So we wandered the used-car lot off Tsarigradsko Shose in Sofia, looking for the Subaru of my dreams.
I had considered other brands. There were plenty of Hondas and Toyotas for sale, and a friend made a persuasive case for Skodas.
But I’ve always had a thing for Subarus, ever since my dad drove one up our driveway in Chicago back in the 1980s. Sure it was small, but it kept on going through snowdrifts even as white stuff piled up over the hood. Down in Florida I put nearly 200,000 miles on a green Forester with nary a backfire.
Still, I felt my confidence wavering as I wandered through that Bulgarian used car lot. The green Foresters here looked a bit sad. A gold Legacy started only reluctantly. And I saw a funky, overpriced blue Outback with upholstering that didn’t match the exterior and 98,000 kilometers on the odometer. (“Never pay attention to the odometer,” my mechanic had told me with a chuckle; all mileages are suspect.)
Then I saw it: a sage green Outback. It was clean and handsome. The price was right. The engine sounded nice and looked better. The seller said it had been driven in Switzerland by a single owner.
We took it out for a test drive: my first foray onto the fearsome Bulgarian highways. It felt good. The accelerator had zip, the sunroof worked.
The seller told me to turn around at an underpass before we reached a speed trap. We didn’t have the proper plates and the cops would be sure to detain us.
Pulling back onto the highway, I narrowly avoided a pothole the size of Macedonia.
“Whoa!” shouted the seller and my Bulgarian friend in unison as I managed the swerve. Nice handling. They both smiled.
Back in the lot we agreed on a price. He knocked off 500 leva because of the tires, which were worn.
You might think I drove off that day with the Subaru of my dreams. But no. I still needed the all-important identity papers — the lichna carta, Лична карта. And the Bulgarian government was still working on it.
So I paid a deposit of 1,000 leva, took some papers and a copy of the seller’s passport, and said goodbye to that car for now. My great Bulgarian road trip would have to wait.