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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Tragedy rocks Brandon’s Blog: Back to Jalopy-ville (1)

The car gods totaled my 1995 Honda Civic hatchback. In return they gaveth me a $3,511 check. With the blood money tucked into the glove compartment of a borrowed 1994 Ford Taurus wagon named Able, I had but one day off from my day job to purchase another car worthy of surviving the impending snowmageddon of winter. 


It was Tuesday morning, 9:54am. My insurance check was in Burien at Insurance Auto Auctioning; a terrible place where dreams die. 


Craigslist showed a 1996 Subaru wagon for sale, located just minutes from the insurance place. The wagon was listed as having only 112k miles and a new timing belt. A guy named Nam wanted $3,200 for it. I called him up. 

Nam’s English was much like my Civic after the wreck. Several minutes into a very confusing phone conversation I managed to translate his address to a sticky pad. Moments later I was in Burien. At the auto auction a friendly lady by the name of Sally handed over the check for the Civic and wished me luck. 

Once the death letter was cashed, Able and I made our way out onto the dreary streets in search of Nam and his Subaru wagon with the Russian roulette of Map Quest as our only guide. 

Nam had failed to mention, or possibly didn’t, that his address wasn’t for a private residence but for an auto body shop where he worked. I asked for him at the front desk. 

He was incredibly short and had an odd limp, possibly from a game leg that made him totter left to right like Cotton from King of the Hill. His Subaru was parked in front of the shop, boxed in from the rear by another car. He tossed me the keys to the wagon and hopped up into the driver’s seat of the blocking car to move it out the way. 

While Nam motored to the front of the garage, I sized up the Subaru. It looked beat up, but still a contender if the engine was strong; in all likelihood it would be if the timing belt had in fact been replaced. 

I turned the key in the ignition and nothing happened. I went looking for Nam to see what the problem might be and found him still sitting in the car he had moved, parked in front of the shop. He was yelling something at me from behind the glass of the driver’s window and gesturing frantically with his hands. Apparently he was trapped and needed me to let him out. 

Once free, he hurried to grab a jump-start kit from the garage. With a straight arm he stood upright, lifted the kit several inches from the ground like a giant suitcase and wobbled dangerously over to the Subaru. The engine rattled to life. Nam said he didn’t have the paper work for the timing belt and told me to take her for a spin. 

Several feet from the parking space I touched the brakes for the first time. They pulsed rapidly back against my foot as if the ABS was on the fritz and made a startling beeping noise like a clothes dryer buzzer when the load is done. 

I decided to keep her off the highways and stick to the back roads, already knowing that this was not the car for me, anyone who valued their general well being or that of those around them. 

Eight horrifying minutes later I dropped the keys off back at the front desk and thanked Nam for his time. My only other leads for the fateful day were in Lynnwood on the historically gritty used car skid mark of Highway 99.

Next up: A 1997 Volkswagen GTI and a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon. One of these cars came home with me. One of them had to. 

Stay tuned. 

Part 1:


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