Out of the Blue

Drivin’ Me Crazy

A car, by any other name, is still transportation

By Deborah Salomon

Something’s happened with cars. Forever, it seems, the majority were grayish to blackish. Then, starting about a year ago, they blossomed like a garden in spring: robin’s egg or Wedgwood blue, violet and deep purple, lime or froggy green, a ripe tomato red, free-range chicken egg-yolk orange — even turquoise and bubblegum pink. Heaven forbid, plain white. Now, it’s pearlized French vanilla. I won’t go into the two-tone MiniCoopers that remind me of saddle oxfords.

The other day I saw a Honda Civic so electric blue I got a shock, just looking. They could be exhibits in a modern art museum. And no wonder.

Cars. Our alter egos — more so men than women. Our fashion accessories — more so women than men. Our socioeconomic barometers that provide a heads-up to strangers. I wonder if, in horse and buggy days, people created fetishes around either horse or buggy? Maybe. The Lone Ranger needed Silver. The surrey with the fringe on top was tricked out.

The wheels are yeller, the upholstery’s brown

The dashboard’s genuine leather

With isinglass curtains you can roll right down

In case there’s a change in the weather!

So do our wheels provide bragging rights, or personality extensions? Technology rules performance but I’m baffled by the human input.

Take model names. I picture marketing gurus sitting around a table in a situation room, probably in Tokyo, rearranging alphabet blocks. Escape, Outback, Pilot and Explorer make sense, but what is a Camry, anyway? A Yaris? A Corolla? A Touareg or Passat? What did the T in Model T stand for, anyway?

Elantra sounds like a Shakespearean damsel. Is a Kia Soul a riff on the capital city? Why call a car Eon when it only lasts a few years? Cadillac, a French officer, founded Detroit; Seville is a city in Spain. Murano and Sorrento Italian destinations. California was good enough for Chevy’s Bel Air and Malibu. Did General Motors consider that Escalade is a military attack? Or Mazda bother to find out that its Laputa in Spanish means the whore? Trucks, with their macho monikers, are a last bastion of sexism; I can’t imagine a Bronco Man (if he survived the Marlboros) hopping into a Honda Jazz.

Then I get mixed up trying to differentiate a Highlander from an Outlander from an Outback. What . . . no Outlier or Outpatient?

I assume high schoolers go for cutesy names like Trax, Juke, Cruz and Chex — no, that’s a cereal. Tell Nissan that calling a model Leaf is ridiculous.

And I haven’t even touched on mysterious letter designations: LE, CR, SL, IOU.

Design — the auto industry is not gaffe-proof. Remember the 1950s Studebaker and later the Ford Edsel, both with front ends raunchy comedians compared to female body parts? Now, the weird geometry fronting a late-model Lexus looks like Darth Vader’s helmet.

Animal names have always connoted high-test testosterone. Jaguar, Mustang, Bronco, Impala, Ram, Viper, Thunderbird race a young man’s motor especially when they fly through the air, multiply digitally and move like synchronized swimmers followed by the warning “Do Not Attempt.”

About spokesdrivers: I assume a deal was cut when Matthew McConaughey played The Lincoln Lawyer, a 2011 film about a lawyer who practiced out of his car. Now, he’s the silent type in TV ads. Matt plays pool, eyes the dames but never utters a word as he drives off in his Navigator SUV. Hey, you wild and crazy guy, that car isn’t you. Get a Porsche Boxster, my man.

SUVs — sport utility vehicles — press the last button. Research took me to Fresh Market parking lot, where I counted 28 SUVs. I lingered until their owners returned. Not one resembled an off-roader or soccer goalie, snowboarder or surfer. No St. Bernards, Great Danes or eight children. The vehicles’ only “utility” was carrying a few bags of groceries home, easily done in a sedan. SUVs are hard to climb into and out of. Yet everybody’s got one. They are the “it” car, for which the economy is profoundly grateful.

Out of a lifetime total of 13 cars (mostly station wagons and hatchbacks for three children and a 90-pound Airedale) I have owned only one “it” car: a mid-1970s Olds Cutlass khaki convertible with white leather seats. How divine it was, to lower the top, load the kids and dog, turn up the disco music and head for Dairy Queen on a summer evening.

Other than that, for me a car is a car is a car. Gray, practical, economical. Transportation. Although I do admit . . . eyelashes on a pink Beetle are just adorable.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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