Saturday, May 19, 2007

Question of the Weekend: Why do you love cars?

So Jonny Lieberman, one of the people that exist in the form of, is asking the important question, Why do you love cars?

This is one of those litmus test questions that determines if certain folks are the kind you can "hang with", or not. Unfortunately the answer isn't as simple as my usual friend filters: Cheesesteak: Provolone or Whiz? and Designated Hitter: Pro or Con? Get the answer to either of these questions wrong, and I just can't hang with you. Period.

I like lots of people, both Car-People and non-Car-People. But it turns out, that I don't like all Car-People, and some of them just bug the snot out of me. In my youth I would have assumed that all car-people could hang with other car-people. What experience teaches, though, is that there's a kind of formal courtesy thats extended among car-people during the "feeling out" phase that could be mistaken for genuine amity. Instead, it may be a polite acceptance of another character, possibly as tense or awkward as if you were forced to befriend someone with nearly offensive views of your religion or politics.

For example, lets assume you're in the awkward situation of escorting your spouse to a work party, and find yourself seated at a table of ten strangers. You are then introduced to another party guest with the near epithet "This is Bob from accounting, you're both Car-Guys. You should have lots to talk about". Thus begins the "feeling out" of this other Car-Guy. You'll chat about the iron you've owned and driven, and about what your current project may be, but all of this is really about finding out one critical fact about this person, the Why of his love for cars. In the end, you may have found a kindred spirit, or you may have just met another asshole who likes cars, but doesn't like them for the right reasons.

To me the funniest thing about this search for truth, is that the criteria of the Why, the meat of "whether or not I can hang with you", usually has little or nothing to do with the coarse preferences of things like "American versus Foreign", "NASCAR vs. F1", or even "DAF vs. FAF". Even as much I'd rather watch an afternoon of nearly anything instead of a NASCAR race, I'll risk cliche' and say that "some of my best friends are NASCAR fans". No, the question of Why do you love cars? is an important departure from the simpler Do you love cars?, which is all that most "outsiders" ever see of us. It answers a more deeply rooted question about someone's hopes, dreams, and sentiments.

Its about finding a linkage to a common experience, emotion, or hope. Did you grow up working on cars with your Dad? When did you hear your first V12? (Can you even remember when you heard your first V12?) Are you excited about the emerging hybrid technology trend? These are just elements in a complex equation of questions and answers. Each of these reveals a little something about yourself. While complex, this "test" has a definitive answer. In the end, we'll have found that either our paths are destined to cross at an intersection, or to run in together in a caravan.

So Why do I love cars? As we've seen, its a hard question for me to answer in a declarative way. I can offer a dozen stories from my youth that tell the sanguine tale of how I came to kneel at the altar of iron. I could wax rhapsodic about how the art and engineering of cars inspire me and demonstrate the best of what it is to be a creative human being. Instead, I think I will say that the fact that I can't answer the question directly is, in fact, the answer. So tell me your stories about your favorite cars, and maybe we can hang out. Read More...