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Car Talk

A right-brained free spirit goes grown-up car shopping.

 

One of the reasons I believe my wife and I get along so well is the disparity of our brains. More than just the classic male/female-thinking dichotomy, which is well documented, she can be a very logical, analytical "left-brained" person, while I have a long, sordid track record of capricious "right-brain" thinking. To my credit, this lets me get away with a lot more hare-brained activity, but some people think that she is the "grown-up" in the relationship.

I like to think I bring a certain je ne c'est quoi to our arrangement. For example, my wife thinks rock landscaping is perfect for its low-maintenance attributes, but I prefer the complicated green stuff that needs constant attention. She buys half-off deal coupons to our favorite restaurants, and I opt to try new places with pretentious menus that have inscrutable little icons to indicate price. She uses her brain; I am far less encumbered.

Our differences were well illustrated when my wife finally decided it was time to retire her stalwart old Ford truck after years of service. Its factory paint was being consumed by the sun at an accelerated rate, the "check engine" light burned with the intensity of the Olympic flame, and the seat cushion was squashed flatter than a tortilla.

Now, when I shop for a vehicle, I take into account right-brain factors like its coolness quotient. I ask hard questions about how fast it can go, how much it can haul, do I need metric wrenches to work on it and precisely how many cases of beer fit in the trunk. I thought this was common practice for car shopping.

But my lovely bride had other thoughts. When she began the process, she would point at cars on the road and ask me, "What's that?" To be clear, every vehicle manufactured after 1992 looks like an enflamed pustule to me, so I struggled to retain a shred of my manly dignity and would make things up. "That's a Jeep Lumbago," I'd proclaim. "Oh, that? That's a Toyota Bouffant." Eventually, she realized I was not being helpful to her research.

To be more supportive, I asked her what she was looking for in her next ride. Using her impressive left-brain, she said things like good fuel economy, four doors and a minimal amount of electronic frippery. Pretty much the opposite of what it takes to look cool at the Sonic drive-in. "I want a small SUV that looks," she said, "like a bubble-gum tennis shoe." Yes, you read that correctly: a bubble-gum tennis shoe. In all the billions of words written about automotive styling, I doubt the phrase "bubble-gum tennis shoe" has ever been introduced into the lexicon. At least I know what an "enflamed pustule" looks like; I wouldn't know what a "bubble-gum tennis shoe" was if it was inserted into my nose.

 

Consigning myself to take a passive role in her adventure, we went to the big city to test-drive cars. At every stop, my eyes were drawn to sinister-looking, low-slung sports cars and burly trucks that fairly oozed testosterone in hazardous quantities. But my wife bee-lined to the rows of small, sensible, four-door SUVs and peppered the beady-eyed salesman with relevant questions. I spent my time marveling at the Herculean advances being made in cup-holder science. "This one can hold a coffee cup OR a Big Gulp," I exclaimed to the adults, who weren't listening.

We drove a lot of cars that day. I remember one putrid runt of a trucklet with an interior color that was described as "camel"; I thought of it as gopher-pus yellow. Another featured two separate compartments designated to store his-and-her sunglasses. None of them had standard transmission, V8 engines or bad attitudes.

When the salesmen started working their retail magic, my wife held her own. I sat back listening, sipping my complimentary Styrofoam cup of water and wondering why they don't serve cups of complimentary scotch. Wouldn't that loosen up a buyer's inhibitions? It would certainly make the test-drive component more interesting.

 

By a process of elimination, my wife had found a vehicle that met her needs. It's a vibrant shade of metallic red, with class-leading fuel economy and a minimum of extraneous options. I am assured the styling most reflects the ambiguous design ethos of a "bubble-gum tennis shoe."

It is a quantum leap beyond the Reagan-era technology of her old pickup. This baby has power windows and locks, an electrically adjustable driver's seat, rearview mirrors that illuminate and squawk when there's a vehicle in the blind spot, and a backup camera so you can see what you just ran over. The radio links with her phone so we can listen to music, take phone calls and play "Angry Birds" without lifting a finger. It's smarter than most third-graders.

It turns out that buying a new car with your left-brain isn't such a bad thing. Although it doesn't supply the visceral thrills of an irresponsible, irredeemable, irrational right-brained vehicle that makes the teenage girls giggle, it is apt to provide years of rock-solid reliability, unprecedented versatility and socially responsible performance in a tidy little bubble-gum tennis shoe package. And really, I just dig the new-car smell.

 

 

Henry Lightcap parks in Las Cruces.

 

 

 



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