By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
If the Tahoes, Suburbans, Excursions, Expeditions, the Escalades, the Land Cruisers, Range Rovers and the BMW X5s are the lethal battle-cruisers of L.A.‘s urban sea, then, oblivious Westsiders and others, be advised: What I drive is the equivalent of a Yankee-class attack submarine. Yes, it’s true, you SUV drivers are three times more likely than someone piloting an ordinary car to kill another driver. Yes, with your three-quarter-ton chassis, with your undercarriage rails a good two inches above those of most of the cars of other innocent motorists, with as much as 300 horsepower pushing, say, the 5.4-liter-V-8, 5,600-pound Lincoln Navigator, you can blithely plow through the soft tissue of about any other car on the road and leave nothing but blood and scattered metal shards and still dock unscathed and not a minute tardy for lunch at the Ivy.
That is, my friend, unless you cross paths with me. For I‘m gonna hurt you -- real bad. I might even sink you. My Big Black Beast, my high-performance ’94 Impala Super Sport weighs almost as much as you -- 4,700 pounds. Its modified, cool-air induction LT-1 engine cranks 330 wild horses. My torque is that of a T5 twister. My doors armored enough to blunt your incoming prow. And I‘m slung so low to the ground, so insidiously low, that you won’t even know I‘m pulling amidships until you hear the teeth-rattling roar of my twin Borla cat-back exhausts.
I know you thought the SUV was the safest vehicle you could afford. You must have cringed earlier this month when Henry Ford’s great-grandson, William Clay Ford Jr., pretty much said the auto giant would get out of the suburban tank business -- if it weren‘t making so much damn money from people like you. Hell, you didn’t bounce 75 grand for that behemoth Range Rover 4.6 HSE because of its aerodynamic lines, did you? Nope. You bought it, not only because it was there, and everyone else had one, but because you thought you were buying invulnerability.
But what Jean-Luc down at the Rover dealership forgot to tell you is what happens when you combine your vehicle‘s high gravity point with its swervecounter-swerve response. Let me translate: Your SUV is set way up off the ground to avoid all those boulders and logs and decomposing deer known to litter such untamed outbacks like Montana Avenue. When you suddenly swerve to avoid an obstacle -- for example, my Impala streaking straight at you -- you will then immediately swerve back in the opposite direction to regain your original trajectory. With that high center of gravity you’re twice as likely as some putz in a Pontiac to tip precariously onto two wheels. It‘s at that crucial breakpoint when I come in and torpedo you so low and so lung-crushingly hard that I’m going to pitch you into an uncontrolled roll. It‘s a bad way to end up. I know when you bought that monstrosity you fantasized about being a mountain ranger, a logger, a country squire, a location spotter, maybe even a roving environmentalist.
Who would have thought, instead, you would wind up spending the rest of eternity picking the plate glass from the 17th Street Cafe out of your ass?
True, I might not survive such an encounter. But I decided some time ago that if it’s an SUV that takes me out, then you‘re going down with me.
Indeed, taking you with me is a sacred civic duty. As the gaps between rich and poor widen, the gaps in income, in housing, in the very political geography of this city, the allure of the sport-utility vehicle grows ever stronger. Like gated communities and $15,000-a-year private middle schools, SUVs are merely one more gadget allowing the wealthy to further distance and isolate and buffer themselves from the hoi polloi. They promise to protect their pampered owners from the ugliness of the outside world and damn the sticker price -- and the social cost. Even the recent spike in gasoline prices did nothing to snap the SUV-buying fever. I would guess that as gas prices go up, and as SUV sticker prices climb they will become even more passionately coveted commodities. And why not? Buyers of large SUVs have average family incomes of $85,000. The average buyer of the Range Rover and the Lexus LX 450 have household earnings of over $360,000. No wonder that during any given rush hour San Vicente Boulevard seems occupied by a modern-day armored Panzer division.
Outside of maybe a paratrooper stock AK-47 with a hundred-round banana clip, there’s no single piece of machinery you can own that is more socially irresponsible than a fully loaded SUV. But strange, isn‘t it, just how many of them are possessed by the same people who believe it is a capital crime to light up a Lucky at a ball game. This, when the tailpipe emissions from a single Montero, from any of these SUVs that Sacramento political analyst Bill Bradley calls ”global warmers,“ are toxic enough to choke a sell-out crowd at Dodger Stadium.
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