In my introductory piece I laid out some of the reasons I believe the Jeep Wrangler has held such a prominent location in the U.S. psyche. This installment is about a more personal motivation.
I started researching Jeeps for their utility and versatility. I wanted something I could drive into the wilds in the snow to take photographs. I wanted something I could more easily clean: my dog at the time left hair everywhere. (You should have seen the black Civic I traded in when I bought my Jeep; the seats were practically white with her hair.) And I definitely wanted a convertible.
But when I decided it was time to buy one, another thought was firmly lodged in my brain. I won’t claim it was the reason I bought my Wrangler, but a commitment I made to myself when I did.
To me, a Jeep is, at its core, a community service vehicle.
The original Jeep was born in wartime. For anyone unfamiliar with the Bantam story, I recommend this short dive into its origins.
(Trivia note: reportedly the grille you see at the top of this article was later simplified by Henry Ford himself so it would be easier to stamp out in the factory. The 9-slot grille, then, is a distinctly Ford creation, later remade into a 7-slot grille for civilian use with the—I assume intentional—result that it could be trademarked by Willys.)
The Jeep was born for war but not as an offensive weapon. It was not a tank, designed to crush everything in its path. It wasn’t an armored personnel carrier. It was a reconnaissance vehicle, a communications tool, a response to the Blitzkrieg, but not ultimately a machine designed to kill opposing troops.
After the war it continued to be a utilitarian service vehicle. The first Willys consumer Jeeps were positioned as agricultural jack-of-all-trade tools[*], complete with a power take-off to plow fields, dig trenches, or whatever else a farmer might need. The U.S. Postal Service famously used the right-hand drive Jeep DJ for many years, and the Wrangler Unlimited is still in use today in some rural areas.
(* More trivia: the first consumer Jeep prototypes, the CJ-2, were called AgriJeep in acknowledgement of their intended market. I’m grateful I didn’t have to shout “Nice AgriJeep!” to the guy I passed a few days ago on the north side of Indy.)
Even Green Arrow found the CJ useful, as revealed by Gulliver’s Gigantic Goof in the first season of Super Friends, when he was summoned to rescue the shrunken heroes.
And while I don’t fancy myself to be as useful in a crisis as Green Arrow has proven himself to be, I did picture myself able to help people stuck in the snow (not entirely uncommon in these parts), or alongside the road for any other reason.
And so when I bought it, I promised myself I’d make myself and my Jeep useful to the community around me. I took some emergency medical classes, joined an organization dedicated to providing assistance during emergencies (although for various stupid reasons I’m no longer a member), and have done a credible if imperfect job of providing roadside assistance on an irregular basis.
My only attempt at snow recovery so far wasn’t successful, but a 2 ton vehicle was never likely to be able to snatch a Ford Explorer which had buried itself in the snow and mud.
I have however been able to tow stranded vehicles (including a 1960 Buick owned by a local automotive celebrity who has created a drivable spaceship and 5 different Batmobiles), put my Jeep in a body shop pulling a woman out of a ditch (long story replete with stupidity), helped people evacuate from a flood zone and provided overnight security, and have given stranded motorists a ride to and from gas stations on several occasions (an upscale restaurateur in St. Louis still owes me dinner—don’t think I’ve forgotten, Ben).
Among my best memories: twice in two weeks I gave a ride to people who were walking, after midnight, many miles through a remarkably un-pedestrian-friendly city out of desperation (including a high school boy kicked out of his house by his drunk abusive father, sigh).
I definitely don’t recommend it to everyone: women in particular, sadly, would be ill-advised to pick up random hitchhikers... but I’ve been able to help some people in genuine need, and I’m grateful I’ve been in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions.
While I don’t recommend you pick up random strangers, I do ask you emulate me in one particular.
I take daily advantage of the fact that a lunatic in a bright yellow naked Jeep is hard to ignore. (Ok, you don’t have to emulate me to that level of specificity, although a yellow Jeep can make anyone’s life better.)
How, you may ask? By alerting people to broken brake lights! Please, speak up when you see this, because clearly not enough drivers do.
Now that I pay close attention, roughly twice a month I see someone with no brake lights at all, and every day there are at least a half dozen cars with one or more missing lights.
See? It’s not so hard to make a difference in your community. Just, y’know, don’t get shot by someone who thinks you’re being accusatory about it. Smile as you let them know they’re endangering themselves and everyone around them.
And do think about getting yourself a yellow Jeep. It might just change your life.