I don’t know why it sprang to mind just now. Well, maybe I do. I seem to have been stuck in the previously described drivers’ vortex for a strangely gelatinous trip through surreal-ville lately and I’m thinking of drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and cars with a certain measure of disdain, loathing, hilarity, terror, and mild psychosis, sometimes in turns and occasionally all in one big deliriously bleary blend. Despite knowing in my heart that traffic in suburban north Texas is marshmallows and candy-floss compared to the traffic experienced in much of the world (just check the all-too-true comments on my previous traffic-related post) I cannot resist a further rant.
Details, details--automotive fanatics do love their detailing . . .
I have seen (three times within two days) the indescribably death-wishful strolls of different (but each time, ahem, male) pedestrians not only on the wrong side of the road but well into the lane of steady morning traffic bearing down on their armor-less backs, all the while with cars going past at 30+ mph in the next lane over, so NO chance of the drivers approaching said amblers’ backsides actually swerving to avoid hitting them. What do we in the cars get to do? Pot along behind a slowly walking person as though theirs were the most ordinary and acceptable behavior on earth, despite this being within blocks of the university, where every dull-witted bipedal being over age 11 knows that college drivers and mad professors are on the loose? Stunningly insouciant, these moseying moon-brains, to say the least, and irritating, too, by gad.
I live in the land of the “free” right turn–where it’s okay legally, if you’ve stopped at a red light, to proceed with a right turn if (a) there’s no one coming from another direction that has right-of-way by green light or prior arrival at the intersection and (b) you are actually in position to take said right turn. I’m all fine with that, despite being still a bit piqued that an intersection camera once got me dinged for a turn where I was positive I had followed all of the rubrics scrupulously. Recently, however, I got to witness two rather egregious abuses of the privilege right in a row and was glad to get home with skin and fenders intact. First there was the intersection where I stopped at the red light and waited to turn left, where ahead of me on the other side of the intersection a minor accident had stopped up the front of the right-turn lane. I waited for my left turn, which I began to execute when the requisite green arrow shone before me, and found myself suddenly front-bumper-to-front-bumper in a very nearly compromising position with an enormous truck (of that variety known in my heart simply as a “big-butt truck”–the sort that is large enough to haul a full load of heavy equipment to the farm but is waaaaaay too clean and scratch-free to ever have tried it). Mr Truck Driver had arrived behind the stalled accident, whipped out around it, and deemed it logical to grab a free right without ever considering that he was both out of turn and entirely invisible to us across the road.
After our close encounter I took a deep breath, released my crushed brake, took two more deep breaths, didn’t say or gesture anything that I was thinking, let the truck get well away from my vicinity, and went along my way. Not a mile later, I was stopped by a red light in the right lane. As it happened, I was first in that lane, so though I had no plans to take a free right myself (being in need of going straight ahead), I didn’t feel it likely that someone from across the way would try to cut me off by surprise again. Which indeed no one did. However, the young and helmet-less (I’m still baffled that that’s legal anywhere, but it is, so I’ll simply note it here as another risk factor the other driver took) motorcyclist behind me felt deprived of his free right turn, and rather than drearily waiting through another boring ten seconds of red light on my behalf, he swung out into the left lane and blasted around to the right in front of me to turn, just about in sync with the drivers coming from across the way who of course were being treated to an actual green light.
How I got home with both an undamaged car and clean underwear is testament more to good fortune than to my skillful driving or the strength of my nervous system, but I shall leave that musing and my temperamental unburdening here for the nonce and move on to what was really renewing my interest in road-tripping, if I may now use it in the more psychedelic sense. It was, you see, about the automotive beauty pageant.
I’m a dull person when it comes to vehicles. In our family, learning to drive required us to learn a couple of additional fundamental automotive survival skills, things like checking the oil and changing a tire, and, oh yeah, filling the gas tank. Like making sure air filters were changed as needed and seatbelts worn and like how to pump the hand brake in case those other brake-thingies just happened to go out of commission (the latter only happened to me once, but it was at 50 mph and the brakes croaked just as I watched a rock-filled dump truck pull onto the road a hundred feet ahead of me, so I am glad I was given that particular bit of useful wisdom). But outside of that, I wasn’t infused with lust for four-wheeled artful luxury. I’m strictly practical about my expectations from a car. Transportation. Carrying capacity as needed. Inexpensive to buy and to maintain. Generally reliable and safe. And I’ve done pretty well in that, too.
