The New York International Auto Show is on now at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and I spent an hour or so there yesterday afternoon. Mostly it was people taking pictures of shiny new cars, or sitting in them. Some of the cars were on turntables, others on deep-pile carpeting. The whole cavernous crystal palace reeked of new-car smell. The spokesmodels were dressed in excruciating outfits, some with skirts so short that they wore bicycle shorts under them, and tottered around on high, high heels, their hidden microphones throwing their voices way up in the air.
I made a beeline for the auto accessories pavilion. In Padua, this took up an area the size of an airplane hangar, and had everything from hubcaps and socket wrenches to fine leather driving gloves. The selection was not so grand at Jacob Javits: two aisles of the kinds of things you see advertised on late-night television. There were fake chamois cloths, nozzles, a purple solvent for washing eyeglasses (a young man offered to wash my eyeglasses, and as they were quite spotted I let him; I was impervious to his sales pitch, however, as I have my own method of using diluted Palmolive dishwashing detergent at home). There were vulgar license-plate holders, a model of a AAA tow truck, neckties (100% silk) printed with a map of the east coast of Florida. I bought an “optician approved” Lighted Superview Magnifier, for reading small print in the dark. There was a book called “Lots” put out by the city, listing all the parking lots by geographic area and amount of time you wish to leave your car. There was a cop-recruitment booth, manned by two women (I know that “man” is not the correct verb here, even though they were very macho women; one of them actually thumped her chest to show how brave and strong she was). I was going to ask them if they knew where I could get one of those parking permits the police use, but I thought better of it.
I looked in vain for either of the cars I would consider buying: a Mini Cooper or a Smart car. The Honda Civic that runs on natural gas piqued my interest. Instead of going to the gasoline station, you hook it up to the same supply that fuels your stove and hot-water heater at home. And it entitles you to drive in the car-pool lane. ($25,000)
My favorite exhibit was the Air Car. “Does it run on air, or does it fly?” I asked the guy at the exhibit. (I had eliminated the possibility that it was inflatable.) “It flies,” he said. Or, rather, it will fly: the brochure said, “The initial prototype is a non-flying but drive-able vehicle. It demonstrates solutions to problems inherent in building a car that flies and an airplane strong enough to drive on public roads.” The prototype has foldable wings and a canard in front. (Don’t ask me what a canard is; it has something to do with ducks and something to do with stability in aviation.) The idea is to drive to the airport, unfold your wings, fly to wherever you want to go, land, then fold your wings, stow your canard, and drive to your ultimate destination. You will have to have a pilot’s license to operate an Air Car. I wouldn’t want to be the test driver.
There was also something called the Tri-Fun, “The Ultimate 3 Wheel Vehicle.” It’s a tiny three-wheel truck, with “optional box.” I watched as someone described how you could make the box into a cooler. “This is just what we need,” a customer said. Tri-Fun has a showroom at City Cycles, on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. The cost is $9,995 (plus freight—that would be the box). It’s cute.
The one booth where they were giving stuff away was the DMV, with two ladies filling in for Marge Simpson’s sisters Patti and Selma. Free pencils, key chains, red blinking lights for seat-belt awareness (one of these pulsed away in my purse all night), cheesy blue plastic holders for your driver’s license ... You could heap these freebies in a plastic shopping bag with “GOT PLATES?” stamped on it: a collector’s item in itself, because it bore the name of the newly deposed governor, Eliot Spitzer. Come to think of it, maybe that's why they were giving all this stuff away.
The New York car show was nowhere near as much fun as the one in Padua, but I am not exactly their target audience. Sipping a beer on the mezzanine, looking down on the lobby, I wondered why the exhibits included racks and racks of used coats—it looked like a flea market in Palermo. Then I realized: it was the coat check.