You are what you — Drive!?

Alright I confess, I am a people watcher. I enjoy watching people in public places and inferring into their lives my imagined lifestyle for them based upon what I see. One of my favorite games is one that I play while waiting in the car outside the store. (Aren’t I a dedicated husband to drive my wife and kids to and from the store, and then to wait ever so patiently as they fend off the mobs of bargain crazed lunatics inside?!) It goes something like this. After scanning the parking lot for a while and acclimating myself with the cars in the surrounding area, I will turn my attention to the store’s exits. As the unassuming patrons make their egress, I pick them out by their defining characteristics and try to match them to their cars before they get there. This little game of connect the dots can silently amuse me for hours on end (okay, at least for a half an hour).

So how is it that we as American have become so preoccupied with the statement that our mode of transport makes about us? Why is it that driving a diesel pickup truck somehow makes you a hick? How is it that you’re expected to listen to Aerosmith if you drive a Camaro? Why is your sexual preference assumed if you are a guy and drive a VW Beetle? It’s a curious thing, but these stereotypes tend to be somewhat accurate. Why is that?

Add to that the fact that it seems each decade has its iconic “ride”. The 80’s had the pony cars (Mustangs, Camaros and Firebirds). The status symbol of the 90’s was, oddly enough, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The new millennium saw the rise of the Honda Civic, and it seems that the most recent decade will be remembered as the age of the Prius. It’s a curious thing, but somehow we as Americans have matched out personalities to a certain type of automobile and the relationship has been thriving ever since.

Think about it, you can make these associations too. I will name a car and you and I can both likely imagine the same stereotype as a driver. Let’s try it.

  • Mazda Miata – (alright who is seeing Chris Kattan singing at the top of his lungs in Corky Ramano?) That pretty well defines the stereotype, I think.
  • VW Bus – Hippie love anyone?

Think these examples are a bit too extreme? How about these?

  • Full size van – (Okay, not the molester van, just a regular conversion van.)
  • How about a dually pickup? (Why does everyone assume you have to be grossly overweight to drive a dually?)
  • Buick Park Avenue (Yeah my grandparents have one of these too! Wow, what a coincidence. I didn’t even have to utter the words “Olds ’98” or “Chrysler New Yorker”).
  • Driving a Chevy typically means that you also might be wearing a NASCAR jacket. (Sorry guys, it’s true you know it is).

It’s strange but true. Whether by the making of Hollywood or by personal experience, the stereotypes have been set.

Does our choice of transportation define us as a person?

My daily mode of transport is a Crew Cab, 4×4, diesel powered, 16 year old pickup. But I also drive a minivan. What does that make me? Add to that the fact that I used to own an ’80’s ponycar and I must be one confusing and conflicted personality!

Is it a truth or just a stereotype that we have accepted? Am I, in reality, that much a hodgepodge of seemingly conflicting interests? Yes, I grew up deer hunting, but I also have taken up Blogging (obviously). I do heat my house with wood and live across the road from a corn field, but I also have an office job at a local food service company. Yes, my truck can frequently be seen parked in the lot in front of a big box store, but it is just as likely to be parked in front of my church. Hmm, maybe there is more truth to that stereotype than I thought.

I wonder what I must look like leaving my white(ish) collar job wearing my dress slacks, oxford shirt, Poindexter glasses, carrying a messenger bag and leaving the lot in a Crew Cab, 4×4, 16 year old diesel truck? Mixed signals? You bet! If they were looking very closely, a studious gamer would have noticed my singular giveaway. That would be the work boots under my dress slacks. Yeah, they’re Dr. Martens but that probably reinforces another era’s stereotype.Still, you would have gotten that one right if you had been paying attention.

Here is some reading from Forbes Magazine if you need some help reinforcing your automotive narcissism for next time.

Forbes Magazine

‘Til next time.