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Pepe Lepew On January - 15 - 2010

We finally got our new car yesterday. We had been talking about it for over a year. I insisted on driving my old 1992 Toyota pickup straight into the ground, waiting for something catastrophic to happen to it so I could finally dump it. This truck and I have been everywhere from Death Valley, Calif., to Jasper, Alberta, so I was not willing to let go of it easily. My daughter was literally ashamed of it and would slink low in her seat if I used it to drive her to school or pick her up. She absolutely despised that truck. I think part of the reason why is we live in a little middle-income enclave surrounded by rich gentleman farmers and a couple of huge McMansion developments, so she goes to school full of rich kids and when I showed up in that truck, it made her feel poor. My girlfriend hated it and refused to drive it. Her Outback had become our family car, while the Toyota became strictly my vehicle.

Finally, while having a rotor and distributor replaced a few weeks ago, they told me the head gasket was completely gone. The truck was going through a quart of oil a week. That was it. That’s a $1,000 project. It also needed a new muffler and a new clutch. Another grand. Easy.

So after 17 1/2 years and 180,000 miles, I finally let go of that Toyota yesterday. It wasn’t easy! It was a very big and emotional day in the Lepew household. 17 1/2 years!

We got a 2010 Subaru Forester. I test drove it, which wasn’t easy because I can barely move my arm from not one, but two jammed collarbones I suffered slipping on ice a couple of days earlier.  My girlfriend showed up at the car dealership at her lunch break just to see how it was going. As she sat down, the loan officer came in and said I had excellent credit, to which I replied, “Really?” which got me an elbow in the ribs.

I got a stick, which my girlfriend didn’t like because she doesn’t drive a stick, but I told her she doesn’t have an excuse now, she has to learn. We’re going to the local college Saturday and have her drive around in the giant football stadium parking lot to learn how to use a clutch. I have NEVER owned a car without a stick. Seriously. This is my fourth vehicle and all four were manual transmissions. It’s got a cute little racing stick, very short and low to the floor, that you literally just kind of flick with your fingertips. It’s not like that big, fat sloppy “what the hell gear am I in, anyway?” Toyota stick.

After hours at the dealership dealing with paperwork, the pain meds were starting to wear off, and I had left my meds at home. My entire arm was numb. I just wanted to hurry up and get home. I literally left my truck behind at the dealership and forgot to clean all my junk out of it or give them the title.  As soon as I got home, I realized Kiddo was getting out of school, and even though the weather was OK for her to walk home, I went to pick her up in the new car.

She literally squealed like a banshee when she saw it. She insisted on seeing under the hood. Foresters have a trippy flattop boxer engine that goes into the engine compartment sideways. I had never owned a sideways engine car before. “What’s that thing do?” “That’s the fuel injection.” “What’s that?” “That’s an alternator.” “What’s that?” “I have absolutely no idea.”

“Do you want to go for a drive?”  I asked her. Of course, she did. She started climbing in and I gasped. She was wearing big, wet, muddy, dirty girl boots. “Ahhh, no boots in the Subaru!” NOT YET! So help me, I just wanted one day with a car that wasn’t dirty, yet. I took off her boots and put them in the back. Then a bunch of her friends decided they wanted to go for a drive in the new car …. And they were all wearing big, wet, muddy, dirty girl boots (Seriously, it’s like part of their dress code or something.) I realized that for the first time she had been at school all year, she was not abjectly mortified of Papa Skunk’s vehicle and she wanted to show off the new car to her rich friends. So, this suddenly seemed like a big “moment.”

“No dirty girl boots in the new car!” I made them all take their boots off and I put them in the back along with my daughter’s. I suddenly realized I was probably going to make some parents mad, so I made the girls call their parents on their cell phones. That took a good 10 minutes

Finally, we were ready to go. I just so happen to have the Melvins playing on my new Subaru sound system. “Who are these OLD guys!” Well, they were so bratty about it, I said, “Sorry, you want a drive in the new car, the Melvins are part of the deal. Take it or leave it.”

“No, not the Melvins! Nooooooo! They’re OLD …..!”

