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20 Years of Artvoice, 10 Years of Car Columns

When I got notice that Artvoice was celebrating its 20th anniversary, my first thought was—and that makes me how old now? Yikes.

The paper’s 20th anniversary coincides pretty much with my 10th anniversary writing this column. Okay, if you want to get picky, the first year was at the now defunct Buffalo Beat, and someone there decided we’d call the column “Auto Didactic.” And yes, I had to look it up in the dictionary.

Auto Didactic got off to a rousing start:

I AM TOO the Boss of you!

Driving Ford’s new Excursion

Before I start, let me get this out of the way: My sincerest apologies to the guy standing at the corner of Elmwood and Tremaine who nearly had a heart attack when he turned around and saw me coming.

I was on the road; he was on the sidewalk. Yet he still felt the need to duck.

For those of you who’ve never seen Ford’s new Excursion up close, it was like he was that Chinese student facing the tank in Tienanmen Square ten years ago. Only the tank was almost 19 ft. long, with sideview mirrors OUT TO THERE. And a windshield where the gun should be. Not to mention leather seats, a CD player, and power everything.

Here, the “S” in SUV stands for “sizeable.”

When Buffalo Beat closed its doors—slammed them, actually—I moved my act over to Artvoice in October 2001, where my first drive was the Isuzu Axiom. You’re excused if you just said “the who what?” Isuzu, along with a number of other nameplates, has bitten the dust in the North American market during the past 10 years. But who could have guessed it back when I wrote the opening of You Auto Know no. 1:

The Truth Is Out There

The 2002 Isuzu Axiom

Find something different—something you don’t see at every stoplight for this first Artvoice column, I told myself.

Here it is, the 2002 Isuzu Axiom. (Axiom—truth. Get it?)

You’ve gotta admit, it meets my criteria. Head on.

Actually, last time I checked the Axiom was still being produced in China as a stretch limousine called the Great Wall Hover TT. The Chinese sure have a knack for naming cars. The Axiom fared better than the Ford Excursion, which passed on in 2005. Also, since the dawn of You Auto Know, we’ve seen Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Saturn, Pontiac, and Hummer go to that great nameplate graveyard in the sky. (And,maybe soon, Mercury.)

It’s been both fun and interesting writing this column these past 10 years. It amazes me that a dealer will throw me the keys to, say, a $70,000 Jaguar and say “Have a blast!” And then a certain Chevrolet dealer will tell me they can’t let me drive a used Chevy Metro, which I wanted for a comparison, without having a dealer representative go with me—I guess all of those guys sitting around the showroom just didn’t have the time. Or the Ford dealer who gave me pretty much the same response—even after I told him we were second cousins!

It’s always a blast driving something brand new when it first hits the showrooms. Like the first New Beetle, which, when I was crossing the Grand Island bridge, the toll taker wouldn’t take my quarters until she could get a better look at the car. Or the MINI convertible, which I couldn’t have gotten more stares in if I were driving it naked and standing up. Also high on the list of attention-getters were the Scion xB, Nissan Cube, and the Chrysler PT Cruiser. One of the odder vehicles was the GEM electric vehicle, which seemed like nothing more than a glorified golf cart. Maybe my most interesting day was spent at the NFTA Metro bus garage on Military Road in April of 2003, where I was allowed to get behind the wheel of a Metro bus and actually drive it a bit (albeit a very, very tiny bit) in the garage parking lot.

Who knows what interesting vehicles and stories will come in the next few years. Whatever they are, You Auto Know you oughta read ’em here!

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