Normally I don't pay attention to cars on account of how WE'RE SURROUNDED BY THEM. "Freeway" can't be the right word for a place so backed up that it could use a Vegas cigarette girl:
"Cigarettes? Candy? Soda?..."
So yes, it's hard to celebrate the production of new cars when we haven't got room for the old.
Still, at the recent auto show, I came to appreciate how cars are to men what purses are to women -- a mental disorder. In their high chair, baby boys start making car sounds with their saliva; left unchecked, theses boys grow up to own, like the suited man beside me, cell phones with NASCAR ringtones: zzzzzzZOOM.
Speaking of nuts, I attended the show with one Lance Lambert, who knew the name of every car, the lineage of its makers, how to vulcanize rubber -- he was a walking encyclopedia, and I'm not just talking about his posture.
This year's auto show raved about innovations to protect the human race from the human race. Gas tanks are turning into "fuel cells," which accept ethanol, hydrogen, carrot juice -- whatever you've got.
The most promising fuel is hydrogen, whose only byproduct is water. Enter the Voice of Tomorrow: "If all goes well, exhaust will come to smell like patchouli and turn smog into classical music."
This ingenuity was offset, of course, by the Male-Compensation Room, where you find Hummers and Escalades and other assault vehicles. While the Hummer H3 has been ergonomically redesigned to take up only one lane, the others are burning petrol so fast that they've earned VIP status at the White House. Soon their efficiency will be measured in gallons-per-mile. So it goes.
My own neighbor drives a Nissan Titan, which starts every morning like a leer jet. Birds scatter, windows shake, and sometimes, just for irony, a car alarm goes off. How I wish that man had a bigger shoe size.
We attended the premiere of Honda's two concept cars, the Remix and the Step Bus. After all the elbow rubbing and flash photography and corporate-friendly hip hop, I was expecting a UFO. Instead, we got ... a drum roll, please ... Ugly Car of the Day.
Honda actually took first and second in this category. Its Remix looked like a DeLorean with a bad crew cut, and the Step Bus -- how can I say this without getting emotional? It was everything crate-like and hateful about the Element ... times ten! In vomit green!
Next year Honda will just roll out an ice cream truck.
The Need for Speed
Speaking of jets, I sat in the Lamborghini Murciélago Roadster, interior by Versace. The only thing sweeter than the smell of a new car is the smell of a new Lamborghini. The inside wasn't much to look at. No cup holders or navigation. Just a tray to hold your speeding tickets.
The Roadster starts at $215K and goes 0-60 in three seconds, which is useful if you're robbing banks to make your payment.
The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 was the fastest car at the show -- and on planet Earth -- with a top speed of 254 miles an hour. In fact, we weren't allowed to touch it. Security lets you lean over the ropes and get a sense of the vehicle as one might the sun.
For the bargain-basement price of 1.2 million dollars, the Bugatti has 1,001 horsepower and is slowed only by the women who get caught in its gravitational pull.
Why do we still measure in horsepower anyway? Do they even make horses these days?
Everyone agreed that Ferrari had the best models -- women whose dresses covered only the legal minimum. You know you're getting into sticker price by using the Axiom di Maserati: "The amount of clothing worn by a vehicle's spokeswoman is inversely proportionate to the cost of said vehicle."
Parallel-Parking? Where We're Going, You Don't Need Parallel-Parking
The luxury cars were fast but not furious. They focused more on heated seats, hands-free telephony, and otherwise driving the car for you. The Mercedes Benz S Class has radar-based cruise control that stops and goes with traffic. This is important because you don't want to hassle with things like deceleration while you're eating lunch and watching TV on the passenger-side visor.
"It's called distronic proximity control," said Lance. "It's an upshot to Mercedes' Parking Assist technology."
Seriously. The guy's like Rain Man.
Green with envy (but still not furious), the Lexus LS came up with automatic parallel parking. You just mark the edge of each parked vehicle and close your eyes. Take that, driver's ed. The nice part is that if you ever crash into something, you can just sue Lexus.
On the Road Again
By day's end we saw more than one hundred cars, and Lance had stopped to fondle every one of them. We found daring classics like the Corvette Callaway and more middling cars for people so conservative they wear seatbelts going through the carwash.
Back at the parking lot, we climbed into our Dodge minivan with Sponge Bob trim and merged onto the 110 "freeway," where our top speed was 16 miles an hour. I turned to thank Lance for all his support, but he had fallen asleep like a little boy after Christmas, making car sounds with his saliva.