You have to understand. It’s not even the music. They couldn’t care less about that. It’s more about the fact that they’re OLD. Which is just, well, listening to OLD music is akin to stepping on a slug barefoot, apparently.

Well, just to teach them a lesson, I cranked the Melvins up to “40” on the sound system. (I’m guessing it goes up to “100” but 40 is plenty loud.) I drove out to the country on some back roads. Because my arm was so dead, I had my daughter shift for me. “FIRST!” I yelled over the Melvins. “SECOND!” “THIRD!” Really, I could have shifted myself, but she was getting the sense she was helping to drive.

We drove through farmland and sheep ranches, Kiddo pointing at all the amazing buttons in the car as we plugged along. I stopped by an old grocery store and dairy way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a great place to get ice cream in the summer. I pulled out all the girls’ boots out of the back, and, while it was much too cold for ice cream, I got them hot cocoa instead. This little market has a corner of kind of junky toys, and the girls found a bunch of “Avatar” PEZes that I got them. They also had a bunch of Pittsburgh Penguins pens, so I got them all Penguin pens. They also had DVDs, including, surprisingly, because this place really is out in the middle of nowhere, “Moon” and “The Hurt Locker,” which had just come out that day.

So, we were back off, hot cocoa loaded in snazzy little cup holders. My daughter dutifully held her legs out for me so I could “De-boot” her again. While I was “de-booting” the other girls, my Melvins CD had somehow magically vanished. “What happened to the Melvins?”

“I have no idea, but I do know the majority of the people in the car don’t want to listen to the Melvins anymore,” said Kiddo.

“Where is it?”

“ I …. don’t …. know. I’m sure it’ll turn up after we get home.”

OK, what would YOU do? She was just too cute. I let it go.

We came up on an old wooden bridge over a big river. It was a 90-year-old one lane bridge with a speed limit of 5 mph. We were way out in the boonies now. There was a sign that said “10,000 pound limit.” All of a sudden, all these hip little chatterboxes with their own cellphones in the back jacked up on hot cocoa and PEZ got awfully quiet as we crossed the bridge. OMG , I realized none of these rich girls had ever gone over this bridge even though it was only a few miles away. They were quiet as church mice as we crossed it. I got this image in my head of the giant rig going over the horrible wooden bridge in “Sorcerer.” An absolutely terrifying scene in a very underrated movie. That’s how it must have seemed to these girls.

We meandered through farm country for another half hour, with my daughter dutifully shifting for me while reading the Sub’s owner manual and playing with all the buttons (She actually showed me how to turn off the airbag, and said quite accusingly, “Dad, the airbag could kill me. You have to turn it off!”)

Suddenly, some Sara Bareilles song came over the sound system. “What the hell?”

Unbenowst to me, Kiddo had figured out how to plug her iPhone into the sound system. “How did you do that?” I said. “T’ain’t telling,” she replied. “C’mon!” “Nope, you can’t handle it.”

Garrrr! How had she figured this out? The iPhone wasn’t within a metre of the stereo! (I still haven’t figured out how the hell she did this!)

We got to the main highway, and here, I could finally let the Sube out. We finally hit fifth gear. I couldn’t afford the 245-HP monstrosity, so this thing only had 175 horses. Still, it got up to 75 (that IS the speed limit in Montana) in seconds.

After we were done taking all of Kiddo’s friends home to their McMansions, it was dark and I realized that for once, I had actually not embarrassed her around her friends. And her big, bad, intimidating  friends weren’t so tough crossing that ancient creaking, one-lane wooden bridge.

The Melvins CD was hidden in one of her schoolbooks.

The next morning, I just happened to drive by the Sube dealership, and there was my poor old, forlorn Toyota out in the back of the lot, with a big sign in the cracked windshield.

“As is,” was all it said.

Categories: Speakers' Corner

21 Responses so far.

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  1. escribacat says:

    Fantastic piece, Pepe. You ought to send this out to USA Today magazine or someplace like that.

  2. boomer1949 says:

    Wonderful story Pepe, and I’m right there with Em. Now, if you can read it out loud it as Garrison Keillor, you’ll be able to buy a fleet of Foresters!
    :-)

    And since we’re discussing storytelling, does anyone ever listen to Selected Shorts from Symphony Space and WNYC?


