Driving in the PC generation

Monday, November 25, 2002

A couple of years ago, I bought what I thought was a truck to haul around my rambunctious children, who appear small and sweet to the naked eye, but when together are only slightly more challenging to transport than a pair of rabid polar bears.

I found out later that what I've got is an "SUV," and it is somehow very, very politically incorrect. I mean way incorrect, as in Jeffrey Daumer smoking in public restaurants, wearing a fur coat, eating "bad cholesterol" burgers from non-biodegradable styrofoam containers and parked in the handicapped space.

When I drive now, people look at me with thinly-veiled contempt. Sometimes not veiled at all.

O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinski drive SUVs. They stopped making Barbie's little plastic SUV because she got tired of taking Skipper's socio-harassment.

Perhaps they blame us for the rising price of gas, as SUV's suck up the world's crude oil supply. Each Excursion comes with its own Exxon Valdez.

When I bought my truck, and it said "mileage 24 highway, 19 city" on the sticker, I assumed it meant miles per gallon. Turns out it was gallons per mile.

Me, not politically correct?

It couldn't be the baby seal seatcovers, or the "I don't brake for gubernatorial candidates" bumper sticker, could it? Nahhh.

In my early high school days, I once bought an old Mustang for $100 with an eight-ball for a shifter. I never thought that I would live long enough to see a tank of gas cost more than my first car did.

Now, fun was a ragged old Mustang coupe with seats so shot you could actually feel floorboards jar your tailbone on every crack. If you happened to hit a tree or two, you just pounded the dent back out, no great loss. We're afraid to take our cars out of the garages now. They cost more than the houses did.

Stuff leaked out of my Mustang forward and aft, port and starboard, including some colorful puddles of blackberry-jam-looking stuff that I never could trace down.

The motor missed, the tranny slipped, the paint cracked, the radio rattled, brakes were considered to be an unnecessary option. There were no recalls, the factory never wanted to see this baby again. It was perfect.

Now we have CD changers, navigation systems, on-board TV, and no fun.

Every morning I see the neighbor girl drive to school talking animatedly into her cell phone while consuming a Pop Tart with one hand, smoking a cigarette and applying lip gloss with the other. It's amazing that she still finds free fingers to make those practical hand gestures. Who can say what she's using to steer with.

In my misspent youth, you used to jack a car up. Today, they lower the vehicle, and put on tiny wheels and tires that look like they belong on a Hot Wheels car. Can't turn a corner, the odometer runs up at four times the usual rate, and you bottom out on every railroad crossing, but you look good, homeboy.

Makes no more sense than what we did, but part of being a kid is doing dumb things with a car.

We used to bolt on stuff we called four-barrels, high-rises, glass-packs, and of course, turn the air filter cover upside down to make it all even louder. With a turn of a screw you could adjust the fuel mixture and look like Joe Indy Mechanic.

Now, you need a computer programming degree just to open the hood on a car.

Auto insurance may cost you more than the car does in the long run. And in case you thought it was a free country, just try getting pulled over without that little proof of insurance card in your hand.

When they stopped making drive-in movies and bench seats, cars lost a lot of appeal.

New model cars every year look a little more like those Spacely Sprocket flying bubbles you remember from the Jetsons. It's not that I don't admire a BMW roadster or a Lexus; it's just that they don't move me like a Mach 1, a '68 Corvette, a Charger Daytona, a GTO or (be still my heart) a 427 Cobra, did.

It doesn't make me feel any better to recently find in my mail a lease offer for an "affordable Lamborghini," at $3,000-something a month for 60 months, with just $58,000 plus tax down.

So, until someone leaves me a third-world country in their will, I'll just keep the truck and the withering looks from the crowd.

When gasoline hits $3 a gallon, it will make a lovely piece of lawn furniture for the polar bears.