His name would have been Chuck, Jim or Clint, western-style bad boy. He was recommended to us as the best off-road rider in Moab. We looked for it for a television report about the trails of Utah, dangerous adventure routes for diehards whose steering skills are beyond understanding.
Our man turned out to be perfect for the role: a professional survivor. He was in his eighties, the remnant of a life artist who was infectiously re-enacting his former self. Boyishly, he told the story of his ailments with the ruthlessness of the boulders that hadn’t knocked him down either. The test climb he curled up from the base of the mountain through his index finger seemed suicidal to me. Well, there was no going back. Mindful of the end of his agony – ‘we’re still here guys‘ – I decided to trust him.
We got into his open-top Jeep CJ5, a modern doppelganger of the Willy’s Jeep that started the brand’s saga in World War II. We crept upward at three miles an hour and I thought of Moses. Halfway through, we stranded in front of the Stone Tablets, a natural rock staircase with carelessly worn giant steps for gods and giants. Chuck, Jim or Clint got out for an inspection round his car: „Let me think, Bas. This is all about thinking.”
Then he cut a recess in the first step like cutting a delicate wedding cake, concentrated slow motion with a glowing knife. While I was terrified in the heavily sloping vehicle, the old boss thought his way to the top.
“What’s so great about this?” I asked in front of the rotating camera, as we looked out at a desert backdrop. to infinity that answered all the stupid questions.
„The fun is getting there”, said Chuck, Jim or Clint with the smile too old to lie.
That’s what you have Jeeps for. They still exist. In the Wrangler 75th Anniversary, a new one in the style of an old one, I was reminded of my driver, who has long since ridden to heaven from his top. This 4×4 is a belated tribute to his glorious life in the wilderness. The army green anniversary Jeep, with its detachable hardtop the direct descendant of the CJ5, would have conquered Chuck’s horror stairs in goose step. We just don’t have a trail to prove it. He celebrates his heroism immortal alone. Well, with me, soft egg on socks.
What a strange sensation to see the general of Utah back with power windows, cruise control, USB connection, climate control, audio controls on the steering wheel and a navigation system for the civilian routes that avoid the cracks of Moab like the plague. Chuck had laughed heartily.
Still, it remained the rough shell that a Jeep should be. He’s got the gritty, roaring diesel that the men of Moab loved, shields for the tank and transfer case. But there is nobody here to use it as a tool, except for the few hip contractor who can drive it excluding VAT and bpm on the shop for one third of the more than 100,000 euros that the test Jeep with a yellow license plate must cost.
For the remaining wannabee Chucks in the country, the Wrangler is no longer a Ding-an-sich, but a experience with all the prehistoric folklore making their wildest cowboy dreams come true. The wheel arches that protrude invisibly from your seat and are so treacherous in parking garages. The impossible entry, too high through a door that is too small with the charming hinges placed on the outside. The slow five-speed automatic, the noise of the engine that has skipped the last decade of diesel evolution.
This is how the prehistoric times we miss sound like and it makes little difference to that experience that his obstinate denial of the zeitgeist is a play. Jeep builds what we consider a real car, but its authenticity is solidified past in a new coat.
There’s nothing stopping Jeep from building an all-terrain vehicle that doesn’t bellow and rattle – parent company Fiat-Chrysler must have the technology in-house – and that is just as capable of anything with Chuck behind the wheel. We wouldn’t believe such a Jeep, as we gratefully revel in the architectural regression of the afterbirth.
So I drive him, an incapable off-roader, a metrosexual parasite, bereft of the goal as far away as it seems near in memory.
The fun was getting there. But I enjoy. It just seems real, the full, raw life.