I noticed that kids nowadays don’t know what station wagons are. At least the kids I have nowadays. I showed them a picture and asked, “What is this?” and they didn’t know. One of them guessed it was a limousine.
Okay so a station wagon is kind of a limousine, if after the rich people got in the back, someone threw luggage on them, and then they spent most of the trip having territorial disputes, and the driver spent the whole time yelling at them to keep it down back there.
The truth is that a station wagon was more like a minivan’s short friend, in that it was great if you wanted to carry a lot of people but had no desire to see over traffic.
In the old days (back in Europe) everyone had station wagons. Actually Europe still has station wagons. In the US, we don’t really have them anymore, because they stopped selling them, because we stopped buying them, because they stopped selling them.
So in general, the only people who get to ride in station wagons anymore are people who were recently niftar, because the seats fold down.
Growing up, though, my family had a series of station wagons, and as the oldest in the family, I always got to sit in the back seat, which, for no reason at all, was installed backwards. As a result, I had no idea how to get anywhere. I just knew how to get back.
The station wagon was marketed as a roomy car, because it had a third seat in which you could keep your extra kids or luggage, but not both. Everyone tried for both.
Sure, there were downsides to sitting backwards. For example, we got to sit there in horror and watch huge trucks bear down on us. But on the upside, everything we saw was a surprise. We were also in charge of peering out the window when my father was trying to parallel park and telling him when he’d just hit the car behind him.
There was also a certain safety in knowing that if my father made a short stop, we were not going anywhere. We did go flying out of our seats when he started the car, because he had no idea whether we actually had our seatbelts on yet, or whether we were still climbing into the back seat.
That was the other upside—climbing over the seats. We loved climbing over the seats. Sometimes we’d climb over as soon as my father unlocked his door, all the way from the driver’s seat. Everyone in the entire car had to sit on muddy footprints.
We also climbed over the seats to get out, because, thanks to the infinite wisdom of the manufacturers, there was no door handle on the inside. If you wanted to get out, you’d have to wait until your parents remembered that you were back there. So usually, when the car stopped, you’d all immediately climb over the seats on top of whoever was in the middle and try to all fall out of the car at the same time.
But we had a station wagon, because what were our options? Station wagons held 7 to 8 people, and the next car was a van that held 12 people but had no air conditioning. And if you had any number in between, you had a station wagon, and everyone somehow magically fit anyway. The roof rack helped.
There were also SUVs, but they were mainly for people who built houses for a living.
But there was an in-between option. At some point my parents got the biggest station wagon on the market, which came in two colors. The top half was maroon, and the bottom half was wood paneling, like someone ran out of paint halfway through. So sitting in the back was like sitting in a trunk in a basement from the 70s.
We were very excited about this car, because instead of being put in backwards, the seats were installed sideways, facing inwards, like on the subway, and you could see out the front and the back! Just not out whichever side of the car was behind you. You also couldn’t see anything out the other side either, except your stupid brother.
Each seat, according to the manufacturer, was made for two people, although they had to be skinny people with no legs. Each seat also had only one seatbelt, so it was like that amusement park ride where you spent the entire time trying not to fall on each other. If your father made a short stop, the two of you became literally one person.
And in the meantime, you have two people sitting across from you, falling onto each other, and there’s one small pit in between for everyone’s legs. So the only way to get all those legs in was to stagger them. One of mine, one of yours, one of mine, one of yours.
Sharp turns were a problem.
But my parents had no idea that the back wasn’t actually made for four people. Especially since—and here was another benefit of station wagons, for adults—you couldn’t hear people complaining back there. Or maybe you could. But you could definitely claim you couldn’t. I’d always hear my mother saying, “Whatever you’re saying to me back there, I can’t hear you.”
“Then how come I can hear you?”
“Sorry; can’t hear you.”
“Then why do you keep telling us to keep it down?”
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].