It’s those reasons, though, that had me a little bummed when my car broke down and I feared it was dead. I’ve been driving it a few years and had yet to name it. I’ll concede there are no tangible benefits to giving a car a name. In fact, it might even be counterproductive. A car should probably be treated like the machine it is. But that’s not very fun. And giving a car a name, especially to a car you don’t like, can make driving it a little more palatable.
I only picked this car by default. My dad was driving it, couldn’t drive anymore, so I inherited it. It’s a 1998 White Ford Taurus. I’ve never understood why Tauruses are so omnipresent on American roads. When I graduated from college and got my first job, even before I reported the first day, I bought a Jetta. Named it Biff, because Biff in those days suggested a bit of snobbery. (Egads, Biff, this caviar tastes common.) A Jetta wasn’t a BMW, but it was more than my friends who were still in college could afford. We named my friend’s Mazda 626 “Hoffy” as in Hoffman, when my friend graduated.In coming up with a name for the Taurus, I consulted Wikipedia and found a list of people who died in 1998. Phil Hartman was in there and for about a day I thought I had settled on naming my car Lionel Hutz, a character Hartman voiced on “The Simpsons.” But Hutz is incompetent. The Taurus may be uncool, but it’s not incompetent.
Then I thought of another actor who, like Hartman, is often a memorable, but supporting, character. On Sundays when I’m out in the Taurus I often get to listen to the NPR show “The Tobolowsky Files.” Stephen Tobolowsky, in case the name doesn’t immediately draw your memory, makes an appearance in nearly every movie and television show. He is almost never the star, but his parts are memorable. Know why Mr. Schuester teaches the glee club. It’s because Mr. Ryerson got in trouble. Tobolowsky plays Ryerson on “Glee.” It’s not a regular role, but it’s frequent and usually worth remembering.
That’s Tobolowsky’s role in show business, for the most part. He could win an Oscar one day for best supporting actor. If someone were to make a movie of my life, I wouldn’t want Tobolowsky playing me, but I’d want him in the movie. And take that storyline and attach it to our highways and you have the Ford Taurus. When was the last time you went on a drive of any length and did so without seeing a Taurus? Did it make you want one? I didn’t think so. They’re not cool, but they’re everywhere. And you know what? They work just fine.
It’s because of all this that I have named my car after one of Tobolowsky’s characters, who shares the same last name as his Glee character. From Groundhog Day, I give you Ned “Needle-nose” Ryerson.