Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Push it real good

Had dinner out with a group of friends not long ago. As we ambled out of the Grovewood Tavern, drowsy with wine and full up with potstickers, crab cakes and caramel pecan cake, one of the guys noticed a man pushing a car up a nearby drive.

The male members of our group sprang into action like spontaneous erections. Overfed gourmands no more, these he-men were street legal and ready to rumble. They engulfed the car and rolled it up the drive in a flash.

Guys really like pushing cars.

Courtesy of the damnable reliability of today's internal combustion engines, however, they don't get to do it much anymore. As the rare sightings of two guys muscling a Chevy into the corner Shell station dwindle, the male population's fondness for this rudimentary act only deepens.

The more perilous the vehicular situation, the more seductive it is. If a guy sees two guys pushing a car, he goes over to help. If just one guy is trying to push and steer from the vee formed by car and driver's side door, the other guy runs over to help. And an elderly madam unsuccessfully cranking her engine in the middle of a busy intersection ironically becomes more irresistible than a Sports Illustrated "Swimsuit Edition" still in the plastic sleeve.

Deconstruction of this phenomenon is blissfully simple. Pushing a car is a straightforward activity with visible results: you push, the car moves. Guys understand that. There are no hidden complications in the neat box of Guys Pushing Car. It's satisfying and universal, like shaving, or buying Cruex, or tying a tie. Plus it's something guys can do together. Pushing a car bestows guys with a sense of guy community.

Guys enjoy the verbalization evoked by pushing a car.

"You need to cut it left. Left! Okay, now straighten it out. Straighten! STRAIGHTEN!!"

Guys also used to be able to make cartalk (an approved guy-on-guy nonsexual flirting exchange) while pushing a car, which would not be shouted, but spoken in a conversational tone, thereby implying that the associated guys are enjoying a certain control over the car-pushing endeavor.

"So whaddya got in here? A V8?"

No one (save that Sunday afternoon car show contingent of old guys with pot bellies, pompadours, and cigarette packs rolled in the sleeve of their pocket-tees) talks about a V8 anymore unless they're ordering a Bloody Mary. The advent of the computerized compact car took cartalk away from guys. Even if someone's Nissan Sentra runs out of gas and requires a push, what are the car pushing guys of today supposed to say?

"This baby got a helical limited-slip differential?"

No one wants to hear car-pushing guys talking about limited-slip differentials. It's downright emasculating. The removal of cartalk from the proceedings, however, has only elevated the revered act of pushing.

If a car needed pushing, I'd be the first in line. But if there were a bunch of guys standing around? No way. Those guys can come over and push the goddamn car. I'd be the Steering Chick.

The Steering Chick is sort of like the Band Chick with the tambourine and go-go boots, except the Steering Chick doesn't have a tambourine or go-go boots, she's just steering. I am excellent Steering Chick material.

I'd comply as they directed me to cut it left and straighten. After they pushed my car out of the ditch, I'd humbly say, "Aw Christ, you guys can't know how much I appreciate that." The car-pushing guys would like me. They'd think I was a good Steering Chick; and we'd all bask in the unspoken and intimate portion of the experience.

Another more nuanced reason guys like pushing a car is that it's hard at first, then it gets easy. Car-pushing guys believe this is a secret trick.

Hey guys? We all know that pushing the car is easy once you get it going.

That corollary does not apply to pushing a car up a hill or out of a mud pit. Such complications represent the zenith of the car-pushing craft; and they impart a stoic solidarity to the associated guys.

After guys complete a challenging car push, they review the event by leaning against the just-pushed car, cans of Genny Cream Ale perched on the swells of their bellies. They say things like, "Almost didn't make it over that second ridge," or "Holy shit, that mud over by the barn just about sucked my boot right off." The group responds by snorting, shaking their heads, and kicking at stones. Then they crush their beer cans and say their goodbyes, fulfilled in a way no amount of fellatio can achieve.

There is the unfortunate instance when the car pushing does not succeed. When the orgiastic moment of car gliding out of peril does not come. No bonding moment, no crushed beer cans, no flirty grins from the Steering Chick. Despite their every effort, there are times when all the car-pushing guys have is a car obstinately stuck in the mud.

That's when you get out the towrope.

* * *


LimesNow said...

[Grinning from ear to ear] April, 1968. The 18-year-old Badger is pushing me, the Steering Chick, down Venice Way, giving me instructions on how to jump start the car as its battery had died. I was 15 and mightily impressed with him and his hot little red MG with the top down in the warm evening air. The car careened wildly and it's likely a good thing I didn't master that jump start thing, as I'd never driven a car before. He pushed it to the curb and we walked to get a burger, the first of many, many walks we've shared in life. Thanks for sparking that memory, Erin!

