The Boston Globe has become my one-stop shop for news items that piss me off on a daily basis.
I should probably be grateful for this, since it guarantees me a never-ending flow of material for my little cyber-rants. But it is also fucking with my blood pressure in a big way, and, frankly, flying into a tizzy over things that I can’t control is no way to begin a productive day.
The Globe’s most recent transgression against all that is newsworthy was a baffling editorial decision to devote several columns on Page One - that’s the front page, people! - to the press-stopping announcement that the “new minivans” were about to be unveiled in Detroit.
This is news?
In the very same issue, bundled into the back of Section A, were stories about shootings in the ghetto, starving children in Africa, and a typhoon that had wiped out a small island in the Pacific. But the Globe, in all its editorial wisdom, decided that it was more important to pander to its suburban customer base by profiling an overbreeding couple in Chelmsford who felt “funny” about succumbing to the Minivan Mania that is, evidently, sweeping the nation.
Memo to Overbreeding Suburban Couples: This is just an idle thought, mind you, but if the size of your family is beginning to exceed the capacity of the good ol’ family truckster, maybe it’s time to motor on over to the neighborhood drugstore and pick up some, oh, I don’t know…BIRTH CONTROL, perhaps?
Here’s some news for you, Mr. Boston Globe Editor: there are already too many minivans in the world! We don’t need any more of them! So please, please - for the love of all that is good and holy and environmentally friendly -please don’t encourage any more people to buy them!
There are many politically correct reasons to hate the minivan and its Evil Twin, the Sports Utility Vehicle, and they have been expounded upon at great length by some very articulate people who are a good deal more civic minded and environmentally conscious than I. Truth be told, I probably don’t care nearly as much about the environment as I should, given the huge quantities of aerosol hairspray I spew at the ozone layer on a daily basis, as well as the fact that I’m too lazy to recycle my empty Diet Coke cans (rationalizing that leaving them out with the trash gives the homeless something to do and is more socially responsible than just handing out money to panhandlers).
No, I hate SUVs for purely selfish reasons.
To begin with, they’re always in my way - hogging the all-too-scarce resident parking spaces in my neighborhood, blocking my view when I’m trying to steer my little Saab around tight corners, and cluttering up the aesthetics of my pretty world in general with their ungainly ugliness.
And, for the most part, they’re entirely unnecessary. At least for your typical urban dweller.
But I have kids! you cry. They have stuff! How can I manage? It’s New England and it snows here!
Let me tell you a story about kids and snow and stuff. Back in 1967, my father moved our entire family - that’s two toddlers, a pregnant wife, the family cat, and all our stuff - from Buffalo to Cleveland in the middle of one of the worst blizzards of the decade. He did the same thing five years later, this time from Cleveland to Hartford, in the middle of yet another raging blizzard (yeah, my family has always had bad weather timing). And on both occasions, he did it in a station wagon. Remember the station wagon? They still make 'em, you know, and they even come with
snow tires. They’re also a hell of a lot easier on the eyes than they used to be and have the added bonus of allowing all of the drivers behind you to actually SEE over your roof.
But what about safety? I hear you snivel. I have kids! WHAT ABOUT THE CHILLLLLDRENNNN?
Well, what about the children in the back seat of that Honda Civic that you’ve been tailgating for the past fifty miles and finally plow into at 85 mph on the Expressway because you were so busy changing the Disney video in the back seat that you didn’t notice that tollbooth up ahead? I’m sure they’re very glad that your children are strapped in, all nice and comfy, while they’re being airlifted to Children‘s Hospital with massive head injuries.
Studies have shown that people in small cars are 35 times more likely to be killed in a collision with an SUV than people who are hit by smaller cars. Given that I am one of those smaller-car people who is 35 times more likely to die as a direct result of your unfortunate choice of vehicle, you should understand why I might be a bit peeved at you.
Yes, SUVs are safer. SUVs are safer because of all the other SUVs that are out there, menacing the rest of us on the roadways. In effect, people are only buying SUVs because they need to protect themselves from other people in SUVs! And the rest of us will eventually find ourselves, mangled and broken, amid the pile of twisted wreckage that is American Entitlement Run Amok.
And that’s really what it boils down to, as far as I’m concerned. Oh, I grant you, there are some people who have the legitimate need for a large vehicle. For example, if you are a team of lumberjacks who must haul a giant load of wood through a muddy forest, I can see how a Ford Explorer might come in handy. But, really, how many suburban soccer moms do you know who take the take the mountaintop route from their driveway to the supermarket? And how many portfolio managers do you know who go off-roading in between conference calls?
It’s the entire mentality that sits in the big, tall seat behind the wheel of that Range Rover that grates on me. That attitude that screams, It’s all about me! Fuck you all! As long as I look good up here, that’s all that matters!
Yes, you certainly do look smashing don’t you? There’s nothing more attractive than a sweatsuited Power Yuppie careening down Commonwealth Avenue in a Ford Explorer on the way to the health club, cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other, and one eye on the CD changer as terrified elderly pedestrians scatter in her path.
I don’t like that sweatsuited Power Yuppie with the cell phone and the cigarette. I don’t like the soccer moms with the six kids and the air of privileged entitlement. I don’t like the stuffy portfolio manager with the gigantic ego and the Lincoln Navigator. Although I do like the Lincoln Navigator, because it’s always fun to watch one get stuck underneath a low overhang in a parking garage.
Speaking of which.
One day, shortly after 9/11, I saw a Ford Excursion in a parking garage. The Excursion, which gets something like two miles to the gallon, was shamelessly promoted as the “biggest SUV ever made,” like that was a good thing. It sat there haughtily in its two-and-a-half parking spaces, just daring me to challenge its right to exist.
But I was intrigued. What on earth would someone do with such a thing? Was he driving a dozen handicapped children around and needed a big place in back to stash the wheelchairs? Was he delivering hot meals to shut-ins? I was so fascinated by the undoubtedly altruistic motivations of the owner that I actually lurked in the parking lot for a good half hour, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person so noble, so civic-spirited, and so patriotic that he was willing to pilot his gigantic automobile around all over town, American flag waving jauntily from its antenna.
After a while, my inner cynic slapped some sense into me. I figured I’d just get annoyed if only one guy came out and got into it, empty-handed, so I exited the parking garage without ever solving the mystery.
I returned to the lot the next day, and for several weeks after that. I never did see the Excursion again, but I did see hundreds more of those little antenna flags, flapping proudly from the extended antennae of Jeep Cherokees, Range Rovers, and Land Cruisers as they cruised slowly, proudly, up and down Newbury Street.
Eventually the snow came. The wind kicked up. And, slowly, those gallant little antenna flags slipped from their perches and fluttered, grimy and tattered, into the gutters where they were snatched up by the street sweepers on the second Monday of each month.
But, deep down, I took solace in the one thing. Out there on some lonely highway, God bless him - I knew that that Ford Excursion just kept on truckin’.