i don't beleive in jesus or any other mythical god but it would be fun to drive around in the snow in a SUV - the webmaster

from: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/21/automobiles/21SUV.html

What Would Jesus Drive in a Snowstorm? Well, Maybe an S.U.V.

ehabilitating the reputations of the drivers of sport utility vehicles was not what hospitals in Washington and other East Coast cities had in mind this week when they sent out a plea to owners of four-wheel-drive behemoths. They just wanted the S.U.V. drivers to transport doctors, nurses and patients through streets knee-deep in snow.

Nevertheless, for a few days drivers of gas-sucking Blazers and road-hogging Troopers sat a little higher in their high seats, riding to the rescue of medical professionals who had to get to work (or back home after pulling unexpected 16-hour shifts) and patients who needed critical treatments like chemotherapy or kidney dialysis.

After a long, trying spell of being pilloried by Hollywood celebrities, "What would Jesus drive" activists and even their own ecologically sensitive children, S.U.V. owners were thrilled to pick up people they had never met for rides over the drifts in the comfort of heated leather passenger seats.

Some 75 drivers of Hummers, Land Rovers and four-wheel-drive trucks kept Georgetown University Hospital staffed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, after Washington-area hospitals ran announcements on television soliciting drivers. An army of 60 forged choked back roads and unplowed cul-de-sacs for Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md. And hundreds more hit roadways unnavigable by ordinary cars in suburban Virginia and up the East Coast through Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Glen Cardelino, who manages a Hummer dealership in Greenbelt, Md., and drives a top-of-the-line Hummer H1, found sweet vindication along with the satisfaction of helping out. His vehicle may get 14 miles to a gallon of gasoline, but, he said, "We were there when you needed us."

He has 30 inches of road clearance on his Hummer, and he drove all day Monday for Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, Md., delighted to exercise the rugged capabilities of his warrior wheels. "The Hummer was just like a snowmobile," he said. "I was driving back three-quarters of a mile off the main roads on streets that hadn't been touched" in two feet of snow.

And the Hummer performed. "I never even spun a tire," Mr. Cardelino said.

Certainly the S.U.V. volunteers were doing their bit for their communities. But many freely admitted there was a side benefit. With some communities restricting all road travel on Sunday and Monday to emergency trips, the only way to get out and do some four-wheeling in their snow-ready cars was to volunteer.

Tony Tannouse, who builds racecars, drove for Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington and incidentally had fun testing his Blazer's chops, the way drivers do in the commercials. His Blazer sprayed arcs of snow for three days, as he drove 470 miles.

"I'm a thrill-seeker," he said. "And I had nothing better to do." He drives an S.U.V. without shame "because I like to know I can get from Point A to Point B regardless of the weather," he said. "And this time I was helping people."

As for the praise and gratitude raining down on his previously scorned vehicle, he said, "I found it rather amusing."

In Montgomery County, Md., according to Doug Duncan, the county executive, county workers were entirely occupied with clearing snow and answering emergency calls. It fell to citizens in their S.U.V.'s to drive residents to critical appointments and pick up prescription drugs. "We could not have come close to handling all that without those volunteers," he said.

He drove one himself, checking the progress of snow removal for four days in a county-owned Ford Explorer. Along the way he did some impromptu volunteering of his own. He picked up people trying to walk down the main drags to work.

Gary Stephenson, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins University who lives in a Baltimore suburb, saw similar informal volunteering in his own neighborhood and also observed the resulting gratitude. "It's funny how a week ago everyone hated S.U.V.'s, and now they're all heroes," he said. "A guy in my neighborhood has a big old S.U.V., and he was picking up pizzas and toilet paper for everybody."

One samaritan, Dave Parker, a Democratic political consultant, mused on the policy implications of the lesson the public was getting on the value of cars like his Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

"Should we blame S.U.V. owners when obviously these things have some merit they are useful tools at times like this?" Mr. Parker asked. "Or should we be calling for better fuel-efficiency standards?"

He was new in town he moved with his wife, Alice, from Montana to Dupont Circle in Washington two weeks ago but he was quick to volunteer. He transported nurses for Georgetown and said it felt good to know that his car had a proud place on city streets.

Army Maj. Pedro Almeida landed at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday morning after a 16-hour flight from Kuwait, where he had been, he said without elaboration, "on business." On Monday he was out in his Toyota 4Runner, and his best moment, he said, was driving one Nigerian and one Ethiopian nurse from Silver Spring, Md., to Georgetown: he's a sub-Saharan Africa specialist. As a bonus, he added, "four-wheeling in the snow is really fun, even in the city."

For some, however, even riding to the rescue in a storm did not wash away the shame of driving a much-criticized car. Louis Wolf of Washington plied the Beltway in his Toyota Land Cruiser in the thick of Sunday's snowfall, carrying a cargo of doctors. But even as he did his lifesaving work, he remained acutely conscious of getting only 17 miles to the gallon.

"I still feel guilty," he said.

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