Even without fins, that Caddy still means something


June 02, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

So, I'm tooling along in my Cadillac. Well, not my Cadillac exactly. It's a rental.

But it's still me behind the wheel. And I'm old enough to remember when driving a Caddy meant something more than just driving a car.

What I didn't know then was that this seemingly innocent transaction would forever change my life.

The plan had been to rent a minivan. I had to pick up my daughter from college, where she had accumulated enough stuff -- clothes, books, a specially designed computer that can double as a blender -- that my little Toyota certainly wasn't up to the job.

But all the minivans were gone. I guess everyone was coming home from college that weekend,or maybe it was the annual prom-related minivan shortage.

If you're my age -- of the pre-minivan, van era -- you remember the horror in the eyes of your typical father when you drove a van to the house to pick up your date. The windows were blackened and the back was, well, outfitted for fun. Let's just say it was the '70s version of a hot tub, only on wheels. And in case ol' Dad missed the point, you had slapped this bumper sticker onto the rear window: "Your Daughter's Probably Inside."

Anyway, the rental folks have no vans, so I go for the next biggest thing -- the Caddy. I get my choice of colors. I take red because it's closest to pink.

When I first see the car, though, I am a little disappointed. No fins. What's the point of a Cadillac without fins? It's like diet ice cream. The idea of a Caddy is to go overboard. The Cadillac is the moral equivalent of a $200 haircut. Why pretend to be anything else?

This no-fins look is a sure sign of where we've gotten to in America. We don't believe in ourselves anymore, so we have to make our Cadillacs look like an oversized Mercedes.

I want my Cadillac pink and I want fins -- big, ostentatious, from here-to-the-moon-and-back, Jaws-sized, Cadillac-length fins that say: "Hey, back off, Jack."

Once I'm inside, though, it's pretty much a slice of heaven, if you like your slices Roseanne-sized. You wheel this baby out on the highway, and it's like you're on an ocean liner. You don't feel a bump. If you feel anything, it's just a tinge of guilt every time you look at the gas gauge.

I'm loving it. I've got the power windows up, the car acclimatized, the seat electronically adjusted, and the surround-sound stereo system jacked all the way up. Yep, it's Bruce wailing:

Pink Cadillac,

Crushed velvet seats,

Riding in the back,

Oozing down the street,

Waving to the girls,

Feeling out of sight,

Spending all my money

On a Saturday night.

Honey, I just wonder

What it feels like in the back

Of your pink Cadillac, pink Cadillac.

Everything's fine up to this point. I pick up my daughter, and we load everything into the car. Miraculously, it fits, even the computer/blender, and we head home. We've made it as far as Connecticut, a reasonably civilized state, when the trouble begins.

The scene is a gas station where we're making a rest stop. I'm in the car, way over to the side, out of everyone's way, just sitting there, when this young woman -- I promise you I had done her no harm -- pulls away from the pump and yells a one-word, unprintable obscenity relating to a body part of which, like opinions, we all have one.

She yells this at me.

For -- this is all I can guess -- driving a Caddy.

Now, I feel, well, exhilarated. This is a wonderfully violent event -- wonderful on at least two counts.

First, it means that, in the '90s, at least some young people have come to hate rich people again. This is the way it should be. No more Donald Trump worship. In the '80s, every kid wanted a BMW. When I was a kid, I didn't even like people who drove Buicks.

Second, it means that I've finally made it. Until recently, if I'd been at the wheel of a Caddy, the safest assumption, looking at me, would have been that I'd stolen it. Now, somebody thinks I'm the kind of person who would own a Cadillac.

It means I had to re-evaluate myself.

Which I did. Pretty quickly, too. I powered up the windows. Turned up the music. Hit that gas-guzzling gas pedal without even blinking. Thought this is what it must be like to vote Republican. And floated all the way home.

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