Editors note: This is a former column I wrote for the newspaper. I still own my truck, but because of gas prices, I also now own another Honda Civic. I guess that makes me schizophrenic.
We Californians wrap up a lot of our identity around what kind of car we drive. It's probably the biggest single image-maker we own, sending out signals of what kind of person we are, or would like to be.
But for some, the wrong vehicle can also be a source of concern over sending out the wrong signal.
For example, one of my friends who recently became a swinging bachelor drives a mini-van. He is not proud of this, but keeps the mini-van because it is somewhat of a necessity being a single father. But the mini-van, he claims, deprives him of his manhood.
"It's really convenient to have all that space, but I feel like a soccer mom," he has told me. Even playing Rage Against the Machine full blast while he's driving doesn't help break that image. And while there's plenty of make-out space inside the mini-van, he hesitates showing off his wheels on first dates.
"It's just not me," he said. He doesn't want people mistakenly thinking he likes mini-vans, after all. Or worse ... that he has no testicles.
I catch him every so often looking longingly at my truck - a 1993 Ford Ranger. He used to drive a truck, he'll say with a whimsical look on his face. Trucks are manly.
Of course, I'm not a man, but I do drive a truck. But I probably drive it for the same reason a lot of men do. I feel empowered in my truck. I feel like a rebel - a bad ass - in my truck, even though, in reality, I am probably closer to a soccer mom.
But when I play Marilyn Manson or AC/DC full blast in my truck I feel almost invincible. I don't feel like I'm an (gulp) almost middle-aged stepmom with a mortgage and a ton of responsibilities. I feel young. I feel hip. I feel free. For the 15 minutes it takes me to drive from my home to work, I am in my own little dream world of denial. And I like it there.
I also get more respect in my truck. When I drove a teensy Honda Civic, I was lucky if anyone would let me squeeze into their lane on the freeway, and white-knuckled many a lane-change. In my truck, other vehicles part like the Red Sea. They seem to sense I am not one to be trifled with. I am woman with a truck. Hear me roar.
Another friend recently went from driving a Chevy Silverado truck to a Mazda Miata sports car. He is now adjusting to life as someone who can be run over by most other cars on the freeway. He gets no respect anymore, he said. Sure, the car is zippy, easier to park, and gets better gas mileage. But when other motorists think of you as a speed bump, it tends to put you on the defensive.
People also flip him off more, he said. My theory is that those people probably are driving mini-vans and wish they had a Miata. His theory is more along the lines of kids on a playground looking for someone smaller to pick on. They think because he is in such a small vehicle, he himself must be short and unable to retaliate for such gestures. Little do they know he's over 6 feet tall and could rip their middle fingers right off.
But now he has to feel like he has to exit the Miata to prove himself, he said, something he didn't have to do when he was in a truck.
They say we are what we eat. But a lot of us are also what we drive.
Some of us like flashy cars because we want to stand out in a crowd. Others prefer the more sedate sedan because they don't like the attention.
My husband keeps saying its time for us to buy a more economical car for me to drive. Some day, I'll probably give in and trade in the truck for a nice respectable economy car. But for now, I'm willing to pay a little more money in gas in trade for the delusions I get driving my Ranger.
Unless, of course, someone wants to trade me straight across for a Hummer.