Monday, February 19, 2007

COLUMN: Beetle

"Why do you drive a girly car?"

That's a sentence that sure gets the testosterone pumping, eh? Yes, nothing fills a guy with male pride quite like a complete stranger threatening their masculinity. But that's the very question I fielded at the gas station the other day.

It didn't floor me that a stranger came up and asked a question -- I'm used to getting questions about my car, such as: "What kind of engine's that thing got?" (Answer: A 4-cylinder. Beyond that, I'm clueless.) "Are you squished in there?" (Answer: In fact, it's the roomiest car I've ever had.) And, of course, the question that'll give it away: "Is the engine still in the back?" (Answer: Nope.)

That's right, I drive a New Beetle. Anybody wanna take a potshot or two? Call me a sissy? The floor is yours.

Actually, no, it's not. This is MY column, and around here, my car's still pretty cool. There was a time, in fact, when I had the coolest car on the block. Mine was one of the first five Bugs in town, and was quite the headturner when I went cruising around.

Only one problem -- I didn't so much know how to drive it at the time.

Back in 1998, my last car was hanging on by a thread. There was a reason we called it The ATE (All Terrain Escort.) In the hands of me and my friends, that car had taken some serious abuse. Snow drifts, corn fields, muddy roads -- it was less a car and more a very under-performing tractor. By the summer of '98, it had a cracked head gasket, a rusty frame, and a trunk full of Kool Aid that had spilled some 4 years prior. (Mr. Science fact: After 4 years, Kool-Aid turns black. And gummy.)

Anyways, it was time to buy a new car. So I did what you're supposed to. I compared models, shopped around, test drove, did my research, and then picked the car with the coolest TV ads. And I don't care what you say -- Beetles are sharp, awesome little cars.

So I went to Williams VW and got on the waiting list. Weeks passed. So many weeks, in fact, that Williams got bought out by Lujack's somewhere in the process. This was, of course, the perfect cue for my Escort to bite the dust, leaving me carless and yearning.

In the interim, my dad loaned me his work vehicle -- a 1976 Chevy Blazer. It ruled. Especially the parts of the car held together by pop rivets. What remained was a rusty home for wayward mice bravely masquerading as a vehicle. I called it "Slim Goodcar," because it, like its 1970's namesake, was see-through. "Ohhhh. So THAT'S how a car works!" Normally you can't see due to all that pesky, umm, CAR in the way. With the Blazer, the rusted-out holes provided a nifty education in auto mechanics. Well, that and it had a sweet 8-track player AND the "Best of Foghat."

Needless to say, I was in crisis mode. I needed a new car fast. That's when Lujack's called. I had ordered a black automatic. Weeeeell, there was still going to be a wait on that... BUT a white stick shift had shown up. Was I interested?

Well, let's see. Sounds great, but just one problem... I'd never driven a clutch before in my life.

"No problem," said my salesguy. "I'll teach you."

So I did it. My dream of a black automatic Beetle turned into the reality of a white 5-speed. And my salesman was true to his word. He spent two hours with me in a loaner car teaching me how to drive stick. And he did a great job.

I, on the other hand, sucked. Imagine me, cruising down the block in my fancy new car. Heads are spinning everywhere I go. Then, like the stud I am, I pull up to the intersection and eye the girlies in the car next to me. "Hey ladies," my eyes would say, "Check out my sweet --


That would be Me the Stud, killing the car in the middle of the intersection and trying desperately to get in back in gear while half the Quad Cities drives by pointing and laughing. I was a FAST learner, because that kind of embarassment goes deep. Well, that and I preferred to have my new car with its clutch not on FIRE at the end of the day, thanks.

Anyways, when I got the car, it made my head swell with VW pride, and that balloon hadn't really burst until Random Guy and his "girlie car" comment. I hadn't ever really thought about it much, so I began an independent study.

Every time I passed another Beetle, I checked. And wouldn't you know it, every single other Beetle driver that you see in the QC these days is a woman. How did this happen? How did my sweet, sweet ride become a chickmobile? That's completely unfair stereotyping.

But you know what? I don't care. I still like my car, even if it DOES have an in-dash flower vase. The gloves are off. I'm planting the flag and I'm taking back the Beetle for all mankind. Not womankind. Well, you can have the pink ones, I guess. But I'm still driving my Bug with pride, and probably will until it joins the Escort in car heaven. Then I can find myself a truly macho car. In fact, I've been hearing good things about these Mini-Coopers...


The GUCC said...

It's not a girlie car - it is actually kind of cool.

The car has a perfect size rear window in which to display a Lane Evans sign while being parked near the Mark Baker Headquarters.


quirkychild said...

Girlie, pshaw. It's European class. These backwards Americans just don't understand true style.

The next logical step is a Smart car. I think now actually fits in a purse.