To the Hamptons in my first-ever favorite minivan.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. So posited Henry David Thoreau. But America's original gangsta/philosopher/bard wrote in the faraway days before mankind was battered by incessant Timbaland beats and Bill O'Reilly Twitter feeds, so we will forgive him for not anticipating those of us leading lives of noisy desperation.
One thing that makes me noisy and desperate these days is when I need more than five seats in a car. Nothing in my overstocked motorhouse, the Bad News Garage, fills the bill anymore, even though most of the 1960s station wagons I own easily carried six, seven, or nine in their heyday, before the act of allowing a child to ride unbelted behind the rear seats qualified you for summary execution (or so I seem to recall hearing on Fox News) by Obama death squads under the direction of junior staffers at the Harvard Law Review.
Yet this has increasingly been my situation, since the arrival of child number three. Now, no amount of persuading gets the whole posse on board with my plan to vacation in, say, the 1966 Ford Cortina wagon, especially since it caught fire (who knew Mark 1 Cortinas don't have fuse blocks?) while backing out of the garage the very first time I drove it following its arrival on a truck from California. (And this refusal despite its racy Cortina GT carb, shift linkage, and console setup!)
With manufacturers' commitment to wagons as lukewarm as it's ever been (although not as dispirited as their dedication to third-row seats in wagons), large SUVs and minivans - and crossovers, which are minivans in all but name - are the only alternatives among new vehicles for those with a crowd to carry. I needn't bore you recounting my stance on gas-slurping monster trucks bought for on-road civilian use. And, as a driver, I kind of hate minivans. Maybe I place too low a premium on practicality and family togetherness, but I just can't see diminishing the driving experience that much for the sake of bringing the whole mishpuchah along. I know - kids are great, they're so cute they like to wander freely around the back of moving vehicles, but if you're letting your kids move at all, they might as well be rolling around in the back of a wagon. Or tethered by bungee cord to the optional rear jump seat in your MG Midget. But since the Cortina fire - you'd think no one had ever seen a combination horn/turn-signal short out, smoke, and then melt before - no one listens to me.
All by way of explaining why I blew an emergency call in to the Ford NYC press office last week with a panicked, last-minute request to borrow a Ford Flex, which I'd never driven, for a weekend jaunt to the Hamptons with my family and godson Otis Ingrams, visiting from England. Long story short - seven seats and a vehicle so good I might have to revise my position on minivans altogether.
Some people say they're creeped out by the way the Flex looks. Others, including me, dig its differentness. And while I'm not sure I entirely buy the Peter Horbury line - Ford's head designer at the time of the Flex intro said it was inspired by the old beach wagons that once populated genteel, old-money places like the Hamptons - I don't agree with the carpers who say that it looks like a hearse or the box the piano came in. I think it's retro and modern at the same time and really cool for a minivan, even if Ford is loathe to call it that because America has come to view the genus as being on par for sexiness with Larry King after a long, televised hostage crisis. The interior is high quality. The stereo rocks. And the EcoBoost twin-turbo six has the power of a small V-8 yet delivered 20 mpg, loaded to the gunwales with people and crap. I'm not going to kid you; it's no Mark 1 Lotus Elite, but it's kind of fun to drive. Why, I even detected steering feel.
There's too much traffic in the Hamptons, attributable, I expect, to the return of Wall Street bonuses and the sheer road-wasting size of the likes of the seventeen Range Rovers I counted in a single one-block stretch of downtown Bridgehampton. But the Flex may yet prove Horbury's claim. Outside Starbucks, an affable i-banker cartwheeled over to tell me his wife was having their second child and they'd been thinking of buying a Chevy Tahoe when they saw the Flex. They liked it, but could it possibly hold two kids and all their stuff? You can put that in the bank, brother, I told him. Now relax.
Written by: Jamie Kitman Illustration: Tim Marrs