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WRITING

Words I put in order. Check out this page for links to more of my writing

Reviewed: Freja

Cy Whitling

Freja

Year: 2006 (but the title says 2007?)

Make: Scion (But the engine says Toyota?)

Model: XA (not the stupid boxy one)

Capacity:

  • 5 adults who really like each other

  • 4 normal adults

  • 3 adults and five pairs of skis

  • 2 adults and 23 pairs of skis

  • 1 adult who can’t find the condo in Whistler and thus has to sleep in his Scion

Price (with salvage title) $2800

I’ve owned five cars in my short life: three trucks, one Subaru, and now, one Scion (pronounced Ski-On), and while each vehicle has had its pros and cons, none of them has proved to be as versatile, as surprising, and as stereotype defying as my current go-to ride, Freja, the Scion. She’s treated me better than any other car I’ve ever entangled myself with, and proven to be a reliable and consistent ride.

While my Instagram fills with friends buying vans, building out tiny homes, and decorating their truck campers, I’m happy with my tiny, efeminate little bug of a car. Here’s why:

Her Story

Before Freja I owned Roxanne, the Subaru Outback. She was beautiful, everything I thought I wanted out of a relationship. I can still remember her smooth curves, her powerful pistons, and her spacious trunk. She only dealt me dirty once, with a red check engine light (her namesake), and an exploded engine in the middle of Montana.

I forgave her, towed her home, and together Jake and I put a new engine in her, making an honest ride of her for the next two years. Then, as I drove to Moscow to see my family for Thanksgiving, speeding through Montana at 80 mph (the legal limit, don’t worry mom), a cow elk shattered our relationship. Literally. I was picking bits of windshield and elk hair out of my beard for a week after. She was totalled, smashed on the side of the road, leaking fluids, and with her last gasps she set me free to find another. I traded her to the tow truck guy for a ride most of the way home and then dove back into the dingy dating scene that is “Cars/Trucks for sale by Owner” on Craigslist.

It wasn’t till after Christmas that I found anything worth pursuing, a Scion XA for sale in Spokane. There were a lot of red flags initially. My texts were responded to with emojis and incomplete sentences. It turned out the car had a salvage title, not mentioned in the ad. First she came with summer tires, then she didn’t. I believed in her though.

My grandfather drove my father, three of my brothers and I up to Spokane to look at her. Her owner was a college aged girl with a thick European accent. She said the car had been totalled twice. Once when her dad hit her mom’s car with it, and again when the oil filter had fallen out on the highway. Everything had been fixed “very nice” she said. I took it for a test drive. Everything felt smooth, the windows all rolled up and down, and the stereo had this cool little plug for an iPod. I talked her down a little, and told her I’d buy it.

It turned out she’d never sold a car before and didn’t know that she needed to bring a title with her. She didn’t have it, so we drove to her house to get it. At her house my grandfather and I were met by the owner’s mother, who spoke no English. At all. She yelled aggressively at us in some language we couldn’t identify until her daughter pushed her into a room, slammed the door, and apologized. Then she disappeared to find the title. She was gone for 20 minutes while we stood awkwardly in her living room, fake tree still up in the corner. My father, waiting in the car assumed we had been kidnapped and tried to figure out what he could use as a weapon if he heard shots.

Eventually it turned out the girl had no title. At all. I was in love though, I wanted that car so badly, it had the little Ipod plug! So she loaded all the parts that had fallen off the car (grill, light, extra window tint) into the back. Then we took off for the DMV. An hour of negotiations later and we were all pretty sure that I owned the car now. I slipped her an envelope of cash, drove her home, and headed to a gas station to buy a cord to plug into that iPod jack. It worked, and better yet, she’d left Taylor Swift’s 1989 in the CD player.

The Name

Freja is the Norse god of fertility, generally portrayed as a very pregnant woman. The Scion has a similar shape, but instead of carrying an immortal wolf that will devour the universe, she’s just got a smelly skier or two and too much gear.

Image

Purists may argue that image shouldn’t matter when purchasing a car, but if that were true, Hummers wouldn’t exist, and TV wouldn’t be full of ads featuring fake families cleaning up their immaculate yards with American-made trucks. My last car, the Subaru, checked the image box perfectly: outdoorsy, practical, utilitarian, capable.

The Scion is a lot more...Sorority Girl. It’s just so cute, so compact, so perfectly proportioned to be filled with homogenous ladies on their way out for a night of clubbing, applying lipstick in the mirror I use to put my contacts in after car camping, blasting Taylor Swift on the stereo I blast Taylor Swift on. It’s the sort of car that would look perfect with those little sea turtle stickers on the back windows. You know the ones, the kind people from Kansas buy on their one trip to Hawaii and then stick on their window. Vans are cool. Trucks are cool. Subarus are cool. Scions are not cool. Yet.

I’m actually a huge fan of the image Freja conveys. Trying to camp incognito in your van, truck, or Subaru? Good luck, your vehicle will out you as a ski bum from a mile away. Not so in the Scion. The same goes for cops. Who would pull over a Scion? And if they do pull me over I can just cry my way out of the ticket, right?

Engine

Freja has a 1.5 Liter engine that has a Toyota logo on it. I like it when engines have a Toyota logo on them, it makes me trust them more.

