Regular readers of this column will be surprised to see that this week, I have devoted it to Greece. Several of my colleagues usually do that – regular and guest columnists alike – while I tend to focus on American politics and sometimes religion.
But this time, there is an issue that has excited me so much about my second country that I felt compelled to write about it: Greece’s forthcoming car, its first ever: the Pony.
The National Motor Company of Greece (NAMCO) has promised that by year’s end, it will finally make good on an idea 40 years in the making, and manufacture an eminently affordable light passenger vehicle – the Pony – whose 75 or 80 horsepower (“Pony” is an apt name, in this respect) should more than suffice on most Greek roads, and whose price point at under 7000 euros should be a relief in country mired by austerity and crisis.
A boxy car, perhaps the vehicular equivalent of horn-rimmed glasses, is “so ugly, it’s beautiful,” said the German press. And the jokes are sure to follow. “They forgot a Drive gear – there’s only Park, Neutral, and Reverse!” Or “Special Deal – buy a Pony now and get fakelaki cash back!” Okay, one more: “they should’ve named it ‘Donkey,’ not Pony. ‘What do you drive? I drive a Gaidouri.” Maybe not the best jokes, but it only took me a minute to think of them – far better ones will come down the pike, for sure.
And there is little doubt (and I’m generally an optimist) that there will be setbacks. The Pony could wind up being Greece’s Edsel. It may wind up being a pile of junk on wheels, not worth its weight in scrap metal. And then, that’s when the jokes will continue to pile on.
But let us turn to two examples – one Greek, the other American – that offer some hope for Pony’s future. First, there are the Greek-hosted Summer Olympic Games of 2004, and the barbs about Greece messing things up were endless. I remember being in Greece the summer before, in August 2003, and planning my trip there the following year. “I’m going to come earlier next year – in June or July – because it will be a zoo here during the Olympics.” That, by the way, had nothing to do with lack of faith in the Greeks pulling it off – just my proclivity to avoid the type of mayhem an event like the Olympics generally tends to bring. The Athens dwellers in my company responded: “don’t worry, they Olympics won’t happen here next year. They’re Ellines. They’ll find a way to screw it up (and lose their right to host the games).” That was the general mentality, by the Greeks themselves, about their own fellow Greeks. It was a philosophy along the lines of: “I don’t know which direction is correct, but if a Greek tells you to take this road, it’s the other road that’s the right one to take, for sure.”
Yet, the Greeks rose to the occasion and managed to host the 2004 Games rather impressively.
The other example is Terry Bradshaw, the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 1970s. In his first few years, Bradshaw was ridiculed for his unreliable play. The Shreveport, LA native was deemed a “dumb hick” that couldn’t remember the plays. “He couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘t’” went the jokes. But Bradshaw defied the critics and went on to win a record four Super Bowls with them – a feat yet to be eclipsed and equaled by only one other quarterback (Joe Montana).
The Pony, thus, is sure to get its fair share of jokes. Thoughtless, mocking derision. But its manufacturers need to pay no mind, and Greeks had better Pony up – that is, cough up the euros and start buying the car in droves.
There are three main reasons why every Greek with a driver’s license should own a Pony: financial, strategic, and psychological. First, there is the issue of dollars and cents. Euros actually, or even drachmas again, and that’s the point. It’s very simple: Greece makes a product, Greeks buy a product, the Greek economy grows. Granted, the longer Greece stays in the euro, the less likely it will leave, but no matter. Euro, drachma, ruble, or dinar, a profit is a profit, a boon to the economy. Second, if Greeks buy up Ponys the way they do frappes, they will send a message to the world that, finally, they are united in the confidence they have in their own country. Remember, this is a nation that couldn’t stand to be ruled by one of its own, so by default, the Greeks turned to Otto of Bavaria to be their king. But if Greeks can somehow muster the intestinal fortitude to “buy Greek,” that will send an important signal to the world that Greece is a country to be taken seriously.
Finally, there is self-esteem. The Greeks need a shot in the arm very badly. That they so desperately thirst for purpose gives rise to destructive demagogues among them, and causes them to embarrass themselves on the world stage by public street riots. With the Pony, they can unite around something that is actually benign: a car.
So, Pony up, Greeks. You know what they say you should do if you fall off the horse.