Monday, September 12, 2016

The Infinite Subaru Wagons of Jackson Hole WY

(Many thanks to Jack Baruth at Road & Track Magazine for giving this piece a shout-out!)

We visited Jackson Hole WY in August 2016 and avoided the soul-crushing swelter of Tampa's summer for one week. The place is devastatingly beautiful, the mountains, the moose, the alpine lakes, yada yada, go look at a tourist pamphlet, etc.

But the Subaru wagons ... EPIC! They're more common than gnats on a summer picnic, more prevalent than long-lost relations when you've won the Lotto. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting four or five.

Initially upon arrival, I didn't really notice them,  I own one so I'm used to seeing them. But in Florida where I live they're a tiny minority. Nobody really digs their Swiss Army knife utility, their jack-of-all-trades capabilities. People in the Sunshine State tend towards bro-dozers, Ford F-150's, Silverados and Ram this or that. A Subaru doesn't prop up a tiny, damaged ego nearly as well. But in Jackson Hole where the men and/or women with mullets apparently don't need to prove anything the Subaru wagon reigns supreme.

I didn't start taking photos until our last two days there and even then didn't try that hard. Had I been diligent from the outset I can assure you there'd be 10x as many. I'll bet Marty from Mighty Car Mods would've been Johnny-on-the-spot about documenting them. Even then, I quickly decided to only photograph older generation Subaru wagons, so the more modern ones are the first few I shot. If one takes into account late model Subaru wagons, there might be more Subarus in that town than human inhabitants.

My takeaway is that there can't possibly be that many lesbians there. In fact, I suspect that's an overblown bit of marketing hyperbole. I think the denizens of Jackson Hole rock Subaru wagons because they're the perfect intersection of right tool for the job. If any other automaker can crack that code then good luck. It's going to take time, engineering prowess and some remarkable marketing. Even the unbelievably unkillable Honda CRV is a rarity there.

Now, in no particular order, I present to you ... The Subarus Of Jackson Hole!

Things have changed in Jackson Hole since the 1950's. I wonder how they got around without AWD and Thule bike racks? You'll be happy to know that the downtown district has hardly changed since the photo, below was taken.

Jackson Hole circa 1950's a.k.a. before Subaru

Since you scrolled down this far, here's the Craigslist posting that lured me into Subaru wagon ownership. 73,000 miles (not 78,000 as the ad stated), grandmother owned and garage kept are qualities I can't pass up. I negotiated the price to $3500 and drove an essentially new but classic car home. I'm not just a fan of boring cars as I also own a K20 engine swapped Honda Insight and a Triumph TR6, but we needed a four seater to schlepp people and dogs around and a Subaru wagon was the perfect tool.

This is the screen capture I posted on Faceballs. Exactly one person was perceptive enough to catch the easter eggs I hid in plain sight. Way to go Julian!

Where's the Milo Yiannopoulos link?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

In Defense of the Name Blaine

Blaine was the name of my childhood neighbor, a WWII vet with the best stories and all of them earned, not overheard. At nearly 80 he still lit his smokes with a Zippo and rolled his packs of unfiltered Camels into his t-shirt sleeve. He was dying of congestive heart failure but wouldn’t admit it, his conversations interrupted by long hacking coughs that drained his color. I’d see him walking on the side of the road in Florida’s 95 degree summer heat because his unloving wife drove their only car to Sears where she managed the shoe department. I’d stop and motion him in – he’d resist, complain that I had more important things to do. If I had more important things to do that merited letting him die in the summer heat, I don’t know what they could be.

Blaine deserved better. His children up north never called, forgot his birthday but used his place as a rest stop on the rare occasion they visited Disney. I really loved the guy, he was an appreciated substitute for my own deadbeat dad when I was in high school. Before he passed away in my sophomore year of college I’d sent him a new Zippo, monogrammed with my appreciation for my stand-in dad and a pack of Camels with a stern Sharpie’d note on them that they were NOT to be smoked. I was too broke to come home for the funeral but my mom said that Zippo was in his box of greatest treasures, next to the medals and Purple Heart and other sparse jewelry that a man acquires who’s too practical for such vane things. I've missed him ever since, not a week goes by that I don't think about him or ruminate on his battlefield stories of boredom and terror. I hope you've had a Blaine in your life too.

"Blaine? His name is Blaine? That's not a name it's a major appliance!"

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Nissan Pao - S-Cargo - Figaro Conundrum

Any devoted masochist would or should gravitate towards owning an automobile not sold in his/her own country, with all the pitfalls that go with it. To that end, Jennifer has thrown down the gauntlet and declared "I Will Have a Nissan Pao - or an S-Cargo!" and with that the search began. It was with some enormous disbelief that the first search on Craigslist returned a Pao only a 20 minute drive away. Had we called last month that would've netted a S-Cargo too. What are the odds?

As I am loathe to retype the entire sordid history of these truly and refreshingly odd vehicles, let me Google that for you. I'll wait for you to get up to speed. Meanwhile, the bare minimum is that Nissan in a fit of madness/genius back in '89 released a trio of vehicles that were an homage to styles of the distant past, like creating a parallel timeline. This was well before the New Beetle, PT Cruiser or Thunderbird, and even those cars were meant to ape their former selves. Not Nissan. At any rate, here's the Pao we're considering, as seen at Montu Motors in Oldsmar, FL:

Tailgate folds down, glass hinges up, nice!


The very definition of Spartan.

It's the black sheep at Montu.
Even its stereo is retro!

While not perfect, it's certainly much, much nicer than most any American 26 year old daily driver. There's a rust spot in the spare wheel well, the pivoting vent window frames are rusting, the accordion sliding rag top refused to open and there's a crack in the fiberglass hood. Sam tells us that he'll make sure that's fixed as well as service the a/c before the sale, so there's that.

In no order of preference, here's the other cars on their sales floor. I was smitten with the '89 Prelude 4WS 2.0xx - mostly identical to the one I owned, blissfully, over a decade ago.

The apogee of affordable Honda engineering.

Those turbine wheels look better with age.

The most functional automotive cockpit ever.

My a/c was manual. This one is much nicer.

Make no bones about it: it's FOUR Wheel Steering!
Nissan Patrol fire truck. My Japanese pal Nob noted
"The livery says it belonged to the Kamikawa
City Fire Department, part of the Fukumoto Squad."

I am a long-time fan of the Honda Beat - when I lived in Japan from 99 to 00 (that doesn't look right) they were still a common sight on the road, though their numbers were waning. It seemed that there was no closer four wheeled relative to the motorcycle available and certainly not with air conditioning and a stereo. I wonder if Kitano "Beat" Takeshi had any say in its name?

Honda's legendary Beat. A truly Lilliputian roadster.

Really, really tiny kei. No better deal out there by the pound.

"Trunk" No topside engine access?

Looks like a BDSM dream. I kinda like it!