Nearly a month after driving my old Ford Explorer to the edge and back, I’m still getting used to the new Unit Four. Sure it’s nice: the All-Wheel Dive, the sunroof, even the nifty radio controls on the steering wheel have made life on the street just a little more refined. Problem is, it doesn't f-e-e-l like a news car. Why should it? There's no police scanner noise crackling from the dashboard, it doesn't smell of old onion rings yet and so far not a single logo desecrates the door. Only a tiny number 4 in the corner of the windshield gives it any air of officialdom. Catch a glimpse of me in traffic and you'd never believe I was an Action News Man, though you might wonder what kind of Mens Cosmetics I sold. No doubt about it, my new hoopty is a tad emasculating.
See, ever since I've been chasing news, I've done so from behind the wheel of a highly-marked news unit. The look has changed over the years, of course, but the sticker scheme always involved some garishly rendered numeral and a false promise or two. Early on, I thought all those tacky slogans on the door gave me the right to drive like a terrorist - a policy I followed until I scored just about every kind of speeding ticket there was. Since then I've slowed my roll considerably, but I never realized how driving a glowing logomobile affected my approach until I went completely unmarked. For instance, I grew used to the stare of strangers at stoplights. I knew how to wheel my billboard into a small town gas station and empty it of all its inhabitants - without even trying. Yeah, I used to come screaming in to a ribbon-cutting parking lot like a runaway ambulance; now I mosey up to crime scenes with all the authority of a lost Soccer Mom.
I know what you photogs are saying: "Dude, quit yer bitchin! I'd give my buddy's best battery for an unmarked car!" I used to say the exact same thing. Still, my transition to stealth mode was rougher than I suspected. Maybe it's machismo, perhaps its the perk of parking where you want, but really now, it's just a matter of access versus anonymity, right? Right? Yeah, I'm not so sure, either. All I know is that two weeks into the clandestine life, I found myself eyeing packs of multi-colored Sharpies with no small amount of lust. But before I could check into rehab for ACW (Acute Logo Withdrawal), my 13 year old daughter saw my new ride for the first time and, being 13, passed immediate judgement: "Cool," she said "now you're undercover..." Suddenly a veil was lifted and I saw for the first time the logic of my snow white chariot. Undercover, eh? Yeah, I can dig that; it goes nicely with my aversion to logowear. Besides, now that I can slip in like a ninja instead of rolling up like some circus clown, I may just commit better journamalism -- and what, I ask you, is more important than that?
Well, being able to pick your nose at a stoplight without triggering any angry phone calls ranks right up there too...