'Roomy' and 'Convenient' Aside, Tall Cars Are Really About Power

Driving was one of this country's most democratic activities until some automotive design guy's pencil slipped and created the Tall Car. Tall Cars own the road. The Tall Car driver, high up in her lollipop red throne, can see which lanes are moving, the stalled car in lane three, and the number of cars sneaking through each left-turn signal. With all of this available information, her traffic anxiety is manageable.

I, on the other hand, can see nothing but my short, squat sedan reflected in her tinted windows, and I must sit and stew about whether I'll earn a disapproving look from my daughter's teacher when I pick her up late - again.

Tall Cars are the freeway equivalent of Manhattan skyscrapers. They block the view and, in concentration, cause acute claustrophobia.

Tall cars masquerade under such homespun names as the minivan or that nebulous moniker, the sport utility vehicle. This is a truck, albeit one generally containing leather seats.

Some time ago, my sister, who is single, contemplated the purchase of a sport utility vehicle for her two-mile commute to her office in suburban St. Louis. My mother and I realized immediate image counseling was in order. It's a mommy car, we explained. She bought a Honda Accord.

Remember real trucks?

The development of the Tall Car also has caused an identity crisis in the old pickup, now a Tall Car wannabe. Pickup trucks used to come in one of two colors, dirt and mud, depending on the weather, and were used for toting two-by-fours attached to sorry red rags. Now the pickup comes in Crayola colors and carries pony-tailed 17-year-olds to high school.

Tall Car owners claim they didn't have enough room for all their stuff before buying their snazzy new sky hog. This puzzles me. When I was growing up, mothers drove carpool in old station wagons, their 16-year-olds drove carpool in old station wagons, and families managed to fit a couple of suitcases and an adequate supply of junk food in old station wagons for the annual road trip.

Today, families are shrinking and nutrition is improving, but people insist they need the room only Tall Cars provide.

Rules for Tall Cars

I am surprised this country's transportation wizards haven't yet devised rules for Tall Cars. After all, the tall kids at school had to stand in the back row for pictures. If they do come up with new rules, I have a few suggestions:

1. Before purchasing a Tall Car, the prospective buyer must list three reasons why a station wagon won't suffice. Not wanting to be like one's parents is a valid reason. Now, find two others.

2. Tall Car drivers must use specially designated lanes. This will bring equality back to our streets and freeways. Plumbers, ambulance drivers, and lumber-toting pickups will be exempt.

3. So-called off-road vehicles will use new dirt lanes. This will cut down on traffic congestion and improve the vehicle's image as a rugged road warrior.

Recently, I was a passenger in a friend's Tall Car. Immediately I saw its advantages over my sedan. Most important, it was so large our children could sit far enough away that their demands became simply white, ignorable, noise.

Then I saw a stalled car in our lane up ahead. "Move over," I told my friend, feeling guilty about the unsuspecting guy in the sedan behind us who was oblivious to the cause of the traffic tie-up. A seasoned Tall Car driver, my friend already had her blinker on. Tall Cars aren't about convenience and space, I suddenly realized, they're about power and control.

The other day I saw a Jeep with a license plate that read, "Get Tall." If these moving skyscrapers get any thicker, I just might.

* Elizabeth Gale Sharzer is a freelance writer in Los Alamitos, Calif.

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