My Old Passat — No Longer Passé

“Do you always look for things that legitimize your own ideas?” “Of course. Doesn’t everybody?”

I was alerting my daughter to a Los Angeles Times story describing a renewed interest in station wagons. Of course the cars mentioned were high end — in the $70,000 – $85,000 range with plenty of extra add-ons.

My own wagon is 11 years old and has recently been re-registered as “salvage,” which I think means it’s worth nothing. But it still runs well, and now that its body has had a makeover, it looks pretty good. And until I read the LA Times story, I’d been referring to it as “the last station wagon in America.” It is a VW Passat, a model that Volkswagen chose to kill a year or so ago but which a glance at the company’s website shows me has been reborn, sort of.

The Times story by Russ Mitchell highlights two luxury models from Jaguar and Volvo, but mentions Mercedes and Buick, along with Volkswagen, as other companies selling station wagons in the U.S., “prompted,” he writes, “by the steady success of the Subaru Outback.”  Having no interest in owning an SUV — my husband and I once turned one back at a car rental place (“You don’t like this car?” the agent asked incredulously), I thought the Outback would be the closest I could come to replacing my car when the time came.

And then here came Michell, the car reviewer, admitting to owning an SUV but writing, “I’ve always been partial to station wagons,” (Yes!) “and I’m glad to see more of them hitting the market.” He explains, “I enjoy driving, and station wagons, being lower to the ground, cruise more smoothly and handle curves with far more agility than a top-heavy SUV. Both cars hold the road like a sports sedan, but unlike with a sedan, I can fit a lot more junk in the back.”

Well yes, but besides junk, my wagon is useful for hauling groceries, cases of wine, packages for the post office, contributions for Goodwill, and until a couple of years ago, one 130-pound Great Dane.

So why the body makeover? In recent years, posts and similar stationary hazards have been jumping out at my car to the point where it was looking pretty shabby. And then I moved into an apartment building with a garage and an assigned parking space bordered on one side by two huge concrete posts. Being very aware of the nice-looking car in the adjoining space, I was carefully maneuvering mine into my space, making sure I was not too close to my neighbor, when my car and one of the posts kind of leaned into one another. No bang, just sort of a sigh. But when I exited the vehicle, I was horrified to see the entire back door on that side caved in.

I don’t think in all the years of car ownership, we ever put in a claim to the insurance company for something that was our fault, but this time I did. When the adjuster came to see the damage, he observed that, along with the many other dents, scrapes and loose-hanging parts, the car could easily be considered totaled. Would I want that?  I said “Okay,” not realizing that would bring the “salvage” designation. Trying not to think how much the car cost when it was brand new, I used the insurance money to have the worst of the damages repaired. As for what will happen when it’s time to renew the insurance, in one of our current president’s favorite expressions, “We’ll see.”

VW Passat 1

Lost in the Parking Garage

I wish I could say this was the first time I ever did this: riding in a golf cart with a nice young man named Jeff as we try to find my parked car. First time in this particular garage, however.

“What kind of car is it?” Jeff asks.

“A Volkswagen Passat wagon,” I answer. “Dark brown but everyone thinks it’s black.”

“They’re nice cars,” he says. “My mom used to have one. Not the wagon, though, the sedan.”

“Yes,” I say. “We’ve had quite a few of both. But they’re not going to make them anymore.”

“I guess you’re right,” he says. “Are you sure you parked on the fourth floor?”

“Pretty sure. And when I pushed the lock button on the clicker thing here, I could hear my car beep.”

So we ride up and down the aisles pushing the clicker and listening for the beep. At one point a colleague of Jeff’s stops to lend advice.

“No,” he says, “don’t push the lock button. Push the panic button. Hold the thing up high and hold down the panic button.”

We can hear my car’s distress…somewhere. And suddenly, many car alarms go into panic mode together. Pandemonium reigns throughout the garage for a few moments.

Jeff decides the car might be one floor below or one floor above, so we try those places, and finally on the FIFTH floor, we see my car. I’d already told him about the stickers on the back window that read “Yes, I voted Obama” and the new one, “Proud Democrat.”

“I just put that one up this morning,” I say. “I thought maybe people should know I voted for Obama and I’m glad I did.”

“My Mom’s a Democratic legislator,” he says and he tells me which state.

“Well, tell her hello from me and say you rescued a ditsy old lady Democrat today in the parking garage.”

“I will,” he says. “Glad I could help.”

By this time the free parking ticket is no longer valid. I have to pay $3 to get out of the place.