Friday, July 27, 2007

Celebrity sighted on Corsica with a Beretta

I spent nearly a decade in the Washington, D.C., area before coming back to the Midwest this spring. Upon returning, a lot of differences were immediately apparent: less traffic, fewer people, lower housing prices, no pro sports. But there were other, more subtle differences that took time to emerge. One of them is in the types of cars on the road. I didn't detect it until after a couple months' worth of driving.

In both places you'll find expensive cars. Although luxury vehicles aren't as prevalent in Iowa as they are out East -- there just isn't the kind of fuck-you money here as there is there -- Des Moines does have its share of Cadillacs, BMWs, Mercedeses, Land Rovers, even a few Jaguars. Both places also boast plenty of affordable cars: Ford Focuses, Toyota Camrys, Nissan Sentras and Dodge Neons by the thousands. But there's one category of automobile in which Des Moines motorists appear to have the entire East Coast beat.

The shitty midsize Chevrolet.

Living out East, it's easy to forget that Chevrolet makes anything but the Tahoe and maybe a pickup or two. People just don't drive Chevy cars, at all. Even the poor putt-putt around town in battered Ford Escorts and 20-year-old Honda Preludes rather than be caught dead in a Chevy. Then I come to Iowa, and the roads are positively overrun with them. In particular, they're overrun with cars from the Golden Era of Shitty Midsize Chevys: the mid-1980s to the mid-90s. Four models stand out like ... boxy, oil-burning thumbs.

The Celebrity

God, isn't she beautiful? The first car I ever owned was a 1986 Celebrity. It was white like this one -- but mine was a coupe. And the only thing uglier than this white Chevy Celebrity is a white Chevy Celebrity with only two doors. It was OK, though, because nobody ever rode in the back seat. Get yourself a white 1986 Chevy Celebrity with a burgundy interior and see how many friends you have. (These people can barely contain their excitement about Celebrity ownership.)

The Lumina

The Lumina replaced the Celebrity in 1990 as Chevy's designated middle-class crapwagon. General Motors licensed Disney characters to sell the car, and paid to have it made the official car of Walt Disney World, on the theory that Americans were itching to drive Donald Duck's car. The Lumina sedan was homely. The Lumina minivan -- preposterously dubbed the Lumina APV -- was hideous. This one appears to have gotten a ticket on general principles.

The Corsica

Corsica is a popular tourist island in the Mediterranean. Though now part of France, it was once a territory of Genoa, so its culture reflects both Gallic and Italianate influences -- influences that are evident in the sleek, sophisticated European styling of the Chevrolet Corsica.

The Beretta

The Beretta was just a Corsica with slightly different styling, two doors rather than four, and an Italian, rather than French, name. So it was sportier! (The one in the picture is missing a hubcap, but really, all Berettas are missing a hubcap, even if just a hubcap of the spirit.) The summer before I started college, I came down to Des Moines for freshman orientation at Drake University. My roommate for the weekend was a fat fella named Darren from Scottsbluff, Nebraska. For high school graduation, his parents had given him a new Beretta. I thought that was pretty cool, but I was only 18. The Beretta was the pace car for the 1990 Indianapolis 500, and Chevrolet made a replica model available. I haven't seen one of those yet on the streets of Des Moines, but I guarantee they're out there ...

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