My first car, bought with earnings from my stockboy job in a grocery store and help from my parents, was a Volkswagen Virgin. It wasn’t my first choice, but at $500 for a triply pre-owned one, I could afford it. It had no accessories worthy of the name and certainly nothing to help me out on dates. The car was as chaste as I was, with no cigarette lighter, no cup holder for side-by-side Miller Lites, and a spotty red Earl Scheib paintjob that resembled my horrific case of acne. Even the basics were missing: the contraption had no AC, heat that seeped out through the frame, and a defective AM radio that only played “Surfin’ Bird” and “American Pie” and not one note of romantic mood music.
The first girl I took out in the Virgin complained that she couldn’t turn the rearview mirror to adjust her makeup and hair, since the mirror was stuck in place with epoxy and came off in her hand. I didn’t even have a back seat to ask her to sit in, since I had reduced it to a lump of char with a carelessly flicked cigarette butt. There was also a funny smell that I discovered was caused by a decomposing pair of swim shorts in the trunk from what must have been a previous owner’s ill-fated dip in a badly polluted lake or septic tank.
My Virgin got me through college, always taking a wrong turn on the road to sexual conquest, and when I settled in on a fulltime job I graduated to a Kia Metrosexual. This was quite a step up for me and I had to get used to all the modern features. I had power everything, a blasting AC and heater, and bucket seats. The car had tinted windows and soft lighting, like the interior of a theater with the lights down. As soon as I opened the door, soothing preprogrammed music purred on the woofers like heavy breathing. A battery-operated odorizer (included in the sticker price) spritzed the air with notes of musk and rutting. The car was a deep, lustrous maroon that made you want to run your fingers through the finish. There was an extra interior mirror so I could watch myself drive, and the glove compartment came equipped with two dozen condoms, just in case. Right before the last drive-ins closed, I made use of the back seat with a girlfriend or two, and finally scored with Karen, my future wife. I celebrated by honking my horn right in the middle of King Kong.
With childbearing days upon us, Karen and I sprang for a Pontiac Ark. Roughly the size of the Exxon Valdez but somewhat easier on oil usage, the Ark had room for nine car seats, and later our daughter’s entire third-grade soccer team plus their water bottles. Plenty of space for the family animals in the Ark, too. We led our cats and dogs in two-by-two, and even three-by-three. The seats had thick, liquid-resistant covers, easy to wipe baby vomit and dog pee off of, and backseat cleanup was easy after Karen lost a pint of amniotic fluid during our rushed drive to the hospital to have our fifth child.
With the kids grown up and gone and Karen and I getting on towards mid-life and its feeling of lost youth, we looked at a Toyota Narcissus. But here technology got the better of us. A sign that I would have trouble figuring the car out was the terrifying 1,500-page owner’s manual that lay enshrined in the glove compartment like the President’s latest unreadable budget proposal. I couldn’t comprehend how to program the dashboard to answer phone calls or show how many miles before empty, let alone configure the GPS to talk to me, and I felt that the evening classes offered at the dealership would only brand me as an idiot, even though I could claim college credit for taking them. It rained during the test drive, and I couldn’t figure which of the 72 wiper blade speeds was most appropriate. The cost of a replacement electronic key was $700, more than I had paid for my entire VW Virgin, and I was not reassured when Clive, the tiny robot manservant who lived in the back seat, promised to hang it up for me. The car was so much more intelligent than I was, I felt that it should be driving me around.
So Karen and I opted for the Chevy Clueless. It’s very basic. Four wheels, two doors, a motor and a key. That’s about it. Any more stripped-down and it’d be what Fred Flintstone drives. That’s fine with Karen too, since she didn’t get the knack of strapping a child’s car seat into the Ark until our third child was born. We also test-drove the Ford Rivet, the Dodge Dropping and the Kia Gland, cars well known for being dumbed down for aging boomers, but they still had complicated gadgetry or some other feature we didn’t care to deal with. The Rivet’s power sunroof nearly beheaded me, and the Gland only got a laughable 75 miles to the gallon in the city. The tiny Dropping sat so close to the ground that I had to exit in the seated position, and ended up kneeling like a religious zealot on the dealer’s lot. Getting in, my legs buckled and I collapsed in the driver’s seat in a fetal position. At least I could climb in and out of the Clueless without collapsing, and Karen and I both loved that everything about it was unadorned and simple and that it came with an “endless refill” gas card.
With the Clueless I do have to tolerate a few jibes from my asstool neighbor next door, who drives a Chrysler Pompous. Loaded with chrome, computer navigated, powered by natural gas — but I’m describing my neighbor. The Pompous itself is only slightly less garish. When Stan, which is what I call my neighbor since his name is Bill, saw me pull my new and comparatively featureless Clueless into the drive, he asked me if I had joined the Amish, though nothing about the Clueless resembles a horse and buggy. If it did, I would lead it into Stan’s front yard twice a day to relieve itself.
Stan calls me “The Luddite” now and keeps asking how I like my Unabomber-mobile. Funny guy, my neighbor. Next time he talks smack about my Clueless, I’m parking it on his feet.