The Art of the Abandoned Vehicle

**Note: This has to do exclusively with the visual art that is inherently found in and can be created around the viewing of an abandoned vehicle, not with the actual process of abandoning a vehicle.  That’s not the message being spread here.  I do not, and have never, advocated for the abandoning of any vehicle in any way, shape or form.  Condoned?  Sure.  Even assisted once or twice.  Four times.  And I can’t tell you how many parts I’ve pulled from vehicles that were formerly abandoned.  I have no idea, actually.  But I know people who have.  And saved, like, a crap load of money doing it.  I wholeheartedly support the parts-pulling industry, but I stand to tell you, right now, that I in no way, no way advocate for the reckless and largely criminal act of abandoning a vehicle by the side of the road.  No way.**

I have a friend who used to buy cars for like $300 (it’s easy to do in Oregon), drive them for a little while, then fill them up with garbage before abandoning them in small fields, Wal-Mart parking lots or downtown historic districts.  It was an obsession.  One time, he loaded a $300 car with garbage and abandoned it across the street from where he was working in Cottage Grove.  Right across the street.  His boss knew it, too, but couldn’t do anything about it.

A week later, three migrant workers had removed the garbage, moved in and were operating a medium-sized propane grill in the back where the bench seat used to be.

Made the Variety section of the local newspaper.

I myself learned to drive stick in Portland on a 1990 Plymouth Laser, aqua green with pink detailing and sparkles, spray-painted gold wheels, no muffler and a semi-malfunctioning fuel injection system.  Paid $575 for it in 2006, which, adjusted for inflation today, would probably come out to around $300.

The car was awesome, by the way.  I used to turn out of my parking lot and gun it, and set off every car alarm out in front of the huge apartment complex across the street.  But, unlike nearly every other time that happens in far Southeast Portland, this time was totally unintentional.

Lyman A. Budlong was her name.  Unicorn air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror.  Tampons and eyebrow waxing kit in the glove compartment.  Pocket catechism.  I don’t know who drove it off the lot, but I could picture her: hair-sprayed bangs, denim jacket, cuffed denim jeans, denim patches on her white unicorn sweatshirt, puffy shoulders, gold crucifix around her neck.  L.A. Gear high tops.  Waxed eyebrows.  A promise ring.  Plus, like, four other promise rings.  Striped finger nails.  Rub-on tan.

Me and that unicorn air freshener had some pretty awesome adventures.  This one time, I picked up these desperate, neophyte, stray former nun runaways (or neodef’nunastrays) who’d just escaped from the Western Seminary Christian school on SE Hawthorne.  Fit them all into my tiny ass car.  Thing was, they only wanted to go to the Dairy Queen right around the corner on Division St. and get a vanilla cone.  With sprinkles.  Then go right back.  It was like that Bob Seger song.  Except with nuns.  Not some ’70s bar scug who’d jump on the back of some random guy’s motorcycle and literally drive a thousand miles out West with him.

(And what’s funny is that if you slightly rearrange the spelling and take a close look at the Greek roots in ‘neodef’nunastrays’, it becomes a word that means to recently throw somebody’s hopes out of a window.  Which was quite metaphorically apt in this situation.  Because that somebody was me, thinking I could get some actrion from one or several nun-turned-theological-grad-students who had but one thing on their minds, and that was what the taste of a fucking artificially flavored fast food vanilla ice cream cone was like.)

The car sat immobile for 4 years before I bought it—that was its biggest problem.  It never did pass an emissions test.  Some tweaker had tried to cut out the catalytic converter and sell it for the copper at some point, but instead of cutting at either end of it, they cut right through the center.  Put a five inch gash that let out all kinds of things.  Palladium.  Nitric oxides.  Urchin souls.

I changed every single fluid the car utilized and was able to coax a still-valid registration sticker off some burnt-up Dodge Caravan at the wrecking yard.  It was all me and green-screen Tina Turner could do to save the thing.  But it wasn’t enough.

Eventually I sold it to a guy who abandoned it by the side of the road.  (I totally advocated that, by the way.)  And since I never did transfer the title into my own name in the first place—you need to pass emissions first—I heard the story from the guy I originally bought it from after the cops showed up at his door to bust him for abandoning his vehicle on the side of the road.

So, from my experience, the formula is simple: Take a car.  Leave it out in the rain and snow and sun entire its life.  Take some care of it, but not much (like, for example, change the oil every 10,000 miles, but never fix any oil leaks.  Big difference).  Wait until it gets to at least 250,000 miles, preferably 300,000, at least one bearing goes out, you got about three inches of play in the steering wheel, the rear struts fail, and then take some silver duct tape and (if you haven’t already) cover half the driver’s seat in it.  Then get a can of primer, and (if you haven’t already) spray individual patches over the body.  Then, take a bunch of smoked cigarettes, and (if you haven’t already) fill the ashtray with them.  But, if you haven’t already, remove the cigarette lighter.  Sprinkle 350-400 fir, pine or spruce needles under the hood as well, over by the firewall, along with some dead oak leaves.  Then put a crack in the windshield, in the style of your choosing.  The car is now ready to be abandoned.

Or, in the case of a quarter of the population of Eugene, Oregon, it’ll be ready to drive for another 150,000 miles.

And in the case of a truck, everything still applies, only on a larger scale. Except trucks don’t have struts.  They have leaf springs.  And those are really tough to blow out.

And in the case of a boat or a plane, I have no concept of that.

But this really wasn’t about abandoning a vehicle.  It was about creating art.