Wednesday, July 04, 2007

For a while, I thought my car was a lesbian. It turns out, it was just a former Duke University basketball player.

It’s going to take a while, but let me explain. I read an article a while back that stated over 50% of all people name their cars. I’ve always been one of those people. That is, until I purchased a 1999 Toyota 4Runner SR5 almost two years ago.

I wanted to name it, I really did. It’s just that nothing seemed to fit. Sure, I could have gone with the “4Skinner” if I wanted to be obvious and gross (which I usually am). But, this car was different. It was the kind of car I always wanted.

The 4Runner is my fourth car ever. When I turned 16, I shared with my older sister a white, 1979 Chevy Malibu Classic with a powder blue interior. It was inherited from my grandparents when they upgraded. Almost immediately, it became known as “The Spooge-mobile.” I’d like to say I was responsible for that nickname, but alas, it was never meant to be. It earned its name when my friend Elmo snuck into it one summer night with his girlfriend as it was parked outside my front lawn. His amazing derring-do went unnoticed by my father who at one point walked within 10 feet of the car. The name, and apparently the mess, stuck.

When I turned 20, I shared another car with my two younger brothers—a 1986 gold Chevy Celebrity, also inherited from my grandparents. Immediately, I dubbed it “The Golden Shower.” The name stuck and when I sold it to my friend, Big Ter of All You Need to Know, he even provided it with the license plate AU SHWR1. Hilarious.

When I turned 25, I bought my first new car, a green 1996 Toyota Camry. I liked the car, but I never loved it. At the time, I wasn’t sure where I was going with my life, so I wanted something safe and reliable with decent mileage in case I had to commute. And, commute I did, racking up over 27,000 miles in the first year. It was a workhorse, but the 4-cylinder engine lacked the horsepower to really be a horse. Hence, it became “The Green Donkey.” The name never seemed right, kind of like the car never seemed quite right. Everything made sense, but it didn’t inspire greatness.

So, 9 years later, I bought the 4Runner because I always wanted an SUV. With about a 2 mile commute, I figured the gas prices wouldn’t kill me and bought a flawless truck with less than 50,000 miles on it. I loved it. Still do, in fact. But, I couldn’t get a sense of who the car wanted to be.

Was it a boy or a girl? I couldn’t even tell you. Sure, it had the rugged abilities of a manly man. But, I could tell that it had been pampered immensely in its previous life. It gave off that weird she-male vibe which eventually led me to believe it was a lesbian. However, since it never really set off my gay-dar, I figured it had to be something else. So, I made it my mission to wait the naming out.

One of my brothers has the perfect name for his car. He’s got a 1998 or so Honda Civic with about 175,000 miles on it—The Ronald Colman. Here’s the story behind it. My brother loves the movie “A River Runs through it” and there’s a great scene in there where an uncle casually mentions that “People say I look like Ronald Colman.” If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it. Now, even before I knew who Ronald Colman was, I was sure this fat, older uncle looked nothing like the guy. But, it’s the way he nods his head incessantly at everyone in the group as he says it, utterly believing it’s true that just kills me. Fifteen years after watching that movie my brother and I can tell each other “People say I look like Ronald Colman” and start giggling like little school girls.

I wanted a name like Ronald Colman for my 4Runner. Something only my brothers and I would find funny. Then, it dawned on me. In the 80s, we had a basketball hoop attached to our garage, 8-1/2 feet up. As teenagers, we loved having the ability to dunk on something besides a Nerf hoop or an old tub of Baskin Robbins Ice Cream nailed to the wall. Inspired by an emerging Air Jordan, we did 180s and 360s and windmills and anything of his we could possible imitate. As we became bigger Bulls fans, we started emulating all the players from that team. My favorite to emulate was none other than number 20, Eugene Lavon Banks.

Gene Banks wasn’t anything special as a player. He averaged a modest 10 points and 5 rebounds over a two-year stint with the Bulls. He wasn’t a great leaper or a tenacious defender. He wasn’t anything much except for the owner of the ugliest bank shot I’d ever seen. He’d be working in the post, spin free towards the middle of the lane and throw that ball hard off the glass. Half the time, it looked like he was trying to shoot the ball through the backboard. It would carom awkwardly off the iron and nearly concuss anyone who tried to grab it.

One day while goofing around with my brothers in the driveway, I attacked the hoop with reckless abandon. As I split the double-team of my younger siblings and soared towards the hoop, instead of yelling, “Jordan!” and hammering down a ferocious slam, I chose to yell, “Gene Banks!” and threw the ball off the backboard as hard as I could. As the ball went flying over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard, the only sound we could hear was each other laughing.

“That’s totally Gene Banks,” my brother said to me.

Even at the ages of 15, 13, and 11, we knew a disastrous bank shot when we saw one. For years, during any pickup game, I would pull out the imitation and, nine times out of ten, we’d have to stop the game to compose ourselves afterwards.

Now, the three of us are spread across three different time zones. We haven’t had a pickup game in well over a decade. The net is down off my parent’s garage. But, I still have the Gene Banks imitation in my back pocket for whenever I need it. And now, I have a car that makes me remember summer evenings in the 80s.

Welcome home, Gene Banks. I’ve missed you.

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