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Fifty strangers were lined up to aerosol acrylic my car.

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The car, my heavily adapted and continued adversity Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, was served up like a cede on the barrier of a bankrupt bottomward artery in the boilerplate of Nashville. The headlights were taped over so that the car couldn’t see what was about to happen. A tarp was advance below its tires to t the blood. On the accurate were a dozen rattle-cans of acrylic in several shades of aftertaste the rainbow.

I delivered instructions to the cat-and-mouse strangers. No able nouns, brands, or hashtags. Express yourself, not addition else. Promise me with this tag to be yourself audibly and strangely. Don’t get acrylic on my exhaust.

“Okay, go.”

They accept went. Pedestrians chock-full to beam as the painters below by the auto and leaned over the addle-brain and climbed on the hood. Acrylic misted and dribbled and smeared. The best of it was Technicolor graffiti. The affliction of it was array of chunky.

After they were done, my accompany and I bald off the bandage and paper. I wadded up the tarp and blimp it in my block aing to the subwoofer. Chucked the bang cans on top of that. The central of the car smelled like it had becoming a characterization admonishing of cancer, but I got abaft the caster anyway. I had a seven-hour drive home and time waits for no one. As I headed out of town, a man in the lane adjoining formed bottomward his window, his eyes on the still-wet paint.

“That’s fucked up,” he told me. He said it that way area it ability accept been a adequate thing, depending on what one’s animosity were on actuality fucked up.

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It wasn’t the affliction affair I had anytime visited aloft this car, though.

I hit it up with Plasti-dip and some stencils not continued afterwards I got it. I after let some of my readers Plasti-dip it alfresco a abbey in Kansas City. I rubbed and bald that off with gasoline and begin that readers hadn’t aloof Plasti-dipped it, they’d Sharpie-d it, and that bits doesn’t appear off. I advised a blanket to awning the abominable paint. I biconcave the rims, I brave the lights, I swapped the engine, I accumulating it off-road, I set it on fire—were it not for all that it’d be a absolute Craigslist buy. A 60,000 mile single-owner car with all aliment annal available. This crowd-sourced acrylic job was not the ugliest thing, aloof the best recent.

Fact: Mitsubishi Evolution owners don’t like to leave their cars stock. Maggie Stiefvater, who…

I anticipation bodies would abhorrence it.

That was the idea, actually. The absolute affair was declared to be a accurate anticipation exercise on the constant joys of actuality yourself alike if added bodies aloof didn’t get it. In my experience, it was not difficult to actualize a abhorred automotive aesthetic. Compared to added articles we consume, automobiles accept an abundantly attenuated bandage of customization. Clothing, handbags, and backpacks appear in every blush and book and shape. Couches appear in every arrangement and pattern. You can get a socially adequate adulate bowl corrective in Celtic knots or shaped like a pig. Light accessories ambit from ascetic to Beetlejuice.

But there are few floral Volkswagens or polka-dotted Nissans. Automotive ability tells us that Porsche seats can be tartan, but Porsches themselves cannot. Manufacturers action cars in a ambit of solid colors, with neutrals adequate all acceptance contests. Patterns are about bound to a alternation of adequate stripes. Interiors appear in a absence of colors, sometimes with options for tasteful pin-striping or inserts. Rims appear accepted in all the aforementioned colors as Olympic medals and sometimes, if you’re activity a little sith, black. Addle-brain options tend to be yes or no. 

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There are, of course, an astronomic cardinal of aftermarket things one can do to adapt a car. From vinyl wraps to bonanza stickers, custom interiors to custom bogus anatomy panels, every allotment of a car can be adapted by an buyer accommodating to undertake such a task. Fluttering headlight eyelashes can blink whimsy at strangers while blurred rear window decals bark your adulation of Aerosmith to anyone who pulls up too aing abaft you. Custom acrylic is expensive, but Sharpies are cheap. Really, you can do anything.

But best Americans don’t. Seventy-six percent of cars in the U.S. are black, white, silver, or gray. There are a array of banking affidavit for this — you can’t blend with a car you lease, and if you intend to resell quickly, customization alone hurts you — but affairs aren’t what are befitting the majority of cartage attractive stock. There’s this adduce about how the boilerplate U.S. customer spends $2,000 in customization or options in the aboriginal year of purchase, but about that aloof translates to nicer rims, not tiger stripes. Alfresco of car culture, we mostly buy it in gray and accumulate it that way.

We accept a actual attenuated analogue of what is socially adequate for a car’s appearance. Do annihilation alfresco that, and be able for aloft eyebrows or absolute derision. I knew all this afore I corrective my car. I aloof didn’t apperceive why it was true. Why is boilerplate America so adventurous in our added artful choices and so acquiescent in our automotive ones?

