I brake for cars

Sunday Signal

By Jim Mullen, Signal Contributing Writer

I parked next to an SUV yesterday that was so big I could have parked my car, a smaller SUV, inside of it. With plenty of room left over to seat four people comfortably. 

When I try to park in the Big Box parking lot, I’ll think I spot an empty space, but it always turns out to be a regular-sized car parked between two giant trucks that escaped from a Monster Jam audition. 

These things are the McMansions of the auto world. They can barely fit between the painted lines. They have names like “Expedition” and “Armada.” To me, Lewis and Clark spending three years traveling through an unmapped and roadless land qualifies as an expedition. Neil Armstrong landing on the moon is an expedition. Admiral Byrd’s trek to the South Pole was an expedition. Going to the Shop and Go Away to buy toilet paper and frozen pizza? Not so much. And since you could put those items safely in the normally empty passenger seat, what’s the rest of the car for? 

If you asked people why they bought their monster vehicles, “safety” is probably the answer most would give. Yes, every time I see a tiny little Smart car on the freeway, I wonder if the driver could even walk away from a 2 mph fender-bender in the pharmacy parking lot. But on the other end of the pendulum, does that mean we all need Bradley Fighting Vehicles just to get to work and run errands? 

I wonder how many times the people with Armadas actually use them at their full capacity. I see giant, heavy-duty pickup trucks without a scratch on them. They look as if they’d just come back from the diamond polisher’s. The tires and rims shine; CSI wouldn’t be able to find a fingerprint or a stray eyelash on these things. 

But if the owners aren’t doing rugged things with them, like hauling dirty boulders, going up steep outdoor staircases or driving down the middle of muddy streams — the way they do in the commercials — what ARE they doing with them? Besides running them through the car wash twice a day?

I just saw a commercial for a Jeep called a Gladiator. It seems to be a combination of a Jeep and a pickup truck. They show it hauling a boat. Hmmm. Wow. Never seen a regular car do that before! Oh, wait, yes I have — hundreds of times. I guess the idea is that if the fish see you drive up in a Gladiator, they’ll just give up and jump into your boat.

I understand the attraction of bright, shiny moving objects, but then, so do fish. It’d be nice to think we are a tiny bit smarter than fish, and that we won’t just fall for the first flash of chrome that comes into view. 

When I see giant new cars parked by my local Out of Date But Still Edible Groceries, I think maybe they should have bought something a little more practical. Like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. After all, there’s something comforting about knowing your car can go 200 miles an hour when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

We all spend money on things that must make other people shake their heads. I just saw a story about a Japanese toaster that costs $270 and only toasts one piece of bread at a time. Sure, it does a good job, but still. And yet, some people will want one. My friend Yvon will buy one as soon as she sees it. 

She calls it “shopping therapy,” and she has a point: Why waste money on a psychiatrist when she feels just as good after dropping a few hundred dollars at her favorite store? Sure, she could have taken that money to Las Vegas and gambled it away, or bought hair extensions, or just done something stupid with it. But as long as it makes her happy, what’s the problem? 

I don’t understand the mania for big cars, but I’m glad it’s not my thing. The money I save on gas and car insurance lets me waste money on important things. Like my Star Wars memorabilia.

Contact Jim Mullen at [email protected].

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