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Planet Janet: It's a wrap

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Janet Combs

Car-wrapping is not something I have concerned myself with, as I do not need to advertise a business by having a logo temporarily emblazoned on my vehicle’s exterior. Also, car-wrapping typically does not come up in conversation in my social circles. Perhaps I should make more of an effort to talk about it, as I have learned you can do a lot of things with car-wrapping—including commemorating a special event or person, promoting a candidate, or merely expressing your individual taste with hideous colors, symbols and stripes. But if you’re like me, you’re hoping this paragraph ends quickly, or shifts to a more interesting topic. I’ll do my best to accelerate to the point.

My husband and I recently spent some time at a car dealership; during that essential yet strange chit-chat period that follows a transaction, the dealer mentioned that he owned a classic car that he had recently wrapped. Politely, I encouraged him to show me a photo, because he clearly wanted me to see one. “Car people” carry photos of their vehicles the way proud grandparents carry photos of their grandchildren. When the grandchildren captured are less than photogenic, it is customary to murmur an affirmation with a positive tone of voice, and I have always managed to do so—even when the grandchildren appear to be pulled from outtakes of “Children of the Corn.” But when the dealer handed me his phone with a photograph of his wrapped vehicle, I was stunned speechless.

He had wrapped his car so it would look completely rusted-out. His wrap took a perfectly decent car and made it look like it sat abandoned in a muddy South Carolina swamp for decades. You could barely make out the original paint color.

The car looked pretty awful, to my untrained eye. It was a car I wouldn’t get into, if it showed up as an Uber or Lyft. I was bereft of banter.

Fortunately, one of my friends, Ellehcim, whose name has been spelled backwards for privacy, once shared an exceptional coping tip for moments just like these, when you are completely shocked by the statement or behavior of a stranger, yet are required to make some sort of response.

I stared at the photo of the rust-wrap, and simply said, “Hmmmm?” with a slight questioning intonation. This is a subtle verbal cue for the other party to elaborate, which takes the onus off of you. Sometimes you may need to employ the double “Hmmm?” for emphasis.

While using the technique taught to me by Ellehcim, I smartly handed the dealer’s phone to my husband, so that he, too, could be a full participant in this awkwardness.

“That’s something,” my husband said. Which it certainly was.

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The dealer then pointed out how he had customized his car-wrap, so that the rust naturally concentrated around the metal side mirrors and dripped from the door handles. This, to me, would be like instructing a qualified house painter to add a charming mold/mildew tint to the south facing façade of our home. Having a skilled carpet-cleaning technician drip a realistic red-wine stain all the way up my staircase. Or, telling a professional make-up artist to emphasize the existing wrinkles on my face, and while you’re at it, throw in some age spots.

Neither of us had much more to say about his vehicle wrap. He said he’d be glad to show us his car on the way out, but I hoped he would forget, because I might reflexively say “eeeewww” if I saw it in person.

My husband added, in a helpful concluding tone, “And the best part is, you can just remove the rust-wrap before selling the car if you want.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” said the dealer. “A lot of people would want it just like this.”

“I get a lot of comments,” he added.

“Hmmmm,” I replied.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at

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