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BIG-RIG LIFESTYLE DOESN'T APPEAL TO SMALL-CAR KIND OF GUY

I think maybe time has passed me by.

Shortly after getting married, we bought a big, lumbering station wagon. It was the vehicle of choice for all growing families. When we traveled any distance, we had enormous room to stash food and toys in the back - along with our kids.At first, we just spread the whole back seat down, but as the kids got older, they wanted to sit in the seat.

They had to take turns getting in "the way back." But it was still a pretty big car.

When our kids grew older, we got tired of station wagons. They seemed too cloddish - so long and unwieldy - and so we happily went back to a conventional car with two seats and a trunk.

It was a very pleasant change. It was nice to be able to park with ease and to turn corners without fear that a part of the vehicle we couldn't see was in some sort of trouble.

But we live in a new era.

What I have noticed lately is that hardly anyone with a young family has a station wagon any more, anyway.

They have Suburbans.

Everyone knows what they are. They're taller and bigger than station wagons. Short people often need stilts to climb into one.

They give you the impression you're driving sort of a classy truck. If you thought station wagons were bulky, just try to maneuver one of these babies.

But I have to say you can sure get a lot of stuff in one - most of the belongings in your entire house, in fact - with some left-over space.

In fact, a test of the financial affluence of a family is its ability to afford both a Suburban and a smaller, regular car.

Don't get the wrong idea.

Now that I see station wagons are pretty much passe, I'm still glad I missed out on the huge van world.

Oh, yeah, I admit there are times when we could use one.

When we went on vacation this summer, we had to use the entire range of our collective brain power to figure out how to stuff our small suitcases and a cooler into the trunk.

At first, it seemed an insurmountable challenge. We went from one perplexing plan to another - putting the suitcases in, then taking them out, then putting them in - until we were discombobulated.

When we finally came up with an arrangement in which everything fit, we did high fives and made a detailed diagram, so that when we left the motel we could quickly re-create the same plan.

That would never be necessary with a Suburban.

But no one can make me get one, because I'm thoroughly adjusted to driving something compact.

I just feel like a small-car person now. It is the real me.

A small car is sort of sporty, after all, and I always know what I have. All I need is a hatchback occasionally, so I can stick some long, stupid thing in the back or some small piece of furniture and secure it with twine.

I can just strap a Christmas tree on top with some rope.

If I need help moving, I can borrow someone's truck - or a Suburban.

If someone wants to borrow something from me to help them move, they're out of luck.

But who knows? By some strange, unpredictable twist of fate, my personality may change again - and I'll get the inexplicable urge to climb into some very large piece of machinery - a powerful, egocentric incarnation with big tires and lots of room. Maybe I'll feel the need to make a bold statement.

If that happens - I'll just take the bus.