I saw a Hummer last month. More than that, I touched it. I rode in it. I even sat in the driver’s seat and pretended to run an armored car off the road. For a Berkeley kid like me, getting intimate with a Hummer is the ultimate taboo. It’s like a Bostonian rooting for the Yankees or a Kennedy marrying a Republican weight lifter.
My friend Sabrina drove the beautiful beast up from LA for a visit. She’s got a dog and a couple of suitcases, so really, what else could she possibly drive? And her explanation for buying it (“Because I like it”) was good enough for me.
I should mention that Sabrina hasn’t been in LA long, and buying the Hummer was her final act as a New Yorker; she drove that glorious pig right across this great land, touring gas stations east, west and central. If my math skills serve me—let’s see: carry the four, divide by $1.87, remultiply by n—the trip cost her just shy of forty million dollars.
As I got out my flares and beacons and helped her back into a parking spot in front of my house, I got a guilty sort of pleasure. Men stared, children gaped, women dropped to their knees. The master of the motorways had arrived.
I turned my back for a moment to ride the escalator into the back seat, and when I came out Sabrina was vigorously cursing at a passerby. She said he started it, that he’d made some comment about the war in Iraq being her fault.
She shouted something back about how his obvious penchant for pot-smoking was as damaging to the country as her love for unleaded. It was a fairly irrelevant argument to be sure, but can’t we all just love a car that engenders public discourse?
You’ve got to admire Sabrina’s willingness to drive into the lion’s den of Berkeley with only her wit and a Kevlar-plated demi-tank to protect her. This is a town where everybody is fully entitled to the opinion of everybody else. People share their feelings with wanton abandon, walking blithely through the streets castigating and condemning one another for faults real and imaginary.
Sabrina told me that nobody in LA has ever said a thing to her, but that within hours of being here she’d had to defend her honor to strangers a dozen times or more. In Berkeley, apparently, you can’t own a Hummer; you can only be its curator as it is displayed for public comment.
Of course, I tried to join the bandwagon of criticism, but I don’t have a leg to stand on. I am, after all, an Oldsmobile owner.
I never wanted the Olds exactly. It came to me (along with a wood-handled ice-cream scooper) as an inheritance from my grandmother. But all doubt was removed the first time I sat down on those cigarette-burnt seats, flipped on Grandma’s radar detector and let those horsies run.
I ask you, have you ever actually been in an Olds? Oh, you smug Subarites, you haughty Honda Civilians scurrying, always scurrying, ferrying groceries and babies and earnest intentions. In an Oldsmobile it is impossible to be harried or tired, unthinkable to imagine yourself trivial or weak. There are no speed bumps for me, my shocks are enormous, my suspension ethereal. I ride in style.
The Oldsmobile, rounded and glistening like a lozenge, slides through town of its own accord. As a driver I am merely a pleasant accoutrement for my car; the Olds is a near-sentient luxury pod that attends to my every need.
When I first saw my car it was amongst its own kind in South Florida and I worried that, stripped from it’s natural habitat and brought to California, it would fail to thrive. But by the time we’d driven cross-country together we had reached an agreement to eschew shame and beam out the pride of driving American.
In Berkeley I scanned the streets in search of a sibling for my Olds. Now I know that there are half a dozen other Oldsmobile owners in this town of conservation and efficiency. When I see these fellow travelers I nod silently and they nod back, silver hair and ivory dentures bobbing up and down as a compliment to me for being wise beyond my years.
They say that a person’s choice of car is a perfect reflection of their personality. It’s true my friend Sabrina is brash and loves to argue. She’s talking about driving her Hummer up for another visit and I think she may just need a little caustic sidewalk debate to add spice to her sunny Los Angeles life.
But as for me, I never chose the Olds. Instead, it chose me and we’ve successfully asserted our right to exist in the fuel-efficient wilds of Berkeley.
But still, it’s hard to find a parking spot that fits.