Talkin' 'bout his generation, Pete Townshend, through the yawp of Roger Daltrey, made the following bald statement: "Hope I die before I get old." I've never gone quite so far as that, though I have been known to utter things like "Hope I die before I get the urge to drive a Mercury Grand Marquis."

Earlier this week, I hopped onto the Web site of one of the major auto-rental companies and reserved a Generic — uh, General Motors compact of no particular distinction, for a rate that, while not astoundingly cheap, was still quite a bit less than hiring taxis for twenty-four hours. With this detail taken care of, I drove Molly to the dealership for her annual physical, and then hightailed it up to the city's Automobile Row to pick up my Temporary Wheels.

"We're out of intermediates," said the agent.

Storm clouds began to form on my brow. "However," he added quickly, "if you like, we can give you a Premium Upgrade" — I forget what the actual term was, but it doesn't matter — "at no extra charge."

"Fine," said I, in the midst of initialing about twenty little squares.

And once outside the door, I came face-to-grille with It: a genuine Mercury Grand Marquis de Sade, done up in Arrest Me Red and enough chrome to plate a small locomotive. It was too hot to stand outside and squabble, so I bounced into the seat, which duly bounced back, looked over the dashboard for unfamiliar items, popped MacDowell's Woodland Sketches into the cassette slot, and pointed this massive trundler toward the Centennial Expressway.

My first thought was "When did they narrow all these lanes?" At six and a half feet wide, the Mercury is not what I'd call svelte. Then again, neither am I. And more important, being a rear-driver, the Grand Marquis tracked just as straight as could be, no matter what angle I forced upon the gas pedal. (Molly, bless her, is front-wheel-drive, the norm these days, but she exhibits virtually no torque steer, due to the intimate interaction of way too much engineering and not enough horsepower.) Up to speed, the Grand Marquis ate up miles the way teenagers eat up fast food. Only the occasional muted thump from the odd expansion joint intruded into the hermetically-sealed cabin, and once onto Dustbury's generally awful surface streets, there was only the slightest hint of the usual land-yacht buoyancy. Even allowing for the fact that it was a Ford product, this was clearly not my father's Oldsmobile. I almost hate to give it back.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not quite ready to go out and buy one of these demi-luxo-barges. Most of my driving is in town, where the Grand Marquis is clearly not in its element, and I'd sooner try to breed whales than parallel-park this thing. Were I given to extensive road trips, though — and I used to be, which leads to the inevitable question of "What the hell happened?" — I'd have to put this Mercury, or its sister ship, Ford's Crown Victoria, on my Acceptable Transport list. So maybe I am getting old. Hope I die before Pete Townshend finds out.

The Vent

#199
1 June 2000

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