I don’t like it when the number of liters they have is that small. There are plenty of motorcycles with bigger engines than that. Her 1.5 L engine produces 103 Horsepower. An athletic person can produce 2.5 horsepower. That means 43 people can produce as much power as my car. I’m pretty happy with that number until I try to merge onto the highway. Then it sounds like not enough people. Freja has trouble getting up to speed, she has trouble with a headwind, she has trouble when I carry passengers, she has trouble when I carry my bike. I’ve gotten used to it, she might be slow, she might be sluggish, but at least she’s efficient.

Without a bike rack she gets around 36 miles to the gallon, that’s offset by her 10 gallon tank which limits her range. That’s still a pretty good ratio of burnt dinosaur bones to gas station bathrooms though.

And when it comes to range with the gas light on Freja is unmatched. I’ve pushed her a couple times, drive 23 miles or so praying that a gas station appears, but on our last big trip, the gas light came on 44 miles away from the next town. 44 miles. 44 miles of sweating and praying and turning off the AC and gripping the wheel and drafting behind semis. 44 perfect miles where she never stuttered, never complained, just chugged on like she knew as well as her passengers did that nothing she could say or do would change the predicament we were in, other than just keeping on keeping on. Thank you Freja, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Reliability

Look at this map, it represents just a fraction of the places I’ve driven Freja in the last year and a half. Through it all I’ve had to do exactly one piece of maintenance, I had to replace her brake pads ($30 and half an hour). I change her oil every three thousand miles, I feed her cheap gas, ride her hard, and park her dirty, and in exchange she starts everytime, and goes where I need to be. When she finally fails me I won’t grudge her, she’s been more reliable than I could expect from any car.

An incomplete and inaccurate map of our travels so far.

An incomplete and inaccurate map of our travels so far.

Off Road Capability

You wouldn’t expect Freja to score well here. She’s low to the ground, front wheel drive, with tiny tires. And you’d be both so right, and so wrong. Freja has a hard time in sand. I got her incredibly stuck trying to find a camping spot on Pismo Beach, buried so deep that the bumper came off and I thought I was going to lose her to the tide. And she has a tendency to get high-centered on those banks of snow the snowplow leaves, sometimes forcing me to rock back and forth in my seat to get her unstuck. But in fresh snow she does very well, maintaining momentum uphill and exhibiting an annoying stability that makes drifting and donuts very hard to do.

On rough primitive roads she really comes alive. Her wheelbase is so small and she’s so narrow that it’s easy to dodge gaps and take lines that would devour bigger cars. There’s one road in particular, a terribly rutted, potholed, eroding, tree-rooted, moonscape-esque excuse for a road to a mountain lake that Freja just came into her own on. We were following a Jeep, the kind of Jeep with extra bags and tools and jacks strapped all over the outside, and we stayed right behind it, pushing it, chomping at the bit to pass as the bike rack scraped in and out of pothole after pothole. The Jeep’s driver was not happy that his testosterone fueled, necessarily over-equipped vehicle was being tailgated by a tiny Scion.

Capacity

The distance from the back of the trunk to the position of the shift knob when in “Drive” measures exactly 192 cm. That also happens to be the length of my longest pair of skis. They fit perfectly, and it’s easy to fit three people and their skis inside the car. It’s also possible to fit two people and 23 pairs of skis if, for instance, they were on a ski review trip and needed to get all those skis from Portland to Bend and they didn’t really care about being able to see out the back window. Not that I’ve ever done that, that would be irresponsible.

It’s also possible for a 6’ tall man to sleep in the back of Freja if he folds the seats all the way down and fills the gaps with bike gear. However, I’d only advise this if the man in question is wandering around Whistler, BC with no cell service, and no idea where the condo he’s supposed to be staying in is, and if he’s already knocked on all the doors of all the condos he could find at 2 am.

That Indefinable Quality that Makes a Winner

MJ had it. Greg Minnaar has it. Candide Thovex has it, Alex Honnold has it. Lebron might have it. Freja has it. And not just the lower case ‘it’ either. We’re talking uppercase, super serious, “Is It in you?” “It”. Game winning jumper at the buzzer, “give me the ball because I know I can score”, “I guess I’ll win at Fort William again, give me a GoPro so I can do a double backflip over a helicopter”, “I’ve always wanted to free-solo El Cap.” “It.”

Freja is overflowing with “It.” It’s not the sort of things that can be summed up in stats or miles traveled or cargo capacity. No, it’s every time she starts up after I forgot to turn the lights off. It’s every time she powers through instead of getting stuck. Every time the fuel light comes on and she keeps chugging. Every time the AC blasts cold in the desert. Every time I load her down with gear and toys and take off for a far-off and hard-to-access destination. Every weekend on the road, every run to the grocery store, every song on the radio, every twitch of the wheel. Freja has it, sorority girl exterior and all.

Conclusion

So, would I do it, would I buy her again? Would I brave the language barrier, the lack of title, the never ending effeminate car jokes of my friends and relations, the lack of cargo space, the lack of cool image? Was it worth it for four wheels, a tiny engine and a Ipod jack? Yes. Unequivocally, without the shadow of a doubt, without a glimpse of hesitation, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. And even though my heart is straying, even though I own a truck too now, Freja will always have a special place in my soul.