Remember your first car? From breaking down on cross-country road trips to piling too many people into cramped hatchbacks, most of us have a few good stories to tell about that first junky car.
Mike Foster, founder of the Junky Car Club, believes that your first junky car shouldn’t be your last one. For him, a junky car showcases a lifestyle. His organization embraces simple living, and takes pride in the good that can be found within those rusty hunks of metal.
RELEVANTmagazine.com: Tell me about your junky car. Why are you proud to drive it?
Mike Foster: We talk a lot about the philosophy of "Junk Pride." This is the idea of finding self worth and value from things that matter—like how we treat and love others.
So much of our time is spent on making our own personal lives better versus helping others. For me, my junky car says I’ve made a choice of where my money, resources and emotional investment go. So in that sense, I’m very proud to drive it.
I also get stopped all the time by others who tell me their story of how they are driving a clunker. Their smile and excitement says it all.
RM: How did the Junky Car Club get started?
MF: I was driving a really nice sports car. I loved it. But I noticed something happening in my life: This car was tied into how I felt about myself. I felt pride, importance, self-esteem when I drove it. I thought people cared and perceived me as more successful because of the vehicle I drove. I think, at some level, all of us fall into that trap. After a while, I just realized what a joke that was.
So I sold it and traded it in for a 1993 Toyota Camry and now drive that full time. Then I started inviting my friends to do the same—to downgrade instead of upgrade.
RM: How is the JCC a social justice cause?
MF: Even though we have a lot of fun and consider ourselves an "official" car club, it’s much more than that. The point of the Junky Car Club is to engage in the needs of the world. To recognize our own consumerism and to do something about it. The response to crazy consumerism is crazy generosity.
We partner with Compassion International and ask our members to sponsor children who are living in extreme poverty. We’re also taking on the issue of mobile homelessness where families, children and the working poor are forced to live in their vehicles.
RM: What pushed you to pursue this?
MF: I saw the need—in my own life and in others’ lives. When we started two years ago, most people thought it was stupid. They didn’t get it. Some still don’t. Though what’s currently happening in our economy, and people realizing how out of control our spending was, it’s starting to click.
RM: You just hosted a Junky Car Club Rally in California. What was the idea behind that?
MF: Most of what we do happens online, like on Facebook and our website. That’s allowed us to do this cheaply and to reach people all over the world. We have a big following in Russia. Go figure.
So I wanted club members to start meeting physically. I wanted to do a car rally with a cause and leverage the opportunity to bring awareness and help to those in need.
Catalyst West Coast, JustOne and several other groups partnered with us to make it happen. It was an amazing day and I think everyone had a great time. We collected a lot of food for families, activated people to go and serve the homeless community and had a lot of fun.
It was a great blend of community and cause. Our goal is to have others do Junky Car Club rallies in their cities and towns. We’ve documented everything and can hand off all the stuff you would need to do your own car rally for a cause.
It scares me when my own kids have a Christmas wish list that runs in the thousands of dollars. I want to break this mindset for my kids, myself and others.
-the winners at the Junky Car Club Rally: 2008
RM: Are you opposed to demolition derbies?
MF: I think it’s fine. I understand it makes for some good entertainment. The demolition people may see those cars as trash and useless, but I don’t. I see them as potential club members.
RM: So, what if we don’t drive a junky car? Should we feel bad and sell it for something more humble?
MF: One of the things I hate is when groups or organizations try to put guilt trips on people. Too many times a social justice cause says if you don’t care about this or do this or support this cause, you suck.
We take a radically different approach. It’s to inspire people to join the Junky Car Club party. If you don’t want to come to the party, no prob, but we are going to continue to party.
That’s why we say in our mission statement that "we are a bunch of happy drivers." We aren’t angry, judgmental or ticked at people who drive nice cars. We just lay out another option for people and doing things different in our lives.
Nobody likes heavy-handed guilt trips. It doesn’t work and is certainly not what we are about.
RM: How does the American perspective change when people join the JCC?
MF: I believe our culture promotes the shiny, new and more expensive. The American perspective has become corrupted by the word "more."
I don’t think it’s always been this way. I just think we’ve had it so good in this country for so long that we’ve lost our way when it comes to material things.
I think the true American perspective is generosity and caring for others. Helping those in need.
RM: How do people hear about the cause? Have you been getting much attention from the media?
MF: We’re a grassroots organization. People hear about us from other people. It’s awesome to see how it’s taken off with very few resources and real marketing efforts.
People share their own story about driving a clunker with their friends. They tell them about "Junk Pride" and how their car now has a mission.
We’ve received some really positive media attention. We were very fortunate to be on The Dave Ramsey Show a couple months ago. He is a huge encouragement to us and he and his team have been supporters of what we are doing. That’s been so cool. I have a lot of respect for Dave and he is a wonderful guy.
RM: What’s the junkiest junky car you can think of?
MF: Well, I think I saw one of the junkiest cars I’ve ever seen at the car rally we just had. It was a Volkswagen bug that was falling apart. It was a mess, but it still ran. Let’s just say the owner won the Best In Show competition.
A Yugo might rank high, too. I use to think Hyundais, but now they make pretty cool cars.
RM: Is there anything else you need to tell us about the JCC?
MF: We’re always taking new members. So come join the club.