We Are What We Drive
The young queen in the white sunglasses driving the silver Audi with the DC tags and rainbow sticker gave me a real snooty look when I hit the accelerator on my Ford Fiesta, cut around him, and then left him behind somewhere among the corn fields on Route 12 west of Frederica, Delaware. Silly boy, everyone knows you don’t drive slowly on shortcut backwoods roads.
Before I go any further with this column, however, I want to affirm the fact that what you just read in the previous paragraph was not a typo. I do indeed drive a Ford Fiesta.
It all came about when I began shopping for a vehicle to run back and forth between the beach and DC. My F-150 pick-up truck was just sucking up too much expensive gas, and it seemed to be getting harder and harder to navigate the narrow cobblestone streets and limited city parking in Georgetown where I keep an in town pied-à-terre. Admission number two: I own a truck. It’s good for hauling mulch.
The thought of purchasing a new car, for some reason, filled me with anxiety. Do I go with practical or pretentious? Frugal or flamboyant? And, what about the color?
I considered the Mini Cooper and the Fiat 500, two urbane subcompact cars with classic European styling, but images of big Shriners driving little cars in parades kept flashing through my head. Small BMW and VW station wagons were nice, but they felt a tad too stylish and mature, the kind of car you own along with a nice set of Calphalon cookware and a tailored tuxedo. And while I kept looking at gray-colored cars, I couldn’t help but wonder if gray was the new beige—sort of like “champagne” was a few years back.
In the end, I opted for a sporty, fuel-efficient, black-on-black Ford Fiesta. I was smitten with the comfortable leather seats, contrasting cashmere-colored piping, head room, and smart phone hook-up. I was impressed with the Fiesta’s 120 horsepower engine, which enables it to dart in and out of traffic and merge quickly into heavy highway traffic. The price was right too—less than $20K—on this grown up version of the car of my youth.
Admission number three: I owned a first generation Ford Fiesta. Canary yellow with black racing stripes, it was as unconventional a car choice for a high school boy in Wytheville, Virginia, in 1976, as it is today for a fifty year old gay guy with some disposable income.
Oh, but it was magical. As light as a tin can, that car could jump ditches, navigate mountain fire roads, and take me anywhere I wanted to go, and bring me safely home. I smoked my first joint in that car, and I fell in love in that car.
A car broadcasts a lot about its owner. Or, rather, about whom the owner thinks he is. A guy named Bret Berk writes a gay car column for Vanity Fair called “Shift Stick.” In it he talks a lot about “gay cars” and how certain gay communities tend to prefer certain cars. Successful gay men in Los Angeles, for example, love a black BMW, while butch gals like anything 4x4. This line of thinking is fraught with stereotypes, of course, but damn if some of them aren’t true.
I’m not exactly sure what the Ford Fiesta says about me. That I’m comfortable and unassuming? A cheap queer? A man prone to nostalgia? Someone who thinks of life as one big party? I’ll let you decide. But, before I sign off, there’s one more thing you should know about the Ford Fiesta: it coordinates extraordinarily well with the black and white striped awnings on my house.
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town: Rehoboth Beach Stories, just published and available on Amazon.