Cars Make Me SickA few years ago, friends planned a surprise 40th birthday party for me. It was a fully catered affair with sword-wielding belly dancers, fire-eaters, live music and lots of alcohol. Yeah, I was surprised as hell and thankful I had so many great people in my life. Of course, that meant drinking a toast to each and every one of them.
Like a monkey on a string, my brother followed my footsteps the entire night, bottle of Patron tequila in hand. After a while, I lost feeling in my legs, then my arms. Soon, I was placed in a chair and carried to the next toast. I guess I should have felt honored rather than paralyzed. Tequila. Oh man, a little bit of drool just fell on my keyboard. You see, I can't even say "tequila" without (oh shit, I did it again) without getting a little sick inside. And the smell sends me into convulsions.
It's called negative association, a previous bad experience regurgitated with pain or discomfort. People exhibit the same behavior with automobiles. They have an especially bad experience with a car and suddenly the entire brand makes them ill. My brother is that way with Mercedes-Benz. He had an older C-Class a while back, a time before cell phones and instant messaging. It was nothing but trouble. It decided to quit on his way to Mammoth Mountain, on an especially desolate stretch of road I had recommended for its challenging topography. With nothing but a pack of gum between he and his then-girlfriend, he walked into the night, the temperature below freezing. He walked more than 15 miles before being picked up. He says he could have died. He says the Merc tried to kill him. If I say the word "Mercedes" my bro's jaw tightens and his eyes turn red. I'm not sure he drools, but the negative association is clearly evident.
As of late, I'm trying to convince him to buy the new Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. It is perhaps the best representation of a German hot rod in existence and I think he'd like it, certainly more than his current soul-sucking Toyota. "Face your fears, man," I tell him. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." We go for a ride so I can show him all the new features including voice activation, traction control and the navigation system. I make him sit in the deeply bolstered sport seats while I unleash its 451 hp and powerslide through the neighborhood. On the freeway, we cruise with preternatural grace while he rocks out to an '80s-only station on the Sirius radio. I'm doing a great job selling this car. Hell, now I want one. We park in front of his house and he continues to fiddle with the Comand system, scrolling through the menus, changing the parameters, enjoying its smartness. He's starting to relax now as he puts a smoke to his lips. I've done it, I think, he's gonna go for it. He starts getting agitated as he looks for a cigarette lighter. "There isn't one," I say. "No one except you smokes any more." He leaps out of the car, cursing. He still thinks Benzes suck.
Like many people, my brother is a victim of his own subconscious. Despite the light-years of Mercedes advancement, he cannot wrest the bad experience from his brain. Now I think about it, my sister hates Pontiacs, my uncle, Volkswagens. Silly as I think this is, I too fall victim to automotive NA. In addition to tequila, the words 'Chevy Astrovan' make me throw up a little.
Sadly, it's come to infect the entire Chevy range. I feel certain all these cars will fall apart within 11 months. Though I'm fairly sure GM has made giant improvements to its product line, I cannot purge the trauma from my mind. I still want my bro to get a C63 because I know he'd love it. Maybe I'll bring over the press kit and pour a few shots of his favorite Herradura tequila to loosen him up first. Oh man, I just drooled on my shirt.