I can admire a beautiful vehicle, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had crushes on a strange variety of cars that struck my fancy at one time or another. When I shopped for my first car (as I was beginning construction work), I was offered a 1957 pushbutton-transmission Mercury that was in nice-but-not-cherry condition for a very fair price. It was a ridiculous Pepto-Bismol® pink and had a more extravagantly fabulous back-end than a Brazilian beach bunny’s, its trunk big enough for Mafia use–or at least for carrying all of the painting equipment and tools I was going to need to haul. But it really wasn’t the kind of car I could seriously contemplate filling with 300-pound paint sprayers and tool buckets and piles of dusty tarps and abusing in quite that fashion. Because it really was more about fashion than about transportation, and much as I could love its ludicrousness I finally opted for the more practical used Volare station wagon with fake-paneled sides and the super-duty shocks that I put in ‘er to hold up my cargo’s bulk. And it turned out I developed a crush on that car’s slant-six engine. Go figure.
There are plenty of supremely handsome vehicles out there, to be sure. A ’29 Pierce Arrow, all decked out. Vintage Bentleys or Silver Wraiths. A perfectly restored period Duesenberg. Not to mention, say, a sleek blue 1967 Barracuda. Flash. Glorious. But any of those beasties would so outshine me that it would seem sacrilegious to even consider such a thing. Not to mention that if I had any sort of spectacular car I would still be unable to support it (insure it) in the style to which it might deserve to be accustomed.
Smile for the camera!
Meanwhile, there are a whole lot of people who do have deep passions or perhaps even rather unseemly romantic notions regarding their various automotive loves. We’ve all seen those whose car, truck, motorcycle, RV or tractor represents (or, in many cases, clearly substitutes for) their identity as a male, female, or Other. The wheeled transport associated with that distinctive breed of guy-hood truly dependent on its vehicle for its masculinity gets from me the designation TPV, or Tiny Penis Vehicle, for that rather laughably desperate form of self-identification. There are lots of levels of vehicular artistry, from true-amateurs’ loving attentions to purists’ slavish restorations to custom trick-outs to the movable museum-pieces that are one-off sculptural artworks on wheels. So many fun options! I’ve seen the fantastic and the phantasmagorical, the happy and the horrific, and many a piece of magic in motion.
Perhaps my favorites are the outlandish and ridiculous concoctions put together by aspiring molto-machismos on a tight budget–whether of the wallet or of the imagination. The jacked-to-the-sky mini-boxes on massive heavy-equipment wheels so high that the driver can barely herk himself up into the driver’s seat. The I-did-it-myself custom paint job with heavily textured brush strokes running through its thick housepaint coat or the would-be designer approach whose flames and pictorials ended up a little closer to junior high graffitists’ than to graphic artists’ work.
Or one of my all-time favorites: it was an early-80s Pinto hatchback customized with massive tires that appeared to be crammed dangerously into the wheel wells as well as making the teeny car precariously high and teeter-y, and was painted antenna to tailpipe in dull metallic gold spray paint, all with a stingy and shaky hand. I came upon it as its young driver was cruising a mostly deserted street in a semi-rural suburb, and I remained unsure for a long time afterward whether it was pure cruelty on my part to have laughed so heartily on seeing it. Surely such effort deserved, at the least, a joyful response, and that I did give without hesitation.
Truth be told, that’s my reaction to car-love in general. I’m glad it seems to give so much pleasure to so many people, but I’m pretty mystified by it too, and mostly the seeming excess of affection just makes me want to fall on the floorboards howling with laughter. Good thing my seatbelt keeps me from any such thing when I’m behind the wheel myself. Hopefully, in a really outstanding specimen of a silvery-blue ’67 ‘Cuda, rebuilt to my own personal specs with eco-fuel conversion, a skillful on-call chauffeur, comfortably glove-fitting heated and cooled passenger seats for my companions and me, a mini-fridge in the trunk full of the day’s edible necessities and the proper libations for the non designated-drivers to sup during those pit stops requisite whilst road-tripping for joy, plus a lifetime’s supply of fuel, parts, insurance and police escorts to clear the roads ahead and find ideal parking spots. Either that or my ordinary, everyday, plebeian, functional, dependable and non-fanciful car. It’ll do me.
- I’m just happy if it gets me from here to there and back again . . .