There is no one better than my mom and dad at keeping your gifts a total secret, right up until the moment they pull the wrappings off and surprise the crap out of you. Doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, a birthday or President’s Day; it never fails that they pull something out that has your jaw hitting the ground and your heart flirting with cardiac arrest.
Without question, the best example of this was right after my high school graduation. We did the typical graduation party thing where family and friends give you gobs of money, slap you on the back and ask what you plan to do with the rest of your productive life. Timidly you answer with something like, “Well, I’m still undecided…” They smile and wander off to get a piece of cake. A few days after the party, my family and I were out in the yard taking family pictures when someone suggested that we walk to the top of the hill behind our house for a scenic backdrop or something. We crested the top of the hill, and BOOM! Sitting there amongst the rows of green juniper bushes and gleaming in the sun, was a white 2001 Subaru Forester, keys in the ignition and my name all over it. Totally had no idea that was going to happen. I felt like Luke Wilson’s character in Anchorman as he’s just had one of his arms ripped off by a grizzly bear. “Aw! I did NOT see that comin’!”
Naturally, I tweaked. After I calmed down, my mom reminded me of the weeks leading up to my graduation when she would casually ask me, “So what do you think of the Subaru Forester? Do you like it in white?” My answers to both those questions were the same: “Stupid cars. White is a boring color and only old people drive a Forester.” She would always look slightly quizzical and a little concerned and say something like, “Oh.” And this is where it was so devious. Little did I know that she was performing the delicate and nearly undetectable art of “Mom Reconnaissance.” Subtle questions that seemed innocent at the time, but in hindsight, were so clearly asked with specific intent.
So, what did my parents do when they knew I didn’t like white Foresters? They bought a white Forester. That took some serious cajones on their part. Imagine buying your kid a car that they genuinely hated. I’m glad they took the leap and bought the car because the Forester has become my old and loyal friend, one that I look forward to hanging out with and one that I know will never let me down.
One of the things that I like the best about the Forester would have to be the way it pulls off utility without being utilitarian. You can load the back down with skis, rock climbing gear, bags and stuff, but when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, you don’t feel like you’re piloting a tank or a soccer mom-mobile. Unlike so many other “utility” vehicles, the cabin in the Forester has some semblance of character and has consistently decent gas mileage. The Forester has been on countless trips to my local rock climbing area, multitudes of skiing trips, and a myriad of adventures both near and far, and it has handled all of them with aplomb.
It was this capability to carry piles of stuff and it’s distinctly can-ish shape that gave my Forester its nickname: The Soupcan. I’ll give credit where credit is due; I have my good friend Anthony Cormier to thank for the nickname. I think he dropped that name somewhere in casual conversation at some point, like, “Doran, are you still driving the soupcan?” and the name stuck. For a while, I even had a magnet on the back of Andy Warhol’s famousCampbell’s Soup can painting. It’s been used so often that I don’t even refer to my car anymore as “my car.” It is only, “The Soupcan.”
The Soupcan’s (see?) other major strengths are having by far the largest sunroof in the history of the world. It’s so big it’s not just a sunroof, I’ve called it the “Galaxy Roof.” The seats are supportive and comfortable, there is certainly no substitute for driving a manual transmission vehicle, and it’s ruggedly handsome in its own Japanese, can-ish sort of way.
As I write this, there are a shade over 190,000 miles on the clock and while she starts a little slower these days, the engine still clatters along at idle with the reassuring mechanical rattle of the Subaru boxer four-cylinder. We had a pretty rugged winter this year with the roads regularly being blanketed in several inches of fresh snow, and not once did I have an issue driving anywhere. In fact, I got all school-girl giddy at the prospect of being able to drive on snowy country roads and make use of Subaru’s excellent all-wheel-drive system. Every turn in the road was an opportunity to be like Ken Block: Give it a flick of opposite lock and a dab of power to rotate the back end, and then hang it out there in long and ridiculous power slides. While I am certainly no Ken Block, I never passed up the opportunity to fling The Soupcan around pretty much every corner I came to.
However, this wouldn’t be a proper overview if I didn’t mention some of the Soupcan’s shortcomings. The gear shifter feels like you’re changing gear by trying to shove a plastic fork directly into the transmission’s teeth. The check engine light comes on with frightening regularity. While 25 miles-per-gallon is decent, a car with a 2.5-liter four cylinder should be a little more frugal, even with the all-wheel-drive system factored into the equation. The rear window wiper has developed a nasty case of rust where it meets the body of the car and it’s now spreading rusty red tears down the back hatch, the digital clock gave out years ago along with the rear window washer, and having to replace major components like the exhaust system (twice), the clutch, and the head gasket seems a little excessive. The multiple flat and popped tires have nothing to do with the car and more to do with *ahem* the driver. Even with all that, The Soupcan is a champ.
Like all relationships, there is an end point. With people, it’s either an event that occurs in or outside your control, or Mother Nature herself. And with every mile we drive, I know that The Soupcan will have to be replaced that much sooner. We’ve been through a lot of adventures together, and she will be sorely missed once she’s been retired to the used car lot. I find that it’s only fitting to stay with the Subaru family for my next car; I’ve got my eye on a 2011 Satin Pearl white Subaru Legacy GT. A test drive last summer got me hooked on 265 turbocharged horsepower, leather, Bluetooth, and driving a sedan again (hooray!) I find it to be a perfect blend of sportiness, professionalism and comfort, and who in their right mind can say no to a turbocharged Subaru engine? Turbos and Subarus go together like hotdogs and ketchup; good by themselves, but magically delicious when put into the same bun. I’ll be sure to keep TDC updated with my progress in finding The Soupcan’s worthy replacement.
In short, The Soupcan has been a tremendous vehicle: More than satisfactory reliability, loads of space for you and your stuff, and enough character and quirkiness to keep things interesting. It’s basically the perfect vehicle for northern New England. And as I look into the future of my transportation, I can’t help but hear the muted whoosh of a turbocharged Satin Pearl Legacy GT coming down the road…