You can bet we'll soon hoard all our bread to buy jeeps

January 12, 1996|By Mike Littwin

When I didn't show up for work on Monday, the boss called me a wimp.

When I didn't show on Tuesday (I've got a computer, which means I never have to leave the house), my friend from Maine, where snow and potatoes and rocky coastline are all they've got, said I was a weenie.

I was starting to pick up on a trend here. Snow is not just a nuisance. It's not just shovels full of back-breaking, heart-attack-provoking fun.

Snow -- and I never understood this before the blizzard -- is apparently a test of manhood.

Which brings us to the Jeep, the macho vehicle of choice and the best thing in the snow since the dog sled.

You can sum up the Blizzard of '96 in two words: more Jeeps.

You watch, as soon as the snow melts, if the snow ever melts, your local Jeep dealer will be more crowded than the bread aisle at the Giant, as if we're due any day now for another blizzard of the century.

Nobody is happier about the snow -- and I'm including Norm Lewis -- than people who own Jeeps. They get to look down at the rest of us. Listen in on their conversations: "Snow plow? We don't need no stinking snow plow."

You'd think that would make us safer. Then you haven't been on the roads recently. I used to think that sports utility vehicle owners were simply insufferable yuppies. Now I think they're insufferable yuppies and menaces to society.

Here's a story, and you probably have one just like it.

I am driving down Falls Road. It is dark. It is icy, of course. I am going the speed limit, which seems more than reasonable, maybe even a little dicey, except to the cowboy behind me in the four-wheel-drive.

Mr. Four Wheels is riding so close to my bumper that I can smell his cologne -- eau de John Wayne.

He wants me out of the way, and he doesn't care how. Skidding into a snowbank would probably suit him fine, especially if he could clip me as he rode by.

For once, I do the mature thing and pull over, but not before saluting him in my own way (a hint: this salute has nothing to do with the armed services).

As Mr. Four Wheels speeds by, he's wearing the famous smirk that says he's a man and I'm some dweeb, as if manhood were determined solely by traction. He's wrong, of course. It's hair. You don't see the Traction Club for Men, do you?

What's up with these people?

In real life, they must be normal, law-abiding citizens with families and actual jobs. Certainly, they must have jobs: They're riding in something that costs at least $20,000, unless you get the much more expensive Eddie Bauer edition of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, with the fancy interior, which, if it's from Eddie Bauer, I'm guessing looks like an oversized shirt.

Put these normal people in the snow, though, and they're suddenly exhaust-fume-breathing lunatics, whose only wish is that they could trade in that sports utility vehicle on a humvee.

Put a man in a Jeep in the snow and he's a 16-year-old kid with raging hormones and an abiding belief that the speed limit is for other people. Put a man in a Jeep in the snow, and he thinks he's Patton in a tank. Put a man in a Jeep in the snow, and he wants to play like he's the snow plow and you're the snow. And if the streets aren't fast enough for him, he'll do the sidewalk. Keep the kids inside.

Snow does strange things to people, anyway. For instance, it makes everybody a bad conversationalist. Is there anything more boring than somebody else's snow story?

We dress funny, and I don't just mean warm-funny. We dress down (impossible for me), but there's buttoned-down Gov. Glendening at a press conference and he looks exactly like Grizzly Adams (which I would have thought was impossible for him).

Is it OK to admit that I don't like to drive on ice?

Does this diminish me in your eyes?

I like ice. I like it crushed in a Margarita, for example. I like it, say, at a hockey game. But I don't like driving on it because it's like, well, driving on ice.

Which I don't understand how to do. They tell you that when you skid, you're supposed to turn into the skid, which, to me, seems like turning into the direction of the cliff. This not only makes no sense, it's impossible to do. So, you turn the other way, do a 360 and pull off the road and thank God you're not dead, if, in fact, you're not actually dead.

You do that once, and it scares the hell out of you.

Do it twice, and you're next in line at the Jeep dealer.

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