In what can only be described as an untimely tragedy, just when our country is fixated on the future (if any) of the American automobile industry, I find myself congenitally incapable of identifying with the anguish felt by many over this unfolding drama.
You see, I don't have a car gene.
Really. I discovered this when I sent off for one of those DNA analyzer kits to find out if my ancestors were really from China like my sisters have always told me. They claim one in three children born is Chinese, and I was the third child, so it seemed reasonable to me. Later in life, I became suspicious. After all, they are the same females who said Dad wouldn't mind if I used his screwdrivers as tent pegs.
But I digress. To address my doubts about my ancestry, I plunked down $400, carefully slobbered into a test tube and logged on for the results. Aside from a raft of information about how I was likely to die and clear evidence my sisters are not to be trusted, I confirmed a long-held doubt: I was missing the common car gene.
As such, cars have no effect on me. How un-American is that? Oddly, when I found out this genetic quirk is rare in males, I felt special for a few moments. I had always wondered why I sadly felt left out when my friends began building car models and memorizing displacements. The fact that it was not my fault doesn't make up for all those embarrassing incidents when I couldn't differentiate a Holley carbohydrate from a Hurst shifter. (Oh, I meant "carburetor.")
Worse still, I didn't care. For those of us with this disorder, automobiles are not exciting or even interesting. They are regrettably necessary accoutrements of modern life, such as washing machines or hair volumizers. In fact, you must travel into the darkest recesses of urban dwelling to find those few citizens who not only don't own a car, they can't drive one! Even with my impairment, I don't think I could cope with that deprivation.
No, really, they truly exist. Farmers never believe that.
There was a time when I could, with effort, distinguish between the various species of cars. But since about 1990, they all look like they have been left out in the sun too long and their plastic shells melted—at least the cars in my price range. Plus they are mostly a shade of gray. Now, that's exciting.
What is it worth? I have always begrudged the money I spend on cars. Sufferers like myself are incapable of the emotional thrills of cars. I don't savor the infamous "new car smell." It's just outgassing plastic, people! Consequently, that shiny contraption is simply a large expense item I need to disguise as tax-deductible somehow. (I do pride myself on my imaginative accounting, however.)
It doesn't help that cars have become a little too technical for about 110% of the buying public. It's hard to identify with a technology that works so incredibly hard to be indecipherable and impregnable. Finding the tire tools has turned into a treasure hunt! And the donut spare requires a suspension of sound judgment to mount and drive any distance. That's not a tire—it's a large O-ring.
To be fair, I perhaps did have an actual car relationship once. When I went back for my second year at college, my father surprised me with a car. Not for my sake, of course. He wanted me to be able to get home when he needed me. One morning in 1967, he showed up with a 1954 Dodge with all of 23,000 miles on it. He bought it for $300 from a little old widow who couldn't drive. When Dad was trading, he was without mercy.
For a hormonally overcharged nerd, this lump of vehicle soon became an object of deep affection. It was virtually indestructible, to begin with. It had something called a "frame" and together with other assorted cast-iron components weighed about 12,000 lb. I once tapped the car ahead of me at a slick intersection, caving in its entire trunk while failing to ding the bumper on the Dodge.
It was a car that could carry 12 fraternity friends (sober) in relative comfort. It was cavernous, you sat upright like in a chair (not a recliner) and it possessed a steering wheel worthy of a riverboat. It was also a car you didn't mind loaning to your buddies. I mean, the only possible use for it was locomotion, not racing and certainly not for impressing girls.
Still, when the time came, I didn't look back as the Dodge was passed down to my dweeby brother, now known as Dr. Henry Phipps. And from that point on, I can recall more about my frustrations with the various vehicles I have owned than any likable attributes. I guess my DNA kit was dead right about the car gene.
John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report." Visit www.AgWeb.com for station listings. To view past columns, visit www.FarmJournal.com or www.johnwphipps.com.
- January 2009