Sports Inutility

There’s a saying in art — form follows function. There’s beauty in the right tool for the job. Then there’s stupidity like this

TOKYO — When Sadayoshi Ishi drives his Hummer, he takes precautions. He has installed a navigation system that shows wide-open streets in green and more-dangerous narrow streets in pink on a computerized map inside the truck. Periscope-like monitors on each side-view mirror alert him to obstacles.
Ishi isn’t dodging land mines in a desert war zone. The 48-year-old Japanese cartoonist is trying to navigate Tokyo’s urban jungle of streets too narrow for his 2.1-meter-wide vehicle. ‘I broke out in a sweat every time I drove it,’ says Ishi. He now drives his Hummer just once a week to golf games on a predetermined route.

Ishi is one of a growing number of Japanese who are spending more than $100,000 for the military-style H1 Hummer. Mesmerized by the mammoth trucks shown in TV news coverage of the war in Iraq, they are determined to overcome the special problems of driving in Japan.

The Hummer is popular among drivers who want the cachet of war without going to places where people actually shoot at you. But that’s not the only use for a Hummer. Here’s Iwao Makino’s impossible dream…

‘Im just waiting for a typhoon or big disaster to hit Tokyo so I can use my Hummer to rescue people,says Makino. His biggest thrill now is dodging retailer’s street signs when driving to the grocery store and taking his dogs to the park.

Well, maybe Godzilla will come back. Then the guys who forgot to enlist in the coalition of the willing will finally get a chance to see some action.

Meanwhile, back here in the states it seems like a lot of people are not getting the concept of form follows function. You can see by the ads that the Hummer is meant to be driven vertically up remote mountains and into lakes and stuff but most drivers don’t do it. They look for the narrowest streets in Providence, the ones that even a horse and buggy had trouble with, and then they clog up traffic. Until they park on a corner where they block the view of oncoming traffic so that anyone trying to make a left turn sings, ‘nearer my God to thee.’

It’s kinda sad that so many of these macho cars never go anywhere but the burger place and the mall, so General Motors is rumored to be starting a website called ‘Hummer Helps’. Owners can send in photographs of themselves doing heroic stuff. I look forward to that, and the needy should not get upset if a guy in a Hummer shows up in a crisis to take a picture of his cool car. The needy have to take what they can get, right?

Speaking of taking what they can get, whenever I see a Hummer with a business logo painted on I can’t help suspecting that it’s a Corporate Welfare Cadillac. Hummers and other heavy luxury S.U.V.’s qualified for tax breaks that were originally intended to benefit farmers and contractors. That’s why you might see your local florist using a Hummer to deliver some ferns and a few bunches of baby’s breath. The tax exemption was eventually knocked down to $25,000. There were some in Congress who wanted to eliminate it altogether but I can’t find any reports about that after this June. Maybe the bill is languishing somewhere.

$25,000 isn’t much. It’s only a little more than twice the cost of my car when it was new. I spent five years paying it off. I use it when I work, visiting the elderly and disabled. I didn’t get any tax exemption for it. I PAY TAXES ON IT. And then I PAY FOR GAS. SO I CAN DO MY JOB.

Okay, I’m better now. I know that the extra tax burden I carry to subsidize giant luxury vehicles is minuscule compared to what I’ll end up paying for the Iraq War. So it’s okay then.

I think the Hummer Helpers could do more good if they leave their tanks in the driveway until duty calls. A small localized emergency would be best. Otherwise they will end up exacerbating the traffic jam you would get in a really big emergency, like the hundred mile traffic jam from Hurricane Rita in Texas. I’m looking forward to checking out Hummer Helps website when it appears, and I hope that G.M. Corp isn’t discouraged by all the snarking and sarcasm that is already coming their way, like this

GM is asking rescue teams to film themselves using the vehicle in real emergency situations. While the idea is great, acquiring footage will be a difficult challenge for GM, as many rescuers refuse to film themselves in such situations.

Geeze, what wimps. Probably think they’re too busy. I’m not embarrassed to film myself doing good works. The elderly don’t mind. I think. I’m going to call my site, Cheap Little Japanese Car Helps. My car can weave through traffic. It gets thirty-three miles to the gallon. It’s so small that Godzilla won’t even notice it. I’ll count on the Hummers to distract him while I make my escape.


9 thoughts on “Sports Inutility

  1. Very amusing and insightful piece, Nancy. These Hummers (or perhaps they should be called Himmers, since it is predominately males who possess and covet them) are the perfect symbol for our over-consumptive, over-aggressive, and over-indulgent society. Sadly, too many individuals still embrace the notion that size, above all else, matters. Perhaps that is why, on the road and elsewhere, these fellows tend to be such big d**ks.

  2. The Japanese are and long have been more American than Americans in many ways. They love baseball and before Worlkd War II hosted the New York Yankees as I recall, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig. When General Jimmy Doolittle, on that famous raid soon after the war started, flew over a Tokyo baseball stadium while a game was in progress. The Japanese also love automobiles the car craze swept Japan very early in this century and has continued. The Japanese have designed some of the most advanced and innovative automobiles as well as trucks. Big Japanese trucks, pickups, SUV models, classy and sporty trucks, 1/4 ton trucks, 1/2 ton trucks, and 3/4 ton trucks. They have little engines, mid-sized engines and humungous V-8 engines. But, there is still a quirky love affair with the huge and ugly, the Hummer. There is nothing “huger” or uglier on the road anywhere. At more than $100,000 the original H-1 was military gone domestic, crude with a CD player, wider than anything around and room for your machine gun or grenade launcher. Even Arnold, the Terminator, bought the Hummer. He liked it so much, that he bought 6 of them, I read. But he needed more power and he had Corvette engines dropped into them. Hummers can climb walls, and each wheel can automatically be pumped up from inside the vehicle. WOW!

