A Harvard study from 2007 shows that the average American spends 101 minutes per day driving, assuming they begin their driving lives at age seventeen and stop putting pedal to the metal when they’re 79.
We spend about seven hours each day in our bedrooms, sleeping. We sit in classrooms or work for hours at a time. We go to restaurants, read in libraries, walk in parks. We live our lives in these places.
The average person spends 101 minutes per day using their car to get them from point A to point B, not realizing that they’re really going from point A to point C because point B in the middle is a place, too – their car.
Each person’s car has a story. If you bought a 2015 Lexus new from the dealership, well, that’s just the beginning of its story and hopefully it has a long road ahead of it. If your car has had three owners, been across the country and back, gone through two transmissions and 227,000 miles, then it’s probably near the end of its story. Yes, that’s my point B, the 2000 Subaru Outback station wagon painted in something called “seafoam green” that is now more “rusty green,” which gets me from point A to point C. Most of the time.
The search for my place on wheels almost drove me crazy, pun intended. A limited budget and the fact that to go look at a car a person needs to actually have a car threw a serious wrench in the speed of the process. Finally my ceaseless travels through Craigslist ended when I alighted upon the ad for Subaru Wagon, $2700, See Pictures! I called the number within an hour of the ad’s post date, learned the car was located within minutes of my college, and arranged to see it that same night.
The owner was a thirty something year old woman named Leslie who was the same height as me, which is somewhere between the classification of “can you reach this for me” and “wow, do you play basketball?” This was a good sign because it meant I would actually fit in the car instead of having my knees smashed in my face behind the steering wheel. She was selling it because she just had a baby and needed something bigger. Also a good sign. New tires, new brakes. Good sign. Only one small scratch on the exterior. Good sign.
217,000 miles on the odometer. Bad sign.
The mechanic I brought it to for inspection thought it was a bad sign, too. Kindly paraphrasing, he said anything with that many miles on it was a “piece of junk” on its last leg and I should offer no more than $900 to the owners.
So that’s what I did. Over the phone I sheepishly lowballed my offer of $900. Not noticing I was holding my breath, I heard muffled deliberation one the other line and a newborn crying in the background, then Leslie countered me $1,200. Thinking about my budget and how I would still have money left to buy a new pair of shoes, I took the offer.
It dawned on me when my new place was sitting in my driveway that it could take me to whatever place I wanted. The first thing I did was drive it to the beach and read a novel while the sun went down, just because I could. I later learned that Subaru is the Japanese word for the Seven Sisters constellation which makes up their logo, and I appropriately stayed on the beach that day until I could see the stars. I also learned that day that parallel parking a massive station wagon was not in my immediate skill set, but that’s beside the point. I had a car.
And to me, it was not just any old car. I learned to drive in a 1996 Land Rover specifically designed for off-roading, which instilled in me a need for something with a little power. The Outback’s All Wheel Drive and raised suspension filled those shoes – er, tires. Along with a taste for a more rugged vehicle, I had also become obsessed with Subaru culture.
I’m willing to bet that back in 1915 when Subaru was the major manufacturer of Japanese aircraft during WWII, they would never had guessed that their brand would come to stand for all things outdoors, hipster-mobile, constant mountain trips and camping excursions. On an online Subaru forum I read that “if you don’t have at least one bumper sticker on it you’re doing it wrong.”
So I naturally did it right, and plastered stickers all over the exterior – a tabby cat, the symbol of the rebel alliance, the deathly hallows made out of lightsabers, the Game of Thrones houses arranged like the Olympic rings, Snorlax dressed as Gandalf proclaiming “you shall not pass”, Yoshi, the tri-force, and Batman, to name a few.
Of all the things I thought about my car, though, I never thought it would be my wingman.
Another thing about Subaru Outbacks is that there aren’t very many in Southern California, land of BMW’s and Mustangs. They’re as common as flies in places where it snows, but at a private university in Orange County, there are a grand total of two: my car and one other which happened to be the exact make, model, year, and color as mine. They are identical, except for the differing groups of bumper stickers.
