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Here and Now

Dumping the old gal

May 01, 2003|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

I own a 1993 Subaru Legacy wagon, all-wheel drive, four-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, power windows, with a Blaupunkt CD player that I bought at Al and Ed's Autosound after I spilled coffee all over the other one the morning after I found out an ex-girlfriend was seeing this new guy.

The car, which is a tealish green, has ugly slash marks on its left side where I have repeatedly scraped it against the bushes that border my driveway (the rear fender is similarly abused from having knowingly backed into these same bushes). There is a cigarette burn in the passenger seat. Additionally, a strange ticking noise sometimes emanates from the dashboard, particularly when the car is idling at a stoplight. Passengers have remarked that it sounds like a bomb. When it rains overnight, steady and hard, the sunroof leaks, so that I have to drive to work sitting on a towel.

For the first time in my life, I am buying a new car. In a way I blame Larry David, the "Seinfeld" creator guy, who for reasons that aren't important once had to ride to a Chinese restaurant in my backseat. He got in, noticed where he was and said: "So how do you explain this car to dates?"

The comment has haunted me like a playground insult, but that isn't all, of course. Age and the desire for comfort have worn me down. Plus -- and this sneaked up on me -- life in contemporary Los Angeles involves a tremendous amount of valet parking, and I hate how pulling up in the Subaru makes me feel less-than, a shame that is often attended by the beating-up of myself for being so shallow, yada yada.

Until now, I could live with the scratches and the cigarette burn and the ticking -- proudly declaiming my lack of pretension -- but let me be podium-pounding clear on one issue: I will no longer sit on cloth. I want leather seats. I want leather seats more than I want a car. In fact, I am buying a whole car just so the leather seats don't look out of place, the way one invests in a flat-screen TV and then buys a throw rug, a lamp and some museum prints to disguise the fact that the flat-screen is the only reason to be in the room. I suppose I could put leather seats in the Legacy wagon, but I think it would look like a Burt Reynolds toupee.

"Leather seats. I want leather seats," I have told salesmen at Culver City Subaru, Santa Monica Subaru and Irvine Subaru, plus another sales guy I picked up on the Internet. His name is Jeff and he works in Bakersfield. The guy at Santa Monica Subaru and especially the guy at Culver City Subaru tried to close me as soon as I stepped into the showroom. While appreciating the old-time American-ness of the hard-selling car dealer, I prefer a subtler, less obviously needy closer.

Like Jeremy, at Irvine Subaru. We keep making plans to meet, and he'll call every so often, I guess to see how I'm doing. When I don't hear from him for some days, I feel neglected, and Jeff in Bakersfield begins to seem more attractive. We talk about the MSRP, Jeremy, Jeff and I, and 60-month financing deals at 3.9% and the trade-in value of my Legacy. I know what I want: a 2003 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS sedan, four doors, midnight black with tan leather interior. And now, of course, as the deal draws near, I have begun to anticipate breaking up with my car. Let me tell you about the '93 Subaru Legacy wagon: It was manufactured in Indiana and purchased at Bath Subaru, in Woolwich, Maine, by the mother of a friend. I bought the car at 30,000 miles and in roughly six years have pushed the odometer to 101,000.

I have changed the oil regularly and been similarly vigilant about tune-ups, and our relationship has been steady and uneventful. This is in contrast to my first car, a 1979 Datsun 280ZX. It was fun but ran hot and cost me many thousands of dollars in repairs and speeding tickets over the course of our 12-year fling in different states. Selling it prompted melancholy, but it was the sensible thing to do.

Getting rid of the Subaru is different. It is self-revealing -- a dumping in the search for new pleasures. And all I can do is echo that useless platitude of the relationship abandoner: It's not you; it's me.

Paul Brownfield can be contacted at paul.brownfield@latimes.com.

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