By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Hybrids, yes! Hummers, no! Oil addiction has got to go!”
Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, the activist masterminds behind Code Pink for Peace, had been lurking in their rose-tinted “HUMMERS SUCK” T-shirts long enough that someone should have already noticed them and the seven other similarly dressed women. They had gathered in the Los Angeles Convention Center bathroom behind the Hummer exhibit and heatedly discussed the timing of their action; they had marched out on the floor still rehearsing their chants. But only when the women actually climbed into one of the triumphant gold machines with their wide pink banners did they become conspicuous to the crowd lined up to experience the Hummer.
“Soldiers are dying, the Hummer’s not complying!” they shouted, standing on the Hummer’s seats and hood. “Don’t buy a Hummer! Hummers are a bummer!”
They looked sweet, really — Evans in her bare feet and glittery hippie skirt, diminutive Benjamin in her little pink angora cap. A small woman with bleached blond highlights couldn’t stop giggling; another young woman with short brown hair, a worried brow and a pleading soprano sang out her words as if she were taking this all personally.
Almost immediately a man snatched a shimmery pink banner out of Evans’ hands and a counter chant went up: “We like ’em! We like ’em!” Another man wanted the women to prove their claims. “How do you know if they suck?” he asked. “You don’t know fuck-all about cars.” A woman chimed in to insist that the problem is a lack of resources, not Hummers. And a handsome young blond, who’d sacrificed a warm January day outdoors for this spectacle, thought the women might benefit from night in jail. “Lock ’em up!” I heard him say. When I asked, he assured me he meant it: “I didn’t come to the car show to see this.”
True enough. He probably didn’t even notice the small group of activists outside the Auto Show banging drums, chanting, burning incense and handing out literature on smog and global destruction. “Rising up, rising up, indigenous people rising up,” they called out to oblivious throngs of car lovers, who would sometimes glance at the body bags lined up on the corner of Figueroa and Pico but rarely stop long enough to absorb their meaning.
“The glaciers are melting, the glaciers are melting!” yelled artist Leo Limón of the L.A. River Cats Project good-naturedly. “Get a hybrid! Get some rims on it! A big stereo!”
But the dads in Dockers with well-fed children and pregnant wives could not be persuaded to contemplate torn-up wildlife habitats, toxin-choked air and children with missing limbs. They were here to revel in the glory of cars.
And oh, how I envied them. As I wound my way through the breathtakingly perfect Saleens and the elegant Morgans and rocket-ship Ferraris, scarcely one bettering 20 mpg, I lamented the day I’d ever come to think of the gasoline-burning internal combustion engine as evil, the root of human suffering and planetary destruction. The new BMWs looked so smart; the Lexus and Lincoln luxury SUVs sparkled with promise; even the Ford trucks called out for me to rest my shuffle-weary legs and back in their ergonomic coziness.
But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I sought out the Toyotas, and sat for a fleeting moment in an attractive-but-not-sexy blue Prius that, for all its sophisticated efficiency, could never make me feel like I had much over anybody except a conscience. Part of the Hummer’s beauty is its badness; driving one marks you as blissfully defiant of concerned people’s opinions. The Prius, on the other hand, identifies you as wholesome, like someone who attends neighborhood community meetings and Unitarian church services. Even the Prius’ spokesmodel looked unappealingly sensible, while the Hummer girls were babes.
After a few minutes security guards pulled the Code Pink women out of the Hummer, with a little help from an LAPD officer. Incredulous show visitors milled around and grumbled.
“In America you’re free to protest,” said Aaron Boeck, who served in the Navy from 1991 to ’95. “But this is starting to become urban terrorism.” Boeck believed the women had the wrong target, anyway. “The problem isn’t even cars,” he insisted. “It’s traffic. I don’t see them protesting so the government builds wider freeways.”
Ronald Purcell, a man in his 50s who had come to the show with his family, claimed no particular love for the Hummer, but had even less patience for the protest. “It was my turn to sit in the front seat when they started in,” he told me. “Those girls ruined my day at the car show.”
Without visible evidence of fuel cells
and solar panels, my day at the Auto Show was already ruined. I walked listlessly through the Porsche exhibit, lingered for a moment at the Gruppos and tried to engage the Ford women in a discussion of their FCX line, which runs on hydrogen and emits no vapor more polluting than water; they looked stunned. Defeated, I retired to the Galaxy Cafe, where I ordered a Chinese chicken salad without the chicken and tried to keep my mind from drifting to thoughts of where the lettuce had come from.