It was mum that did it. A few years back, I was on the phone with her, telling her about the husband’s new car, and she said, “That settles it. His car sparkles and you have crusty.”
The name stuck, and not just for that Subaru, a red 1999 Forester. That name also transferred to the 2008 two-tone brown Outback I now drive.
I’ve only ever had Subarus. In high school, I drove the Black Diamond. It had fantastic gas mileage, six slots for four gears, and always started, regardless of cold. It went to the ski hill, made untold trips to Billings, and was my university car in Chicago. I taught a friend from university to drive stick shift as we hurtled across North Dakota in the dead of night. After the Black Diamond stranded mum a couple of times, Dad sold her to a local rancher as his irrigation car. A few years ago, I spotted the ebony zirconium, my pet name for her, while driving back from the grocery store. Except for a bit more rust, she looked much like I’d left her.
Fast forward a few years through finishing university, the Peace Corps in Outer Mongolia, and moving back to Chicago as an adult. I started my first real, full-time job driving the original Crusty, a 1999 Subaru Forester. She was far too good for me, faithfully making the trips from Chicago to Bridger and back again at Christmas. She was almost done in by Jiffy Lube mechanics that drained the transmission fluid while performing a routine oil change and failed to replace said transmission fluid. She came south with us when we abandoned snowy Chicago winters for the hot Austin sun, and then survived having a door ripped off as she backed down a hill on her own. I’ve used the same mechanics to keep her in tip-top condition. (The dogs and I may be hell on the interior of a car, but I’m militant about getting any and all services done according to the owner’s manual.) In 2010, they told me that they would drive me to the dealership of my choice if only I would get a different vehicle. They were tired of soaking through years of rust from northern winters to perform any repairs. Sadly, I agreed that it might be time.
Enter the next Crusty, a gem I found while trawling Craigslist. She is two shades of brown underneath all of the dirt, pollen, and dog hair. If you have the misfortune of riding in the back, I lay down a protective layer of beach towels and grocery bags in a futile attempt to keep you clean. If Joel is ever forced into Crusty, he complains and makes jokes about hazmat suits and detox showers. He is only partially kidding. One time when my parents were visiting for the holidays, I took her to be detailed. The cleaning crew took one look at her and one whiff of her and said, “What do you do, lady, transport bears?” We laughed, and I added an extra ten spot to the tip.
I’m often asked why I drive Subarus. They’re not exotic, they’re not fast, they’re not statement cars. But then again, neither am I. I view my car as a way to get from point A to point B, and more often as the way that I’ll get my dogs to the dog park and swimming holes. Any car of mine needs to withstand dog drool, the stink of a wet dog in a hot car, and long-haul road trips. My only mandate is that the air conditioning work. South-central Texas is no place on the ability to roll down the window.
And yes, the next Subaru, even it is pink and sparkles and flies, will still be Crusty. She’ll always be Crusty to me.