Skip to comments.The Car and the Man
Posted on 07/31/2003 6:20:53 AM PDT by Valin
The automobilethe Toyota, the Cadillac, the Buick, the Subaru, the Ford, the Jaguar, the Plymouth, the Bentleyis essentially a dream. No, its better than that. It is a dream come true. For men.
For all of his existence, from the stone age until the last century, man was weak, slow, vulnerable to wind and weather. Man could basically move at the same speed in the early nineteenth century as he could in the fiftieth century B.C., when he fought off saber-toothed tigers. His worldview was shaped by his slownesswalking, at best riding a horsedwarfed by the immeasurable distances of planet Earth. Man was puny and was constantly reminded of it by his pitiful slowness at getting from place to place, and his weary body. Above him in the ancient world were the gods, who flitted with lightning speed.
Man was a mortal, doomed to crawl through life at a snails pace. Man could do some things to make himself stronger. He could put on armor, which protected him to some extent from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But the armor also hindered him, constricted him, slowed him down. Man could ride a horse, but the horse also tired, also was mortal, also needed food and water and rest. This was galling to man, because men are the physical sex, the ones who need to show dominance and strength. Men got where they were through force and power and endurance, as compared with women, who succeeded through beauty and tenderness and understanding (and poison, if need be). But the limitations of even the strongest man were pitiful, especially in comparison with the legends of the endless strength and speed and durability of the gods. All about man were the signs of his weakness, in his own flesh and bone and muscle.
Then came the automobile, the modern, mighty, potent vehicle of the twentieth century. Suddenly man was infinitely powerful. More than that, man was no longer just man. Man became a Greek god. Man could be the man hed wanted to be since the dawn of mankind. Man could zoom from place to place with dazzling speed. Man could be in New York in the morning and in Washington, D.C. at noon. Man could travel at speeds of which he had only dreamed, at any time and place of his choosing, in privacy, across vast plains and valleys.
Man was no longer hamstrung by distance or heat or fatigue. The car was the suit of magic armor that man could put on to make himself the immortal warrior he had always dreamed of being. Suddenly, in just a few generations, the man who had left his cottage to plod miserably along a muddy road, could suit up in his car, strap on his deitys wings and fly down the freeway carrying hundreds of pounds of freight with him effortlessly.
Man could do anything he wanted in terms of travel in climate-controlled comfort with sounds on the stereo that drowned out any thoughts of his mortality, all for pennies per mile. And he felt like a king, no, mightier than any king or conquerorfor what could Napoleon or Caesar have conjured up that was even remotely comparable to the car?
If you want to see this evolution of mankind happening in microcosm, see man rise from the primordial ooze to the summit of earthly and heavenly power in just a few days, consider the young man and his first car. I saw this in June when our son came home from boarding school, armed with his learners permit and a fairly good report card, to claim the car he had been promised for such achievements. We had agreed upon a vehicle after much negotiation. It was a great car: a sporty but safe (we hope and pray) Subaru WRX all wheel-drive sedan. When I took my son to the dealer to sign the paperwork, he was slouched and anxious. When he took a test drive, he was excited. When his old Pop signed the papers that would let Tommy drive it whenever he wanted he stood up straight and mighty, his biceps bulging like Achilles before the walls of Troy. As I write, he has had that car for one week, and he has moved into a zone of dazzling self-confidence and happiness that I would not have dreamed possible in his formerly sulky self.
He no longer feels like a vulnerable child. He feels like a man.
It reminds me of the first sports car I ever got: my glorious
1962 Corvette. Shiny, shiny red with a customized mighty V-8 that moved it so fast it caught rubber as I shifted from third to\ fourth at 100 miles per hour. In those days, in my dreary office at the Federal Trade Commission, I felt like a shlub, a loser, a failure. When I got into the car, the one my mother called the hell machine, I was a god of power, prestige, and sexiness. I can still recall the girls gazing at me longingly as I hurtled along Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues on my way to teach part time at American University. To them, Ben Stein was not the guy in that fiberboard walled office at the FTC. He was the coolest guy ever, in his Corvette with the wind ripping through his hair as he drove along in that mighty, tireless beast. From a bureaucrat to a god. That was what that Corvette did for me.
And think of the world of difference between men and women and their cars. Sure, women often express satisfaction with their cars. My wife is certainly happy with hers as it lurks, grinning with its BMW 7 series power in our garage, and as she drives it at heart-stopping speed on the freeway. But does she love it? Is she defined by her car the way a man is by his? Would she sacrifice, work two jobs, stay up late and wash her own shirts drip dry to have that car, as I did to have my Corvette?
Cars are often mens best friends. The car is always there, waiting patiently in its lair, waiting only for the garage door to be opened to rip into the stratosphere of Mount Olympus and Valhalla carrying the man. The car does not make judgments, does not complain, does not get jealous. The car exists to serve and to exalt. What better friend could there be for a modern man? Yes, the car pollutes, consumes resources, and clutters up once-cute city streets. But think of what the car does for man: It makes him feel good about himself, takes away his loneliness, confers a feeling of immortality, is a kind of steel-chrome-glass Viagra. Never mind the immense, boundless additions to the economy or the ability to connect communities.
Long ago, a smallish, easy-to-handle revolver was invented in the Wild West, or so the story goes. The Colt pistol was soon called the equalizer because it made puny weaklings a match for big bad bullies. But the car is a far greater equalizer. It matches men with gods, with their dreams. In that greatest of all American novels, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the Dutch sailors when they first saw Long Island and then found the boundless continent rolling on endlessly behind it: They beheld for the first time something that equaled the magnitude of human imagination.
When the male of the species first beheld the automobile and turned that key, he unlocked a machine whose power matched his wildest dreams. That match was made in heaven and is eternal.
We love our cars, and we will never let them go.
Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, economist, TV personality, and car lover.
Ive got a .060 over 283 in my 67 Chevelle (64cc) '66 Vette Fuelie Camel Hump heads (461's), wild cam, '66 vette quad manifold. Sounds and runs like a 396, cept you can rev it to about 6 or 7 grand
Though I have to say - my favorite is
A legend in his own mind. He paints men and women with a broad brush. True half the women thought he was cool, but the other half thought he was just a boy with a toy. And though many men do see their cars as an extenuation of themselves, so they must have the latest and greatest, there are those of us who are more practical, and do not love our cars. For those of you who love your car I would like to say, why waist love on something that will never love you back and if it could would trade you in on a cooler sexier driver?
The Ford from "Mad Max"
The Lincoln from "The Car"
One of these days......
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