On September 18th, Pauly’s Stey’s Teen and I took a pilgrimage to the hallowed ground of the National Orange Show Event Center in San Bernardino, CA, for a transformational, dare I say religious, experience.
An event that only happens six times a year in six discrete locations throughout the United States, an event that brings together people of different races, creeds and philosophies. Of course, I am talking about:
Ok, I gotta come clean here – this was Teen’s idea, not mine.
My son is the most prolific car enthusiast I have ever known. He has been all about cars since he was old enough to talk. He eats, breathes and lives cars. He’s been counting the days until he could get his driver’s license since he was four. And in a great stroke of coincidence, he was able to take the driver’s test – and pass, natch – literally two days before Subiefest.
I’ve learned to appreciate cars through him and mostly as something we can bond over. I was not a car guy before – he did not learn his automotive tendencies from me. But he has taught me so much about cars – the difference between an NA and an NB Miata, or the hidden glory of the Trabant duroplast body.
He’s an expert on how to execute a heel-toe downshift.
Even though he just got his license, he has been “driving cars in manual” for years with a steering wheel / pedals / shifter set-up we bought and put together into a PVC frame. He’s driven thousands of virtual miles in video game interfaces before doing the real thing.
Anyway, there are six events held every year for Subaru enthusiasts throughout the country:
• Wicked Big Meet in New England
• Subiefest Midwest in the greater Chicago area
• Big Northwest in the Portland / Seattle area
• Boxerfest in the greater Philly area
• Subiefest California in southern California
• Subiefest Florida in…
…well, you know.
The events involve car shows, autocross competitions, plenty of vendors selling after-market parts for modifying your Subaru, door prizes and such. There’s even a loudest exhaust competition that draws a big crowd – the winner exceeded 124 decibels! (Aren’t you glad he doesn’t live in your neighborhood?)
But mainly: it’s an excuse to hang out with like-minded car enthusiasts out in the sun.
(To be clear, my son is not exclusively a “Subaru guy,” but he is a fan of the brand.)
The variety of cars you will see, even just within a single brand, is astonishing. Because almost none of these cars are stock – they have been modified to be faster, lower, more off-road capable, or just more aesthetically unique.
You’ve got the old cars – some preserved in original condition and some modified pretty extensively:
You’ve got cars that have been stanced (lowered to the ground) or cambered (wheels set to an extreme
You’ve got cars with incredible full-body wraps – insane graphics:
And going in a very different direction, you have vehicles made for camping, off-roading or other
Don’t forget the cars that exist just to show off their beautiful engine
Or the beautiful spoiler
There was so much to see, it could make you dizzy.
Or that could also be the heat – make sure you keep hydrated!
If the purpose of this story was to show off all the cool cars, this would be mission accomplished.
But I really wanted to share the story behind the story:
My family and I were in Portland a few years ago on vacation. Totally by chance, we realized there was going to be a Subaru meet there (Big Northwest), so my son and I took the train to attend it. (We ended up arriving very late, because we went the wrong way from the train station and ended up walking 2 ½ hours in the sun across a golf course and eventually calling an Uber, but that’s another story.)
We were not even aware of these Subaru events before more-or-less happening into this one. But we made it a priority to attend another one. This year we finally got our chance, so we bought our tickets a couple of months in advance.
Then a week before the event, we got an email saying the event was really desperate for volunteers. Apparently, in exchange for volunteering:
- you get your ticket refunded
- you get a bag of schwag
- and you you get a T-shirt, and extra tickets for door prizes.
Teen was really excited about it, so we signed up to volunteer the AM shift (7 am to 1 pm), really with no idea what to expect. We figured we could help out at the event, but still spend the afternoon checking out the cars, the vendors and the fun.
We arrived at 7 am sharp (the event started at 9) and got our neon green volunteer t-shirts. Then it was a whirlwind.
Working with about sixty other volunteers, Teen and I did the following at various points during the morning:
• Stuff goodie bags
• Bring supplies (e.g. extension cords) to vendors
• Hang signs pointing to the event entrance
• Instruct attendees to split into two lines for security
• Sling t-shirts for attendees
• Keeping the cooler of water and Gatorade full
• Bouncer duty for people trying to skip ticketing at the entrance (Teen’s job in the late morning)
• Breaking down empty cardboard boxes
The line of cars waiting to get in – 45 minutes before gates opened
Attendees arriving and getting in line
The big things that struck me about the event were the diversity and the unity.
By my estimation, the20,000+ attendees were about 1/3 Latino, 1/3 white and 1/3 Asian. You had geeks with SpaceX gear,guys with neck tattoos, folks in classic cholo threads, and of course people wearing every kind of car or car-part piece of clothing or accessory you can imagine.
The age range of attendees was mainly in the 20’s and 30’s, but there were several smaller kids there with parents, and a few old timers like me.
But the vibe was just as chill as you can imagine, like we were all on the same team, all here to share our love of the cars. Just as there was a WIDE variety of cars on display, but they were all Subarus, so we had a WIDE variety of people, all united by our love of cars.
My son and I are usually very reserved, but we met several cool guys and talked cars, ate overpriced food truck fare, and generally shared the sense of bliss like a kid on Christmas morning – more fun things to do and see than you could possibly make time for.
Guys we might have even been kinda scared of if we saw them on the street… well we were thick as thieves, having a great conversation and generally not feeling any barriers to being friendly and sharing our enthusiasm for the cars or stories about mods.
When you talk to somebody who has clearly put a lot of time and love into his car, and you know he wants to tell you all about it, and you want to hear about it, so it’s a win-win.
I can imagine that if I talked politics or music or many other topics with some of these folks, we wouldn’t agree on much.
We may even perceive each other as enemies. But the attendees were pretty much uniformly apolitical, and polite.
Despite many differences in race, age, political leanings, etc, we saw ourselves as a collective “us”.
Now, maybe I’m just projecting my own feelings, but I will say: I didn’t detect an iota of hostility from anybody toward anybody, and I was there the entire time, from two hours before the event opened until the moment it closed.
It was kind of like a different form of Stereogum or tnocs.com – a little utopia.
When the event wound down, Teen and I walked away with no door prizes… unfortunately. But we were all smiles nonetheless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so full of joy, the entire day. This is what made it for me.
I enjoyed myself – the volunteering, the fun conversations about cars with strangers, the insane car mods – it wasn’t a chore for me to attend, even if I’m not a car guy like my son.
But seeing him so in his element, so engaged and happy, that was the real kicker for me.
That’s what made it so special.
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