There’s a car in Clinton visible only a few months each year, and winter is prime viewing season.
It serves as a sort of blighted landmark, a decaying vehicle in an area struggling with and fighting for economic staying power and recovery.
On the hillside north of Highway 525, west of Bob Galbreath Road, tucked up above Cooper Autos and below Hong Kong Gardens, is the yellow Volkswagen sedan, long abandoned and deteriorating. The driver door is wide open, as is part of the hood from where it smashed head-on into a tree trunk.
“It’s been there forever,” said Curt Gordon, a Port of South Whidbey Commissioner and lifelong Clinton resident.
Who left it and why, however, remains a mystery to even the most tenured Clinton business owners and residents. Its origins have become a bit of an urban — or rural — legend on South Whidbey.
The commonly told story is that a drunk driver went off the top of the cliff, where Hong Kong Gardens’ parking lot is and where there has been a restaurant for at least four decades. Like any worthwhile urban legend, this one has a tinge of truth to it, according to some longtime Clinton residents.
Gordon said the yellow Volkswagen came to rest after someone’s daring attempt to drive from the hilltop to the highway. Back in 1975, said Gordon, Veit Excavating had cleared part of the wooded area for a road up to the restaurant. At the top of the hill was a restaurant with a parking lot, from which someone drove a Jeep down to the highway.
“Shortly thereafter, someone in a different state of mind, slightly inebriated or fully inebriated, tried it too in a Volkswagen and didn’t make it, then just left it there,” he added, citing Manferd Veit’s story.
“That is one of those rural legends,” he added.
That unknown driver was unsuccessful in their attempt to emulate the rollercoaster-like ride and the car has remained ever since and fallen into mystery.
Hong Kong Gardens owner Chun Lin said the car did not come from her restaurant. It had been there before she opened years ago.
She asked police officers to inspect it when she bought the building and opened her business. They didn’t turn up much.
“The cops looked at it and everything and couldn’t figure it out,” Lin said.
“It was just a piece of garbage,” Lin added. “They (who abandoned the car) expect nobody sees it and didn’t want to pay the garbage fee. It’s not a car, it’s just a shell.”
To others, the car is hardly noticed. Carol Flax, president of the Clinton Progressive Association and manager of the Clinton Thursday Market, said she had not noticed the sedan until told of its existence by The Record.
“I never saw it before,” she said. “I had to look to see it, drive back and forth and crane my neck.”
“It’s definitely not obvious. It didn’t jump out at me,” she added.
Flax and others have united to give Clinton’s commercial hub a voice with county and state lawmakers. Some of the requests they made were accomplished this year: clearing overgrown vegetation along the sidewalk to the ferry terminal and the vehicle pick-up/drop-off road, sprucing up the landscaping near the Clinton Community Hall, and getting radar speed limit signs along Highway 525 to slow traffic to the 30 mph limit.
Only recently did Clinton see one of its major eyesores or attractions, depending on one’s personal perspective, removed with the closing of a business along the highway that sold everything from lawn mowers to boats and cars, right on the lawn.
Now, with the leaves off the trees, the yellow sedan stands in stark contrast with the brown and green of the hillside.
“We just have to be grateful there’s all that foliage to hide it most of the time,” Flax said. “It’s not pretty.”