Saturday, October 20, 2007

So Smart or So Ridiculous?

Jerusalem – My bonus time in the Rhodes airport gave me a chance to do some thinking. In between writing my blog and text messaging my (coincidentally Greek) friend Chronis who I was supposed to play poker with that evening, I had the chance to ponder some of life’s bigger questions. Here are four of them:

• What is the attraction of duty-free shops at the airport?

The Johnny Walker, Marlboro, and Cadbury are still marked up, even if you aren’t paying taxes. So, where does duty free euphoria come from? Nine Russian-speaking men and women polished off a bottle of Absolute Vodka and Bacardi Rum in 45 minutes at Gate 11 while I waited for my flight. As they did shots, snapped pictures, and hurled bawdy encouragement at each other, it occurred to me that perhaps some alcohols aren’t available for them back home. Maybe random gates at the airport are the equivalent of a hometown bar that they remember with nostalgia.

In my little world:

Boris, stretching out on a set of attached red airport chairs: “Ahh, Gate 11, they only serve the good stuff, not that awful rail vodka we drink at home, in the cold.”

Natasha, lounging on a set of chairs across the aisle: “Oh, yes. The times we had at Gate 11! I wish it could last forever!”

(In the background, an intercom voice whines, “Last call for flight 732 departing for Kiev. All passengers please board at Gate 12.”

Boris: “Last call! Last call for alcohol!”

On the other hand, if it were a question of denial at home, wouldn’t there be some cartoon-like character smoking five Marlboro reds at once, or eating bricks of Cadbury chocolate?

• Where does belly button lint come from?

My theory: undershirt lint intermingles with chest hair and then seeks out a nice warm spot to call home. But does that mean that people who don’t have chest hair don’t have belly button lint build up (BBLBU)? And what about people with outies? Are they immune to BBLBU? What if you have an outie, but chest hair too -- what’s the belly button occupancy situation? Of no surprise, Wikipedia has an explanation.

• Do foreigners come to the United States, get terrible haircuts, and bemoan their follicle miseries to their friends back home?

“I can’t believe he evened out my mullet!”
“Where is my line? This gradual fade is wimpy!”
“She straightened my home perm!”

If yes, then it means that if there was a fashion police, there couldn’t be a fashion Interpol. We have no common standards. There could be no agreement on who deserves a ticket, and in more severe cases, who needs to be extradited and incarcerated.

• What would it take for the smart car to succeed in the United States?

All over Rhodes, there were little fuel-efficient cars with names I’d never heard of before. I felt like Gulliver, surrounded by a fleet of Lilliputian bumper cars. Of course the headliner of them all is the Smart Car.

One day in Germany, a couple getting divorced couldn’t decide on who would get possession of their prized, new-aged, lime VW Bug. The couple, Helga and Bob Lingen, went to arbitration and the judge told them to cut the Bug in half; they each would get a slice. Unlike the Solomon story, they agreed. Helga got the back seat and trunk – she turned it into a hand-puppet theater. She is now performing Hamlet with a couple of argyle socks in a Stuttgart park. Bob Lingen got the front half of the Bug. A few little red wagon parts later, the Smart Car was born.

Honestly, the Smart Car just looks silly. It counterbalances its ridiculous appearance with practicality and fuel efficiency, though. It gets 60 miles per gallon (5mpg better than the Toyota Prius), costs $12,000 ($10,000 less than the Civic Hybrid), and it is 2.5 yards long – meaning that if it was an NFL running back, it would get cut during the preseason.

I pay 250 NIS ($62.50) to fill up my Subaru Forester here in Israel, and that is after a 50 percent discount on gasoline because I don’t pay the national tax! With such a financial gasoline burden, would I ever consider driving a Smart Car? Good thing for me, my cheapness will never be put to the test – I’m too big for the Smart Car.

Other, smaller, Americans will soon face this very question. The Smart Car will be available in the U.S. in a matter of months. Will gas guzzling SUV driving Americans, whose cars are a part of their patriotism, ever buy the Smart Car? Or will we just pick those Smart Cars up and throw them at each other like crumpled cans? I guess it depends on how desperate the gasoline situation becomes back home. I just don’t know.

If you have answers to any of these questions, and you don't work for Wikipedia, speak up!


Unknown said...

Hey Ben! You can get Smart Cars in the US now; at least, I saw them in (where else?) California. Palo Alto even has special parking spots for them. Not that they need a whole one.

But here's a question: Americans have always loved their big cars; Europeans have smaller ones. Americans are, as a rule, larger than Europeans. Cause or effect?

Ben said...

Excellent question. I can see a bigger person buying a boat of a car because he or she can’t fit into a Bug or Jetta. But I can’t imagine a skinny person buying a huge sedan and then saying, “I’m too little for this, get me some ranch dressing for my steak!” So, I’m going to say that car size and waist size are connected, but only in one direction.

Anonymous said...

The first time I saw a Smart Car, it reminded me of a toy car for toddlers. I'd hate to drive long distances in a car that size, I can't imagine there's much leg room there. I would guess it's not a comfortable car for anyone taller than 6 ft.

Gas guzzler that it was, I never felt safer in a car than in a college friend's 1970-something Cadillac. That thing was a tank.

Ben said...

You raise a great question. The smart clearly looks like it has the toughness of an aluminum can on wheels, but are big cars necessarily safer?

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, bigger doesn't necessarily mean safer (just look at SUVs tendency to roll over). My guess would still be that in an accident at highway speeds (do they even go that fast? I keep expecting to see Fred Flintstone-feet sticking out of the bottom.), mortality or serious injury would be more likely in a Smart Car vs. mid sized sedan or SUV. Just looking at your picture, I'm reminded of what my mother or some other parental figure told me when one of my high school friends bought a VW van (a la Little Miss Sunshine). It was something to the effect of "don't you even think about driving that thing or sitting up front. One head on collision and you'll be crippled for life."

However, I've also driven some tiny rental cars to save $10/day, and given the cost of gasoline, and a belief that we are overly reliant on oil and must find alternatives, the Smart Car might be something I'd consider, under the right circumstances. Maybe. (Is there even any place to put a suitcase?)

Ben said...

Thanks, KC.

No room for a suitcase but there is room for a man to put a wallet in his back pocket and for a woman to stick a purse between her legs on the passenger side.

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