Bill said...

We (men) really are simple. There are lots of other areas of life that are good examples of our simplicity. I'm sure that you have covered, or will cover, a few.

Anonymous said...

When the guys heave and push and the car will barely move, and they walk to the driver's window and find that the Steering Chick has the car in park, they get PISSED.

That's how you become a Pushing Chick.

beauteous segue into the tow story!


J9 said...

like the photo - LOVE the gogo boots ;)

RexC said...

The O'Brien speaks the truth again. Car pushing is a special thing but fellatio is always better! Great commentary!

dean said...

fulfilled in a way no amount of fellatio can achieve.

I like pushing cars.

I push car as good as any man who ever lived, believe you me. Just ask Chris.

But there is no way, in any man's universe, that car-pushing is as good as head IN ANY FORM.

Erin O'Brien said...

Aye it warms me nutters to see ye 'ave readed all the way to the wee bottom of the writin'

Erin O'Brien said...

And thanks for the stories, Limes and Jo, and for the kudos all 'round, mates.

Glass Houses said...

I was the pushing chick once, until a batch of utility guys came to my aid.

It was winter. I had an old decrepit Crown Victoria which had once been a police car. It had a V8. It weighed approximately as much as an elephant and broke down a lot.

I was just pulling into the parking lot of WEstway Realty when it died. The parking lot was an icy slope. It was fucking bitter cold.

"Fuck." I said.

So I got the car pointed towards a spot, went around back, and started pushing. Jebus that bitch was heavy. I managed to push it, by myself, UPHILL, all the way up the apron and through the small lot. I was trying to maneuver it into a spot (run to the open door, adjust wheel, run around back and push, run to the front, adjust wheel, etc. etc.) when the utility guys looked up from the hole they were all staring into while one guy dug.

They had Barney in a spot in a minute flat. (He was once a sheriff's car but he shot himself in the foot a lot.)

I love pushing guys.

Anonymous said...

Lo many years ago a friend of mine got a DUI while pushing his car that had run out of gas. Despite his protests that he wasn't technically driving the cop reasoned he HAD been driving to run out of gas and he lost the argument.


P.S. I think dean is right. That fellatio analogy just doesn't hold up. (no pun intended)

philbilly said...

A retired beater Crown Vic named after Barney Fife. Now that's funny.

Crown Vic's have helical limited-slip differentials. Just sayin.

"Oh, you're just full of fun today, aren't you? Why don't we go up to the old people's home and wax the steps? " Barney Fife

Amy L. Hanna said...

urutt sez:

YOU were at the GROVEWOOD TAVERN? A few stones' throw on MY side of town? I know it well, including some of the staff and patrons. Matter fact, I used to live a few houses apart from the co-owner back when I was living on La Salle.

Sounds like your car pushin' jockeys were well-fueled prior.

Anonymous said...

This is a fabulous riff, spot on.
Thanks for a great read! Marsha

kamper said...

It's true, men love pushing cars. In fact, I pushed one the other night. When you get back in your car, all sweaty and out of breath, it's like you just accomplished something, dammit!

There was one guy I didn't help, though. It was the middle of a winter storm and a car had driven up onto the traffic island on Warren Road south of Madison (where it veers left just before Winterhurst). The car was stuck on a rise so that neither the front wheels nor back wheels were touching the ground. I got out of my car along with another guy but then we realized the driver was falling down drunk. So we left. Figured stuck was the best place for him.

Matt Conlon said...

A car, by definition, goes. However, when it doesn't, there's nothing more manly than being able to do it's job for it. Albeit more slowly, and with less momentum. It's like the car is admitting defeat and it's dependence on us. rawr.

Only thing manlier is oxy-acetylene torch cutting... I mean, you're cutting metal with fire. How awesome is that?

Deodand said...

This is the truest article on the Internet!

simonthepieman said...

Nice one Erin.
Here in Brunei it's almost culturally unacceptable to push cars. They park their suddenly immobile vehicles on the hard shoulder with a branch sticking out from the boot replete with camouflaging greenery to help other motorists 'avoid' said dead car.
I have stopped and jumped out to help on many occasion much to the embarrassment of the drivers who have already called some flunky to come and do it for them. The social norm here is to have a paid serf to come and extricate you from the situation along with another vehicle to whisk you away to air-conditioned comfort.
I have discovered empty fuel tanks on two occasions hence the red-face factor?
It has to be said though I do miss pushing cars.
Did the double-headed dong ever turn up in Cleveland?

Erin O'Brien said...

Hi Simon and thanks for the great comment. As for a double-headed dong, I haven't seen one around here.