M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Wednesday, May 15, 2002  

Until fairly recently, car commercials have always presented the experience of driving as the apotheosis of human existence. We’ve always seen the driver inhabiting some sort of personal automotive nirvana while blissfully and effortlessly navigating the sensuous curves of some abandoned byway. You don’t see people getting cut off, flipping each other the bird, and cursing at the inconsiderate asses in front of them who made them miss the green light when you turn on the TV. Sure, there’s the guy in the Jetta screaming silently at the train crossing, but he’s the exception that proves the rule.

Driving in the real world is nothing like driving in commercials, of course. In addition to the glaring absence of the phrases “Professional driver” and “Closed course” in the lower part of our field of vision, we’re too busy not getting creamed by gormless cellphone users, trying to determine if that rhythmic thumping is the road surface or a flat tire, watching for police cars, and bitching about what’s on the radio to ascend to whatever elevated state of consciousness one must reach in order to be cast in a car commercial. And even those people don’t have to maintain it for more than thirty seconds. What if we encountered someone on the road looking like that? We’d probably keep our distance, because we don’t want to be driving next to someone who’s clearly experiencing some kind of psychotic break. In fact, that was my reaction when this happened to me the other day.

I’m totally serious. Trash and I were on our way home from work (we don’t work together, we just carpool) and waiting at a traffic light. Among the vehicles that crossed in front of us on the other direction’s green was a new Volkswagen Bug being piloted by a skinny dweeb sporting an expression of what I can only describe as utter rapture. As he made a left, his pop-eyed, gape-jawed grin widened even further, as if he were triumphantly saying “yeah!” to some invisible passenger.

“What the hell is that guy so happy about?” I asked my wife.

Since Grinny McSmileypants was alone in his car and not talking on a cellphone, he had no obvious reason to look like he had just received the best news of his life. The only explanation that came to mind was that he was celebrating a perfectly executed left turn. And if that were the case, it would more than explain why he didn’t have a passenger.

Then it hit me: I’d seen people looking that happy behind the wheel before. But only on the small screen. I’d always taken depictions of car-induced joy for the Madison Avenue snake oil they were. But now that I’ve actually counted the back fillings of a fellow rush-hour commuter, I’m being forced to reassess my cynical worldview.

I’m also considering the purchase of a Volkswagen Bug.

posted by M. Giant 4:20 PM 0 comments


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