    Paul Hecht Reads from “The Proposition by David_Bezmozgis.

    Recent Episodes from NPR: Selected Shorts

    http://www.podanza.com/podcast/npr-selected-shorts/ae7109b8349323f7a24e9a9a320d1bbd/

  3. KevenSeven says:

    Only 180k from your Toyota truck????

    What sort of abuse is that????

    My experience with Toyotas, and I have a bit, is that they seem to want to run forever. Possibly limping as they do it, but the engines seem to just last forever.

    But the Subbie sounds really cool. I wish I could afford a new car!

    • PepeLepew says:

      Engine was fine. The head gasket, clutch, radiator, front windshield and muffler all needed replacing. Probably $2,000-plus parts and labour.

  4. Emerald1943 says:

    Terrific piece, Pepe! I swear that I sat in the dealer’s office to sign the papers, and got into the new car with you. I took off my muddy boots and went with you for the drive. Your story telling ability is wonderful! I love it!

  5. PepeLepew says:

    Thanks, Khirad. Great comments.

    Here is that incredible bridge scene from “Sorcerer” if people haven’t seen it.


    • Khirad says:

      I was like, that music sounds oddly reminiscent of the stuff I listen to. Lo ad behold, I wiki the movie -- bam -- Tangerine Dream. Speaking of seminal bands. I think I remember hearing about Scheider dying, come to think of it, too.

      That truck spooked me out, with the grill, it was almost ready to turn into some animation from The Wall or something. It seemed ready to munch anyone up in its way. When it went over, it gave it another dimension.

      I forgot to mention, I’ve seen The Melvins live.

      • PepeLepew says:

        Oh, wow. I knew they were a big influence on Nirvana.

        Scheider died in 2004 of some kind of blood cancer.

        • Khirad says:

          They were literally mentors. Kurt Cobain wrote that they would drive around in a windowless black van (to which he made the obvious joke) and noted that they would put a Reagan/Bush or Bush/Quayle bumper sticker on it -- as cop repellent. It just fit them so much to do something like that. Ironic survivalism.

  6. Khirad says:

    Not to skirt the car talk -- congrats, and, I know, it’s bittersweet too.

    But, you’re talkin’ about the original boys from Aberdeen!!!

    There’s a trivia question along with this one, but I’ll let it go:


    I related. I grew up in one of those areas of the burbs -- farm land giving away to McMansions. I used to go on the longest drives (is that more a guy thing? To explore and clear your head? I’ve wondered…)

    Anyway, lord, bunch of girls hopped up on sugar… brings back memories of hauling around my sister and her friends incessantly goading me to turn on the pop station -- you know the really annoying top 40 teen ones? I popped in the Skinny Puppy and tried to teach ’em something about the perils of conformity. But lord, they wouldn’t stop (and a few were hot -- two years younger -- if

    • escribacat says:

      I have never heard of the Melvins before. This is good stuff. Just about a universe away from Sara Bareilles! I love it when the dad is wilder than the kid.

    • PepeLepew says:

      Hi Khirad. Fortunately, the McMansions aren’t going to take over because they zoned the valley R-5 after a couple of these 150-unit developments went in, so it will stay pastoral and full of llama farms and dairies.

  7. Tiger99 says:

    Great piece of writing Pepe… Congrats on the Forester…

  8. escribacat says:

    ~More eerie music~ Pepe, I drive a 1999 Subaru Forester. It’s got about 115,000 miles on it now. When the day comes that I have to get another car, I plan to buy another Forester.

  9. Chernynkaya says:

    Hey Pepe-- you are a really good writer, just so you know. That was one sweet slice! Congratulations on the new addition!

    My husband had a Toyota pickup when we dated (but I married him anyway). He loved that thing to death. It had almost 400,000 miles on it and it was still going strong when he was in an accident (got sandwiched on the freeway)and the insurance company pronounced the car totaled. He finally bought a new car, but he had the old Toyota repaired anyway and sold it. He still grieves.


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