Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2003 / 7 Tishrei, 5763

Burt Prelutsky

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Consumer Reports

What is so darn fascinating about cars? | In those old World War II movies, the German spies, while trying to pass themselves off as typical Americans, could always be counted upon to make a major goof. In one movie, they'd confuse Babe Ruth with George Washington; in another, they'd look blank if someone said "hubba, hubba" in their presence. In one such movie, if I recall correctly, a secret agent actually gave the game away when he referred to baseball as being "as American as apple strudel."

Well, all I can say is that it's lucky I was just a little kid when the war, itself, was being waged. because I'm sure the F.B.I. would have hauled my tuchis in for questioning. It's not that I would have gone around ordering sauerbraten and German beer, or getting tripped up on idioms, you understand. It's the fact that I never had the slighest interest in cars that would have alerted the authorities to keep an eye on me as a suspicious character.

It was as a teenager that I first realized I was different from my friends. While they'd prattle on about car parts as if they were analyzing Ava Gardner's anatomy, I would find myself dozing off. To this day, all I have to hear are words such as carburetor, camshaft and internal combustion, and I nod off. Even now, if two friends start yakking about their automobiles, and get beyond comparing gas mileage, my eyes glaze over as if I were watching a Swedish movie without subtitles.

I realize, as they say in the commercials, that a car is the average person's second largest expenditure. (Unless, of course, in addition to a house, that person also insists on supporting children and/or a drug habit.) Still, what is so darn fascinating about cars?

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They're pieces of heavy machinery, theoretically designed to get us from point A to point B. Admittedly, some cars look a little prettier than others, but they are all fairly minor variations on a rectangular theme. Inasmuch as we tend to spend much of our travel time stuck on freeways and idling at red lights, so far as I'm concerned, the single most important feature of any car is the air conditioner. And oddly enough, that's the part car-lovers never seem to discuss.

While I fail to understand why people find the inner-workings of an automobile to be any more intriguing than pest-control or other people's operations, I can totally appreciate the value of cars as status symbols. After all, people may not know how much you forked over for your home or how much your kid's braces cost, but we all have a damn good idea what that tiny, really uncomfortable, chiropractor's fantasy of a Mercedes set you back.

And, believe me, we're all really impressed that you have that much dough to throw away on a vehicle that would come off second-best in a collision with a weighty conclusion.

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JWR contributor Burt Prelutsky is a veteran TV writer whose credits include, among others, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show and Diagnosis Murder. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.

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© 2003, Burt Prelutsky