A Different Kind of Utopia

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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:

Subiefest 2022.


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.

East Germany’s only domestic car during Communist rule – the glorious Trabant!

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
tilt).

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
outdoor endeavors:

Don’t forget the cars that exist just to show off their beautiful engine

Or the beautiful spoiler

And last but not least, the beautiful dirt.

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.

The info booth, where volunteers could be found

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.

Gotta represent the ‘Gum.

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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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cstolliver
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cstolliver
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October 3, 2022 5:28 am

That’s a great experience, and a great story. Thanks for sharing both with us. So glad Pauly Sty’s Teen had such a wonderful day (and a cool dad to share it with).

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 3, 2022 8:25 am

I really know nothing about cars beyond how to drive them…and even there I waited til my thirties to learn!

Still, those heartwarming community moments are so important, especially nowadays! As dark and nerve-wracking as things were in November 2020, my experience working as an election officer was really enriching. Meeting and greeting the people of my district; working with my neighbors in service of the district, the state, and the nation. All of us working together, no matter who we voted for.

Recently, there was a nice little moment in Washington Square Park when my wife and I visited NYC. A DJ was playing house music, and people of all races, ages, and styles were dancing together with no eye for what looked cool. It was people coming together and having a good time. Even before COVID, stuff like this likely wouldn’t happen in the DC region. It felt revelatory.

It’s great that you could share such communal experiences with your son!

thegue
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thegue
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October 3, 2022 9:10 am

Typical of most American families, mine has a number of stories that revolve around the automobile…but those are for another time (maybe).

I just wanted to share a quick story about the Trabant. During my backpacking tour of 1992, I went to Berlin, finally united after the Cold War. In East Berlin, we saw quite a few Trabants, but at a souvenir kiosk on the street there was a man selling toy Trabants, complete with broken doors and other modifications specific to the cheaply assembled Communist auto. If I’d had the money I would’ve bought one, but I’d spent all of my deutsch marks…which led to another story.

Another time.

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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October 3, 2022 11:58 am

My first car was a 1972 Subaru DL 4-door sedan. That makes it sound big but it was so small I couldn’t lay a box of 4-foot fluorescent light bulbs across the back seat and close both doors. I had to put them in the reclined front passenger seat and have my co-worker sit in the back.

Still, it was a great car. It couldn’t be killed, though it was never the same after I accidentally hooked up a new battery backwards. That sort of fried all the electronics. Oops.

Anyway, your son has good taste.

JJ Live At Leeds
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October 3, 2022 1:03 pm

Like Phylum I’m not a car person. Passed my test when I was 18, drove a handful of times immediately after that but didn’t really need a car and it was 15 years before I started driving – after a refresher course to get over the fear of getting behind the wheel again. I quite enjoy driving now but the car is just a method of getting from a to b. Have no idea how they work, probably much to my dad’s shame – definitely don’t share his technical mind.

Great that you’ve got a shared hobby with you son, something to bond over and spend time together especially as its led to volunteering and having such a fulfilling experience with other Subaru aficionados.

I used to have a department manager who was a very mild mannered man, in his 60s and definitely not what you would picture as an petrolhead. He had a Subaru Impreza though, fully souped up, and conditioned to rally specification. He spent a lot of money on it and competed in rallying when he could. He brought it into work to show it off to us. I don’t know what decibel level it got to but the noise of the exhaust, screeching tyres and engine rumble as he showed off what it could do from a standing start in work’s car park had site security running over to tell him to stop it. Though they were somewhat taken aback to find out they were telling off one of the business leadership team who thought it was hilarious that they were giving him a ticking off.

Dance Fever
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October 3, 2022 2:06 pm

Wonderful story. Brings back memories of our local band of pre-teens who had an exclusive car club that had strict entry requirements.
Thankfully, my knowledge of “Daddy” Don Garlits and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney stood me good steed and I was admitted into the club. It didn’t last long (high school beckoned) but it was a fun two summers, building model cars and shopping at local hobby stores.
Glad your son has such a passion, hope he keeps it throughout life.
(By the way, just below your post, is a huge add for AWD and FWD cars at our local Automall!)

cappiethedog
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October 3, 2022 2:21 pm

Learning to drive via video game got my attention. It’s The Last Starfighter for real. I have a PlayStation. NBA2K21 hasn’t helped me expand my range from 19′ 9″. Maybe NBA2K22 will help me achieve my Stephen Curry dreams. I don’t worship athletes, but Curry comes close. Curry must be the only guy in the league whose parents are shown in the stands. It’s as if he’s an eternal teen.

Subcultures fascinate me. Your son may enjoy the car show scene in Julie Ducornau’s 2021 Palm d’or-winning Titane, the film France was too embarrassed to submit as their Best International Film entry for the Oscars. .

“Teen and I…” made me laugh. Thanks for sharing, Pauly Steyreen.

Aaron3000
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October 3, 2022 8:12 pm

Like V-Dog, my first car was also a Subaru… in my case, a 1979 4wd station wagon, purchased for $500 from a family friend just before I started my senior year of high school in ’88. It was white with blue plaid upholstery, had tires that tended to go flat for no reason whatsoever, and leaked oil like a sieve. Also, the headlight fuse burned out every so often while driving. Not being mechanically inclined enough to figure out where the short was, I took to keeping a box of Buss fuses in the glove box (thankfully the car also came equipped with separate fog lights, so I could flip those on long enough to pull over and change out the fuse, usually burning my fingers in the process).

I should also mention that it was manual transmission, and unlike Teen I had never been trained in anything other than an automatic. So here’s me, first time driving my “new” ten year old station wagon, bucking around the neighborhood streets, trying to get the hang of it (thankfully I was a quick learner… and apparently I liked it so much that my next vehicle would also end up being a stick).

Last edited 2 months ago by Aaron3000
Dance Fever
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October 3, 2022 11:52 pm

upvote for you

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