Sense and Sensible Cars
By James Lileks
When I met my wife, she was driving a Kleenex box dipped in metallic
paint. Wind it into fourth gear and the engine sounded like a box of
constipated hamsters. The only way you could hit fifty in this car was
to drive it into a crowd. We sold it years ago and got by with one car.
Until now. My wife hates my car, a low turbo-boosted Batmobile. She
points out, sensibly, that there is no reason to break the sound barrier
just to get milk and eggs. She's always late to work because she has to
get out and repack the drag chute. You can't argue with that. You can't
say how cute she looks when her face starts rippling from G-forces. So
your shoulders slump in the yes-honey posture of submission, and you go
to buy some sensible car, like a Ford Eunuche, or some underpowered box
like a Dodge Blurt.
We chose a sensible four-door. It was a car designed to appeal to female
buyers. First clue: the rear-view mirror only showed cars at their most
flattering angle. Second clue: the mirrors had a warning that read
OBJECTS IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR FEEL FATTER THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE.
The base price was reasonable, but then you start adding option
packages. Leather warranty folders, halogen glove-compartment lights, a
motorized seat with more positions than are found in Kama Sutra
(warning! Do not drive while seat is in the Plucking the Heavenly Lotus
setting) and, of course, the rust protection option. Apparently the
vast majority of people want their cars to rust, so rust protection is
The audio options included eight flavors of radio, starting with a
system that had the fidelity of a Chatty Cathy doll. At the other end,
the Audiophile Package, with fourteen speakers hidden throughout the
car, bass speakers in the seat so powerful they can actually eject you
through the sunroof, a CD player, and a dwarf in the trunk who adjusted the graphic
equalizer for each song. (Rust protection for dwarf is extra.)
And of course, airbags. The old car had no airbags - you hit something,
and you were speared like a martini olive. The Detroit love-tap, as it's
known. The new cars has more airbags than radio speakers. For all I
know the airbags come out of the speakers. Hit something, and it's like
being tackled by a pack of giant extroverted marshmallows. You hear a
distant hmgh! as the airbag in the trunk coldcocks the drawf. An airbag
probably pops out of the microphone of the DJ at the station to which
your radio is set.
For all these geegaws, it is a fine, sensible machine. One problem: it's
perfect. Its smooth metal gleams with nary a crease or a ding in the
door. I park it at the farthest reaches of the parking lots, just so
some guy in a rust-rotted beater doesn't slam his door into mine out of
spite. But the day of the dent is coming. I wait. And worry.
Last week my wife called from a pay phone. She'd hit something on the
freeway. We'd only had the car for a month, whereas we have had each
other for a decade, so my immediate concerns were somewhat jumbled. Is
the you okay? I said. Are you dented?
She was fine. Just a flat. A truck belonging to the Casually Tied-Down
Board and Nail Co. (How's my strewing? Dial 1-800-EAT TACKS) had dumped
spiky junk all over the road. She drove the car to a garage and watched
the mechanic pull out a nail the length of Excalibur. He patched the
tire with some black goo mechanics can spit from some secret gland, and
all was right with the world. Right?
Later I looked at the cost of the repair, the cost of the insurance, and
of course the cost of the car payment. Then I looked at my bank balance.
I realized where exactly the first dent would be made.
And that doesn't even count the cost of feeding the dwarf.