According to the most recent survey, teenage girls are having more sex, and having it earlier than ever. This is fabulous news for teenage boys, but not as good for middle-age fathers. I'm fortunate in that my daughter is turning 8, so sex is not yet an issue with her. (Currently, her big issue is, Why can't she eat apple crumb cake in the den?) But I figured that when the time came to talk to her about sex, I'd tell her to have it in a Volvo, because they're the safest cars.
That's why we bought a Volvo: safety. My wife saw the ad where seven trucks are stacked on top of a Volvo, no problema.
"That's the car I want," she said.
"Why?" I asked. "Are you planning on joining a truck circus?"
We bought a Volvo in 1985, and we've felt safe ever since. Should nuclear war break out, our contingency plan is to live in our Volvo, listening to ABBA tapes until the all-clear signal.
Do you know that Volvos are so safe that we're not handing out gas masks to our soldiers in Saudi Arabia anymore, we're locking them in Volvos instead?
So imagine my shock earlier in the week when Volvo admitted its ad agency had phonied up a commercial about how safe the car is. The ad shows one of those Monster Trucks -- the kind with the 29-foot-high bear-claw tires driven by guys who look like they just got off the set of "Earnest Goes to Camp" -- rolling over the top of a bunch of cars, crushing all the roofs except one. The underline asks: Can You Spot The Volvo?
Obviously, the one with the roof. The others don't have enough headroom for Alfredo Garcia.
But the truth is, the Volvo was specially prepared for the filming. They reinforced its roof with lumber and steel to withstand the pounding. Volvo was ratted out to the Texas attorney general by some of the folks they'd paid to be extras where the commercial was shot in Austin. Volvo took out huge ads in some newspapers this week, explaining. The other day in Philadelphia, just for a laugh, three 13,000-pound Monster Trucks re-created the ad with some standard-issue Volvos. The Volvos were, indeed, stouter than other cars on the line, so it took a few passes. Ultimately, however, the Monsters squished those Swedish babies like wine grapes.
Volvo. A Car You Can Believe In (Sometimes).
Who's their next hire, Joe Isuzu?
This is causing depression in my neighborhood, where everyone has a Volvo; Ingmar Bergman uses our block for location shots. Each of these Upper Northwest Volvos has at least 146,000 miles. Other neighborhoods, men hand women that line about coming over to see their etchings. This neighborhood, he offers to show her his odometer. Every Volvo built after 1945 is still on the street -- my street.
Each weekday I see the tank brigade of Volvo station wagons (how's this for a multiple oxymoron: Volvo Turbo Wagon) driving by on the way to school, Mom in the front, back seats crammed with battalions of kids belted into state-of-the-art super-padded safety seats. (You know, that's the dirty little secret about Volvos: Men don't actually drive them, particularly the station wagons. Men buy them for their wives -- out of concern their family might be crushed if, say, three or six trucks, parachuting wildly like Skylab, landed smack on the Mercedes -- and only drive them on family outings. Men don't care about staying alive in a car, they care about feeling alive in a car. I drive a Chevette. You've heard that a Cressida is a poor man's BMW? Well, a Chevette is a homeless man's Dodge Dart. It's like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Even at 15 miles an hour I'm on two wheels. My wife won't ride in the Chevette. She's even terrified when I wash it. When she hears it coming, she herds the kids into the Volvo.) Volvo is the only car to come with six child seats and the Aprica guide to ballet and soccer camps as standard equipment; the wagon, instead of a trunk it comes with a nursery back there. A single woman I know tried to buy a Volvo last year and the dealer wouldn't sell it to her without a signed statement attesting to her intention of bearing children within three years or 146,000 miles.
America's best-loved feature writer, Mr. Henry (ahem, a domestic van man himself), insists that "Volvo owners are the ultimate middle-class shlumpfs. They come home at night, and they microwave their individual Lean Cuisine dinner, and then don't talk to each other because they're too busy reading catalogues. They are people whose garbage cans are full with beautifully carved chicken skin that they don't eat. If Puritans were assigned GS ratings, they'd have all driven Volvos."
But undeniably, safety is the bogeyman of car owning these days. Have you seen that commercial where the Shell Answer Man warns women who park their car in what appears to be downtown Beirut to carry a flashlight because someone may be hiding under her car? Who hides UNDER a car? You hide under a car, if you don't make your move fast enough, you're eating a tread sandwich, babe. And if you're the woman walking to your car -- lady, really, couldn't you have sprung for the extra few bucks and done the valet parking? -- wouldn't it be smarter to just get in and gun the engine, rather than kneel down and look under the car so this painfully thin deviate can reach out and grab you? Anyway, it turns out there is something hiding under the car. It's A CAT! So for any of you in this position, by all means carry a flashlight, and a can of 9-Lives tuna. Me? I'm buying a Monster Truck. See you on the Beltway, sucker.