This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 17, 2009, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
The motor vehicle, whether car or pickup, is to a majority of American males the most important thing in their life, and that is probably not an exaggeration. Years ago, someone wrote a feature article on how the typical male's automobile becomes an integral part of his personality, and you can't separate the man from his car, -- he'd sooner separate from his wife than from his car. Back before the automobile was invented, it was his horse; Roy Rogers had Trigger, and the Long Ranger had his Silver, for example, with a great bond between man and horse. I suspect a bond between a man and his car (or pickup).
Just as in the days when horses ruled a man's heart, today, each man has his own taste in a vehicle, and you can bet it includes durability and horsepower (a term carried over from the horseback era). It can also include a predilection for vintage vehicles and cars that look like they're prepared for the Sprint Cup or the Pro Truck Series. The great popularity of the television show, The Dukes of Hazzard, had little to do with the story line or the acting, not even that of Boss Hogg, but the souped-up dream car, the Robert E. Lee.
This bonding with their car expresses itself in a number of ways. Some guys I know, who drop shoes, socks, and pants all over the house for the wife to pick up, and whose workshop or tool shed looks like a garbage dump, keep an impeccably maintained vintage vehicle. The outside is so rigorously scrubbed and polished, it reflects the passing landscape like a mirror, and the inside so meticulously cleaned that one particle of dirt would stand out like a boulder. If a friend asks to use a car like that, the owner goes into acute shock bordering on cardiac arrest.
In contrast, another guy I know, drops everything in his car, -- socks, shoes, etc., rather than in the house (would be good from the wife's point of view, but he doesn't have a wife), and he uses the back seat for his toss-it-in-the-back filing system. He doesn't really need a house, because his car has everything (not necessarily findable) in it. It would be impossible to separate him from his car. He is physically a large man, and his car is physically a very large, older-model car. His car reflects him in every way.
This incredible bonding between man and car starts very early, to the extent that it seems like it's in our DNA. If you keep up with Motor Sports, and if you're a man, no doubt you do, you would know that thirteen year old Jake Wright, too young to get a driver's license, is not only a veteran of Allison Legacy and Bandolero racing, but he's going to move up to the Pro Truck Series in November. Jake has six top 5 and eight top 10 finishes this year in the Allison Legacy Series. He is highly esteemed by other males, young and old alike, -- it's like, if you're that good at racing cars when your 13, what are you going to be like when you're 23 or 33?!
Back in Dime Box, when we were kids, my brother started awfully early. He was five years old and his friend Jackie was three. My brother and his friend packed a suitcase and yelled to Mama as they went out the front door, "We're going to San Antonio!" They got into my father's 1928 Model-A, Brother floor-boarded the gas pedal (the car was in reverse), and they shot straight back, about the length of a basketball court, and slam-dunked into a giant oak tree. The passenger door went sailing off into the air, with Jackie attached to it. Miraculously, he landed safely and gently on the ground, like on a magic carpet. My brother, still holding firmly to the steering wheel, was totally unhurt, though the back end of the Model-A was smushed right up against the front seats.
You see, it's in our DNA. I happened to be sick that day, or I would have been in the car with them, probably in the back seat. Don't try this at home, -- you might not be as lucky as we were. Mothers need to get their baby boy a bassinet shaped like a race car; he'll probably be a much more content baby.
All of you men reading this column probably started early, too, and could match stories with me, I'm sure. Take a good look at the car or pickup you drive, and ask yourself if it doesn't really say a lot about who you are. I, for example, drive a small Chevy Aveo, somewhat neat, whose previous owner was my youngest daughter. It probably says that in many ways she and I are a lot alike. One obvious difference: when she owned it, you never in a million years would hear German oomp-pa-pa music blaring loudly from its CD player. Now you do.
Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.