Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, September 16, 2011

How Clutch is This?

Classic VW Odometer 
Walking to the parking lot last night, I heard one female student enthuse to another, "How clutch is that spot now?!" (It had started to rain, and she had nailed a prime parking spot close to their classroom building.)

The use of "clutch" in this context put me in mind of the auto-related lingo of my youth. Long before we could drive ourselves, we talked obsessively about cars. The first time I heard a schoolmate talking about somebody "flipping" a car, I pictured a horrible accident with the car going end over end and the whole affair ending up as a massive fireball. I soon learned, of course, the term means crossing the 100,000 mile threshold, literally witnessing the odometer flip over from 99999 to 00000 - most of those mechanical odometers weren't equipped for six digits (the sixth spot represented tenths of a mile).* As kids, we spent many eager hours waiting for--and often missing--the odometer of our family's VW bus (like the one above) reach all kinds of milestones: 33333.3, 77777.7, and so on. Hey, that was entertainment: No video players or even radios in that bad boy.

The other term you would hear, and still do, was to "total it." Sometime in the late 1970s, my older brother, driving the family's Nova, got broadsided and pushed a hundred feet or so. He walked away, but the car was totaled. (These days, they might say "a total.") A decade or so later, when Chevy revived the Nova brand with little compacts, built in Japan (I'm pretty sure) and nothing like the muscle cars of the 60s and 70s, we used to joke, "This is not the Nova your brother totaled"--a reference to the widely mocked General Motors late 1980's ad campaign.

(*Swedes knew better: I once flipped a 1986 Saab 900 I bought with 174,000 miles on it to 200K. And the damn thing had a cracked head gasket the whole time, meaning it alway ran perilously close to overheating.)

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