The Smart Car Invasion

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Two years ago, Mayor Ronnie was at Applebee’s and met a local retired couple by the name of Charlie and Diane Plotz. Charlie had worked at Browns Ferry for 11 years, and he and Diane were now “playing” by zipping all over the country in their newly-acquired Smart Car. Charlie and Diane discussed with the mayor the prospect of organizing a national Smart Car rally and bringing it through Athens. “Go for it,” he said essentially, and on Wednesday, June 13, our fair town was invaded by a group of folks from as far away as Ontario, Canada; Kansas; Nebraska; and points beyond who had all gathered to experience the South in their Smart Cars. The mayor, Amy Golden, and I walked over from City Hall to the Courthouse to view the cars and meet the drivers. Upon arriving, I told anyone who would listen to never buy me one because I would be way too tempted to drive on the sidewalk, like they do in Europe, as well as park in all manner of illegal tight spots just because I could squeeze in there. That is a temptation I just don’t need!

Tourism Director Teresa Todd gathered the rally participants on the Courthouse steps on the Marion Street side, they had their photo op, and then everyone moved to a shade tree to hear a brief history of Athens extemporaneously delivered by Mayor Marks. His talk included the sacking of Athens, the Scottsboro Boys case and Judge Horton, Trinity/Ft. Henderson, and Mme. Childs facing down Union troops who were intent upon destroying Founders’ Hall. While watching the listeners, I could tell they were surprised that we had such a rich history, and they were enjoying what they were hearing.

What is surprising to most people about Smart Cars is that they have a lot of leg room. Made by Mercedes-Benz, they also have a transmission that can function as an automatic or a stick, and you can shift back and forth between either configuration at will, even while driving! They have a 3-cylinder engine, and can go 90 miles an hour. A retired Air Force Tech Sgt with 40 years of service took the mayor out for a spin, and Ronnie came back with a grin. I was next, and got to thank Dave Seavert for his service as well as learn all about how he came to love the Smart Cars so much. He and his wife each have one, and they also keep an SUV in which to haul the grandkids.

People decorate their cars in all manner of creative ways and have hilarious bumper stickers. One car said, “My Smart Car is smarter than your Smart Car.” Another said, “You just got passed by a car with 3 cylinders.” Another said, “Preshrunk,” and another was decorated with what looked like a toy key attached to the back to wind it up. The Plotzes had made maps for people to take themselves on a self-guided tour of Athens, and several merchants and restaurateurs offered discounts to our visitors. Other stops on their itinerary include the Alabama Veterans Museum, the Space & Rocket Center, and Lynchburg, TN. Then they will scatter to the four winds in their “diminutive drives.”

Upon returning to City Hall, we talked about what had just happened at the previous week’s dance recital put on by Kelly’s Studio of Dance. City Councilman Frank Travis showed up on Thursday night to offer a prayer, followed by Mayor Ronnie on Friday, and City Councilman Chris Seibert on Saturday. The performances were top notch, and the lighting was as good as any you would see anywhere. As glad as we are that we can pray at public events without censure, what made Ronnie the happiest is the fact that Marie Trent, who is an alum of KSD and is pursuing a career in dance, comes back every year to help the kids “put their best foot forward” for the recital. “People like Marie and the kids on the Youth Commission are the future of this town,” he said. I nodded, we prayed, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner