Hummer owners still love to play dirty
PINE GROVE, Pennsylvania (AP) -- They rumble in on treads called Super Swampers, wearing their hearts on their license plates.
"PLAYDRTY," declares one behemoth (owner actually thinks that's correct spelling) from New York. "HUM THIS," dares another (genius), from Ohio.
The digital board fronting the Shell station at Exit 100 winks back: "Welcome Hummers!" (what sort of establishment is this Shell station, again? Do I get a massage?)
In the fading light, though, it's impossible to ignore the sign at the Sunoco across the road: Diesel, $4.97 9/10 a gallon. ("and, fuck you, too")
You've got to be tough to love a Hummer. (or a complete dickhead) The soaring cost of feeding a vehicle that swallows a gallon every dozen miles is only part of it. Environmentalists, who've always had it in for you, are winning mainstream converts. (Estimated time a Hummer owner cares about an environmentalist's opinion: .0000142 seconds) General Motors, which presided over Hummer's transition from a badge of military bravado into a symbol of driveway excess (not a huge leap), is looking to sell.
But tonight there's no apologizing or self-pity in the ranks of Hummer die-hards. They're here to goad machines that can top five tons over boulders the size of Smart cars, through stewpots of mud obscuring who-knows-what and across obstacle courses of stumps, logs and stones -- it's "like riding a slow-motion rollercoaster," one says. (Jack Kerouac, indeed, couldn't have said it better)
Maybe mega-SUVs are going the way of dinosaurs. Hummer sales have dropped 40 percent this year. But these beasts and the men and women who love them certainly don't behave like endangered species. (no, they still shoot bald eagles)
"I told my wife when we bought this, 'Honey, we're investing in steel and rubber,' says William Welch, a Philadelphia surgeon (...with a vengeance) who, cigar clenched between his teeth (Cigar?!? The HELL you say!), offers a guided tour of his lovingly tended jet-black H1.
"If it was $10 a gallon," he says, "we'd still be out there." (Irresponsible AND wealthy - an unbeatable combo)
Cars are much more than transportation to Americans. In a country where life revolves around the car, you are what you drive. (That makes me a Hyundai Tucson? Fuck. Pass the cyanide.)
"We eat 20 percent of our meals in cars. We spend hour and hours every week (in cars)," says Leon James, a University of Hawaii professor and expert in the psychology of driving. (this is a job?!?) "We see other cars as extensions of the people who drive them and we identify the character of the car with the character of the driver. There is this automatic connection that we make." (expert, indeed. You couldn't make that conclusion by watching the 'E' Channel)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, then a muscle-bound movie star a long way from being the Governator (we still using this joke? Is Leno on staff?), was driving along a highway in Oregon, on his way to the film set for "Kindergarten Cop." (Drunk drivers, where WERE you!!?!)
Heading the other direction, an Army convoy packed with Humvees, rumbled past.
"I put the brakes on," Schwarzenegger told reporters at the 1992 ceremony that AM General, besieged by requests, held to start production of civilian Hummers. "Someone smashed into the back of me, but I just stared. 'Oh my God, there is the vehicle,' I said. And from then on, I was possessed." (....zeh goggles, zey do nuthing...)
He was far from the only one.
There are Hummers and then there are HUMMERS. (nudge, nudge) It's that way with their owners, too.
The Hummer pilots flocking to the parking lot of a Hampton Inn tonight are clearly the latter. Hummering (exCUSE me?!?! Oh, Jesus Christ on a cracker with cheese...) is not some two-minute fad. "It's a lifestyle," they say repeatedly. ('Zich Heil')
They're well aware of the many other Hummer owners, who use their vehicles for little more than dropping the kids at baseball and supermarket trips. (how dare they)
"Street queens (that's P.C.)," the serious (white) crowd calls them. "Pavement princesses." (Seriously. Fuck you. On many levels. Twice.)
But you don't have to be a tough guy to be here. (just being a sexually frustrated jerkoff will suffice)
So Brandie (Davey) Lopes, a silkscreen printer (and supermodel, I'm sure), is here from Winterport, Maine, a 600-mile haul that would've been cheaper to fly than to drive in her polished new H2.
She's joined by Howard and Vickie Schultheiss (two more matinee idols, no doubt), up from Maryland in a nearly 11,000 pound H1 that bears the scratches and scars of off-road battles. The steel roofrack above the windshield is carved with letters spelling out "D-Man," the nickname of a highly trained German Shepherd, now lost to cancer, whose fierce spirit the couple says lives on the rig. (aaaaawwww. D-Man's not really dead if we remember him by carving his name into a 11,000 pound monstrousity)
For John Andres, a software writer from New Albany, Ohio, it goes back to 1991, when he was scrimping for a Range Rover. He turned on the TV one January night and was transfixed by a report of two dozen U.S. Marines pinned down behind a wall in the Saudi Arabian town of Khafji. With Saudi tanks providing cover, the soldiers packed into Humvees and barreled through Iraqi lines.
"I saw that. I thought, 'forget the Range Rover,"' says Andres, whose sand-colored Hummer jokingly sports silhouettes of the compact sedans he's knocked off, a la the Red Baron. "Humvee is the way to go. These things are just bad." (okay. This guy seriously needs to have surveillance 24-7)
Dan LaForgia's story is more elemental.
"My mom says my first word was 'truck, "' LaForgia says. (No WAY! That was Tim McVeigh's first word, too!!! Awesome!) ...."Some people say its the ugliest thing on the road," LaForgia says. "I love it."
This weekend is a big deal for LaForgia. In three years of Hummer ownership, he's never taken his off-road. He cringes noticeably (pussy) as others trade stories of broken axles, smashed windows, and the deep scratches and gashes their vehicles have endured in previous adventures.
At 8:45 a.m., though, he joins the other owners under a tent, ready to embark in groups dispatched by levels of skills and experience.They head a few exits up to a former strip-mine turned off-road haven. Members of the extreme group -- four of the most gung-ho H1 owners -- trade jokes over the radio as they part the treeline. ("Hey, Red, I got one - What do you call a Geo Prism owner with no insurance?......."The target!" HA HAH HAH HUCKA-HA HA!!!)
But inside the rig the Schultheiss' have dedicated to their dog, the mood is reverential.
"Cue it up," Vickie says to Howard, her husband. "All right. Here we go."
The low rumble of timpani drums stir from the Hummer's speakers. French horns join in, rising above the engine's growl. The solemn notes are unmistakable: Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." (.........vomit rising.....)
Vickie reaches for D-Man's collar, which hangs down from the rearview mirror. She tugs the chains twice, rubs the gray links between her fingers. (...whilst moaning deeply...)
"It's his truck," she says softly. (then put the registration under 'D-Man' and see what kind of trade-in you get) Howard Schultheiss reaches across from the passenger seat and takes her hand. (...and places it in his own crotch)
Threading through branches and over stumps, the group reaches a winding river of boulders. They're not going to cross it. They're going to try and drive it's full third-of-a-mile length. A Prius would've been long gone by now. (What was Toyota thinking? Building a car that can't crush boulders and tree stumps? Fuckin' Japanese losers.) Even in a vehicle marketed as the automotive equivalent of Godzilla, this takes nerve -- and a durable wallet. (...and some useless spare time)
"I've come down on a rock so hard that my windshield cracked across the middle, (I BEG your pardon? I guess I spoke too soon on that sexually frustrated remark...ahem)" says Jason Oplinger, an electrical contractor. When he and wife, Steph (beard), married two years ago, guests were ferried (....ahem) to the mid-trail ceremony in a procession of 40 Hummer H1s.
(Here's the game: Count how many closeted homosexual overtones are in this next paragraph)
Today has its own drama (1). Before it's over, the Schultheiss' truck will break in three places and have to be yanked off (2) the rocks by winch. In one of the intermediate caravans, drivers will plunge through a mud pool (3) with the color of cement and the odor of a pigsty. Two will dive so hard (4) that water licks (5) at the engines' air intakes (6) before they make it across.
By evening, back at the hotel, there are new stories to trade over barbecue. (...of spotted owl)
"I'm going to get out while I'm ahead," says LaForgia, whose street-pretty Hummer bears its first scar. "I always say another scratch means another story, or adds some character," counsels a fellow owner, Mike Schoch. (...on the rocks)
Maybe the most powerful comparison is the one Vickie Schultheiss draws between her Hummer and the German Shepherd whose memory it honors.
"To me it had to be just as capable and just as brute as Dikas," (DA Bearssss) she says.
In the woods, she narrows her eyes, studying the terrain ahead, then climbs the Hummer bearing D-Man's name over a mammoth boulder. The truck slams down, bashing steel against stone. Schultheiss swings out of the driver's seat to check out the wheel hanging in mid air.
Her forehead is fringed with sweat. She's beaming.
"Welcome to D-Man's world," she says. (enough with the D-Man. For supposed 'tough' people, they sure get fucking maudlin and dramatic over their fucking dead mut. Jesus. Did I stumble onto a Red Sovine song?)
Soaring gas prices made outright Hummer hate socially acceptable. The stepped up culture war found its way to a leafy Washington, D.C. neighborhood last July, when two masked men attacked a parked Hummer with a machete and a baseball bat. (I bet they swung at it like little girls, though, let's be honest.)
Hummer owners from around the country called Gareth Groves (say what you see, Gareth), the owner of the vandalized vehicle, to offer help, even garage space. But they were outnumbered by people who sent hate mail, including threatening e-mails and MySpace postings. (I still can't believe this actually happened. Wow. Get a hobby, people)
Within two blocks, a Cadillac Escalade, a Ford Excursion and a Chevrolet Suburban went untouched. But what surprised Groves (my favorite Muppet, btw) wasn't that people hated his Hummer. It was how much they seemed to hate him, lambasting everything from his bleached hair (well, come on, guy. You walked into that one.) to the fact that he lived with his mother.
"It definitely sparks some intense reaction from people on both sides," Groves says. (ya' think?!? What gave it away?)
So what did Groves do? He submitted a $25,000 insurance claim and had the truck repaired. High gas prices and the house payments made him briefly think about selling, but he quickly dismissed the idea."I love this car," he says. (."...it's what D-Man would have wanted...oh, wait. It's not my dawg...oh, well.")
Even a few hardcore Hummer owners are rethinking. (What's the 're-" shit? Don't you have to 'think' in order to 're-think'?)
"It's not a very practical truck, (Oh. My. God. In. Heaven. Thanks for catching up.)" says LaForgia, who sometimes finds critical notes on the windshield. He plans to sell his H1 to save for a down payment on a house.
And it goes on like this....