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Autoerotic II

Picking up from last week: Car alarms to pickups:

Car Alarms. I live across from a city park and it gets busy when the weather’s good – which in Northern California is most of the time. I actually enjoy the tumult, even when we’re hosting and parking becomes an issue – but especially when Latinos are in full cry over there; mucho gusto. I’m Anglo, but Norteños/conjuntos, niños beating the Bejesus out of pinatas, and those ample Señoras who open up and laugh from twice as deep as they are tall – not to mention the smell of the food – never fail to make me smile. One puzzlement: car alarm demonstrations. You know – hitting all the buttons on the keychain fob to demonstrate that your vehicle is secure and oblivious intruders will cower in fear at your foresight and cunning, thereby impressing your amigos and propelling you into the social stratosphere. I guess; I don’t get it. My reaction is like that portrayed by David Cross as the bored morgue clerk in Men in Black when Vince D’Onofrio, as “Edgar the Bug,” overworks the service bell. “Yes, that’s right, Pablo – good one; you’ve shown that that works. Let’s just put that away so we can’t do that anymore, okay, Compadre?” I’ve never risked such a confrontation, of course – fearing the result would be as bad or worse. (Hey – I already said the kids have bats.)

Fog Lights. Before my birth, my family lived in neo-coastal Oregon, which is legendary for real, white-wall fog – my older siblings tell me that on more than one occasion the old man had to walk in front of the car with a lantern while my Mom drove. Now, that’s fog. Here in Sacramento, by contrast, the only fog we get is called tule fog; it comes in December and January when the air is noticeably cooler in the morning and evening than our several aqueous features. It’s especially annoying for business travelers and legislative supplicants who fly here expecting to begin a normal working day at that time of year. It’s because our runways are sandwiched between the Sacramento River and a crazy-quilt of rice paddies. Long story short, it’s patchy and infrequent – but a great number of folks drive with their fog lights on all the while their headlights are illuminated, regardless. SUVs and a great variety of tricked out vehicles seem to lead the pack, and none of these people have a clue how bright fog lights are, because they’re designed specifically for low-visibility conditions. I can’t divine the raison d’ etre here. Is it ethnic or communal code of some sort? Is there a “use it or lose it” ethic at work that says you’re not getting full value unless all flags are flying? Is it like the “exercise your car alarm” phenomenon? “Hey, look, everybody! I have these cool extra bright lights – and they were included in the price! You must worship me! Wait – why are you squinting?” And that’s just the OEM fog-cutters; Google tells me there’s a land office business in aftermarket fog lamps and money appears to be no object. Help me to understand, Lord.

Hummers. Back in my day, this word had entirely pleasant connotations, where nobody got hurt – well, depending on the severity of her gag reflex. Now, it’s a serviceable icon for most everything that’s wrong with us: blind consumption; greed; self-delusion; selfishness – add your own deadly sin. Better yet, go to www.FUH2.com and contribute to the public good. If the price of crude don’t get ‘em, maybe mounting public ridicule will. Personally, my taste runs to re-erecting stocks in the public square; if your burg has a pond there, maybe a ducking chair…

NASCAR. Occasional readers know I’m a track and field man, so it profits me nothing to dog people who turn out in public to enjoy objects moving at speed, counterclockwise. Some key differences: at track meets the air’s cleaner, the most ear-threatening sound is the starter’s pistol, and I don’t believe anyone hopes or expects that bodies will pile up in the far turn. (The percentage of fans who come to smoke and binge-drink is infinitesimal by comparison, and you don’t see too many wives and girlfriends with black eyes; telling though they may be, these distinctions are not crucial to the argument.) In track and horse-racing, you go to see the athletes perform; how can a car be a performer in that sense? I’ll grant that drivers have courage, above-average reflexes, and may be fairly fit – especially compared to their fans. Some, like Tiger Woods in golf, may qualify as athletes because they train as hard; as a class, though, I doubt it. Tactical? Chess is tactical; middle and long-distance human races are, too, if less so. The finite number of things a driver can do strategically to win a race, seems to me, argue against it. So what does it boil down to? Design and maintenance level of the car? Speed of the pit crew? Cup size and hem length of the winner-kisser? Where is the prospect of empathetic human drama, the triumph of achievement and the agony of misfortune written on the faces and across the heaving bodies of the competitors? You can’t even see the guy inside. WOOOOOOeeeeEEEE, Ricky Bobby! (I hate to say this, Bubba, but they’re mocking you and taking your money.)

Pickups. If you’re not a grower or tradesman, why? I realize we are trained to a fare-thee-well to be impulsive/compulsive consumers, but how many twenty-somethings with double-X chromosomes do you know with that much stuff – even if you thrown in the pinball machine and the weight bench? I understand that they are made and sold more cheaply, and needn’t be reasonably underpowered to save fuel, because our Republican Congressional heroes long ago classified them as “trucks” to avoid mileage and safety standards. And, true, the marketing is subtly seductive – Avalanche! Frontier! Hemi! RAM! Titan! – but questions remain:

  • Lessee – logistics. There’s Driver (1), Date/Wingman (1), and (possibly) Designated Driver (1) = 3 positions; okay, good, you’re there if you have a full bench seat. Full buckets and a console – problem? I don’t know about Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, but that riding-in-the-back restriction is enforced here. (Even the dog has to be tied down.) How do you get that party started? Okay, there are the Extended Cabs with those toddlers-and-groceries seats, but if you’re stuffed back there and lookin’ to get lucky, you might as well have “DORK!” tattooed on your forehead…
  • Where does the teenaged backseat boogie take place? (That’s not why it’s called a “bed.”) The mind reels with the possibilities. Air mattress on a lonely road? There’s the self-esteem candidate to bear your children! (Not to mention the noise – “What is that? Two skeletons on a tin roof?” – and contusions…) In the bedroom or basement at home, where you have to risk total hearing loss by cranking Metallica up to cover your – er – tracks? Fending off the tiny livestock in a cheap motel with “Mrs. Smith?” Au naturel? (“Look, Edna – still more evidence that the One-eyed Trouser Snakes are shedding!” Eww; exactly.) Suddenly, abstinence seems like a workable policy.
  • How far up the social food chain does being the go-to guy on moving day get you?

More disturbing is the frequency with which young women are buying light trucks. Why? C’mon, girlz – women from Susan B. Anthony to Betty Friedan manned the gender-equity ramparts so you could race men your age down to the double digit area on the IQ points scale? Used to be that a female hottie driving a pickup meant she was a [check as many as apply] barrel racer, goat tier, or rodeo queen. In any case she loved Waylon Jennings, could stick a horse and hold that “snooss” ‘tween cheek and gum if she chose, which meant she could crush a walnut between her thighs, with attitude. How bad a boy was gone get his ass kicked of an evenin’ depended only on whether her answer was “yes” or “no.” These days – just another Britney wannabe in that cab, shakin’ that baby fat to a Shakira CD and social-sucking Marlboro Lights.

Next Week: Musings on the software driving the hardware.

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