A couple of weeks ago–and not ten days after I’d dropped $700 into it for repairs and a tune-up–our 1996 Dodge minivan suddenly died, the engine simply cutting off as the vehicle sat in our driveway. What was wrong? The computer needed to be replaced, or so the mechanic informed me after I’d had the car towed to his shop. After getting used to the idea that cars required computers these days, I asked what a new computer would cost. At least $1,000. And with that, my wife and I went new car shopping.
We intended to get a new minivan, and you can take it from me that the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey are both truly marvelous vehicles–tightly engineered, comfortable, easy to drive, pleasurable in every regard. The only drawback? We now have five children, not the three we had the last time we bought a minivan, and our three boys are starting to develop shoulders. Both the Sienna and the Odyssey felt…tight. What did we end up buying instead? To our astonishment–we’ve spent years now deriding these cars as land yachts or barns on wheels, permitting ourselves to feel superior for refusing to own one–a Chevrolet Suburban. After the test drive, Edita, startled, said, “This car would hold you and me, all five kids, two grandparents, and the dog. That would sure solve a lot of problems.”
And so it has. What to do on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, for one. The first Sunday after buying the car, we piled in the kids (after going to church, first, I assure you, Derb), then headed up over the coastal range to Big Basin state park, home, I soon learned, to the tallest living objects, coastal redwoods. (As distinct from the giant sequoias of the high Sierras, which, shorter but fatter, are the most massive living objects.) Position yourself in a stand of coastal redwoods, tilt your head back, and the trees rise so high you can’t see where they end.
The second Sunday–that is, this past Sunday–we piled in the kids once again, this time heading up to the San Francisco zoo. By the time we got there it was raining, but that only meant we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. And when you’re alone in the lion house, it turns out, you can really see the lions. Much, much bigger than they seem on television or in pictures. Not big cats. Small horses. All five kids, face-to-face through the bars of a cage with a giant, heavily- maned lion. Who suddenly growls. Causing said children to leap and shriek all at once. A lovely little primal moment, brought to us courtesy of General Motors.
Yes, I know. A Chevy Suburban is expensive (although a lot less than a Mercedes or BMW half its size, especially now that GM is tossing in bucketsful of rebates). It guzzles gas (although these days they all come equipped with engines that will permit the burning of ethanol, if you can ever find ethanol). But what a vehicle! Big and solid and fun and American–in no other place in all the wide world would any manufacturer even dream of such a vehicle.
The kids are already talking about driving up to the Pacific Northwest this summer and maybe even across the country. Is there anyone out there but me and John Podhoretz who can remember that lovely little jingle that Dinah Shore used to sing? “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet!” Why thank you, Dinah. We will.