Friday, August 12, 2005
Conquering Mount Hummer; or, Kicking a Midlife Crisis in the Nuts
First off, thanks to so many of you for your posts/emails/voicemails of support. I am feeling better and have decided over the past few weeks to do more fun stuff and try to get a kick or two out of my daily life. In this resolution I have been helped along by my invaluable neighbor, Deb; as we paced the neighborhood at the crack of dawn (as we do three times a week), she announced that for the foreseeable future we would do something fun once a week. Deb is a tad bit older than I and a widow. She finds her job (finance) frustrating sometimes, as I do mine; therefore we were both motivated to do Something Different. A few weeks ago we both got postcards in the mail from General Motors about a soon-to-take-place Motor Show at Hollywood Park (Motto: "We hand you the keys").
"We're going!" she decided. "They have Hummers!"
"Okay," was my reply. I've always wanted to drive a Hummer. So, on the agreed-upon Sunday, off we went to the wilds of Inglewood. We registered, watched a thirty-second video, got our plastic bracelets and marched onto the parking lot - which was hotter than 12 yards of hell. Tents were set up everywhere for the different car types. Rules were, in order to drive the Hummer you had to drive either a truck or SUV first, and in order to drive the Corvette you had to drive either a luxury car or passenger car first (and get your bracelet stamped to prove it). We started with the trucks. I tried the Sierra, a hybrid truck; the Colorado, a classic pickup (a rougher ride than I expected, but fun) and their new model, the Chevy SSR. This is a very cool-looking truck with great acceleration and handling. Two thumbs up.
We meandered on to the Luxury Car area where I looked across to the next tent, poked Deb and said, "Look, nobody's in line for the Hummer!" Next thing I knew, I was in the drivers' seat of the H2 with a very laid-back type named Jason in the passenger seat (he was our mandated escort). Deb was hyperventilating in the back seat.
Let me just say, these suckers drive great. The suspension is wonderful and even when I drove over the "obstacle course" (some soft rubber inner tires, they looked like) I couldn't feel anything. "Gee, this is great... oh shit" was my review, as I found myself confronted by a mound of sand with a 25-degree upgrade (a.k.a. Mount Hummer).
I looked, panicked, at Jason. "What do I do?"
"First, you push this button," he said soothingly. Apparently this puts you into Low Gear/Four-Wheel Drive/Mount Everest Mode. Button hit.
"Hit the gas slowly, don't let up, and when you get to the top hit the brakes." With blind faith, I did what Jason said and it worked. Down the other side, back onto level ground again and then there was another mound of damp sand ahead of us. It was much smaller, so I looked at Jason and said with mild interest, "What do I do with this?"
"Drive to the right and get your left tires on the center of the sand." Which I did and found that the car canted over to the right something fierce. Deb was mumbling in the back, "We're gonna tip over... we're gonna tip over... we're gonna tip over" but we didn't, thanks to my expert handling - or to the idiot-proof design of the course, take your pick. We made it back to the starting point and Deb and I switched places. On this second round, we chatted to Jason and found that he worked in marketing, that he had applied to GM on the recommendation of a friend of his ("I just sent in my resume. It was the easiest job I ever got!") and that he was making the rounds of Southern CA with the auto show - next stop Orange County, then Pomona, and in a few weeks Las Vegas. The weather had been very hot at the various showplaces but he was enjoying the job. I told him, "You deserve a medal for this."
On to the luxury cars. I tried the Lexus ES330 and the BMW 325Ci - both awesome drives and great fun. The courses weren't long enough to get any decent acceleration in though. Of note, Deb drives a Jaguar and we both noticed that no Jags were to be had at the show - but this was probably to be expected, as Jaguar is now owned by Ford and GM hates Ford's guts. Other cars available for test drives were the Mercedes C240 and E320, Audi A4, and various Cadillacs and Saabs.
Finally we got to the Corvette, which like the Hummer had a tent all its own. I chose the manual-transmission model; Deb took the automatic. I walked out to the bright-red car pointed out to me and found another fellow sitting patiently in the passenger seat. "Are you my designated escort?" I asked.
He guffawed and answered, "I wouldn't put it that way." I hastily replied, "Let me rephrase that," and we were off. This car is your classic low-slung sports vehicle, and true to cliche, I had trouble squeezing in under the steering wheel. It is marvelous to drive; you can go pretty fast even in second gear. As I headed around the course I had flashbacks to my dad's Jaguar XKE he had years ago and felt like a five-year-old again.
We finished off with a visit to the refreshment tent and headed back to the car. I suddenly realized that I was feeling better as we both replayed our fearless climbs to the top of Mount Hummer and extolled our friend Jason (both his sterling character and his physical virtues). I now know why guys seem to like cars so much... they just make you feel good.