The road hogs are pigging out


IF THERE'S ONE thing this nation needs, it's bigger cars. That's why I'm excited that Ford is coming out with a new mound o' metal that will offer consumers even more total road-squatting mass than the current leader in the humongous-car category, the popular Chevrolet Suburban Subdivision -- the first passenger automobile designed to be, right off the assembly line, visible from the moon.

I don't know what the new Ford will be called. Probably something like the "Ford Untamed Wilderness Adventure." In the TV commercials, it will be shown splashing through rivers, charging up rocky mountainsides, swinging on vines, diving off cliffs, racing through the surf and fighting giant sharks hundreds of feet beneath the ocean surface -- all the daredevil things that cars do in Sport Utility Vehicle Commercial World, where nobody ever drives on an actual road.

In the real world, of course, nobody drives Sport Utility Vehicles in the forest, because when you have paid upwards of $40,000 for a transportation investment, the last thing you want is squirrels pooping on it. No, if you want a practical "off-road" vehicle, you get yourself a 1973 American Motors Gremlin, which combines the advantage of not being worth worrying about with the advantage of being so ugly that poisonous snakes flee from it in terror.

In the real world, what people mainly do with their Sport Utility Vehicles, as far as I can tell, is try to maneuver them into and out of parking spaces. I base this statement on my local supermarket, where many of the upscale patrons drive Chevrolet Subdivisions. I've noticed that these people often buy just a couple of items -- maybe a bottle of diet water and a 2-ounce package of low-fat dried carrot shreds -- which they put into the back of their Subdivisions, which have approximately the same cargo capacity, in cubic feet, as Finland. This means there is plenty of room left over in case, on the way home, these people decide to pick up something else, such as a herd of bison.

Then comes the scary part: getting the Subdivision out of the parking space. This is a challenge, because the driver apparently cannot, while sitting in the driver's seat, see all the way to either end of the vehicle. I drive a compact car, and on a number of occasions I have found myself trapped behind a Subdivision backing directly toward me, its massive metal butt looming high over my head, making me feel like a Tokyo pedestrian looking up at Godzilla.

I've tried honking my horn, but the Subdivision drivers can't hear me, because they're always talking on cellular phones the size of Chic-lets. ("The Bigger Your Car, The Smaller Your Phone" is their motto.) I don't know who they're talking to. Maybe they're negotiating with their bison suppliers. Or maybe they're trying to contact somebody in the same area code as the rear ends of their cars, so they can find out what's going on back there. All I know is, I'm thinking of carrying marine flares, so I can fire them into the air as a warning to Subdivision drivers that they're about to run me over. Although frankly I'm not sure they'd care if they did. A big reason why they bought a Sport Utility Vehicle is "safety," in the sense of, "You, personally, will be safe, although every now and then you may have to clean the remains of other motorists out of your wheel wells."

Anyway, now we have the new Ford, which will be EVEN LARGER than the Subdivision, which I imagine means it will have separate decks for the various classes of passengers, and possibly, way up in front by the hood ornament, Leonardo DiCaprio showing Kate Winslet how to fly. I can't wait until one of these babies wheels into my supermarket parking lot. Other motorists and pedestrians will try to flee in terror, but they'll be sucked in by the Ford's powerful gravitational field and become stuck to its massive sides like so many refrigerator magnets. They won't be noticed, however, by the Ford's driver, who will be busy whacking at the side of his or her head, trying to dislodge his or her new cell phone, which is the size of a single grain of rice and has fallen deep into his or her ear canal.

And it will not stop there. This is America, darn it, and Chevrolet is not about to just sit by and watch Ford walk away with the coveted title of Least Sane Motor Vehicle. No, cars will keep getting bigger: I see a time, not too far from now, when upscale suburbanites will haul their overdue movies back to the video-rental store in full-size, 18-wheel tractor-trailers with names like "The Vagabond." It will be a proud time for all Americans, a time for us to cheer for our country. We should cheer loud, because we'll be hard to hear, inside the wheel wells.

Pub Date: 03/21/99

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