I recently had the opportunity to take my Hummer to New York City. This was a highly unusual experience, and it felt a lot like showing up at the dog park with an elephant. First, you want to play with everyone else. But then, you realize you might accidentally crush them.
You’d know all about my Hummer-to-New York antics if you followed me on Twitter, because I’ve been posting photos of my Hummer all over Manhattan for several days now. What I haven’t been posting is an explanation of just how miserable it was.
So today, I’m going to do just that: it was miserable. Despicably, terribly, horrendously miserable. So miserable that there should be a company in New York that rents Hummers to people who want to experience true misery. GETTING A DIVORCE? the company’s ads will say. SPEND FIVE HOURS DRIVING AN UN-AIR CONDITIONED HUMMER THROUGH MANHATTAN IN JULY AND YOU’LL FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOUR REGULAR LIFE! GUARANTEED!
Fortunately, my misery wasn’t for naught. I used my Hummer-to-New York time to create a highly informative, highly useful video tour of New York for those of you who have never been to the great city, which bills itself as “The Medium-Sized Papaya.” Even if you live in New York, this video will be an important refresher. I suggest you watch it now, unless of course your workplace does not allow you to view my videos, in which case you should watch it on your mobile device while you sit on the toilet.
But let’s go back to the misery. I know what you’re thinking: Was it really that bad? Was it really that miserable? How could it possibly be worse than just being in New York on any given day without a Hummer?
And the answer is: it was much worse. And today, I’m going to tell you exactly why.
One reason it’s so awful is that I had to drive there from Philadelphia, which is approximately 96 miles away. This is not New York’s fault. New York is where it is, and I am where I am, and I cannot blame New York’s founders for placing New York where they did when they established it in 1624. After all, they did not know I would one day want to visit the city in a Hummer.
But this is part of the misery, because 96 miles on the highway in the Hummer is a truly terrible experience. This is largely because Google Maps gives you this optimistic projection about your arrival time, like “40 miles - 38 minutes,” when really you know 40 miles is more like an hour and ten minutes, or maybe an hour and twenty minutes, or maybe you will just give up and turn around. After a while, you start thinking that Google Maps should consider adding a “Hummer mode,” where they take the normal arrival time and add 60 percent.
Meanwhile, as you’re thinking these things to yourself, you’re doing the Hummer’s maximum speed – roughly 60 miles per hour – in the far right lane of the New Jersey Turnpike, whose typical average traffic speed is the same velocity the space shuttle is traveling when it enters the outer atmosphere. Eventually, you get passed by a tour bus that looks like the kind of thing Reagan was riding through the Midwest on his 1980 Morning in America tour, with opening acts The Osmonds and Barbara Bush.
But eventually, I got to Manhattan, and I expected things to get better.
They did not.
They got worse.
The main problem, I would say, was the heat. Inexplicably, I decided to undertake this event in the middle of July, despite the fact that the Hummer has no air conditioning. Well, that’s not strictly true. The Hummer has air conditioning. It just has the same effectiveness as a desk fan in the Australian Outback.
So while things were relatively cool on the drive up to New York City with the windows down on the turnpike, my cameraman and I started to roast when we arrived in Manhattan. This is because traffic in Manhattan moves at roughly two paces: a) glacially slow because there’s a bus blocking the intersection, or b) glacially slow and you have no idea why. There are no other paces, and if there are, someone will cut in front of you and put a stop to it.
So we sat at light after light, getting hotter and hotter, and sweatier and sweatier, and angrier and angrier, and all we could think was one thing: I wonder what kind of idiot decided to make a taxi cab out of the Ford C-MAX.
The physical act of driving is also quite a challenge. Driving in Manhattan is kind of fun when you’re in a normal car, because you can dart in and out of traffic, and squeeze through gaps, and push past obstructions. But in the Hummer, you are the obstruction. People cut you off like you’re meaningless. You’re not a cool, unusual, civilian military vehicle that people want to gawk at, like you are in every other city. You’re just a guy who can’t get started quickly at the stoplight. You’re no better than Julio from Bronxville, driving a box truck full of week-old fish to TGI Friday’s in Times Square.
And the worst part is, you can’t avenge any of this behavior, because you can’t catch up fast enough. These taxi drivers cut you off, and then they disappear into a giant sea of yellow, where every vehicle looks the same except for the individual dents and scrapes from where they ran into elderly pedestrians who couldn’t get out of the crosswalk fast enough.
Interestingly, the Hummer blended right in to this sea of yellow in most parts of Manhattan. I figured the residents of New York would see the Hummer, and they would get all excited, because by God how often do you see a Hummer in New York City? But it turns out the residents of New York don’t really care about this sort of thing. I got the feeling that you could ride through New York City in a live brontosaurus, and the average New Yorker would look up at you, sitting there, on the back of a 30,000-pound lizard that went extinct 150 million years ago, and they would think: I wonder if this means yoga is cancelled.
The exception was Times Square. I had to drive through Times Square to shoot my New York tour video, and in doing so, remembered why I hate it so much. The crowds. The people. The traffic. A sea of tourists pointed at the Hummer, probably thinking to themselves: NEW YORK IS SO COOL! THEY HAVE HUMMERS! Meanwhile, I was staring right back at them, thinking to myself: I wonder where in Indiana it’s still acceptable to wear that outfit.
And then there’s the other issue of taking the Hummer on any road trip of more than approximately 75 feet: the constant fear that it may, at any moment, stop working. This happened to us a few weeks ago: we were filming a video here in Philadelphia, and the Hummer completely broke down. The next day, after two tows, hours of waiting, and an Uber ride to retrieve jumper cables, it was finally at the dealership, where I breathed a huge sigh of relief, until the service writer told me: I didn’t know they made Hummers in 1995.
In order to avoid a potential issue with the Hummer breaking down this time, I did what any logical, sane, rational person would do: I did not turn off the engine once during the entire time I was in Manhattan. I’m serious. We arrived on Saturday at about 10 a.m., and we left at around 4 p.m., and we filmed in about a dozen locations, and I never once turned off the Hummer. And it worked: the Hummer didn’t have a single problem, unless you count its existence.
After we got all the necessary filming done, we decided to leave Manhattan, which meant precisely one thing: traffic. We sat in line for about 30 minutes at the Holland tunnel, surrounded by drivers who felt the best response to this situation was to repeatedly honk their horns at the stopped vehicles in front of them. But eventually we got back on the turnpike, and we got the windows down, and we let the wind wash over our faces like an excited cocker spaniel in a Chrysler Sebring.
When we finally arrived home after a day of misery, a new feeling came over me: elation. Because I knew I wouldn’t have to drive the Hummer again until it comes time to film the next video.
@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.