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Irwin: A New Car

Preamble: I wrote the fol­lowing two years ago, but something timely had come up and I ended up writing something else.

• • •

My 1998 all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V has been the perfect car. It has enough room for my luggage, rubber chickens, squeaky hammers, finger monster puppets, toy clarinets, and food. (I keep plenty of food in my car in case of a bliz­zard, therefore, I frequently eat Dairy Queen Blizzards as I drive in order to justify keeping food in my car.)

It has that rugged, off-road look with the spare tire mounted on the tail­gate – a useful feature in­deed because I have a bike rack that mounts there­upon quickly and easily. With the swing-open gate, I can unload my stuff from the back without even having to touch the bike. Neat-o.

Alas, “The Pea Popper” has more than 367,000 miles on it. And while its engine maintains its pep and compression, and while it is still gets pretty good mileage, in these last few months it has required new struts, new belts, new steering push rods, new rack & pinion (doesn’t Rack & Pinion sound like a law firm?), and a new driveshaft.

I replaced the air con­ditioner compressor six years ago. Then, the con­denser died. (Physics ques­tion: what is the difference between compressing and condensing?) The blow­er fan began screaming a couple of years ago, so I re­moved it. Now there’s not only the lack of air condi­tioning, but no heat either until I reach 60 mph, fast enough to blow warm air through the vents.

Climate control is for wimps.

• • •

A couple of months ago, my cousin, Ann, who lives northeast of Richmond, looked at my webpage and saw that I was going to be in Culpeper, Virginia, this summer. She called me and said, “You’re com­ing to Vir­ginia! I just know you are going to stop by. Why don’t you bring Squiffy? I haven’t seen her in years.”

Squiffy is my sister, AKA: Amanda. She has been pes­tering me to take her along on a road trip for a while.

Right then and there I knew I was going to drive — not fly — to that Vir­ginia gig. Now, y’all know I love my sister, but she is all into comfort. And in my car, she might require air conditioning. Or even a passenger side window that opens. (Yeah, that’s gone, too.) Truth be told, my car and I are a solitary pair, content with one an­other and not prepared for company. And with the eastward swing on my route before making my way up near Washington, this was going to be a 1,400 mile trip.

I hung up the phone with my cousin, and looked out my office window to my steadfast and beloved Pea Popper. I am attached to this machine.

The Pea Popper even made a brief appearance on one of my records, when I recorded my a capella ver­sion of “Low Rider”:

“All my friends

Know my Honda

From far away, they say

‘Andy’s over yonda.’ “

“Alas,” I to sighed to my­self. “Maybe the Pea Popper is no longer so steadfast.”

It was time to look for a new car.

I thought I should be efficient and sustainable, and a get something like a Honda Fit, but my 16-year-old son, Liam, successfully pointed out to me that me and all my stuff won’t fit in a Fit.

Liam and I began to peruse automotive re­views, looking for a vehicle that would be efficient, safe, roomy, and would last 300,000-plus thousand miles. We set­tled on the Sub­aru Outback, obviously, a Japanese/Aus­tralian automobile. We began shopping in earnest on autotrader-dot-com and carguru-dot-com and cars-dot-com and carfax-dot-com. And the Craig­slist. And the Ebay.

My advisors and peers said I should get a “CERTI­FIED ” previously owned car. I had read how each vehicle goes through a ninety-thousand point inspection over a twelve-hour period. After passing the rigorous tests, each car is lovingly washed, de­tailed, and adorned with emollients to make it shine, smell brand new, and give the tires the appearance of patent leather shoes.

But in my inbox ap­peared a Subaru that cost a third less than any CER­TIFIED car and had a third fewer miles.

How can that be?

Liam and I made our way to Marietta to Bunco’s Used Cars. The twenty-one-year-old sales associ­ate showed us a beautiful, champagne-colored – and from outward appearanc­es, flawless – 2010 Outback with only seventy-three thousand miles on it. Liam opened the door, sat in the driver’s seat, looked up at me, scrunched his face, and said, “Dog.”

No, the car wasn’t a “dog.” Rather, judging by the strong smell, the previ­ous owner had been a dog, or a dog owner, we’re not sure which.

There were many signs of canine enthusiasm — scratch marks all over the rear doors and holes in the front armrest. By the size of the scratches, and the apparent rapid energy to make such marks, I am guessing Border Collie. Liam is betting on Icelan­dic Sheepdog.

Know you this: if a car’s previous owner had been a smoker, the automobile cannot be a CERTIFIED used car no matter how many little aromatherapy paper pine trees you hang from the rearview mir­ror. Similarly, pointing out to your salesperson that a car has been seriously “dogged” is a great negotia­tion tool, one that can save you thousands of dollars.

We bought it. I drove the shiny, champagne-colored (or, if you’re a tea-totaler, sparkling cider-colored) Subaru home as Liam fol­lowed me in the Pea Pop­per. Upon our night-time arrival, we discovered that I was out of Raisinets and Liam was out of Apple Jacks. “We gotta go to the Kroger!”

The turnaround spot on our steep hill is currently occupied by Liam’s 1986 Jaguar XJ6 – sans engine. (No, it is not up on cin­der blocks, thank you very much. It is up on jack stands.) Therefore, I had to back my shiny, new Out­back down our treacherous driveway – a rock wall on one side, an utter precipice on the other. I have done this maneuver countless times over the last for­ty-whatever years.


Those fancy LED head­lights blinded me. (Excus­es, excuses). I reached to turn them down and start­ed the windshield wipers. All of a sudden I slud off the lip of the driveway down the hill onto a small volunteer hickory tree that I mercifully spared so many years ago. I buckled my front left fender. (Slud and buckle are both ono­matopoeia.)

The only way I can bare it is to write about it.

And here it is. (sigh)...

I have to pick up Squiffy early in the morning and head to Virginia.

Be safe out there – Andy

A native of Covington, Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller, songwriter, and professional whistler. He can be reached at