After about a month of having a laugh at parking my car right next to its counterpart whenever I could find it in the parking lot, a note appeared on my dashboard. In slanted pencil it said, “Hey, we have the same car! I like the sticker collection. Let’s get coffee some time!” It was signed with nothing but initials.
I held the note in my hands thinking something along the lines of “Well that’s nifty, I enjoy a cup of coffee,” “Look, we already have stuff in common,” and “I wonder if I have been lucky enough to stumble into the plot of the world’s most elaborate serial killer.”
A week prior to receiving the note, however, when I pulled into the parking lot next to the other green Subaru, the owner and his friend were in the middle of getting out of their car. Yep, backpack, books, that look in their eyes that said – “Please can any random act of God occur right now to get me out of class” proved that the two were most likely students, not serial killers.
Their sneaky sideways glances at me in my driver’s seat jamming to a Bastille song trying to pretend I wasn’t also trying to catch a glance at them proved that they definitely noticed I was there.
They definitely, definitely noticed I was there when I got out of my car twenty seconds later and they both not very discreetly turned almost completely around to make sure I didn’t have any obvious visible deformities.
I hadn’t thought too much about it at the time, but as I held the note in my hand, I replayed that moment and thought about how the two guys didn’t have any obvious deformities either – mostly what I could think was, “Please, let it be the tall one.”
A week later after we exchanged four more notes and many more text messages, I met him in the student union of our school and breathed a sigh of relief that he was, in fact, the tall one.
For the initial meeting, we had both given clues as to who to keep an eye out for amongst the bustle of people in the student union not arranging an automobile rendezvous. He would be the one with the blue sweater and the hat and I would be the one in the tan boots and gray dress. When I saw a guy in a blue sweater and a hat who I recognized from the parking lot and maybe a little facebook stalking sit down at one of the green chairs, though, I froze. Maybe I am not the type of person who meets random strangers who leave notes on cars. Maybe this would all go terribly wrong. Maybe he was a serial killer.
When I finally worked up enough nerve to approach him, it turned out no, he wasn’t a serial killer, he was a digital arts student a grade higher than me with as much love for Subarus, Batman, and Pokemon cards as I, and we ate lunch discussing said topics until I had to go to class. Conversation faltered momentarily once or twice, but luckily I had an entire reserve of bumper sticker related topics to strike it up again. Not bad for a start.
What was not bad for a start never really turned into pretty good. A week later we went to get coffee – I really wanted to try the butterbeer recipe at Starbucks. It was not bad. The date was not bad. Before he went back home for Christmas break, we went with a group of his friends to see the second Hobbit movie at the midnight premier, and I was introduced one by one to a group of about fifteen strangers with whom I would watch the movie. The Hobbit, in my opinion, was kind of bad.
He went home for Christmas break and after that I never got together with him again. A few of my friends asked, “Whatever happened to Subaru guy?” I sometimes wonder if there are fifteen people out there who asked, “Whatever happened to Subaru girl?” Nothing really ever happened, which I think was the main problem I had with the relationship.
Throughout this time period of my car being a wingman, the 217,000 miles started to show themselves. 97% of Subarus twelve years and younger are still on the road, so I missed the mark by 2 years and was beginning to fear I’d become part of the 3%.
Before things started going downhill, I had not ruminated too much on the fact that Leslie used to drive the car to Seattle and back to visit her family – until the transmission started having issues and I remembered girls are not known to be particularly knowledgeable on automobile care. Leslie fit nicely into that characterization, specifically in the area of not knowing what transmission fluid is and how often to replace it. And I’m pretty sure her definition of “often” in this case is never.
So for a few months, before my car would go into drive upon first starting I would have to rev the engine to kick it into gear. This led to many annoyed drivers in parking lots as it would sometimes stall for over a minute, and it’s difficult to effectively communicate “Sorry, my car goes into reverse perfectly fine but then takes some major TLC to convince it to actually start driving” to the person angrily honking behind you.
Subaru became the most well known for their AWD vehicles and the horizontal layout of the engine, where the pistons move horizontally as opposed to vertically. This creates a more balanced drive because the engine can be positioned right on the drive train. It also creates problems for people needing a transmission because the transmission fits right behind the engine, making it extra-difficult to repair and extra-expensive.
