In the summer of 1997, I was working for Compaq Computer Corporation in Houston, TX. As my first foray into product marketing, I was a bit overwhelmed. While cranking away on some spreadsheet, my boss asked to borrow my car since his was in the shop. He was a buttoned-down East Coast prep school guy with an Ivy League pedigree whom I respected very much. I said sure, threw him the keys and continued delving into my excel file, lost in thought.
After about an hour, my boss returned, dripping in sweat. I’d forgotten to warn him my car’s air conditioning had gone out. He said, “Pyper! I pay you too much to have a vehicle without air conditioning—I was at 10 and 2 the whole time, paralyzed in fear my back would touch the seat.” I didn’t have the heart to challenge his “I pay you too much” claim given his drenched suit and tie, figuring he had probably suffered enough.
Earlier that year, I checked how much it would cost to repair the AC. After getting the estimate and realizing it would cost more than the car was worth, I passed on fixing it. Instead, I decided to deploy some of my newfound marketing prowess and rebrand the car as a Mobile Sweat Unit (MSU). Needless to say, my boss was less than thrilled to become the first customer of this effort.
Fast forward almost twenty years and I am trying to buy a car for my eldest daughter, Ariana. Like a lot of kids her age, she was thrilled to be simply getting her license and told me, “I don’t care what kind of car as long as it runs.” Having heard that the high school parking lot was a graveyard of dented cars, I determined to do just that—get her a beater. A good friend sold me his 1987 Jeep Cherokee, affectionately named Hagrid, for one hundred dollars.
The Jeep was in decent shape, especially given my initial investment. While it ran pretty well, I did have to add brakes, a muffler and tail pipe combo, fix an oil leak, repair some engine mounts, buy some tires and attach a towing hitch. Things I did not fix were two windows that did not roll down, dented doors, a side window held together with duct tape, the headliner, the power locks, some blown speakers, a strange round hole in the rear door and…..the broken air conditioner.
With over 287,000 miles, riding in the Jeep is an adventure since there is no guarantee you will ever make it back. While driving home for the first time, I realized letting my princess drive that car was not an option. Reluctantly giving her keys to our 4-Runner, I realized driving an MSU was once again in my future.
While not immediately obvious, driving an MSU can be quite advantageous. I relish how often people allow me to merge into traffic. That “Hey, that guy has nothing to lose—I better let him in” expression on their faces is priceless. Parking is great with an MSU because it literally does not matter where you park—people will give you a wide berth. No more worrying if someone is going to dent my car doors—not sure I could tell even if they did.
One of my most satisfying parking experiences was slipping in between two huge pickup trucks that were probably worth somewhere north of forty-five thousand dollars apiece. Hugging the inner line, they brazenly thought that no car would ever try to squeeze in between them. They obviously underestimated the power of the MSU as I gleefully plunged into the minimalist space with reckless abandon.
You know who your true friends are when driving an MSU. Those who will drive with you are few and far between. Even rarer is the friend who will nod in approval as he patiently listens to you tick off the reasons why driving a thirty year-old piece of junk makes sense. One of the most humorous aspects of driving an MSU are the colleagues who actually avoid eye contact in hopes you don’t see them. I can only surmise they feel uncomfortable with the realization they probably lack the self-confidence necessary to drive a hundred dollar car with such aplomb.
As virtuous as an automotive MSU can be, there is an even more evolved mobile sweat unit species. Known simply as the bicycle, this MSU’s sweat is not earned by sitting helplessly in a wheeled sauna. Instead, sweat is the reward for voluntarily pedaling feverish up a hill, down a raven or across a finish line. Unlike a drenched suit, a soaked jersey is usually accompanied by a wash of adrenaline afterglow reminding the rider why a mobile sweat unit like this is priceless.