The Long Island Expressway is the clogged main artery from New York to the Hamptons. When my family went on holiday in Britain in the 1970s, taking to the M1 in our M-reg Mini, car-spotting was something I did to pass the time. Now, when I drive my family along the LIE in our Volvo, I still keep an eye out for the unusual. I was pleased to score a Maybach, the $300,000-plus Mercedes saloon. If we've judged well and missed the worst of the traffic out of New York City, we will be doing 65 in the middle lane. Even so there'll be a steady stream of vehicles passing us to left and right, many of them SUVs (sports utility vehicles), the truck-based four-wheel-drive giants that rule America's roads. Other than the unironic Suburban, a name that has been in constant use since 1935, SUVs are named for mountains, wildernesses and the activities of the great outdoors: Durango, Denali, Yukon; Discovery, Mountaineer, TrailBlazer; Explorer, Expedition, Excursion. These are hints of a life off the road, fording creeks and driving into gulches; yet here they are, barrelling along the LIE, which is just an extension of Madison Avenue without the cabs and buses.
LRB 7 October 2004 | PDF Download