Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why Heaven Is A Car Commercial

I take comfort in very few things. Taking comfort in the closeness of your significant other should come second only being able to find the peace of mind that comes with securing the American Dream. I'm not talking about acquiring wealth, or even changing your tax bracket--then again, maybe I am. I'm not talking about the American Dream of equality for all--then again, I may be. What I'd like to talk about when I say comfort, peace, and the American Dream is that little bit of heaven you only find in car commercials.

Cars in general are very comforting to me. The science behind cars has been the same for a hundred years, though every year we come closer and closer to the dream of perfection. By tinkering, turbocharging, supercharging and the creation of materials that make both of those processes more efficient, we are producing cars--especially in competition--that are fast and fuel-conscious. We have electric cars for those who can't, even for a second, imagine adding to the Global Warming. For those of us for whom means and limitations make us dependent on gas, striking the balance between performance and practicality is a challenge.

However, I do not love all cars. I do not love all books. I don't know that I can say that for all black hoodies. One thing is certain: not all cars are created equal.

A car is many things to many people. For some, car is a rocket ship on four wheels careening around corners, the engines ripping the eardrums of people hundreds of yards away.

Ferrari, Forumla1 2014

For some people a car must be the fastest horse, the best performer, without sacrificing style.

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse. The Buggati Veyron is the fastest production car in the world.

A car must needs falter the imagination and fire the soul. It must needs ignite a passion known only to the few brave enough to embrace it.

Lamborghini Gallardo 

For some, the class lines have been clearly drawn.


A car can inspire the lowly paper pusher to greatness. A car should be accessible, attainable, the result of years of drudgery finally paying off. Even as you step toward it, a certain car should be inviting and mind-alteringly stunning, like being greeted by your high school crush years after you've graduated, like the first pay check after a pay raise.

The 2014 Jaguar F-Type Coupe

A car should take you places, sure, even if it might be the final frontier, the edge of civilization, the brink of the known world.

The McLaren MK4 12C

Cars should be for everyone, even the gear-head on a budget. 

Mazda3 Hatchback

And some of us...well some of us just don't care. 

2015 Toyota Camry

A car is a finite universe all its own. Contained within each of these small universes is a knowable space occupied by an ecosystem whose existence depends on a delicate balance of style, practicality, technology, and comfort.

2015 BMW M3

This ecosystem is inhabited by a diverse species that can adapt to any environment, which is good, as the environment can get a big jagged. The edges harden, the sunlight dims it's last rays of red before the black. Sometimes sacrifices are made in the name of simplicity and performance. Sometimes the more complicated the better, if it means more power, more precision and more function. Very few are willing to sacrifice both comfort and performance. 

2014 Dodge Dart

All cars serve a purpose: to get you from point A to point B. Most of the time, the most optimal condition to arrive at point B in is alive. Other times, that seems to be up for debate. 

Porsche 911 GT3

Some cars were created merely to take your breath away.

Lamborghini Huracan in Chrome

A car is a work of art, a feat of engineering, a tool, a toy. Just about every day we step up to it, climb in, put our key in the ignition and the thing works the same as it did the day before. Provided something does not go horribly wrong, it can be reasonably expected to do the same thing the next day, and for years and years at a time. A person should never drive a car they hate. The average American will spend an 910 hours in the car a year. This statistic may be different elsewhere, but for Americans, being in the car is a fact of life. It should never be dull, even down to the radio stations the city forces you to listen to, all five Hip-Hop stations on the FM band along with both Country stations, KLBJ and the only alternative station in town that only plays metal three hours a week on Friday nights. 

Of all the things in the world that carefully divides the populace of a developed country, nothing divides that populace better than cars. Cars indicate social status, family size, preferred activities, and they almost always embody the dream of something more. The neighbor is putting a new muffler on his Mitsubishi Eclipse. It will not go faster; it will only sound more impressive. Pop the hood and you'll discover the stock engine, clean, but stock. A father vacuums the minivan in a vain attempt to drive a respectable vehicle. The crayon on the back of his seat and the gum in the cabin roof are proof to the contrary. 

Everyone should be allowed the opportunity to drive. It's an exhilarating feeling. My earliest memories of this feeling were getting on the highway for the first time in a 1994 Mercury Tracer blaring Nightwish's "Wayfarer" over the tape-deck adapter, unheard over the rush of the wind because the windows were down, the air conditioner having died while my sister was still driving the car. If you have good credit and some spare cash, you can even pretend to own a Porsche or a Ferrari for a day from a car rental agency. 

I used to think that the American dream was owning a house. I'm sure it still is, but for me, owning a car has always been more important. Since a car indicates social status, the kind of car you drive tends to also represent the kind of house you live in and the kind of clothes you wear--though this isn't always the case. I once encountered a stately elderly woman driving a shining green Mustang cabriolet. She had to have help getting out of the driver's seat, but she could put her foot down just fine. For some of my friends, a car is a nuisance, a money sink, an environment killer, and not a single one of those assumptions are wrong. You have to maintain a car, you sink money into it for years before owning it, then you trade it in for a new car and a new note. Cars contribute to Global Warming. You must be able actively hold two cognitively dissonant ideas in your head at once to love a car: the knowledge that you are damaging the environment and the love of the way the engine sounds, the way the skyline passes you at night going down the highway, the smell of hand-stitched leather, the way the rain water glides effortlessly over the finish and glints in the afternoon gloom, the way lines converge and diverge and encompass the whole of a sleek design while at the same time possessing raw power within a contained space. A car can be comforting in it's irrelevance to worldly problems, the answer to fears of mortality, and often the cause of them.  

However it is the nature of the machine to dissipate fears and uncertainties. It is in our nature as car drivers to search for new destination, explore new worlds and become pioneers on an already-discovered frontier. They are the only tool on the planet to provide comfort, performance and utility in the same instance. Cars are comforting because, like a work of art, they embody the spirit of the journey, not the destination. 

A car may be a headache sometimes, but that headache is something that lower- and middle-class Americans strive for. It represents the arrival of a time where you can be comfortable, where you can relax. Things are going right. The peace of mind and comfort of knowing that you have done something right comes with owning a car. 

The American Dream is a Volkswagen Passat commercial, a Subaru Legacy commercial, a Toyota Prius Commercial. The mid-sized sedan or family SUV smoothly passes the uncrowded streets of a small suburb of New England. The reflection of the car bounces of the windows of storefronts and quaint old shops. It is Autumn, late afternoon. The sun slants steeply through changing leaves, the red and orange paint the sidewalk and the yards, casting into relief red brick homes, black pavement, and white picket fences as the car comes through the neighborhood, familiar and timeless. The car passes a yard-full of neighborhood boys playing football. There is the smell of chicken casserole on the cool breeze. The car backs into the driveway of a two story house with a small yard, a porch, a single garage, a manicured hedge, and a maple or ash tree giving off the last warmth of the day as evening progresses. The family emerges. The kids are coming home from school, ready to do homework. Dinner is in the oven. The yard is well-kept. The house is clean. The children have health insurance. The car has a full tank of gas. No one is exhausted or dragged out, and the children laugh and play happily before a warm fireplace on plush cream colored carpet surrounded by cherry wood furniture. There is no single thought given to cares or worry. There is only the sunset, and the certainty of comfort and tranquility. This place must be Heaven, this New England neighborhood in Autumn. Every blade of grass, every deepening shadow, every fluttering leaf is in its place. This is what owning a car feels like. This is peace. This is my dream. 

*Images courtesy of @stevenmcknight on Twitter and @AshleyPTP on Twitter.