Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Special Delivery

At long last, Canyonero (my Aztek) is whole again. After limping along with only three seats ever since the Kitty Karavan left Chicago, seat #4 is back in its rightful place.

First, I suppose I should explain my SUV's name. I am the kind of person who bestows my pets with unusual monikers (my cats have included Know-It-All, Muse, Vincent Van Kitty, Tooncinator, Stitch, and Farquaad), and I also name certain inanimate objects when it strikes my fancy and off-beat sense of humor. My home, of course, is Duloc Manor in honor of that town in Shrek that is not unlike downtown Celebration. When I was little, my family had the odd habit of naming cars, too. Usually the name was somehow related to the make (for example, our two Chevys were "Big C" and "Little C"). The first car that I ever owned myself was an ancient, beat-up Plymouth Fury, so of course it had to be called "Christine."

When I got married, it turned out that my husband is a car namer, too. We worked our way through a variety of named vehicles, including his-and-her Neons named Bruiser (in honor of its odd bluish-purplish color) and Twoey/Audrey II (ever see "Little Shop of Horrors?").

As time wore on, I realized that I was one of the few people still driving an actual car as opposed to a big, gallompin' SUV. I can't stand huge, macho, look-at-me-I'm-so-conformist-cool vehicles, but I also did't want to be crushed like a sardine in my tiny metal Neon-can. Thus, when it was time to replace Twoey, I started the search for an SUV, but with a niggling sense of reluctance.

Back then, in the early 2000s, most of the big gas-guzzlers looked pretty much alike. Then, a hideously ugly rebel vehicle burst on the scene: The Pontiac Aztek. The first time I saw one, while watching "Survivor" a year or two before Twoey's demise, I gagged and said to my husband, "I would never drive one of those." I should have remembered that God loves a challenge and has a wicked sense of humor.

Thus, when it was time for car shopping, I somehow ended up at a Pontiac dealer. I was leaning more towards something like a Suburu Forester, Honda CRV, or Hyundai Santa Fe, but my nephew said, "You really should check out the Pontiac Vibe." There was a dealer very close to home, so I figured "What the heck."

I wasn't too impressed by the Vibe, and as I described the features that I wanted to the car salesman (side airbags, space for bikes, reconfigurable seats), he said, "You know, you really should look at the Aztek." When I was done rolling around on the ground with laughter and scorn, he pointed out, "A test drive is free." Sure, he had a point; I decided to give it a try just so I could say that I'd actually been behind the wheel of the World's Ugliest Vehicle.

Amazingly, I loved it! The Aztek had a smooth, car-like ride, tons of space, removable seats, and a cool rolling tray in the cargo area. The tailgate actually has drink holders and imprints for your butt for easy tailgate parties. And, most important, side air bags were standard on the package that I liked. Reluctantly, I added the Aztek to the running; then, the more I thought about it, the more I began to like the idea. What better vehicle for an SUV-hater like me than the most hideous model available?

I don't make hasty decisions when purchasing a car. I still had other vehicles to compare, and once I made my decision, there would be lots more research to complete. I am the kind of buyer that dealers hate; I come armed with invoice prices, holdback, reviews, etc., knowing exactly what I want and what I'm willing to pay. I compared all the cars on my list, but nothing came close to the Aztek in features for the price. Sigh! I should have known better than to challenge God. Oh well, I reasoned that if I was driving, it's not like I'd have to look at the ugly, snub-butted outside of the vehicle. Thus, my search narrowed to find the particular Aztek that would meet my requirements. I don't care much about color (unless it's Survivor Yellow or Traffic Cone Orange...ugh!); I'm more concerned with getting the internal options that I want.

I found a nice maroon Aztek equipped to my specifications. I was still a little hesitant about buying such a big, ugly vehicle, even with all my rationalizations. The dealer let me take it home for the weekend so I could take it for a spin around my neighborhood and on the highway, exposing it to real-world driving conditions. It turned in a stellar performance, and I was amazed at its great gas mileage. The next day, it became the latest addition to our automotive family.

I had a vehicle, so now I needed a name. As a die-hard Simpsons fan, what could be more fitting than Canyonero? In case you're not familiar with the Simpsons in general or the episode known as "The Last Temptation of Krust" in particular, there is a musical ad for an uber-SUV called the Canyonero that goes like this:

Can you name the truck with four-wheel drive?
Smells like a steak and seats thirty-five!
Canyonero! Canyonero!

Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
It's a country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!
Canyoneroooo! Yeah, Canyonero!

Twelve yards long, two lanes wide,
Sixty-five tons of American pride!
Canyonero! Canyonero!

Top of the line in utility sports,
Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!
Canyonero! Canyonero!

She blinds everybody with her super-high beams;
She's a squirrel-squashing, deer-smackin', drivin' machine!
Canyonero! Canyonero!

Click here to hear the Canyonero song for yourself via .wav file.

Granted, an Aztek isn't twelve yards long and two lanes wide, but after driving Excels and Neons, it sure felt like it to me. Thus, my hideous new vehicle was christened Canyonero, although my brother insisted on calling it the Family Truckster, ala "National Lampoon's Vacation." To appease him, when my husband bought an almost identical used version of my Aztek a couple of years later, we named it "Pimpin' Family Truckster" (the "pimpin'" comes from the giant decal and window guards that the previous owner tricked it out with).

As time passed, more and more ugly vehicles came out, and my Aztek went from head-turning novelty to just another ho-hum SUV. Meanwhile, I became spoiled by its ability to handle all sorts of cargo, and I knew that I was a permanent big-vehicle convert (although it will always be the ugliest anti-SUV that I can find).

When it came time to bring the animals to Florida, Canyonero's ability to have its back seats removed became crucial. If we hadn't been able to remove one seat, there's no way that we could have wedged in the cat and bird cages, as well as the other necessary items to be moved.

The gap in the back didn't bother me, but it drove my husband crazy. He wanted to get the missing seat down to Celebration as soon as possible, and it eventually became a vendetta for him. He considered bringing it on the airplane as checked luggage until he realized that it was too heavy and would incur a steep penalty charge. Then he started focusing on how to mail it or ship it via a delivery service like UPS or Fex Ex.

Eventually, I realized that it would be nice to have Canyonero "whole" again, especially if we wanted to drive somewhere with other people. The point was illustrated when we went to Disney World with our neighbors for dinner. They don't know their way around WDW property too well, but we couldn't take my vehicle because it would only seat three in its altered condition. Thus I ended up driving their car, something that makes me supremely nervous. Not only do I have to be careful of my own road manners, but I also have to watch out for all the crazed tourists and speed demon locals.

After that jaunt, when my husband informed me that he wanted to ship the seat via UPS, I finally acquiesced. The next time he was in Chicago, he somehow managed to drag it to the local UPS Store, planning to have them pack it as well as deliver it. He balked when he discovered that it would be nearly $100 just for the boxing. He asked if the seat could simply be shrink-wrapped; it's not like it's easily breakable. But no, the agent insisted that it had to be enclosed in a container.

On his next trip, hubby purchased some moving boxes himself for a fraction of the cost and created some weird sort of Frankenstein packaging. He entrusted it to the tender mercies of UPS right before he returned to Celebration. As soon as he got back to Florida, he obsessively tracked the package via the internet, following its route from Illinois through Nashville, TN, to Atlanta, GA, to Jacksonville, FL, and finally to Celebration via a brief stay in Orlando.

He knew that it was due to show up on Monday, and sure enough, late that morning the doorbell chimed, scattered the cats to the four winds. The driver was already back at his truck before I reached the door, but there on the porch was Canyonero's missing "limb." The box was extremely battered and full of holes, but its precious was intact. My husband was like a kid in a candy shop; he immediately had to run outside and restore the seat to its rightful place.

Now Canyonero is whole again. Instead of just three people, we can transport up to five (if they are willing to be seen in an Aztek, of course). I sort of miss the extra cargo space within such easy reach. I know that I can remove the seat any time, but I never bother; I just toss my stuff all the way in the back.

Maybe, in the cosmic scheme of things, I was meant to get an Aztek. Perhaps it wasn't just God's sense of humor. Maybe He knew that someday we'd need a vehicle with enough space and reconfiguration ability to transport our menagerie of pets. At the time that I bought Canyonero, moving to Celebration had never crossed my mind; I never would have dreamed that someday in the not-too-distant future I'd be driving 1200 miles cross-country in the Atlanta ice storm with Noah's Ark crammed in behind me.

Canyonero brought us safely home to Florida, and now all of Canyonero is home with us too.

You can reach me via email at celebration@mailblocks.com

My Celebration website is www.celebrationinfo.com

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