I’ve decided to devote today’s column to answering a pressing question that many of you have no doubt been asking: what if I live in the middle of a large, crowded, major city, but my automobile of choice is an enormous, gas-guzzling military vehicle?
Yes, folks, that’s right: I’m going to write about what it’s like to drive my Hummer in a large city. You’d already know all about my Hummer in the city antics if you followed me on Twitter, where I posted this picture of the gigantic Hummer in a tiny parking garage, looking about as comfortable as a Mississippi River steamboat making its way up the Grand Canal.
But today, I’ve also created a video in order to really address what it’s like to drive a Hummer in the city. Unfortunately, I am told that many of you are not allowed to watch videos at work, because your human resources department has placed nasty restrictions on your computer usage in order to ensure that at least 40 minutes of your eight-hour day is actually spent working. So I will also write about it.
I am going to break this column into two categories: driving and parking. This is because these are the only two things you can really do with an automobile in the city. Notice that I did not include “Crushing a PT Cruiser” on this list. That’s because I did not undertake this act in the city, but rather in the suburbs, in front of a large group of trained professionals who were yelling at me to go faster.
So anyway, here goes.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to driving a Hummer in a large, crowded city. For example:
Benefit: People will get out of your way.
Drawback: People will see you driving a Hummer.
Interestingly, the thing you’re thinking is the biggest drawback – the Hummer’s size – really isn’t a drawback at all. This is because the Hummer isn’t actually all that large. In fact, I recently asserted that the Hummer is narrower than all current full-size trucks, and some of you told me this isn’t true, and we ended up having an interesting discussion on mirrors and inches and what it really means to be wide in this day and age, and afterwards the Hummer felt so ashamed that it spent 30 minutes on a treadmill before deciding it had earned the right to eat an entire tank of regular unleaded.
But let the record reflect the truth: the Hummer’s width should not take into account its mirrors, because they are absolutely useless in the sense that you can take several minutes before your journey to set them perfectly to your liking, covering every inch of the road behind you, showing exactly what you want to see, and then, after about four minutes of driving around on suspension that should be classified by the CIA as a torture device, they will be pointing up at the sky. Whereas you must measure a full-size pickup with mirrors, because what else will you use to hit cyclists in the back of the head as you drive by?
In fact, I would actually say that the Hummer’s size is actually a big-city benefit because – I swear this is true – everyone gets out of your way. They see this giant yellow military vehicle coming, and the first thing they think is: I am not going to let this lunatic damage my Buick Verano. So they let you merge, and they let you enter traffic, and they let you go first at stop signs, and you generally have the run of the place. Driving around in the Hummer in an otherwise frenzied big city is like constantly getting bullied at school and one day you show up and POOF! You’re Floyd Mayweather.
Here’s another benefit to driving the Hummer in the city: you can roll over anything you want. Potholes. Curbs. Bad roads. Bricks. Small children. Large children. Acuras. People who brag about their kale intake. Parking meters. Outdoor café tables. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. You can run over all of it, repeatedly, in an effort to get wherever you’re going at the Hummer’s famous pace: half the speed of everyone else.
In all seriousness, this actually is something of a benefit in the great city of Philadelphia, or basically anywhere in the northeast, where the roads are produced with approximately the same quality as plastic grocery bags. There’s no pothole, or bad road, or cobblestone street, or former trolley track that you don’t feel comfortable taking on at full speed. In fact, I think the entire situation would improve if everyone bought a Hummer, because they are so awful to drive that people would walk everywhere, and then the roads wouldn’t deteriorate as quickly.
There is, however, one major drawback to driving a Hummer in the city: your image. I’m not kidding: I’ve never felt as self-conscious doing anything in my entire life as I feel when I’m driving the Hummer around the city. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think you could put a gun-toting, tea party-supporting, mullet-wearing West Virginia redneck in this truck, a redneck so proud of his status that he only has three more paychecks to go before he can add the “CK” to his “REDNE” shoulder tattoo, and even he would feel like maybe it’s a bit crass.
