Future Driver Ben stands in front of the Silver Element and helps me evaluate the Bokeh of the 50mm Carl Zeiss ZE lens. Excruciatingly low light.
I know you’re not supposed to fall in love with inanimate objects and it’s not that I really “love” my car in the sense that I’d marry it, but, it is the best car I’ve ever had when it comes to facilitating my photography. I’m talking about the Honda Element and I’m writing this as a eulogy of sorts since I’ve just learned that 2011 will be its last year in production.
I wasn’t always an lover of practical cars with anemic performance. The car I owned before getting my 2003 was a 1996 BMW 525i Olympic Edition. It was fast and graceful and for the first few years I owned it the performance a reliability were peerless. In the early days, while it was undented and the paint was new, the valets at the Four Seasons would park it out front. Assignments to Dallas were fun to get to and it was never tough to get assistants who were ready to drive. But whatever it had going for it I was always aware of the shortage of cargo space.
Over time my kid’s muddy shoes graced the leather seats in the back. The tail lights started failing pretty regularly because I’d leave my sopping wet swim bag in the trunk overnight. Then, around 60K miles the dark nature of nice cars reared it’s ugly head. Expensive repairs. $1300 for the electronic ignition switch which, as part of the theft prevention systems, had to be ordered from Germany and only after I appeared in person with my birth certificate to prove ownership. The radiator failed twice. The suspension had issues. Etc.
I’d “graduated” to the BMW from a Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon which could have been the ultimate photographer’s station wagon if not for the expensive habit of burning up turbochargers every 25,000 miles. (Yes, I knew enough to let the car idle two minutes after driving before shutting off the motor.) It was bad enough bringing the car in under warranty, trailing white smoke, but after the first non-warranted turbocharger repair the car had to go away. Pity as it was nice to be able to load up the back with all the stuff I wanted and needed for a shoot and drive well over 100 mph thru west Texas for the occasional shoot in west Texas......
But then, with the bitter taste of German reliability betrayal still on the tongue of my car consciousness I, on a lark, test drove a Honda Element. Not fast. Not quiet. Never parked in the front driveway of a five star hotel. But able to fit nearly the entire inventory of my studio in the back with room for an assistant and a beautiful model on board.
The sexy allure of $125 tune ups. The amazing head room. The stadium seating in the back. And, amazingly, the ability to remove one (or both) of the back seats, lay out a sleeping bag and have a portable hotel room with inches to spare for my feet and my head. It’s a car that takes photographers back to their roots as happy go lucky kids ready to go anywhere and willing to sleep in their cars to get the shots at sunrise. And when the repairs do need to occur they are priced only in the one hundreds, not in the thousands.......and my local dealer makes good coffee and offer fresh kolaches and wi-fi.
I always thought, that when I had enough miles on this 2003 Element that I’d trade it in or sell it and get myself a brand new one. Maybe even trade up to an SC model with the lower profile. In fact, I could see myself buying an Element every ten years until the police took my license away.
But now all my hope are dashed. Smashed on the rocks of bad marketing. Seems that the marketing people were the drivers behind the design and the demographic targeting of the Element. They had their hearts set on creating a “cool” set of “wheels” for young surfers and groovy guys, just out of college. In the hopeful minds of the marketers flocks of upscale millenials would rush to the dealers with their BMX bikes and their bongos, load up their girlfriends and haul off to the beaches and the mountains to sit around campfires, smiling, with their wide open Elements beckoning in the background.
Alas, it was not to be. The primary market self selected. They were predominantly over 40. A surprising number were single women over 40. With dogs. And couples over 50 who could understand what a great value the car was. And photographers. I know so many photographers who have Elements that it’s become a stereotype. In the distant future, when they make 3D sitcoms about photographers from the first decade in our new century, they’ll seat them firmly in Honda Elements.
Now I’m getting nervous. My silver Element only has 75,000 miles on the odometer but I live in fear that it will dissolve under me and I won’t be able to replace it with a shiny new one. And that’s made me a bit edgy. Now I’m looking around to see what the next “photo nerd” vehicle will be. I’m kinda leaning toward a Ford Flex because it’s nearly as goofy looking as the E. I’m trying to keep it running because Ben gets his license next October and I’d like for him to get some use out a such a wonderful car.
If you have an opinion from the point of view of a photographer I’d love to hear it. I’m nearly always fascinated by why people drive what they drive. Anyways. Honda Element, I loved you while you were here......