ponderings of a proud prius parent

In less than a month I’ve learned that driving a Prius is not as simple as merely driving a Prius.

Don’t get me wrong, the Prius is a pleasure to drive—fun, fast and easy. OK, it’s not a hot rod, but it goes much faster then most people expect or need.

I’ve always hated driving and now I volunteer to run errands and take my friends on theirs. It’s got to be the coolest car in the world. But I’m not here to promote the Prius; for that I can refer you to Priuschat.com. For the purpose of this post all you need to know is the Prius is the coolest car in the world. Yes, I’ve already said that, but if you own a Prius, you realize the statement warrants a tautology.

Alas, there is a certain burden that comes with the coolest car in the world. Even in LA, where Priuses are about as common as celebrity sightings, and many times you can’t have one without the other, this spunky little hybrid is not considered a regular car, and until you actually drive in one, you know not what the Prius is. And because of this mystique, there is both an honor and stigma attached to it.

“Ha! What’s honorable about it? It’s so expensive,” some will snarkily surmise. I might be going out on a limb here, but the superior gas mileage certainly doesn’t harm the honor factor. Just yesterday, for ten minutes, I was driving at 100 mpg. Sure, this isn’t the norm, my average is 47, but after the “breaking-in” period, it’s supposed to get even better. There’s also the super ultra low emissions thing, a $3,100 tax credit and a few other fringe benefits that I won’t be taking advantage of (using carpool lane without a passenger, free parking at LA City meters, etc.) make the Prius an honor and a privilege to drive. As for the expensive part, what car can you get for $28,000 that has all the above features plus blue tooth, back up camera, navigation device, mp3 hook up and a six cd changer. There’s more, but I fear I’m getting too dry.

As for the stigmas, which I still consider honors, let’s see: Metrospiritual. Though I prefer David Brooks’ term Bobo, I can’t be ashamed of being categorized as a Prius driving, Ipod using, yoga doing, tea drinking (actually I prefer coffee but it’s fair trade so I’m sure I get points for that) Whole foods shopping, KCWR contributing, thoughtful consumer, since I am.

Nevertheless, this classification has sent some over at Priuschat into an uproar. Which makes me think that maybe “uptight” should have been another characteristic of the ostensible Metrospiritual. And, in case you didn’t know, not all Prius drivers are liberal. You’d be surprised how many green Republicans there are.

We’re slow drivers. That’s another fallacy, sort of. So far, I’ve only seen smart Prius drivers, people who have the foresight to know when a light’s going to turn red, because my god, the signal hand has been blinking for a while so it must be time to change. We just pace ourselves, A LOT.

The other thing is smugness. South Park rightly lampooned this feeling. But dude, when you have to fill up your tank only after driving 450 miles and there aren’t nearly as many pollutants coming from the exhaust pipes, and when people in SUVs irritatingly pass you and end up at the same red light over and over, how can you not be smug. In fact, when most cars are getting close to 20 mpg, it’s impossible not swim in the smug.

There are a lot of annoying people with Prius envy, this is not to be confused with the good be people who also have Prius envy. Ever since I saw Larry David tootling around LA on Curb Your Enthusiasm in his funny looking Toyota (first generation Prius), I’ve had Prius envy.

I’m talking about the Freudian type of envy where you actually want to kill your father because he's sleeping with your mother and is the possessor of the phallus. This is Prius envy in its truest sense. At this level people don’t realize they envy the Prius but believe they hate it. Perhaps an examination of the displaced anger of the hybrid hater honk might shed some light on this phenomenon.

Shouldn’t honking be reserved for preventing accidents and alerting pedestrians or other cars of impending danger? I suppose if you drive a semi and some kid signals with his arm for you to honk, you should oblige so as not to make him feel like a fool. But even that’s dangerous. There’s also tunnel honking. At least that’s so common you know not to be alarmed. The problem though with that sort of immunity is if someone legitimately honks, no one pays attention. And a tunnel isn’t the safest place to drive.

Now, if you’re in someone’s blind spot and they attempt to change lanes, you honk to prevent the collision. If the light turns green and someone is chatting away on their cell phone and not about to move forward, you give a light beep to get their attention. But if a person is driving the speed limit, you simply pass them. And if you choose to let out your frustration by not signaling, so be it.

I drove a Subaru Outback (the original Bobo vehicle) for six years and aside from the occasional honk I’d received for accidentally running a red light while trying to get a way from the cops, I’d never been the recipient of an unreasonable beeping. And then I got the Prius.

The other day when we were heading down to the OC (of course)
Tamas was driving at the speed limit (a constant 65) in the second to right lane. Traffic was moving swiftly but not so fast that people were leaving us in their dust. We weren’t even the slowest drivers. So all of a sudden there's a honk from behind (a mid 90s Honda Accord, late fifties white male driver, no W bumper sticker, surprisingly) and then this irascible little man passes us, and with his arm and hand signals what I could only imagine was intended to mean that we should be in the far right lane.

You think I’m overreacting, paranoid, delusion, paranoid delusional, I probably am, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that there are some drivers out there who have serious hybrid issues, especially now that gas prices are getting out of control. It’s like my mom used to say, “They’re just jealous.”

I was at a four way stop sign. These days I’m more cautious, as a PD I have a certain responsibility. We’re like a band of superheroes; everyone is watching us, you do one bad thing and suddenly you represent all Prius drivers. So at this stop sign I made sure every one had a chance to go and when it was my turn I inched out. But then Beverly Hills BMW bitch moved in on my left. There was no way I was going to let her tank be the Goliath to my David so I made eye contact and gave her the “what the?” look, nicely.

So now she was behind me and we were on a residential street and I needed to make a legal left turn into a parking lot. Traffic was slow, it was 6 pm, one block south of Wilshire near Rodeo Drive. I signaled and she honked. Though she wasn’t apparently mad—botox prevents such emotions from revealing themselves—her honk said it all, fucking prius.

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