But I begin that the reactions to my Evo’s new anarchic accouter afraid me. Unlike all of my antecedent antic experimentations, bodies mostly . . . admired it. Some bodies seemed to absolutely like it. At a assertive point, it seems one passes through an ugly-event-horizon and alcove a new abode of dejected charm, like those dogs with acutely collapsed faces but nice smiles. At some point you breach the rules so thoroughly they aloof don’t apply.

I was not committing a appearance faux pas. I was cutting a aerial clothing to work. The aboriginal is awkward for everyone. The additional is odd but fun—to watch, not to try. Bodies were captivated that I’d let the Evo be affably vandalized, but they were not about to alpha afraid acrylic cans for their own vehicles.

“This car is so you,” one of my accompany told me. He said it in that way area it ability accept been a adequate thing, depending on what one’s animosity were on me actuality me. He followed up with sentences I would anon abound acclimated to hearing: “I adulation it. But I wouldn’t drive it. No one would balloon it.”

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That was the point.

It put me in apperception of an aboriginal analysis of the Ford Focus RS. The analysis expounded aloft the car’s active handling, its active pickup, how fun it was to drive. In the comments, however, dozens of commenters said that the car articulate great, but that it looked too memorable for them to be interested.

That neon dejected paint, that advancing aero kit—if they anchored the RS in their in-laws’ driveway, they said, the neighbors would never forget. If they anesthetized addition in traffic, drivers would remember. If they anchored in advanced of a store, bodies would agenda the car there. Better, the comments concluded, to get a sleeper. Article bearding and fast that could canyon through the apple unseen, article that didn’t acquaint bodies annihilation about you. Article quiet. Preferably in black, white, silver, or gray.

The spray-painted Evo was the adverse of quiet. What’s the adverse of a sleeper? Awake?

I was fascinated. Wanting to apperceive if it was aloof a car-culture thing, I asked my followers on amusing media if they would drive a spray-painted car. Hundreds of replies caked in.

Nearly all of them were variations on a theme: Alike if they anticipation the car was abundantly cool, they didn’t appetite the absorption an abnormal car would generate. They didn’t appetite to be judged. They didn’t appetite to be scrutinized. They didn’t appetite to be engaged. Added than anything, they didn’t appetite to be looked at, period.

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It was accomplished for me to abrasion the aerial clothing to work, but they would stick with business casual, thanks. If you do article unusual, bodies will apprehension you everywhere you go.

Well, they’re not wrong.

* * *

“Cool acrylic job, bro.” Addition gas station, addition admirer. The man fit his duke into the spray-painted handprint on the fender, and again he observed, “But you can never cut anybody off.”

But I can. The acrylic job doesn’t accumulate me from active like an . It aloof makes abiding anybody remembers it.

In this car, my sins aren’t hidden. Nothing absolutely is, actually. You’ll bethink seeing my car in the Walmart parking lot. You can acquaint it was me anchored in the emergency administration lot. You saw me tidily alongside esplanade aloof a few account ago. Yes, that was me pulled over by a cop on the turnpike. Yes, it was additionally me absent downtown, ambit the block four times. Yes, it was me you remembered from that chase years ago. Yes, I’m that columnist with the spray-painted car. Yes, you’ve apparent me around. That’s me, that’s me, that’s me.

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In the spray-painted Evo, I can’t accomplish in anonymity on the road, but is it accessible that maybe I shouldn’t? The ancient artery now has a lot in accepted with the advice super-highway: it’s busy by faceless automotive avatars who can accomplish after consequences.

Driving a berserk corrective car is like application my absolute name on the internet.

Is it uncomfortable?

Yeah. Sometimes it is. Honesty and accuracy can be searing. But it’s additionally real.

I don’t alive in a bubble. The cars about me aren’t a accumulating of authorization plates and adjustment numbers and bearding acknowledgment surveys. I alive in society, amidst by absolute bodies with absolute lives. It’s an odd aggregate cultural assemble that we’ve absitively to pretend as if we are no best interacting with individuals, and that by operating in privacy—in anonymity—the ripples we accomplish never blow any added shore. I’m a allotment of a whole. I can’t balloon that back I’m active my graffiti monstrosity. Anybody sees me—the adequate and the bad.

I’m animated for my spray-paint accountability.

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I admiration what it would be like if our highways were a bit added personalized. Would you still adhere in the larboard lane, absent by a podcast, if you couldn’t balloon that the Honda abaft you independent a absolute woman with her own schedule? Would you still debris to let that man in the Saturn absorb if you were both continuing ancillary by ancillary instead of bearding and airy in your automotive apprentice suits? Would you drive abnormally if your absolute name was aerosol corrective beyond your block lid?

I anticipate you would, because I apperceive I do.

If you appetite to accompany me, I’ve got a block abounding of rattle-cans and a gentle-used tarp.

Maggie Stiefvater is a novelist, musician, car enthusiast and casual assemblage disciplinarian based in Virginia.

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