The interesting thing is that Philadelphia is kind of a working-class city where everyone seems to appreciate utilitarian vehicles, so people are actually pretty positive about the whole Hummer thing. There are lots of smiles. Lots of waves. Lots of thumbs-ups. But you still know that every time you pull up at a stoplight next to a 20-something woman in a RAV4, she’s sitting there thinking one thing and one thing only: Is this the asshole who tried to run me over last week when I was eating kale?
But while driving the Hummer around the city is mostly a good thing, parking is an entirely different story. Parking is bad. Parking is awful.
Problem the first is that there is not a single garage on this earth where the Hummer fits comfortably. You could bring the Hummer to a private airport and rent a hangar for the sole purpose of storing it, and after a few months you’d get a letter from the airport people asking you to stop scraping the roof of the hangar with your large, ugly military vehicle. They would also insist that it blocks runway vision.
In fact, the Hummer certainly does not fit into my garage. Theoretically, it does: my garage’s opening is something like 92.5 inches wide, and the Hummer’s width is something like 91.5 inches. But attempting to actually maneuver a vehicle this size into a space this small takes so long and requires so much precision that I believe it would be easier for me to simply street park in central Delaware and then walk home.
Parking garages are out, too. In order to create this video, we took the Hummer into the public parking garage at Pennsylvania Hospital, and the ensuing 10 minutes was possibly the most stressful experience I’ve ever had. Seriously: one time, when I was five, I got separated from my mother in a shopping mall, and I ran around wailing and crying for the better part of an hour. And now I want to go back and slap my five-year-old self in the face and scream: Shut up, you idiot! At least you aren’t driving a Hummer through the parking garage at Pennsylvania Hospital!
There is no space where it fits. There is no corner where it successfully turns without making you wonder if it’s going to scrape someone else’s car. There is no pipe that you don’t think you’re going to rip off the ceiling, unleashing an enormous river of excrement into the parking garage, or at least some steam.
So you have to park on the street. Now, this is a big problem, because of something the world likes to call environmentalists. I call them crazy hippies whose parents own a 5-bedroom house in the suburbs.
Here’s the problem: back when Hummers were popular – before President Obama promised us hope; before President Bush choked on that pretzel and dashed any possibility of a similar promise – environmentalists used to vandalize Hummers by keying them, or slashing the tires, or lighting them on fire and burning down entire dealerships, resulting in enough water usage to dry out at least four habitats of endangered baby shellfish.
So I was initially a little worried about vandalism, largely because I live in a rather progressive neighborhood, if you know what I mean. What I mean is, people in my area walk around talking about how the president isn’t black enough, and they’d like to paint him. This is because they are on drugs.
So I devised this excellent plan: every time I street park the Hummer, I tape up two decals to the back window. One says “POWERED BY VEGGIE OIL.” The other is an Obama-Biden campaign bumper sticker. I am completely serious.
Neither sticker is true, of course: the Hummer is actually gas-powered, which means it isn’t powered by any sort of veggie oil, unless you consider “rapidly depleting fossil fuels” to be a vegetable. And the Hummer didn’t vote for President Obama, because it cannot vote. It is a Hummer.
Now, this might seem like a crazy strategy to combat vandalism, but guess what? It works! In the two months I’ve been parking my Hummer with the decals in the back window, I haven’t experienced an iota of hostility, or vandalism, or negativity. And here’s the kicker: the time I got the angry neighbor note is the only time I had forgotten to tape up the decals.
So to sum up here, I think it’s worth noting that operating a Hummer in the city is an excellent idea, and I suggest that all of you should try it. But I would make two suggestions before you do: number one, get a large hooded sweatshirt to wear while you drive it; preferably one that hides your entire face. And number two, get a garage. Or at least a couple of liberal bumper stickers.
Art: Sam Woolley
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.