Lost and found: How this man tracked down 'Sally' — his stolen station wagon
Thomas Laboucan-Avirom had his car stolen, then his apartment broken into, but never lost his good spirit
She's cranky and coughs when she starts the day. She's tough as nails, but today she needs a boost.
Sally is Thomas Laboucan-Avirom's station wagon. Her engine whines in protest as he turns the key. It takes a few tries before it finally wakes up and turns over.
Over the past nine years and 300,000 kilometres, Laboucan has learned to love his car and all of its quirks. That's especially true now that he has it back from thieves who stole it from his driveway while he slept.
"Sally has been well-loved, anyone who's ever driven her adds something to it," he said during a recent cruise around Yellowknife with Lawrence Nayally, the host of CBC's Trail's End.
He bought the car in Victoria, B.C., the day he graduated university. He paid $1,400 to a retired couple. He chose it because it was cheap and he needed to get back home to Peace River, Alta.
"It was only supposed to get me through that one trip over the mountains," he said. "Nine years later, it's still here. I bought it at about 60,000-kilometres, now it's about 360,000 ... It just keeps trucking."
Laboucan and his car (which he always calls by her name) have road-tripped across B.C., Alberta and the Northwest Territories. They've been to Tofino, B.C., by the coast, to Alberta for music festivals and have slept together under the stars during camping trips.
The dashboard is covered with well-loved treasures: a fur given to him by his mom, photos of his family, earrings from friends and other knickknacks.
Over the years, Laboucan developed a habit of keeping a spare key in a tear in one of the seats.
In early February, RCMP woke him up with a phone call telling him they'd received reports of his car speeding through town at 4 a.m. When he looked out his window, Sally was gone.
"There was so many nice cars in that apartment parking lot. They could have stolen any vehicle, but instead they picked this one," he said.
From there, he put out a call on Facebook, sharing his love for Sally and pleading for her return. That post ended up being shared about 250 times.
But things got worse before they got better. About a week later, someone broke into his apartment, stealing his wallet, cash and a laptop bag worth about $400.
She's got soul. They can't manufacture soul like that. - Thomas Laboucan-Avirom
He felt jinxed. He wanted Sally back.
"It was tough," he said "But at the same time I had so much love from friends giving me rides, offering me cars, cookies; Facebook messages from friends I hadn't heard from in years."
After a month of waiting and hoping, finally some luck. A friend thought she spotted Sally in a parking lot on her way to work about two weeks ago. Laboucan rushed down to see, and sure enough it was Sally, in all her glory.
"I just gave her a big hug," he said. "I didn't think I'd see her again. I didn't give up hope, but I knew it was a fool's hope."
Reunited at last
Laboucan and Sally finally got back together this week, after RCMP released the car from its impound lot. Other than a few more scars, some empty vodka bottles and cigarette butts on the floor, she was still the same.
Even better — all of his notebooks, photos and treasures were still there.
"Those little things would mean nothing to anyone, but I love those pictures: my cousins, my family, old times at the campground," he said. "It made me appreciate those little things that are important to me."
Now they're back together and Laboucan expects to keep rolling with his Sally for a long time, with many more road trips and adventures on the horizon.
"I'm hoping to get 400,000-kilometres on this car. She's going into the hall of fame," he said. "She's got soul. They can't manufacture soul like that."
Written by Alex Brockman, from an interview by Lawrence Nayally