Sunday, August 2, 2009

Planes, Trains and Egomobiles

Last week the director of the area I work in asked for any kind of article that could help cast our upcoming move in a positive light. Obviously a move is pretty stressful, and trying to balance work needs with packing and organizing can bring anybody down in the mouth (even me, as it turns out), so the idea is to get a little counter-programming out there, just to bring some balance to the picture.

I had already told David my plans about writing about the bus, and he thought that might make a good jumping off point. I did up a truncated version of my last blog post, but ended up focusing on the 'perfect storm' (touch wood!) of car buying factors coming into play: car prices lowering, interest rates doing likewise, my union membership entitling me to significant discounts at some dealerships, the relocation allowance funding the down payment, and the potential 'cash for clunkers' program that could give the old Batteredmobile some actual value in a trade. These are all factors that would also apply to the majority of those reading the article, provided anyone actually did so. I closed up much like I did in my blog, by mentioning that I could potentially leverage these factors and a 'mid-life crisis' into perhaps purchasing a Mustang without jeopardizing my marriage.

Now, I still don't know how serious an option this is, but the recent reductions and incentives have cars like that within striking distance for the first time in my life, so I feel duty-bound to at least consider them. I think prior to this the coolest car I have ever driven would be the '74 Maverick my dad wrangled for me when I was 17, and let me tell you, it was none too cool. A few years down the road when I bought a new Chevette by myself and my good friend Rob installed his spare Blaupunkt stereo and power booster in it, that was pretty cool too. But early independence and crypto-stereo superiority notwithstanding, a cool car for me has either been out of reach or out of mind; it's never really been something I've thought about beyond the "How would you spend your lotto dollars?" scenarios.

As most people who know me will probably attest, I am not a guy who puts a lot of emphasis on image or superficiality, largely because it's unbecoming of the plump and impoverished set, and I am struggling to determine if the same is true when I choose an automobile. God knows, even if I were to somehow end up with one of the currently fashionable muscle-car redux that are all the rage with domestic automakers, it wouldn't be to impress my friends, as most of them drive far neater rides than that anyway, and I am pretty confident they didn't choose them to make the rest of us jealous.

No, for me, it's just a chance to drive something maybe a little less boring, whether that's a Charger with an oddball colour scheme or a Matrix (or a Vibe more likely) with some bells and whistles on it. The retro-pony car movement is great because as it does put me in mind of the kinds of cars I admired in my youth, so there is definitely a nostalgia factor in it for me.

So when David dropped by my desk to tell me he enjoyed what I wrote, we started talking about vehicles and he described the Mustang as a "bellybutton" car. I asked him what that meant, and he said "You know, everybody's got one."

It's a great expression I hadn't heard before, and I laughed and said, "If I cared about that, I probably wouldn't drive a white Ford Taurus wagon, right?"

"Fair point," he agreed.

Certainly the Mustang has become ubiquitous, but at the point where you can now drive a car that shares the same medallion as Steve McQueen's ride in "Bullitt" for less than twenty grand, that's to be expected. But who cares? If I wanted to be unique, I'd drive a rickshaw. I haven't seen too many of those on the streets of Edmonton.

In a perfect world, I'd drive a car designed by writer Andrew Vachss; in his novels, the most impressive rides are the ones that look least imposing. The 'Shark Car' from his "Cross" short stories is a reinforced, supercharged beast that can take fully tweaked street dragsters off the line while looking like an anonymous, primer grey sedan. In many of the "Burke" novels, the main character drives a heavy duty Plymouth with rusting and mismatched panels that looks pre-vandalized so as not to draw attention to itself. In reality, it was designed to be the ultimate taxicab, with a suspension that could shrug off the worst potholes NYC has to offer, a cooling system almost incapable of overheating, a fuel cell instead of a tank, and enough torque to pull a tree stump out of a swamp.

So, no, I honestly don't think ego is too big a factor for me, although I am honest enough not to dismiss it entirely. I'm okay with anonymity, especially if it comes with enough horsepower to keep me that way. In the end, I guess it all comes down to 'who are you driving your car for?' Yourself, or others.

Or in my case, the daughters who keep pointing out Mustangs to me as we drive. As if I hadn't already noticed them.


  1. I only wish they still made cars with giant fins. Bring back the giant fins! If you put one on top of a new Beetle, it would look like the 1940s Batmobile.

  2. As a slight damper on your Mustang enthusiasm, might I mention the treacherousness of RWD on snow. If it doesn't have traction control, they can be handful if you're out of practice.