Pimp my ride

Mercury Grand Marquis, courtesy Wikipedia.

Mercury Grand Marquis, courtesy Wikipedia.

In my quest not to become the typical minivan mom, I’ve become my grandfather instead. Somewhere between the two-door, bottom-of-the-line, “I can’t give it up because it still runs” college car and slapping a “my kid’s smarter than your kid” sticker on a station wagon, I skipped a generation and started driving a big, safe, six-passenger, slab of American steel.

Just like my grandpa did.

Just like most grandpas still do.

It wasn’t exactly a planned thing. It’s not like I woke up one day, got tired of zipping into tiny parking spaces and zipping out of the gas station for less than 30 bucks, and decided I wanted to captain a boat. Even in the wildest of my “Thelma and Louise” driving down the highway and not looking back fantasies, I have never really pictured myself driving off into the sunset behind the wheel of a Mercury Grand Marquis.

A green Jag or a red Mustang convertible, maybe, but a Mercury?

It all started when Teena, my 1990 Toyota Tercel, failed her smog check. It was finally time to go shopping for a new car.

Now, I know men complain about women and shopping all the time, but let me make something clear here: I don’t like to shop, I like to BUY. My husband, Zak, he’s the shopper in the family. He’ll think about replacing his golf hat for about year, look around for six months, research hats on the Internet for another month, discuss hats with his friends for another month, low bid for a few hats on EBay and Craig’s List, and then twiddle his thumbs for another couple of months before he finally gets around to buying something.

I, on the other hand, think the best kind of shopping is serendipitous, where you just stumble on something you can’t believe you ever lived without. Those QVC and Amazon reminder emails were made for people like me. And if I happened to spot a golf hat on sale, while cruising to lunch in the mall, I’d buy it in five different colors and two different sizes because I’d vaguely remember some boring conversations about Zak wanting a new hat.

So, given our two different purchasing styles, it’s no big surprise that when we went looking for a new car at a big tent sale at Earl Warren a couple of weeks ago, Zak was going to browse, but I was coming to buy.

My first priority in choosing a car was, of course, color, followed by the important practical considerations such a placement of cup holders, and a light up makeup mirror on the passenger side.

“But what kind of a vehicle are you looking for?” asked the already-exasperated salesman.

“Green,” answered my seven-year-old.

“Affordable,” said my husband.

“Ignore them both,” I instructed the poor man. “I want a convertible.”

We test drove the one convertible that was in our price range and quickly realized that it wasn’t really in our height range–Zak’s tall, skinny neck would be breaking through the canvas once we put the top up, and Koss’s four foot, four inch frame would be bursting out of the back seat in another couple of inches.

Then we drove a few other fun, fast cars that my inner teenager loved and my outer mom reluctantly agreed were completely impractical.

Koss pushed to try out the minivan with the built in DVD player. “But I hate minivans, ” I said. Not that I’d ever driven one.

I decided to give it a try. After all, it couldn’t hurt me too much to dip my toe into the carpool lane, could it?

Stepford Wives nightmares ran through my head as I turned the key in the minivan’s ignition. I tried to imagine myself pulling in and out of school in a minivan twice a day, just like millions of other moms in millions of other minivans. Maybe I could put a big skull tattoo on the side, or paint flames on it. That way at least I’d be able to find it in the parking lot next to all of the other minivans.

I started to feel nauseous. It’s just not right. It’s just not me. And that’s when I spotted the gleam of gold in the corner of the lot. Okay, it was the length of a football field, so it was kind of hard to miss. The leather seats called out to me, along with the six-CD-changer, the lumbar support, the little beep when you’re 50 miles away from needing gas, and the digital compass in the rearview mirror that automatically adjusts to darkness at night.

When I test-drove that baby, not only did she feel solid and smell pretty, but the other drivers got out of my way. Other drivers are the only things that have prevented me from enjoying driving for the past 20-odd years. I was sold.

“It’s not like we have to buy something today,” said my husband, naively. As if I was going to spend another weekend car shopping. I was done and the Mercury won.

We decided to name her Sunny.

Now if they could just make those parking spaces at school as wide as the ones at Bingo, I’d really be cruising.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

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