    Unfortunately out here in the real world of dirt roads and hauling hay or trailers with horses, we need big trucks. But our choices have been Chevy or Ford and now Toyota pick ups or, when we take the wife or girlfriend 100 miles to the nearest good movie or dancing, we do like our SUV rigs–the pickup never gets clean. Trucks are a way of life and are built better than cars and last longer. Just look under the hood or at the rear end (of the truck that is). The parts are bigger, the bolts are thicker, the steel is heavier–they last longer. The average miles out of a truck here is likely 200,000, and then we either give it to a kid or sell it and it goes on for another 100,000 or so.

    Not many Hummers in these parts. The H-1 is extinct as a commercial vehicle. And only the dudes from back East or California drive around in H-2 or H-3 wimpy versions and you will only see them in Santa Fe or Taos, all nice and chromed and polished. Out here, we like our chipped paint, rock cracked windshields, and worn tires.

  3. my friend bought a no-frills pickup truck about twenty years ago and still drives it. some of my other friends live in vermont and really need four wheel drive. here in providence i see plenty of work vehicles, but more hummers and gleaming black trucks with tinted windows and big loads of nothing in the back. i think the commercial vehicle lost some appeal when they cut the tax break from $100,000 to $25,000.
    since i have to drive all day i appreciate a chance to walk or take my bike out when it’s convenient, and luckily it often is.

  4. Mr Wolberg, it’s one thing to need a truck for actually hauling things, driving in muddy fields, or whatever. However, here in the urban east, one finds these monstrosities that are spotless, w/o a scratch, and tricked-up in chrome. The owners would probably blanch at the thought of taking this prized possession somewhere that it might actually get dirty. Let alone scratched.

    I also saw a graphic in US News & World Report a few years back showing the places where SUVs were most popular per capita–so it wasn’t just showing where the most were sold. Was it Colorado? No. North Dakota? No. It was places like urban LA, Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, NYC…you get the picture.

    In short, they were bought to be trendy.

    And here in the urban east, one oftens finds oneself sitting, stuck in traffic, surrounded by behemoths that are doing nothing more difficult than burning gas.

    The worst part? Sure, it costs the owners more to tank up, so there’s a bit of the thrill of conspicuous consumption occurring. But the sheer number of these things drive up the cost of gas for everyone, whether they can afford it or not.

    In fact, IMHO, the need for a private vehicle–of any kind–is a de facto regressive tax on the poor.

    So I have no problem with people buying large trucks if they need them for work, for the farm, or such. I do have a problem with people buying them to be trendy, to show off, or to try to convince the world how big a “man” they are. I mean, why in god’s name does it require 6,000 pounds of metal to move a 200 lb human?

  5. Indeed Klaus, but those 200 pound folks have 1000 pound egos that need transporting, and I bet most buy Al Gore’s books and donate to the Wilderness Society. Sounds like a great reason not to get caught on the streets of New York or L.A. Besides, where would I put my hay wagon. But, in the end, we need to let the market place and reality dictate life; would be bad Karma to have Dick Cheney tell us what to drive or not drive.

  6. but the Hummer and big SUV drivers took advantage of years of special tax breaks while the rest of us pay taxes on the cars we drive to work. how do we deal with the fact that the market is rigged? i think we would be better off paying two or three dollars a year to publicly finance our elections. someone is going to buy politicians, it might as well be us.

  7. I’m sorry, Mr Wolberg, but I will not agree that the people driving the SUVs are Gore supporters. Given the huge numbers of these monstrosities on the roads, if they all were Gore supporters, he would have won in a landslide back in ’00. And I suspect Dick Cheney would love nothing more than to see the entire nation driving SUVs, all to the benefit of his cronies who run the oil companies.

    There are too people driving SUVs to allow neat and tidy characterization, but my theory is that most people who buy these vehicles are engaging in a follow-the-herd behavior. These things are a fad. No more, no less.

    You are an intelligent and perceptive individual, with many excellent insights. I understand that you vehemently disagree with the global warming issue; that was how we met. I also appreciate that your background gives you an excellent basis for doing so. However, making these kinds of comments really don’t do your cause any justice.

  8. Never figured I has a “cause” Klaus, just a concern for showing that “science” is always a work in progress, not a dictum, or series of dicta, and theories are modified by newly acquired data.

    But I recall reading that Mr. Gorp owns three SUV’s and cruises the world on massive private jets with himself and his entourage as passengers. He told the press he buys carbon credits to compensate inferring that he has the right to do as he pleases because he can buy carbon credits. I was recently amazed to learn he received a grade of “D” in his college undergraduate geology course and the same in chemistry.

    Arnold is much more courageous. He has 6 H-1s and all have massive Corvette engines (the classic H-1 has a 195 horsepower diesel–very efficient for pulling and cruising at 55 but very slow). Mr. Edwards has a couple of biggees, and he needs them to drive from one end of his 26,000 sq. ft. house to the other. I think they needed to cut down a national forest for the lumber in his house.

    Mr. Cheney rides in a masive Suburban with armor plating, not a Hummer and of course, and we pay for his SUV. But he needs a big truck to carry all those birds he shoots.

  9. to be as rich as Arnold and convince the voters you’re a regular guy calls takes talent. good thing he’s an actor.

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