America loves its’ cars and always has. We go through various fits and starts depending on the economy and gas prices, but the truth is that we use cars as a way to define ourselves. The only reason millions of people are driving around in a Prius is because we made it cool to do so as way to say to the world “look at me, I care about the planet. I am a good person.” Beyond the Prius, no one is buying any of the eco-friendly garbage being spit out by any of the car companies. Why? The cars aren’t cool.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Prius and every person I’ve met and see on the road in one today is a douchebag. They are the vehicular versions of cyclists to me; I see them and I have a knee-jerk, Turret’s like reaction and shout out loud in my car “DOUCHEBAG!” But society has given them a home within a large enough slice of the population that they can consider themselves cool enough (for a douchebag).
Beyond them, I break down the rest of America as it relates to what we drive as follows:
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES: This is still the largest segment of the population, by far (and has been for decades). Your car defines you. You demand that everyone likes your car, talks about your car, and wants your car, and you honestly believe everyone envies you. I had a friend in radio years ago who bought a used BMW because all he ever cared about was owning a BMW. It was, of course, a piece of junk, and broke down all of the time, but hey, he was a BMW owner. The first day he brought it to the radio station, not one person noticed or cared. In his mind, of course, they were either “jealous,” or they simply couldn’t “appreciate nice things.” About a year later, business was booming and everyone at the station was buying a new car. Suddenly the parking lot was filled with Mercedes, Lexus, and various sports cars. His response? “I started that…everyone wanted a nice car after they saw my BMW in the lot.” Delusion is a wonderful drug.
THE BIGGER THE BETTER: America likes ‘em big. From Mini-vans to the obvious SUV, bigger is better. Even the Hummer is making a comeback. We still want to be massive on the road. For some, it’s a safety issue (if not at least the illusion of safety), for others a better opportunity to be seen. For a very few (people the size of giants and those families who don’t know that birth control exists), it’s a comfort thing.
TRUCK PEOPLE: I put these folks in a different category than the “bigger the better,” group even though size is a huge arguing point in the truck world. The difference is that EVERYTHING is a huge arguing point in truck world. Truck owners are like the blue collar version of luxury/sports car owners; they are the most provincial people in the world. Getting them to change brand loyalty is like asking them to chew off their own arm. If they’re a Chevy guy, they’re a Chevy guy for life; it’s a just a question of Silverado versus Colorado. Personally, I believe every home should own a truck for practical reasons. Trucks haul stuff; whether it be all the junk we waste our money on at Costco, garbage to the dump, jet-skis to the lake, or that stupid new playset for your rat kids that they’ll use twice before becoming bored with, a truck means one very simple thing: independence and self-reliance. No delivery fees and no begging for help from others. In terms of brand, I buy what’s great at the time, which of course means I have never owned a Ford Truck. I went through plenty of Toyotas and GM trucks and now I drive a Dodge RAM too big to park in most parking spaces and incapable of making an actual, regulation U-turn. But hey, I own a truck.
DON’T CARE AT ALL: These are very, very few but they do exist. Some try to argue that the American poor fall into this category, but I disagree entirely. After all, talk to a poor person in America about what they’d do with money and most of them say “buy a nice car.” The only people I have ever met who truly don’t care about the car they drive are those weird very wealthy people who could walk onto a Ferrari lot and pay cash on the spot, but instead putt around in the 1988 Honda Accord they’ve had since America started electing Bushes President. However, these are the same eccentrics that either own a private jet, or a “vacation mansion” in Maui or some other form of extravagance that seems to satiate what cars do for the rest of us.
TOYS: Beyond the practicality and basic necessity of needing to own a vehicle in America, this is my category. For the first half of my driving life I could only afford to own one vehicle, so I always owned a truck (for the reasons stated earlier), but I always wanted a toy, and I always knew what that toy would be; the best sports car on the market that I could afford, that wasn’t also a fake sports car. That latter limitation meant I would never purchase a Mustang, Camaro, Boxster, or any other form of lame ass car that belonged nowhere in the same sentence with true performance vehicles. It also meant I’d have to earn a lot more money. I was never going to be “that guy,” who drove around in an MR2 or, worse yet, a suped up Civic and claim I was driving a sports car. It’s still a Honda, asshole. Those of us who drive toys (like my 2015 Corvette Zo6), in my opinion, have decided that the road is our mountain. Our version of Extreme sporting comes from taking hairpin turns at the highest rate of speed possible and knowing we have power at our fingertips, combined with expert engineering, that gets us out of almost any situation the moron brigade known as the American Driver throws at us.
Which brings us to our final category:
I HAVE NO LIFE, NO PENIS, AND NO WAY TO DEFINE MYSELF OTHER THAN BEING LOUD AND OBNOXIOUS SO I PUT NITRO-GLYCERINE IN MY ENGINE: This last category was the motivator for this entire tirade. Recently, my girlfriend and I ascended the hills of Northern California to find some fun, winding roads. Why? Because it’s fun, that’s why. It’s the same reason you waterski, bungee jump, or knit: for that moment. If you’re doing any of your hobbies or pursuits of fun correctly, you are finding those moments when you channel your inner Ric flair (Google it) and yell aloud “wooooooo.” Taking a mountain road turn in the shape of the letter “C,” posted as 15 MPH turn and nailing it at three times that rate of speed makes my hair turn white and turns me into the Nature Boy. That’s why. Although, I have to admit I’ve never seen a knitter yell aloud at the socks they’ve just made. Perhaps they do it internally.
As we filled the gas tank in the Methed-up land that time forgot known as the sewage hole of Colfax California, some blockhead driving a beat up white pick up truck struck up a conversation with me at the pump. Sidebar; I have yet to fill up my corvette’s tank, anywhere, without being treated like the mayor of whatever town I am in. The car is a show-stopper and I hate it. I didn’t buy the car for that, I bought it for me, period. I ignore the looks, stares, and head turns because they do nothing for me, but I acknowledge it’s a gorgeous car that few people (at this point) have seen, and most of them mistake it for a Ferrari at first glance. I try to be nice to people, most of whom are very pleasant and congratulatory, but inevitably you come across some mental midget like Jed the Colfaxion who wants to race me in his garbage trowel rebuilt Pontiac back at his house. He’s retrofitted it, you see, and it churns out 725 horsepower and will beat my ass on a straightaway in no time flat, which he’s willing to bet $1000 on. I shit you not.