on women driving Suburbans
and other oversized SUVs

Last week’s work schedule took me from my humble abode in downtown Hartford to the Canton, Avon and Simsbury area, otherwise known as terra affluentia. A far cry from my neighborhood. It was while negotiating the roadways approaching and going by the Farmington Valley Mall when I noticed an unusually high number of SUVs on the road. This reminded me of several encounters with such vehicles and the drivers thereof over the past few weeks.

Some of these encounters involved Chevrolet Suburbans carting around only the driver, in all these cases they were women. What was most annoying was not the obvious under-utilization of these grand vehicles, but rather the drivers somehow found it necessary to straddle lane divider strips on the roadway. It was as if to say, “Hey! This is a big Chevy Suburban and I need to take up both lanes of the road.”

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the tires on the passenger side of the vehicle are on the lane divider line, or in the adjacent travel lane. Don’t these women ever look in their side view mirrors to get a clue as to where they are on the road?

Maybe they think that they deserve this extra road space, if for no other reasons than their income level, the neighborhood they reside in, their zip code and their inclusion in the Social Register.

Come on, lady: SHARE THE ROAD!

In all reality, the Chevrolet Suburban, Lincoln Navigator, and others of their ilk are about the furthest thing in the world from being sport vehicles, even with the most liberal stretch of the definition of the “S” in SUV. These are more luxurious, modern day station wagons for The Affluent, falling far short of even the “U” in SUV. However, they are vehicles, so the automobile industry at least have it right using the “V” in SUV to categorize these monsters.

look at me! look at me!

Like homes with 5,000 square feet or more of living space for a family of four, the Chevy Suburban and similar automotive luxury mansions are status symbols for The Affluent. And there’s a lot of them not satisfied privately reveling in the comfort of having to squeeze three digits to the left of the comma on line 15 of their 1040 tax return forms.

The General Motors website boasts the Suburban’s 134 (!) cubic feet of cargo area, so it’s odd that so few of these behemoths are ever seen loaded to the gills with either passengers or cargo. Aren’t they built for such duty? Isn’t that why people buy them? Apparently not.

This abundance of cargo area does not come cheap, either. To find the base price of a Suburban, I decided to go straight to the source: the Suburban webpage of the official General Motors website. There are a few different versions to choose from, specifically ½-ton, ¾-ton, 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive models. Depending on which version is desired, the starting price ranges from $37,295, all the way up to $45,105! Remember that this is before any options or accessories get tacked on. So the absolute low end, bare bones Suburban is going to set one back one $5 bill shy of $38,000. Can you say “ka-ching”?

The Fear and white knuckles

Another observation: these affluent women rarely look at ease driving these beasts. With all the spacious luxury, power everything, CD player, heated seats, DVD video and GPS, you would think they’d be relaxed, but the opposite is usually the case when you note the driving stance of one of these women. They are almost never seated with their backs comfortably against the seat back. Quite the contrary, they’re nearly always leaning slightly forward, necks craned with chins close to the steering wheel with a death grip on it that causes their knuckles to turn white from lack of blood.

The television show Fear Factor should capitalize on this and make contestants parallel park one of these Suburbans. Either that or negotiate some of the clogged side streets of Boston during the work day in the dead of winter, when narrow streets are even more narrow as a result of snow accumulated on the roadside and “stupid parking.” Give the participant a certain amount of time to negotiate a set route, with disqualification if some time limit is not met or if another vehicle is hit.

let he who is without sin

Before someone who knows me starts pointing a finger in my direction, I’ll admit to owning an SUV. Guilty! However, I hasten to add that my SUV is 17 years old and serves in a variety of tasks. It rarely has room for more than one passenger besides me, as some of the vehicle’s work is to transport a wide array of tools and supplies needed for my work. So my vehicle is both for personal transportation as well as a rolling workshop – offering legitimacy to both the “U” and “V” of SUV. And though it’s my daily driver, it regularly sees dirt roads, sand pits and mud bogs – the “S” of SUV.

in defense of The Affluent

There is a case to be made for The Affluent and the many brands and models of land yachts they own. The Affluent are usually good about regular oil changes, tune ups and other routine maintenance being faithfully performed on schedule. And carrying price tags as high as these vehicles do, they rarely have the snot beaten out of them. Quite to the contrary, they are usually pampered and well taken care of.

More often than not, these SUVs are taken back to car dealerships relatively early in their functional lives and get traded in for The Latest or The New. For whatever reason, many of The Affluent don’t hang onto vehicles for more than three or four years. Perhaps there’s a secret formula they know of and it’s only whispered about while amongst their own kind. Anyway, these premature trade-ins provide some really primo SUVs for surfs, paupers and otherwise blue collared vehicular scavengers alike. The “pre-owned” lots across America are full of these gems.

turning things around

General Motors should consider making a couple of different new models to frame the Suburban as it should be in their product line. Specifically, the Urban, for people living in cities; and the Rural, for those folks out in the sticks. These new models would help to prevent clumsy and uncomfortable sentences that refer to rural Suburbans or urban Suburbans, such as:

“The Arabic driver in an urban Suburban wore a turban.”

love of the common man

I derive an almost perverse sense of satisfaction after reading or hearing a story about some old guy who lived a modest or sometimes meager lifestyle in a tiny one room apartment. This old guy passes away and his relatives are tasked with sorting out his personal affairs. It’s then discovered that he had squirreled away $750,000 in a half a dozen bank accounts. He was financially secure with no need to advertise the fact. Bought generic. Patched thread worn clothing. Shopped on senior discount day. Darned old socks. Used coupons. And drove an old car.

Stories of old guys like that warm my heart and give me renewed faith in mankind.

Women of The Affluent driving Chevrolet Suburbans do not.

Copyright © 2003 by Jeff Bauer

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