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A car so big it has no doors, just exit rows

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    The 2018 Buick Enclave is displayed at the New York International Auto Show on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in New York.


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    Tom Walton

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Tom Walton

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It’s that time again in my life that we all dread, that periodic acceptance of the inevitable, that painful awareness that one day soon I might have to undergo a procedure that is at once unpleasant and humiliating.

Colonoscopy, you say? Excellent guess, but no. I’m talking about the process of buying a new car.

You’d think I’d be happy with the car I drive now, a 2013 Buick Enclave. It has all the beautiful bells and all the wonderful whistles one could want. It’s only four years old. Just 40,000 miles. A cool color called “champagne.” Leather interior.

But there’s a problem: it’s too danged big. I have a friend who won’t ride in it because he’s afraid of heights. If this were an airplane, the folks in the back rows would be in coach. At least most of them get a window seat.

I’m surprised the car doesn’t have track lighting in the floor that would lead me to the nearest exit in case of an emergency. Maybe it does. I don’t want to find out.

Because of its sheer size, and after hundreds of tries, I still find it difficult to maneuver the Enclave into a standard parking space if there are cars on both sides.

I pull in too close to one car or the other and then back up and straighten and back up and straighten, repeating as necessary, until I center this giant vehicle between the lines. I’d be getting a lot better gas mileage if I just figured out how to park the thing.

So I’ve learned a lesson. Now I usually head out to the distant and remote edges of the Walmart parking lot, straddling the lines without a care in the world, at least 100 feet from any other vehicle.

This is only sound strategy, of course, if it’s not snowing and it’s not raining. Choosing a spot six blocks from the front door of Walmart in bad weather is problematic if I have to push a loaded shopping cart half a mile to the car. It’s like I’m hiking in the Himalayas and I’m the Sherpa, although I can’t imagine a worse analogy involving Walmart.

At least nobody dings my door out there. All I have to worry about that far from the store is some 15-year-old neophyte driver practicing his parallel parking while his dad yells at him. I remember those days. It was no fun for anyone involved.

I don’t mean to single out the Buick Enclave here. Most brands today offer SUVs this big.

Mine almost qualifies as a one-bedroom villa. I’m surprised my purchase was completed in one day. I expected the salesman to tell me I could only take possession at closing — in 30 days — and that the termite inspection would be at my own expense.

Not only is it as big as a small house, it was about as expensive as one. In fact, over the years I’ve bought three houses that cost me less than my sport utility vehicle.

You should see the wheels on this thing. They dwarf any tires I’ve ever had on any other car in my life. These babies belong on a giant farm implement. Each tire would make a great sandbox, provided you have a backyard big enough and a child who is not easily intimidated.

The car came with a subscription to a service that uses satellite technology to tell me exactly where on the planet I am and to alert me if I have just been in an accident.

So if I find myself upside down and dangling from my safety belt, I can expect to hear a soothing voice tell me to think happy thoughts because help is on the way. That presumes, of course, that the car and I are both still in working order. Where’s that track lighting when you need it?

My SUV even has its own telephone number. But in the four years I’ve owned it, the car has received just six calls, and all of them were from people who had dialed a wrong number.

“Hello, is Brenda there, please?” a caller will inquire.

“Well,” I explain, “I’m in my car and I’m driving 65 miles an hour down the interstate. I don’t think Brenda is here, but it’s a huge car, so let me pull over and check for you.”

That usually ends the conversation right there.

Enough friends and family have my car’s phone number that you’d think somebody would have dialed it up by now just to shoot the breeze. But no. Six calls. Six wrong numbers. And every one of them subtracted minutes from my allotment.

Still, I’m conflicted. What if I’ve been spoiled to the point that a more modest-sized vehicle is going to feel cramped?

Plus, there’s the music. It took me forever to figure out how to “pair” my cell phone’s iTunes app with the car’s sound system. 

I don’t need that frustration again just yet.

I recall when a car was just transportation from Point A to Point B and you could find a serviceable one for a thousand bucks or less. A good radio was all you needed, and nobody, not even a satellite, knew where you were.

When I think of my first car, a 1961 Chevy Corvair, I’m reminded of a verse from an Aaron Tippin song:

“The wipers don’t work, and the horn don’t blow.

But there ain’t nothin’ wrong with the radio.”

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Sunday. His radio commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91. 

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