Saturday April 27, 2013

I remember it well ... May 18, 2002, I traveled over to Bow, N.H. and bought a 1980s something Subaru Justy for around eight hundred bucks. Oddly, it had snowed that day, but by the time I got to Concord there wasn't much on the ground. After a brief test drive I bought the thing and drove it home. It was noisy, underpowered, and fun as all get out to drive. It was also about the only thing I could afford at the time, having recently divorced, and with two kids in college. I didn't mind at all because the Justy was an adventure every time I drove it. I remember coming upon a Moose trotting across Back Westminster road while driving the diminutive Subaru, and felt very insignificant next to this gargantuan animal. I took it real slow in the car after that.

I never went very far in the Justy, and it never let me down, either. The gas mileage was great and hardly anyone wanted to ride with me in it so I got to enjoy it solo. I remember driving it up to South Royalton for Christmas in a raging snowstorm. On the way back home I decided to stay away from the interstate and go over Howe Hill in Pomfret, through Woodstock and over Reading Mountain and home form there. After the little Subaru conquered Reading Mountain it was nearly brought to a dead stop in Bailey's Mills at the bottom of the mountain. For some reason the snow plow hadn't gone through the small settlement, and I ended up plowing snow with the little car, snow billowing up and over the hood causing me to drive blind for a short distance. After that, the car began to strain against the accumulated snow, and it wanted to ride up and over the compacted snow just under the front end. I figured that if I stopped, backed up, and drove around the snow pile the car would create every twenty yards or so I could make decent progress. This is the sort of lore that Subaru owners refer to when they speak so lovingly of their cars here in Vermont. It also explains why there are more Subarus registered in Vermont than any other brand.

A couple of weeks ago, in my quest for better gas mileage, I traded in my SUV for a new Subaru XV Crosstrek. While the gas mileage was good with my big SUV, I knew I could do better with a Subaru. I was proven right on the first day of ownership. While I had also owned a Subaru Impreza for a couple of years, I hated the seats in it, but sort of liked the car. This time around I got very lucky with the Crosstrek seats ... they are good sized, comfortable, and they also have heaters. Oh happy day. I hadn't had seat heater's since my old Cadillac Eldorado. The heated mirrors and heated windshield wiper tray are perfect features for Vermont, and the Symmetrical All Wheel Drive is a proven design that those of us who live up steep hills can't live without. All of this is just wonderful, but the fact of the matter is that while every Subaru that I have owned has performed well, I've never particularly liked the brand. Maybe it was my first introduction to Subaru's that colored my opinion.

It was 1972, I was working at the little Shell station on Route 14 in South Royalton when a scholarly looking fellow in a dark green tinny looking little foreign car drove in. He was a professor at nearby Dartmouth College, and when he popped the hood, the Subaru/Fuji Heavy Industries lecture began. In between puffs on his curved briar pipe, he regaled us with the history of the company, the odd horizontally opposed engine, and a couple of other unique features. The gas station owner's brother and I kept giving each other the eye roll, and tried to keep from laughing out loud. It really looked like a piece of junk. Besides, I hated the smell of the Professor's pipe, and when he left, we derided the flimsy looking car and began calling it a "Saab-a-ruby." In fact, I never did catch the professor's name because every time he would drive in to fill up we'd yell out "Hey, Saab-a ruby's here!" For us, that was the man's name from that moment on. Youth and ignorance ... there's nothing like it.

Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru, is a diverse and interesting company these days. They now own part of Polaris, and Toyota owns about 16 percent of Fuji. The company makes aircraft parts for Boeing, pistons for Polaris, helicopters for the domestic Japanese market, and a lot more. Fuji has come a long way since 1972 when I first became aware of them, and now they are Vermont's auto maker of choice. For me it just seems unavoidable to be owning a vehicle built by Fuji ... again.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.