- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

Here's what a new book, "High and Mighty" by Keith Bradsher, has to say about SUV owners, of which I am one:
"They tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they tend to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities."
Exactly the point I've been trying to make to my family.
I would be much more secure and modest; a better parent and husband; a much better driver; and I would even hurl myself back into our town's ongoing and unresolved three-year debate over the town-hall shrubbery, if only they'd let me buy a King Kong Corvette.
Regrettably, the Corvette has only two seats, and in a family of five, that means an ugly debate over which three get left behind. But since I am officially no longer self-centered and self-absorbed, why should I care? It's my car and I'm driving.
Unfortunately, thanks to ridiculously strict child-abandonment laws, we were forced to take our kids with us when they were small, so it's a choice we never had to face.
Actually once, in Florida, the rental-car company offered us a great deal on a red Chrysler convertible instead of the sensible nerdmobile we had reserved. The problem was, three kids wouldn't fit in the back seat and the bags wouldn't fit in the trunk. The kids went nuts. It was the convertible or nothing. For awhile there, the debate was not whether to leave a kid behind in the airport parking lot, but which one. The clerk finally upgraded us to a Cadillac just to get us out of the lot.
Our original solution to the problem of kid-capacity was a monster Ford station wagon that was nicknamed, in the era of the first "Star Wars" flick, the Star Destroyer both for its size and energy consumption. Alas, in part because of the congressional machinations of the environmentalists, the car companies quit making station wagons.
In their place came the SUV. Our first was a GMC Suburban; so was our second. They held five comfortably, and my only problem with them was that the cargo capacity was so generous that luggage discipline tended to break down on vacation.
Mr. Bradsher's thesis and I'm taking this from an account in the Detroit Free Press, where they take rather more of an interest than the rest of us in these matters is that SUVs kill people and wreck the environment. Apparently, they don't do enough of either to stop people from buying them.
I tend to think of SUV critics as being like the cars they would have us drive, small and flexible, capable of being neatly folded into compact spaces. If they have offspring, it is only one child and a small one at that. Nobody who has ever wrestled child-restraint seats into the back of a car would sneer at a SUV.
And SUV critics seem to think SUV buyers are gullible and irrational. But here's what you can do in an SUV that you can't do in an econobox: Sit up straight. Put your feet flat on the floor. Carry lots of stuff. See. (To lower the profile of regular sedans, the manufacturers have cut the driver visibility to that of an M1A main battle tank but without the offsetting satisfaction of immensely destructive armament.)
My oldest son has left home, in his SUV. Even though my second son's idea of matched luggage is a box of garbage bags, his stuff still filled the Suburban when he went to school last month. It's worse with girls, and, Keith, if you have a daughter, when she goes off to college you're going to want one of these babies. I would lend you mine, but by then I'll have done the environmentally correct thing and put it up on blocks in the back yard for the free-range chickens to live in. And my King Kong Corvette will be of no help at all.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.


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