Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ambiguously Gay Wheels?

Are there gay cars? In the new issue of South Florida Gay News, a weekly newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, there's an article called "Top Five Gay Cars...For Contrarians" which lists five cars to consider for gays and lesbians looking to stand out from the auto pack.  Their suggestions: (2012 BMW 6-Series; 2012 Suzuki Kizashi; 2013 Cadillac ATS, 2012 Kia Optima and the 2012 Jeep Wrangler J8 Pickup)

It got me to wondering, are there cars more popular among gays and lesbians than other drivers?
When I lived in Boston for 10 years, I noticed that most of the gay men I knew usually owned a Volkswagen Jetta or Golf/Rabbit. (Actually, my ex and I both owned Rabbits. I had the white bunny one. He still has the emerald green one.) Jeep Wranglers were also popular with the gents, particularly older fellas on Cape Cod. I also noticed that Subarus as well as VW Beetles provided popular among lesbians in New England.
Down in South Florida, I know a lot of gay men and women who prefer those little auto squirts known as Mini Coopers. (You can squeeze into any parking space in South Beach) while my big Cuban family in greater Miami seems to be partial towards Nissans (Sentras and Altimas.)
 For the record, I own a Jeep Compass (photo to the left), a sporty small SUV wagon which my dealer in Boston told me proved more popular among women than men who prefered its fraternal twin the Jeep Patriot which resembles the rugged former old-school Jeep Cherokee). So I have broken away from my own pack but I used to own a Jeep Wrangler in Boston and Miami.
So what say you, is there such as thing as a gay car?

The most obvious candidate would be the two-seater vehicle that was driven by super heroes Ace and Gary, better known as The Ambiguously Gay Duo, a cartoon that regularly appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live.  But then wouldn't that make their car an ambiguously gay one?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Welcome to cardiction!

NASCAR champion. Car designer of the year. Pulitzer-prize winning car critic. I am none of those things but I do have a passion for cars. Before I discovered my love of writing and reading, I already had a love  - cars. Growing up in South Florida, I often marveled at the cars that whooshed by me on I-95 or Alton Road. Whether they were cherry-red Corvettes and basic Chevettes or flashy Porsches or pedestrian Pintos, I compared and contrasted their distinct stylings and shapes. I was a car geek. Still am.
Whenever a car show rolled into Miami Beach, I was there, reading the new-models brochures, comparing MPGs and snapping photos of the cars that I liked.  I don't know when this auto affair started exactly. Perhaps it was when my dad would take me out on Thursdays and Sundays (his days off) in his sky-blue 1973 Chevrolet Caprice or later on in his 1978 Grand Prix. I admired the sleek lines of these cars and their engines' mechanical purrs. On his days off, he taught me how to check the oil, clean the battery terminals and refill the windshield wiper reservoirs and radiator. In junior high, I subscribed to Popular Mechanics just to read about the latest models including the cute, tiny Ford Festiva in the late 1980s or the muscular Mustang 3.5 GT.  I counted the days until I could get my driver's license so I could finally experience life behind the wheel of the cars I had admired from afar.  I never lost this car curiosity. Anyone who knows me that I can talk non-stop about car models, topsellers, and why some cars sold and why others didn't, why their marketing worked or failed. Perhaps it's in my car DNA: my male macho Cuban cousins are mechanics and cars are our common language. I even watch old 1980s movies just to see the cars roaming the streets then.
So I finally decided it was time for me to come out of the garage and start writing about my cardiction because, well, this is fun for me.
What will I write about in this cyber auto showroom?  Like a customized car, this blog is a work in progress  I will start with a little of everything. Tributes to cars I have owned over the years; mini-reviews of current models such as the Honda Civic, the Nissan Altima, the Jeep Compass and the BMW X3 (vehicles I have access to thanks to my friends and family). I will also post auto news with a popculture sensibility and link news articles I have written about cars from my days at The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe and now the Sun Sentinel. Now and then, I will highlight a unique car that I have spotted in my regular travels in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and there are plenty in South Florida.  To the right are car links that I regular read.
This is my cardiction blog. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

(Photo above: me and my old Jeep Wrangler. One of my favorite vehicles of all times.)

