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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 1999 /26 Mar-Cheshvan 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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One way to cut road
rage down to size -- THE WORLD GETTING too big for you? Too massive and conglomeratized and obsessed with size and power? Is society's love affair with everything overblown, everything larger-than-life, making you wish for something more scaled-down and sane?

The answer is at hand.

For so long now we have been living in a country that celebrates inflated egos, inflated pocketbooks, inflated advertising claims, inflated political rhetoric, that the virtues of smallness have not only lost out -- they have been obliterated.

The man in the stretch limousine, the man with the billion-dollar bank account, the man whose company was huge yesterday but will become ever huger tomorrow when it takes over its also-huge chief competitor -- he is the man who is praised, envied, emulated.

That man -- and every gigantic thing he represents -- defines our society. If only we could be the ones in that block-long limo. . . .

Well, here's how to change that.

No -- we're not all going to get limos.

This is even better.

We're all going to drive King Midget cars. Even the man in the limo -- he's going to ride in a King Midget, too.

All it will take is a series of regulations by the government -- by the agencies that set the safety-and-fuel standards for the auto industry. Those agencies have the power to revise the rules so that only one kind of car will be legal on America's highways: King Midgets.

And when everyone is forced to drive a King Midget, life will become immediately sweet, peaceful, friendly.

The King Midget was a kind of car manufactured from 1946 to 1970 in a factory in Athens, Ohio. The tiny car -- and it was a car, not a golf cart or a child's toy -- was the invention of two Civil Air Patrol pilots: Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt. Their idea was to take a single cylinder off an airplane engine and make it power a small car.

That car was the King Midget -- and it's difficult even to describe just how small it was. You didn't so much drive it as wear it, like a snug-fitting suit. Think of the original Volkswagen Beetle. The Beetle looked like a stretch limo when placed next to a King Midget.

The King Midget was around 100 inches long -- it held the driver (later a seat for a passenger was added), it had a speedometer and windshield wipers and turn signals, although no exterior door handles (you just reached inside and pulled on a rope). It was originally marketed as the $500, 500-pound car.

Later the weight went up to 690 pounds, and the price to $870. The King Midget traveled 50 miles on a gallon of gasoline, and on the open road could attain speeds of 50 miles per hour. People bought them -- not in big numbers, but the King Midget had its fans. It was perfectly legal to drive a King Midget on the highway, right alongside Cadillacs. King Midget owners reportedly loved to do just that -- it made them feel. . . .

Well, good. The King Midget was the ultimate feel-good car.

What killed it? A lot of things: safety regulations, expressways on which bigger, brawnier cars could easily wipe out a King Midget, shipping costs that exceeded the cost of the car itself.

But lovers of the King Midget still live; they occasionally gather to celebrate the car (a King Midget reunion was held in its Ohio birthplace last summer), and they contend that a world filled with King Midgets would be a more joyful place.

Which it would be. All the federal government needs to do is create an even playing field: everyone in King Midgets, or cars built to King Midget specifications by other companies.

Outlaw those trucks-disguised-as-family cars that dominate the streets today. Insist that all cars be no larger than a King Midget, and that all engines look like King Midget engines. Slow life down -- for everyone.

That's the secret -- for the good of the nation's mental health, make sure that every car on the road is a King Midget or something like it. Road rage? Come on -- when you're puttering along in a King Midget, and you're surrounded only by other King Midgets, how can you be angry? Rage? You're more likely to burst out laughing.

Safety? The roads would be perfectly safe -- the King Midget was unsafe only when caught in the midst of bigger, faster cars. Too slow? Not if everyone else is driving one. Your King Midget isn't going to make you late for your next business appointment -- the person you're negotiating the deal with is driving a King Midget, too, so you'll both get to the meeting at the same time.

The CEO in the big limo? Nope. That CEO may rule in the corporate boardroom -- but on the public highways, he's no better or bigger than you are. On the road, his King Midget would make him life-sized.

Or slightly smaller than life. Finally, a happy use for the concept of downsizing -- put us all in King Midgets, cut us down to size, and the sun will shine every day. Or at least it will seem to. Always does, when you're smiling.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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