I recently had the opportunity to find out what random strangers on the street think about my Hummer. I did this from a safe distance, observing through a lens, like a field biologist trying to assess zebra mating patterns.
Before I get into what happened here, some background. As many of you know, about three months ago I got this angry anonymous note on my Hummer telling me that it’s “an eyesore to the neighborhood” and that it “blocks street vision.” I responded to this note the only way I could think of: by leaving the Hummer parked in the exact same street spot for the entire month of June.
But I’ve always wondered if other people get just as mad about the Hummer as the angry note leaver. After all: it’s a huge, gas-guzzling monstrosity, it takes up more than its fair share of space on the road, and it was originally developed to help our troops fight bloody wars in the worst global conditions, provided those conditions are no narrower than a standard garage door.
Last weekend, I decided to stop wondering and find out. You’d know this if you followed me on Twitter, because I posted pictures of the Hummer at various popular pedestrian areas around town. I also posted a picture of the Hummer on the back of a flatbed tow truck. We’ll get to that.
So I called up my friend Nick, who has an amazing array of impressive audio and video equipment. By “amazing,” what I mean is that his collection of gadgets dramatically trumps mine, which consists of a) an iPhone, and b) a lapel microphone the size of a racquetball.
I like Nick because he always has everything, and he always says yes. Seriously: I get the sense that I could call up Nick and ask him if we could convert my Skyline into an deep-water submersible we could use to explore the Titanic, and he would ask what time I wanted to get started. But instead, I called him up and I asked him if we could install microphones and hidden cameras around the Hummer, and record peoples’ reactions. His response was: Yes. Then I asked him if he had the equipment for the job. His response: Yes. Then I asked if he was free on the day I planned to shoot the video. Yes. If Nick were an automobile, he would be Irv Gordon’s Volvo.
So the day of the shoot came, and we drove the Hummer to Rittenhouse Square, which is this wealthy part of Philadelphia that’s always fraught with the kind of people who ask to speak to the manager. They would hate the Hummer. It would be perfect. So we parked the Hummer in a loading zone, hooked up the microphones, and walked across the street to listen to all the indignant reactions.
Unfortunately, those indignant reactions never came. What happened instead was, 90 percent of people simply walked right past the Hummer, oblivious to the fact that they were five feet from a 7,000-pound war machine painted to look like Tweety Bird. The remaining 10 percent actually loved the Hummer. They were taking pictures, and pointing it out to their wives, and staring inside, and generally appreciative of the fact that someone brought this large, ungainly behemoth into their lives.
This would not do.
So our next stop was an area of Philadelphia that’s a little less trendy and a little more “Why don’t we dye our dog’s hair purple?” This, I thought, would be perfect. These people are all about bicycle commuting, and lowering your carbon footprint, and caring about others, and growing a beard so large that you can hide Jolly Ranchers in it. These people would hate the Hummer.
But they didn’t. In fact, the hipsters seemed to enjoy the Hummer even more than the wealthy people. They were pointing at it, and turning around as they walked past it, and taking pictures next to it, and generally appreciating the spectacle of this giant alien being that had entered their space. My cameramen and I were surprised by this, as we expected the thing to draw some really negative opinions, and dirty looks, and at least one angry remark from someone with a multi-colored dog.
So we decided that our next stop would be an even more Hummer-unfriendly area: a Whole Foods parking lot. If anyone was going to say something disparaging about the Hummer, it would be a pair of Whole Foods shoppers walking along with their vegan paper towels and discussing panda fluffiness, only to discover that a giant, gas-guzzling, environment-destroying Hummer has invaded their existence.
So we climbed inside the Hummer to drive to Whole Foods, and I turned the key, and… nothing.
I tried again. And again, nothing.
A third try… still nothing.
Since the Hummer’s battery had died once before, I figured that was the problem: we had accidentally left the door slightly open, and the dome light drained the battery. So I went home, got my normal car and some jumper cables, and set out to begin the highly embarrassing task of jump-starting the Hummer on one of Philadelphia’s busiest streets.
Unfortunately, as you know from the image of the Hummer on the tow truck, that didn’t solve the problem. And although I’m not yet exactly sure what went wrong, I’ll report back next week with an update. In the meantime, we’ve learned a valuable lesson from all this: you can bring a Hummer to a wealthy neighborhood and people won’t mind it.
You can bring a Hummer to a hipster neighborhood and people don’t seem to care. But the second you say “Whole Foods,” the Hummer completely shuts down. Maybe it knows.
@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.