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The star-spangled Caddie

2007-05-21 07:19

David Moseley

When it comes to icons of classic Americana, the Cadillac instantly springs to mind. Like Elvis impersonators, white picket fences, high school shootings, baseball and tacit imperialism, the Cadillac is a glossy, so-big-you'll-never-miss-it symbol of American life. Even Cadillac's motto (Life, Liberty and the Pursuit) screams "I'm American Don't You Forget It. Or Else I'll Bash You On The Head With My Star Spangled Banner Flag Pole". Quite.

Apart from a few crappy television shows South Africa remains generally free of America's octopus-like reach and influence. But I wanted to taste America with the Cadillac BLS and - short of biting into the plush leather seats of the large sedan - there was not much I could do.

I wanted to feel the United States coursing through my veins while I maneouvered the might of America's automobile industry through the traffic. I wanted to be America for one day (though without having to worry about dwindling oil supplies).

The hunt is on

There was only one thing I could do. Track down as much Americana in one day as I possibly could. Yes, that's right, in a gruelling test of the Cadillac BLS's cruising prowess I embarked on the All American Treasure Hunt. Donuts not included.

The list from Wheels24 was straightforward. Dear David, please locate the following All-American items for your next informative motor vehicle review: the perfect hamburger, the perfect milkshake, an American tourist, al-Qaeda's South African hideout (clue: it's not in a cave. Try the Waterfront), find Elvis, go gambling, drink a Budweiser, locate a classic Cadillac, and start a war on a densely populated, yet expansive and sparse area of sand. No problem, I acquiesced, it's your diesel. So long suckers.

I won't beat around the Bush. The car is bland. It looks like a car, so it must be a car. The interior was beige or brown. Could have been black and beige. I can't remember. I always measure the pulling-power (interpret that as you will, but please note that this car is NOT a babe magnet) on the amount of people who stop in their tracks and stare the car down.

Only one gentleman, in a pin-striped suit and pork-pie hat, stopped. He biffed the car indignantly with his umbrella and then pelted me with bangers, mash and mushy peas. As I drove off I heard him mutter to his wife, "But Cherie, what do you mean that wasn't George." It speaks volumes for the paintwork of the BLS that the peas slid right off.

The search for America was on. Although not on the list I thought fifteen flapjacks and a Horlicks milkshake for breakfast would put me into an American frame of mind. It certainly put my pants in an American frame of sartorial inelegance.

Say cheese!!

As I washed down my last blueberry delicacy with a crispy rasher of bacon I heard the unmistakable drawl of America. Tick one off the list because sitting right behind me was a grinning fellow from Massachusetts. He seemed friendly enough, so I asked him for a photo and then kicked him in the shins. I know it's not his fault, but someone has to take the blame for all those goddamn sappy Disney movies my mom made me watch.

My search for the Bud was long and arduous. Though non-descript in terms of look, the inside of the car is incredibly comfortable, which was just the ticket for the lengthy drive into Cape Town's northern suburbs. Capetonians get awfully fidgety if they're in a car for longer than 20 minutes. Hence only about 15 of us have left the suburbs of our birth. A quick stop at the casino (no Bud) resulted in a R300 windfall at the slots and the confirmation that Capetonians do not work on a Friday. After fruitless attempts at three more bars, two bottle stores and McDonald's (hey, you never know), I managed to sniff out a case of Bud's. I can report that the beer was frosty, refreshing and tasted not unlike a Black Label. After about nine I considered pouring the rest over my body and sliding gleefully across the bonnet of the Cadillac. Just to give it a bit more X-factor. Luckily common sense prevailed and I just finished the remaining beers while watching reruns of Dallas.

Once the booze was gone it was definitely time to track down a hamburger. By this stage my girlfriend and her buddy realised they might get a free meal out of me, so they tagged along. For added effect, I pretended the Caddy was an automatic and free-wheeled down the road. The girls weren't impressed, but I thought the car responded marvellously.

A total failure

As a symbol of America the Cadillac BLS fails miserably. Perhaps with the dubious prominence that America now enjoys throughout the world, the makers of the car have purposely created a vehicle so timidly understated.

When I think of a Cadillac I imagine those lengthy convertible spaceship inspired road-hogging gas guzzlers you see in the movies, where men jump over the door and land snuggly behind the steering wheel and where woman gaily undress and fling their underwear at passing motorists. Alas, the closest I got to that was my girlfriend taking her shoe off.

The latest incarnation could pass for a Hyundai. Though, thank goodness I didn't get sent on a great Korean treasure hunt. I certainly didn't fancy a poodle sandwich.

Epilogue: whatever you do, don't ever order a corndog if you see an establishment offering them and you're feeling slightly experimental. It's a classic staple of American cuisine, but not even a case of beer will take the taste away. Though not on the list, I wanted to prove my dedication to Wheels24 by wolfing one down. The cheese and dough encased sausage is still clinging to my palate and has ruined the flavour of every meal I've had since last week. Oh say can you see?

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