Column: Everyone Has a Car Story

If I’m on my way to an event, I’m not hard to spot. Towing a bright-blue Corvette covered with stickers on obscenely wide tires behind a van with giant GRM decals is not exactly maintaining a low profile on the road.  

One benefit of towing around a gaudy piece of automotive hardware is how it disarms people. I don’t know whether it’s cultural or built into our DNA, but seeing a cool car makes people want to tell you about their own connection to cars.

And I appreciate every single one of those stories. I really do. I hear a lot from older people about the MGB they drove in their first autocross back in the ‘60s. Other folks explain that they bought an RX-8, even though it wasn’t the most practical thing in the world, because of some intangible quality they tapped into when they test-drove it–something they hadn’t felt before. And then there’s that kid who heard about this club called “NASA or something” where he could drive his car on a track, and did I know anything about that?

Yeah, kid, I can help you out there.

If someone pulls up next to me at a gas pump in a Miata with brake dust and tire scrag covering the rocker panels, we already know we’re friends, whether we know each other’s names or not. But the stories that really excite me come from the people I didn’t already know I shared something with–like the lady in the new Chevy Volt at the far reaches of the outlet mall parking lot, where the car chargers were right next to the best trailer parking. “I saw some Corvettes at the dealership when I was buying this. They looked stupid in a really good way,” she told me. 

“That really should be the new slogan for them,” I replied, and went on to explain that I was a former Volt owner and how much I loved and missed my first-generation version.

She was excited about her second-generation model as well. In fact, it changed the way she viewed cars. “I always just got in a car and drove it,” she said, “but the Volt tells you so much about what it’s doing and how much energy it’s using at any given time that driving it almost becomes a kind of game.”

Hey, guess what, ma’am? You just went from thinking of cars as appliances to being actively engaged in the art of driving. Good for you. Welcome to the club.

A few years ago, I discovered another unexpected car connection: a mutual fanhood between my work and one of my favorite artists. Will Morrison–guitar player, video director and one of the creative forces behind industrial music pioneers Skinny Puppy and ohGr–is a GRM fan and certified car nut. Will introduced me to his cross-stage compatriot, Matthew Setzer, who, when he isn’t looking spooky as all get-out in front of a glowing stack of guitar effects in leather pants and black contact lenses, is building gnarly air-cooled VWs to slam around in the desert.

Will Morrison and Nivek Ogre meet our Corvette project car. 

Matthew Setzer and his “Murderbug” on a desert adventure.

OhGr’s recent tour coincided with my tow to Solo Nationals, so I was able to catch a show and the guys were able to check out the Corvette in the parking lot. While we were out there, lead singer Kevin Ogilvie (aka Nivek Ogre) joined us to see what the fuss was. This was a dude whose creative output essentially defined a genre of music for more than 35 years, and his first excited anecdote was, “So I used to have this Nissan Maxima and I remember every night I’d drive home from recording late in L.A. and the highways were empty and I’d floor it and it would only ever go 119 mph. It just felt like it wanted to be faster.”

That’s when I got to explain speed limiters and T-rated tires and the fact that his speedometer may have been reading 1 mph high to Nivek Ogre himself.

I’m excited to meet you at a gas pump or roadside barbecue stand and hear your story sometime.

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