My wife-slash-Resident Travel Agent and I went to Florida recently. We left my Jeep in Long Term Parking and flew to Fort Lauderdale, where I signed for a rental car to use for the week.
Renting a car for a trip actually is a good way to go. You get a fairly new vehicle, and all you need do is drive – and turn it in when you are done for someone else to clean out any dog hairs or French fries you might have dropped between the seats.
I showed my driver license, declined the extra insurance, and struck out to find parking space number 70, where I would surely locate the vehicle of my dreams.
To get there, I passed rows of real dream cars: Cadillacs and Mercedes, and a Porsche Cayenne – the latter being the SUV for the real sports car-oriented family with two kids and a dog.
Several rows later, I turned left and hiked down to slot 70, and the Nissan Versa that was my introduction to the latest adjustment in car size descriptions. The car I was to drive for a week almost would fit in my suitcase. The booths where a good friend and I enjoy weekly breakfast are larger, which is why my friend and I sit at a table.
I crawled in behind the wheel. My left leg pressed against the door, my right against the console. The seat had little padding, which was good; padding in the seat would have pushed my head into the roof.
Back at the counter, another young woman patiently explained the Versa was, indeed, a midsize car. I remember a time when it would have been a compact, or sub-compact. There were no Sentras available, but even they would be mid-size – except those that were rated full-size with some with extra equipment.
“Wait!” I said. “You mean the size of a car depends on whether it has air conditioning.”
She explained almost all cars have air conditioning, but some have adjustable steering wheels and a sunroof. Sometimes both. That’s the difference between a mid-size and a full-size Sentra, she said. That and the extra $25 a day for the up-sized vehicle.
“If you call that mid-size, what is smaller?” I asked.
The next size down, what the rental company calls “compact,” turned out to be two seats and a windshield, and a couple of squirrels running in a cage.
There was nothing like the cars of my youth, behemoths of the open road; their engines and trunks were in separate zip codes. They had wings – great sweeping appendages over or surrounding rocket-exhaust taillights. The 1959 and 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne comes to mind, or the iconic 1959 Cadillac El Dorado – artfully merged images of cowboys and a Lockheed 1011, the latter not yet invented but cruising through the imagination of many young men and young women.
Big was the rule until 1973, when Big Oil staged a gasoline shortage to drive up prices, and several small cars hit the market. They lasted only a few years before bloat set in again, and, eventually, four-door pickup trucks became standard equipment for the soccer-kids generation.
Then gas prices started to increase, and sales have exploded for small cars that allow us to drive considerably farther on a gallon of increasingly expensive liquefied dinosaur.
The attendant offered me a Mazda 3, also classified a midsize; maybe I’d like it better than the Versa. I did. It delivered 42 mpg. My Jeep extracts about 20 miles from a gallon of gas.
There must be a vehicle I can afford that will carry my canoe and some hiking gear, and still run all afternoon on a couple bucks worth of fuel – like my first car, a 1954 Ford station wagon.
One can dream.