2006.01.18 A car by any name is still just A Thing That Moves

Written by David Green.


On the way home from New York City earlier this month, we spent some time discussing new vehicles. As in, if we were to buy a new vehicle, what kind should we buy? Of course, given our income and sensibilities, we were talking about new-to-us vehicles. Our NPR “Car Talk” buddies Ray and Tom Magliozzi have sold us on the idea that used vehicles are a good buy.

Our two mini-vans, a ’94 Chevy Astro and a ’98 Chevy Venture, are getting on in years and miles and it won’t be long before one of them bites the dust. Also, our family is moving up and moving out. With only one child at home full-time, one about to graduate college and another who will still be in college in Kentucky for another two and a half years, maybe we don’t need a vehicle to cart around a lot of people and all their junk. Then again, if we had known sooner that we were going to New York, Ben and his girlfriend would have come along with us. If that situation arises again, we’d want to have a vehicle to accommodate everybody.

From the point of view of a woman who barely recognizes her own van—(Just how many tan Chevy Ventures did GM make, anyway? Surely, you’ve noticed the overabundance, too? It’s not just a case of I’ve-got-one-so-I-notice-every-single-one-I-see, is it?)—this was one of the most enlightening discussions of modern-day motherhood. My daughters and niece dazzled me with their fluency in the language of vehicles.

Now, I am not the same non-driver who arrived on the flatlands of East Lansing 30 years ago, the city bumpkin bus and subway traveler who didn’t know a sedan from a son of a seacook. These days, I can distinguish between a mini-van and a car, and pickup trucks are pretty easy to identify compared to full-size vans. I’m aware of a species known as the sport utility vehicle, but I don’t really know what they are. Big and expensive things?

I think I am at a genetic disadvantage here. The problem looms like my inherent inability to distinguish among all those biology-related categories. Family and class and genus and species: It’s all just one big lump of stuff to me, kind of like my conundrum with organizing my clutter. I view the world and it’s one big mass of materials. I’m doing well to recognize vehicles as Things That Move.

I just don’t know the makes and models of vehicles. When my husband and I are out walking and somebody waves from a vehicle, I usually don’t have a clue who it is. I don’t recognize people by their cars. I suspect David doesn’t either. It happens so frequently that if I just turn my head toward him and begin to open my mouth, he’ll say, “Don’t know,” anticipating my question of, “Who was that?”

I need to walk the streets with my daughters. They have no trouble identifying vehicles. They look out at those Things That Move passing us by and say things like, “How about a Chrysler Pacifica? That’s what Doug and Kathy have.”

Geez, why do they know what a Chrysler Pacifica is? And how often do they see Doug and Kathy driving to know that they have one?

They name cars as we travel through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Mercury Mariner (“It’s what Sarah’s mom drives,” says Rozee), Chevy Malibu (“They make a new one with an open trunk. It’s like a hatchback,” she says.), Nissan Murano, Hyundai Sante Fe, Toyota Highlander.…When they name the foreign cars, I am hesitant.

“I don’t know. That seems so un-American,” I say.

“There’s a Toyota plant in Kentucky so lots of people drive foreign cars there,” says Rozee. She points out that we’d be helping Kentucky people keep their jobs if we bought a Toyota.

Is that how the global economy works?

“Do you like Mrs. Ries’s new car?” asks Rozee.

“Do you think I know what her car is?” I ask.

“It looks sort of like an Aztec. Ali drives it to our house all the time,” she says.

She’s away at college. How has she gleaned this information?

“You mean in the morning when she comes to pick up Maddie for school?” I wonder.

I am not alive in the morning and if school officials read the article I just did about how teenagers shouldn’t be waking up so early to go to school since they are biologically not able to go to sleep early enough at night in order to wake up fully rested and go to school at unGodly hours, then I would see the Ries-mobile before going to work and could determine if I like it. Although the possibility is great that I have actually been a passenger in the Ries’s new car.

What kind of car, you wonder?

“Maddie, what is the Ries’s new car?”

“Rendezvous,” she says, without hesitating.

“Who makes it?” I ask.

“Buick,” she responds, just as quickly.

I don’t think I’ll ever master this. Now, which one of these tan Chevy Ventures is mine?

Ah, the dirty one with all that clutter inside.

– Jan. 18, 2006
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016