Monday, November 20, 2006

Searching for the Peon

These days, if you're not paying attention, it is so easy to get behind the times. I've been thinking of buying a new car since I gave the little truck back to John. I want a brand-new one because of the reliability and the warranty but I know that what I can afford is cheap. So I went on the internet to check out car prices. I was thinking of maybe a Ford Escort or a Chevy Cavalier. But guess what? Ford doesn't make Escorts anymore and Chevy no longer produces the Cavalier. Now Ford's lowest priced vehicle is the Focus and Chevy's is the Cobalt. I'd never heard of a Chevy Cobalt.

Since I've been thinking of cars, I've been looking at the ones on the road and parked around to see if I can find a car I really like. I have yet to see a Cobalt although I have seen a couple of Ford Focuses. One thing I've noticed is that many of the cars look pretty much alike and that's so regardless of price. Back in the days of my youth, you could tell an upscale car from a low-priced one. Expensive cars were big and just had a look of luxury about them - Cadillacs and Lincoln Towncars and Mercury Marquis', for instance. You could never confuse any of them with a Maverick. Now, sometimes, you have to look for tell-tale gold. If a vehicle's logo is in gold, it is probably on the higher-priced side even though it has the same boxy body as the cheaper cars. And it probably won't be huge. Hugeness seems to be a thing of the past with cars, although not with SUV's.

Most of the richness of cars is now on the inside. If a car has seat warmers and navigational systems and leather everything and an extravagant sound system, it is probably an expensive model. Of course, you can get all these extras on inexpensive cars too if you willing to pay for them but then your inexpensive car isn't inexpensive anymore.

I've noticed this especially on television ads for cars. They will advertise whatever vehicle and in big letters, will be the starting price - STARTING AT ONLY $18,995!" Then in tiny little letters will be - "as shown, $27,895". So, if you want the car and are satisfied with an a.m. radio, a fan mounted on the dash instead of air conditioning and seat covers made from re-cycled brown paper bags, you might be able to purchase it for the "starting price".

Most of the lower-priced models feature four cylinder engines or even something featured as a "super-charged four". I had one of the newest Ford Escorts when they first began making 4 cylinder vehicles. It was a 1984 1/2 Escort. If you wanted to pass someone in it, you had to make sure you had a stretch of highway approximately as long as the state of Montana to do it in, otherwise, you would get right beside the vehicle you were trying to pass and just hang there, watching in terror as a semi bore down on you. I got to the point of simply never passing on a two-lane road because that Escort had no little extra burst of speed to call upon in an emergency. It got up to its max, about 70 mph, and settled in. Surely though, they've improved the performance of four-cylinder cars in the last twenty-plus years.

Cars are harder to recognize than they used to be. People at the Courthouse probably wonder about me if they see me stooped down,peering at the name plates of vehicles. A lot of car producers now go with a series of numbers and letters rather than names. If I see a J92Z, I have no idea what kind of car that is. For better or worse, if a vehicle bore the label, Vega, I knew it was a Chevy.

I guess it must be hard to constantly come up with new car names. They've already used most of the rugged-sounding place names, like Montana and Dakota, Tahoe and Yukon and Outback. Some car companies went with geographic names that imply elegance, like New Yorker. The newest Buick is the Lucerne. (You can't quite imagine a car or truck called an Indiana, can you?) Some cars have been named for tough, brave and speedy animals, like Cougar, Mustang and Ram. But how about Grizzly? Don't you picture that as a monster SUV? And there are names that seem to imply luxury even though you're not sure exactly what they mean, like Escalade and Avanti. Honda gives its cars names that make you think of solid, reliable, good citizen vehicles - Civic and Accord. They save the most impressive names for the expensive cars. The cheap little cars get cheap little names. You know without ever seeing it that a Neon is going to be a reasonably priced, small car. They are not going to give a vehicle like Buick Park Avenue a name like Neon.

Anyway, I know I probably can't afford any car with a royal sounding name, like a Marquis or a Crown Victoria but if there is a vehicle called Peon, that is probably the one for me.