La Reina Sucia
A lot of people name their vehicles, especially people like me, who tend to hang on to them well past their nominal expiration date. My late mother had a 1965 Plymouth Sport Fury Convertible with a 383 cubic inch V-8 and a four barrel carburetor. She bought that thing new, and it was rocket fast, the wet dream of every gear-head kid at my high school. She drove that sleek, powerful convertible for 20 years, until it got totaled by a careless commuter in a morning rush hour snafu. The Fury’s name was Bessie, and she was, in a very odd way, an extension of Mom’s identity.
I myself had a ’67 VW bug:
Hermann (with two ‘n’s), beige in color, near Flagstaff, Arizona, circa 1976. Click photo to link to an article about me and my Bug, on a cool website dedicated to ’67 VW’s!
Herm was simple, durable transportation, cheap to maintain, even if he wasn’t always reliable. I bought him in Tucson for $1,000, and drove him all over creation–coast to coast, border to border, through at least 37 states and a tiny bit of Mexico. Over the course of ten years, I put a quarter of a million miles on him, then sold him for $1500. (If I’d kept him, and if he was still in pristine condition? He’d be worth ten times that today). I’d like to say that Hermann was NOT an extension of me, certainly not of the self-perceived macho identity that drove me as a youth. I’d like to say that he was just a compromise, the best that I could afford in those lean and hungry days–but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. It was during that ten year period that I settled down, started family and career and got a whole lot more serious about my life in general. In that context, Hermann, the eminently practical but still ever-so-slightly rebellious V-Dubya bug, was entirely appropriate for me.
My current vehicle, my Jeep? The reason I consider a sturdy, off-roader like a Jeep Cherokee in feminine terms has to do with style. My Cherokee is an elegant, functional design, not like one of those hulking Dodge Rams or F 350’s or the four wheel drive Suburbans and their ilk, vehicles that crush the terrain rather than simply traversing it. The Jeep is relatively dainty, and goes where those things can’t (or shouldn’t), and yet it’s a comfortable ride on the highway, with plenty of power from a small V-8, and nice amenities. Form, function, elegance? Enough said.
The “Dirty Queen” business is a bit more quixotic. La Reina’s first real shake-down cruise was a trip through Canyon de Chelly, on the Navajo reservation, back in 2013. A friend and I had driven deep into the side canyon known as Del Muerto, Canyon of the Dead. Accompanied by a Navajo guide, we’d spent the day exploring ruins and viewing ancient rock art, up close and personal, really taking our time about it. The end of the road was at a big ruin called Mummy Cave, not far ahead. It was getting late in the day, but we were so close we just had to go the rest of the distance, even though that meant crossing a particularly deep and muddy creek. I tried shifting the Jeep into Low Range, only to discover that it wasn’t working! A part had failed. It’s since been repaired and it functions perfectly, but at that moment, I was out of luck. I could have used the extra torque that Low Range would have provided, but I was bound and determined to cross that creek anyway, so I took a hard run at it–and I jammed the front end straight into a mud bank. Worse: when I backed up, the bumper pulled loose. (As I discovered later, it’s designed to do that–breakaway clips, to prevent more serious damage). I gunned her through the creek and up the other side, and she climbed out of the water like there was nothing to it. And it’s true: that Jeep is a trooper, and there was never anything to worry about, with or without Low Range. I was able to get the bumper pretty well reattached, and we were on our way, crossing creeks and bogs a whole lot worse than that one in the course of two wonderful days in those canyons. Still, that one had the distinction of being the muddiest of those encounters. While I was securing the loose bumper immediately after the mishap, my friend snapped the picture, at left, of a particularly graphic splash mark. “Looks like a Queen’s crown,” somebody said. “A dirty queen,” I replied. Hence was coined the sobriquet: “La Reina Sucia“.
If you’re a Jeep lover (and who isn’t?), click the photo above to link to a small photo gallery featuring La Reina in various poses and locations. (This gallery will definitely grow).