World Enough and Time: Car talking

Bill Hagen
Contributing writer

If you missed March Madness, you missed a chance to see Texas basketball at its finest: Abilene Christian over U. Of Texas! Baylor over Houston...and then Gonzaga!

You also missed an opportunity to watch the car and truck ads inserted during the many time-outs. The ads built on the excitement of the basketball games. A truck that constructs a log cabin in the middle of a wilderness. Relate that to the repeated stories of Coach Drew or Kelvin Sampson who took teams devastated by NCAA sanctions and created teams participating in the Final Four.

A car that threads through city traffic suggests the forward who gets around a defender and weaves his way through two others to make a layup. The guard who deals with a sudden defensive switch from man-to-man to zone is certainly comparable to the SUV that can instantly deal with a switch from polar snow to dessert dust. The easy free-throw is like a Buick that can park itself.

Basketball gets you thinking about new cars and trucks. With perfect timing, your April issue of Consumer Reports arrives—the coveted “Annual Auto Issue.” Against your better judgement, you browse the pages.

Switching from March Madness to Car Fever, you might even realize that the television ads don’t just offer new cars; they offer personal enhancement and the potential for good memories.

When your new car performs well, you relish the smiling friend who says, “That’s so you.” When the kids grow tired of the trip, you want a car that instantly transports them to a destination—the beach, for instance.

Since I like to drive, it’s not surprising that after Baylor whipped Gonzaga, I had my first Spring Travel Dream.

I was in a car with my brothers and sister. Someone else was driving. About 20 miles down the road, I realized two things: I had not turned off a faucet and we were missing a brother. Strangely, the driver refused to stop or turn around, even though we were passing a large parking lot covered in snow. He, she, or it finally stopped in a small town. Everything changed: the missing brother materialized; the running faucet was forgotten; we now needed cash, but the town had no bank or ATM. I was trying to get a loan and the clerk wouldn’t accept my credit card. She offered me a new credit card that could be used to secure cash. I was giving her the needed information when the cat walked across my leg and woke me up.

Clearly this trip was not going well. In my post-dream analysis, I realized I was probably being scammed. I tried to go back to sleep so I could give the dream a better ending, but to no avail.

Strangely, the vehicle was not specified. The dream featured an interior shot of passengers, similar to the camera angle and shot of the family in the SUV ad that switches from Alaska to the beach.

We need something that will get us down the road after a horrible no-travel year!

We need to make better memories, worthy of the Final Four.

I remember two cars: a new one that seems designed to make memories; another that carried many memories.

A little Miata

Last year, I couldn’t wait. Tired of ordering weekly from Amazon and sneaking to my local grocery at unspeakable early hours with other senior citizens, I bought a little Mazda Miata. With the top down, going all the way to the Twin Lakes and back, I could create the illusion that I had traveled Somewhere.

Sometimes illusions help keep us alive. Most memories are half-illusion anyway.

The other day a fellow in the next bank drive-through asked how fast my sports car would go. I should have said, “It’s a Miata, so it looks faster than it will go.” At four cylinders, that’s a safe statement. Instead, I glanced at the dash and said, “It goes up to 140 mph according to the speedometer; I’ve never tested it.”

That seemed to satisfy him, as if I would ever test its limits. Boosted by his admiration, I flipped the auto-transmission from “Drive” to “Sports,” so I could exit the bank with a more satisfying exhaust growl. Immediately, the miles-to-empty readout indicated I had lost two miles. Growls come with a cost, even if you’re driving 30.

When I got home, I pulled out Consumer Reports, to check just how fast my little car will go. Turns out, it takes a healthy 6.7 seconds to reach 60 mph, best in its cost class, except for a Subaru model that goes .7 seconds faster.

Course, it’s tough to stop reading the auto issue if you love cars. I just had to check the Corvette’s time. It accelerates twice as fast, taking about three seconds to reach 60. BUT I can feel pretty good since it has twice the cylinders (8) of my Miata. Doesn’t that almost make my little car the ‘vette of the four-cylinder cost class?

It’s too early for the Miata to have created much in the way of memories. Course, as a senior I really don’t need more experiences that I will forget.

Caprice Classic

Thinking back, the most memorable car in my life was a 1992 Chevrolet Caprice. It came with memories and created more.

We got the car after my late wife’s father died. It was a big, fast, stable car, much favored by the state police. Her father got one with the largest V8 engine, heavy-duty shocks, the whole police package. When he drove it at night, other cars would slow down until they recognized it was maroon, not black.

Why her father had ordered such a car was a mystery. Everyone knew he normally drove ten miles below the speed limit. Many in his small community had been trapped in the line of cars behind him, going slowly up a mountain or negotiating a curvy road. But no one questioned his choice of such a car; it was admired.

“I know what I would do with that car,” thought the young without money, dreaming of speed. To older drivers, it represented security, the power and room to carry whole families in safety. My wife remembered one time when it blew a tire while she was driving 70 on an Interstate. The car never wavered as she braked and pulled it to the shoulder.

The car was an extension of her father, a big man who was gentle in his ways. After her experience, the Chevy, in a sense, was her father, his presence in securing her life after his death. The driver’s seat canted to the left, where the big man had worn down the springs.

It came to our house with a history and a presence. With twin exhaust pipes showing, it sat in the driveway until that day when someone who recognized what it was made an attempt to steal it by taking apart the steering column. Luckily, the Caprice required a computer chip on the key to start. But after its repair, the car was given a spot in the garage, incidentally saving its paint job from the incessant pitch droppings of two cedar trees.

Unfortunately, even cared-for cars do not age in predictable ways. The interior light did not reliably switch off, draining the battery more than once. The air conditioning threatened warmth. The canted seat, not to be replaced, best fit someone with a right leg longer than the left. A broad back seat accumulated so many things that their supposed utility was lost in the jumble: plastic bags transforming into piles of white flakes, a red rain shell, a back cushion that had proven uncomfortable, an ice scraper, fast food receipts, a first aid kit that had been overheated by the sun of twenty summers, and a number of odd screws and plastic pieces from unknown locations. Thus the big car became a kind of ward.

Its power intact, though rarely used for brief errands, the car sat in gleaming maroon magnificence, stable and monumental, comfortable in its space. It was something to admire and walk around.

I miss it, though I don’t miss the care it took to keep it running. Too many batteries. It was All-American, in a way that no car can be today. I recently read that the car with the highest percentage of American-made parts today is a Honda.

So we go down the road, making memories, many nations under one hood.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at billha47@hotmail.com.