My first car: the 1982 Honda Accord

 It was my worst-best car. The second generation 1982 Honda Accord hatchback was my first car, a belated 17th-birthday gift from my parents in Miami Beach. The first time I saw it, the car was parked, with all its glorious small dents, in the driveway of our home. No one was around when my friend Kellyn and I discovered the car but as soon as we peeked through the window, I knew this was my car. It spoke to me. Sky-blue with a whoosh Accord logo written in italics on each side. The smallish hatchback looked sporty, cool, contemporary despite being 8 years old. Something about the word "Accord" sounded important, unique. I couldn't wait to drive it. I just had to figure how to drive a stick-shift. But after a few starts and stops, I nailed down how to switch gears without that annoying grinding noise and I hit the roads of Miami Beach. With its 75-horsepower engine, the car provided me a smooth ride with enough pep to speed down Pine Tree Drive or whip and weave on Interstate 95.
 A navy-blue velour material sheathed the seats that seemed to suck you in. The shag carpeting tickled my feet. The AC was icy cold blowing my curls of dark brown hair. Whenever I pulled away from a greenlight, the car carried an electronic hum, reminding me of a futuristic exhaust of a spaceship.

Although the car was heralded as one of the most reliable in the US, my used vehicle with some 70,000 miles, had some car quirks and I knew we I were going to have to work together if we were going to stay in this for the long haul.

When it rained, it literally poured inside the car. Sealant problems plagued my front-glass windshield. I used napkins to dab the wet spots that pooled on my dashboard but my uncle/godfather patched that up for me. Another time, when my high school lunch-bunch friends piled into the car, a rattling sound followed us as we left the school lot.

 The car dragged the muffler like the end of a Just-Marred chain of cans. We didn't make it to Burger King that afternoon and my dad gladly took care of the repair. Although I lived and hung out in Miami Beach, I had trouble leaving the 33140 area code. The car's temperature spindle would inch into the red zone if I ventured over the causeway to the Miami side or if I idled in traffic too long. I replaced the clunky radiator. When the car did work properly, it sparkled and I beamed just as brightly whenever I pulled into my driveway, my high school parking lot or at The Miami Herald building where I was an intern penning a weekly column titled "Friends and Neighbors." The Accord meant independence and I felt that spirit whenever I started the engine or paid for my own gas at the local Amoco station. This was my Accord and I could deal with all the minor auto warts I had inherited from the previous owners. The car liberated me. I felt like I was growing up, becoming a man. Too bad the Accord didn't last through high school. The car only survived two months in my hands. After making a McDonald's run with Kellyn on Thursday afternoon, I collided with a rental car driver and my Accord spun down NE 30th Street off Biscayne Boulevard like a dreidel. (No one was hurt but we still can't account for the missing medium chocolate shake that I had in my hands.)

Post-crash, the car sat lifeless, its rear folded in crushed like an accordion. I felt the same way. A tow truck dragged the car back home where an insurance adjuster eventually declared it a total loss. Until it was towed away to a car cemetery, I sat in the car each day, my fingers grazing my weathered steering wheel as I relished my short-lived adventures this vehicle gave me. Then it was gone. Over the years, I've seen clones of that light-blue Accord. When I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I often saw an identical car (but with lots of rust) parked on side streets in Harvard Square. I was often tempted to leave a note for the owner to say "I used to own a car just like this high school. I am glad to see that it's still running for you." More recently, I saw another copy zoom by me in Miami's Little Havana. Whenever I see my Accord's double, it's as if a ghost from my past, my teen years, another time, dashes by. But I like to think that my old car may have been restored by someone and that it's out there somewhere in South Florida giving another owner the pleasure it gave me for those two sweet months.

That's me with my 1982 Honda Accord parked outside a friend's apartment building in South Beach. Check out the dents.

(The top two Honda images above were original magazine ads and brochures for my model.)