Pheromones at the Car Show
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This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
Today, I've gone down to the Convention Center to walk through the L.A. Auto Show. Like any red-blooded Angeleno, the Urban Man wants to smell the pheromones coming off a new machine. I want to establish an irresistible physical attraction to a sleek front end and a set of eyes carved to resemble those of a cat.
On my list are a bold but understated grill, a steel unibody, and MacPherson strut suspension.
Cars hang from the ceiling, they spin on turntables, and suited men pass among them with bottles of Windex, wiping off fingerprints. On a large flat screen I watch the video of a Jaguar flying down the usual mountain road. It's autumn, the scene includes falling leaves, sunlight flares off the camera lens, and I imagine the man inside driving alone, but surely... in love.
Me, I can't afford a Jag, so I picture myself in the seat of a nearby Nissan Altima with silky lines. The ad promises, "The days ahead are sure to be filled with passion, with power. With a feeling so strong, you can't help but be taken in."
I stand there for a moment, savoring this poetry. Then I go find the Hummers to obtain a brief thrill by running my hand along the heavy armament of an H-2. The stern frown of its chrome brush guard is appealing, but…not my personal orientation.
At each exhibit, I try to appreciate the trademarked phrases hand-crafted by clever German engineers: "Gorgeous trumps everything." "Go upscale or off the scale." And of course, "Make the most out of every moment."
These are not subtle statements, but no one believes in subtle seduction anymore.
Still, I find myself slightly disappointed. It's hard to place my affections. I mean, lately, so many cars seem to have lost their individual personality--that quirky something that once led to genuine attachment. Yes, the Altima fits me like a high-tech glove, but these days, so does every car. Only cognoscenti can tell a Toyota from a Chrysler from a Caddy without looking at the logos.
And with few exceptions, each has assumed a slightly inflated appearance with a few curvilinear planes to make them look futuristic. Each features the same stubby rear and catlike eyes. Inside, you peer out the same tinted rear windows, fondle the same center console and appreciate the same cocoon-like interior that tries hard to isolate you from the world, rather than bring the world to you.
If cars express the spirit of their times, then you have to admit that cars did once look outward. The 1920's were jaunty. In the 50's, Jet Age fins were showy and optimistic. Nowadays cars all seem to have turned inward like armored pleasure domes. And every year each model, large or small, takes on more and more the look of a beautiful, but forlorn fortress.
Standing before a mighty Escalade, the Urban Man thinks, "How often our lovers become jealous, and try to keep us all to themselves! Always we sacrifice, and always they demand more: our air, our health, our cities."
If I were to fixate on one of these brand-new pleasure domes at the auto show today, what would it get me but an ever-lonelier citadel in this ever-lonely metropolis?
No, better to leave now, before I get hooked.
Near the exit, a shapely blond poses beside a red Ferrari. She's wearing a tight, two-piece racing outfit with a logo reading "Route 69," and she offers me an alluring smile. The scene is cliché, but the Urban Man is not made of stone. I nod. I smile back. In fact, I indulge her by snapping her picture.
Then I hurry to the parking lot, find my aging Ford Taurus, and tool along home.
For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada.
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