – a big flatbed that I had to drive The Mystery Wagon up onto. Watching the driver secure the car in place with heavy chains and hooks I began to get the feeling that this might be the beginning of the end of an era.

For some time now The Mystery Wagon’s biggest mystery has been, “What the fuck is wrong with this car now!?”, but this is the first time it’s ever outright died on the road. Seeing your car strapped to a tow truck – the vehicular equivalent of a hospital gurney – is kind of sobering, because cars that have to go on tow trucks tend to be cars that are not long for this world.

I don’t want to buy a new car, both because fuck spending money and because I don’t know if I could love another car the way I love The Mystery Wagon. Some people have pets, a few might still have Tamigotchis, some people even have girlfriends, and I have a light blue Subaru Legacy. 

The engine makes funny smells, the A/C doesn’t always work, and it’s going to bleed me dry with maintenance costs, but it’s served me well for eight years – when the time comes, it won’t be easy to say goodbye. And I don’t even want to think about how much it’s going to cost to buy a burial plot and mausoleum big enough to fit a car…

Truman Capps has never felt like more of an LA douchebag than when he builds a sentimental connection with a big, unfeeling piece of metal and plastic.