Yet after a lot of thought and $2,800 later, I drove out of the transmission repair shop in a car with zero miles on it that actually went into drive within a normal period of time.
A week later it exploded on the freeway.
I thought that the three hour round trip commute to my internship in San Juan Capistrano would be a breeze in my newly repaired vehicle. I thought wrong.
I arrived at the little office where I worked and saw my car was dripping clear fluid. A kind older man who noticed me inspecting my car told me it was probably the air conditioning and I would be fine.
When on the return trip my car shuddered then jerked forward making a sound like the world’s largest rubber band snapping, I was far from fine. In fact it would be lying to say that when I pressed the gas pedal and my car started going backwards instead of forwards that I didn’t have a few moments of fully fledged panic before the gears caught and I was able to get off the freeway.
A day later at the mechanic it turned out the simple culprit was a rubber seal that had just popped and caused the gears to slip, but to this day I still give my car the occasional pep talk and say, “You can do it, bud,” before we go on a long trip. I also try to forget that the first land vehicle that Subaru created back in 1946 wasn’t even a car, but a little motor scooter pre-dating the Vespa that could barely push sixty and had eight horsepower.
Still my car keeps on trucking despite having acquired some moderate cosmetic deficiencies, the most recent of which occurred on a Tuesday before I went to work.
I got in my car thinking it was just another unassuming morning, and immediately heard a cracking sound from over my shoulder. I looked back and an incoherent vocalization of disbelief tumbled out loud from my mouth, because the entire right side passenger window of my car was cracking before my eyes. And, it turned out, before the eyes of one of the community’s gardeners as well, who was standing there holding a five foot long very suspicious looking weed-wacker.
I think I must have sat in my seat for an entire minute staring at the cracks widening in the glass pane. My tabby cat sticker, by the way, was massacred in the process. It was a gruesome sight. I finally snapped to my senses an emerged from the car, but within the minute of time it took for my brain to process the destruction of my car, suspicious weed-wacker gardener had slinked away.
Some strange maternal instinct, but car style, must have kicked in just about then because I ran out of my car and raced through my neighborhood until I found the gardener whacking weeds next to a perfectly good Honda Civic. I could not let the madness go on, so still in my mother bear adrenaline rush, I approached him.
“Excuse me? Do you know anything about this?” I pointed to my car on the driveway a few houses down. Even from there, the window was visibly near the point of shattering, spidery glass veins still creeping slowly across the surface.
With weed wacker still in hand, the gardener looked at me, looked at my car, and shrugged his shoulders.
My adrenaline rush started to turn into just plain anger. “No, the window. I saw you there a few minutes ago. And not it’s cracked. Do you know what happened?”
He still didn’t say anything, but scratched his head. Having been alive long enough to have learned head scratching unfortunately will not repair windows, I motioned for him to follow me to the car and he walked with me until we stood at the scene of the crime.
“Ohhh,” he said once we got close. As if there were some other enormous station wagon with an exorbitant amount of bumper stickers and shattered glass window on the block.
He then motioned to a rock on the ground and pointed to his weed wacker. I wanted to tell him that I had taken five years of Spanish at school and hopefully enough had stuck with me that I retained the word for “rock.” From that motion, however, it was clear enough to determine that an errant rock had flown up from the weed-wacker and in a series of the world’s luckiest physics phenomenon, destroyed my window.
It was also determined that passenger windows for Subarus are custom made in one of their five American distribution centers in Indiana and would cost $800 to replace. Luckily, the gardening company covered the bill, because it did not seem particularly appealing to have to pay nearly as much as the cost of my car to fix a single window.
Throughout all this I have realized cars are not just cars, something to get you from place to place. They are broken windows with broken-but-fixed parts underneath, trips to Seattle and back and laughter while singing to the radio at the top of your lungs on the way to the beach.
Each person’s car has a story, just like each person does. Parts of my car come from Indiana, from down the street, from Japan; they all come together to create the final thing that people don’t necessarily think about when they just view the surface. We all come from different places and leave pieces of ourselves in them, going from place to place living our lives and hoping we don’t break down along the way.