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Monthly Archives: July 2009

Parking lot fight club and the Prius anti-climax

I’m a people watcher. It comes with the territory when you’re a fly-on-the-wall reporter and it is a hard habit to break even when you don’t have a notebook in your hands.

It’s my default activity and I recently observed a heated parking lot altercation that could have gone very badly but instead made me evaluate my opinions on the Toyota Prius.

The setting:
Employee parking lot, midday

The cast:
Two men, one older maybe mid 70s, one younger late 30s to mid 40s

My location:
On a stationary bus, looking out the window, about 100 yards away

The situation:
These two men stood in the parking lot having a heated discussion. From the length of a football field away it was impossible to hear what they were saying but their body language suggested a great deal. With much arm waving and raised voices one, or both, of the men were angry with the other. At one point the younger man walked away, then turned back around and shoved the older man as he approached his car. The younger man then stormed off to his car, a newish model Toyota Prius.

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

This is where it becomes a relevant car post.

You cannot leave angry in a Prius. I’m sure the younger man was plenty furious, but the Prius itself is not an angry car. You can rev the engine and zoom away in a cloud of dust and flying gravel but the Prius will have none of that. As a hybrid, its engine doesn’t turn over with a guttural roar. It is silent, like the shadow ninja warriors of its country of origin. The Prius does not emit a battle cry when it takes to the streets but rather glides noiselessly like a raptor zeroing in on its prey.

Because of this, the Prius ruined its driver’s huffy exit. He may have wanted to make a point by leaving the way he did. But to an outside observer he really just looked like a fool.

Maybe I’m a little biased. The Prius has ranked high on my list of dream cars since it became Toyota’s power player on the U.S. market in 2001. I loved the early body style and resented the newer (post 2003 production year), more oblong appearance for quite some time. When sitting in it at the D.C. auto show it seemed to have limited visibility — which is a high priority for me since I’m average height.

But Toyota has done a lot to it. Back-up cameras are now an optional feature and I have a bit of a jones for hatchbacks of any kind. They also anticipate the 2010 model will get 51 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway. You could shake a stick at that kind of gas mileage, but you’d be shaking it for a long time as the Prius leisurely sips on its monthly petrol.

It’s a practical car and maybe someday within my price range.

You can drive it like an ingrate or treat it like the bad-ass road wraith it really is. Your call Mr. Anti-Climax Parking Lot Fighter.

The name game

I come from a long line of named cars.

Fred, a 1984 Toyota pickup truck.

Kelly, the 1980 kelly green Volvo  station wagon my parents brought back from Germany.

Cousin It, a 1984 Mercedes super diesel, the car I learned to drive because it was built like a tank.

There’s also Maximillion, then later J.R. (short for Jolly Roger), Kaida and Mallory.

Even before the cars I grew up with, heck, even before I existed there was Danny Dodge and Martha. Cars in my family have always had names and it makes me wonder why?

What is it that compels us to name inanimate objects?

Maybe it’s a girl thing, this need to name cars. Like how all your stuffed animals have very distinct names and personalities. But I don’t think so. I think it’s a people thing to give the objects in our lives a name.

For most Americans, your car is your lifeline. It would be wonderful if we all lived within walking distance of home, work and the grocery store. But we’re not. And when public transportation just doesn’t fit your schedule, good ol’ Bessy is there to pick up the slack. Or Euridyce.

My roommate once explained it to me while simultaneously extolling the virtues of natural colored cars. Cars are our horses. You can ride through the desert on a horse with no name, but it’ll be a terribly boring ride. Just ask ’70s rock band America.

Some cars have highly involved and proper names. Like Deacon Nails Lockjaw Frost — Nails for short — a Nissan Versa, who with his fellow Versa cohort, Tooth McMillian, belongs to the Tooth and Nails gang. Others have country of origin appropriate names such as Fritz, the German Volkswagen, that belonged to my classmate’s mom.

The naming of cars can be a highly technical matter. Much like giving the first-born a name to make the family proud. Octavia, a regal gold Ford.

Other times, choosing the right name is a matter of circumstance.

It’s weird and kind of creepy but before my husband and I were even dating, he had a new red Ford Focus in his life. He took us out for a spin, myself and another friend, and the two of them were tossing names back and forth. I was riding shotgun only half listening. Out of nowhere, I announced: “Her name is Pele.” That was up there with one of the most awkward silences in my life, but it’s true. Almost 5 years later, her name is still Pele after the Hawaiian goddess of fire. She growls when you wake her up in the morning and her rear windshield is perpetually dirty in defiance of all water. But that’s just how it is.

Does anyone else have a good car name story?

The wheels on the bus

My summer job working for the school district’s transportation department started yesterday.

From now until the end of August I get to do all the miscellaneous “easy” tasks on the school buses as they come in for their annual inspection. Easy is in quotes only because it covers all of the things that aren’t so technical that even me with my limited knowledge can help the trained technicians get the job done.

Once again I have gained a greater appreciation for the folks who clean up after the rest of the world.

Remember riding the school bus as a middle schooler and reading all the graffiti left behind by the high school kids? You always knew which seat was yours because of the “Metallica Rules!” or the “Ashley and Bradon FOREVER” tattooed in black ink on the brown vinyl. Yet every fall the territorial markings would be mysteriously gone.

Yep. That’s my job. Using industrial strength wipes to eliminate all the graffiti and wielding a mega-charged blow dryer and patch kit to repair all the little cracks in the seats. Failing that I also learned yesterday how to man-handle the seats to strap a new vinyl cover in place. My job description also covers removing and cleaning all the colored lenses on the backs of the buses. It’s remarkable how much grit accumulates there…and then under your nails…but those are minor details.

Bottom line — I’m employed (for a time) and thus am inspired again to post regularly.

Here’s a preview of blogs to come:
-The intricate procedure of naming a car
-Highway/roadside assistance sampler
-Antique cars and why we love them