|Slate has never heard of a Hemi?
||[Jul. 22nd, 2004|07:03 pm]
A right-winger who likes French cinema!
|||||"Lack of Communication" -- Ratt||]|
Boy, I had a major "red America/blue America" moment today. I came across this article in Slate intended to explain to Slate's readers what a "Hemi" engine is -- you know, because of those commercials with the scuzzy rednecks who ask the guy in the truck, "that thing got a Hemi?" The article's author candidly admitted that he was initially puzzled by the ads, because he'd never heard of a "Hemi."
Wait -- stop the presses. This guy has never heard of a Hemi?
Okay, I can understand that not everybody in America has heard of a Hemi. But, you know, I trust the writers of Slate to be fairly well-rounded, knowledgable folks, so it was something of a shock to me to realize that there are places in America where you can be well-rounded and knowledgable and have no freakin' idea what a Hemi is.
A Hemi, by the way, is basically an engine with a hemispherical combustion chamber. Chrysler wasn't the only carmaker to build a Hemi engine -- Ford once made a Hemi, for example -- but Chrysler and its Dodge brand are virtually synonomous with the term "Hemi" because they were the company that achieved the greatest success with the concept -- first in the '50s, when Hemi-powered Chryslers terrorized racetracks, and later, in the '60s, when the company introduced the legendary 426 Hemi. A 426 would put out well over 400 horsepower straight from the factory, and it is generally considered to be the ultimate bad-ass muscle car engine. That's the subtext of the phrase, "yeah, it's got a Hemi" -- it means, watch out, baby, this car can blow your doors off.
I grew up in Alabama, where all of this stuff was just common knowledge, especially for gearhead kids like yours truly. But where I come from, even guys who weren't particularly into cars generally understood that "Hemi" meant "kick-ass engine." So when I heard that Dodge was coming out with a new Hemi, and when I saw the commercial with the rednecks, nobody had to explain anything to me. (The "new Hemi" is a new design that is only vaguely related to the old 426, but with 345 horsepower, it's still nothing to sneeze at. For those of you not up to speed on horsepower values, a "sporty" car typically has between 200-300 horsepower; unless you're driving something like a Mazda Miata or a Caterham Super Seven, 300 horsepower is generally considered the minimum for a "serious" performance engine.)
So seeing this piece in Slate was something of an eye-opener: We're really divided in this country, aren't we? I mean, man, it's like we're on different planets sometimes. I consider myself a fairly well-rounded guy -- I mean, in film school, I knew all about all the directors we studied, even the ones whose names I couldn't pronounce who came from countries I couldn't spell. But I have no doubt there's probably some Hemi-like issue for me out there somewhere: something that is just considered common knowledge in one part of the country that I'm completely ignorant about. Weird.