By on November 20, 2010

Ur-Turn is your weekly opportunity to contribute to TTAC. Every Weekend we select a piece submitted to our contact form, and publish it as a showcase for the diverse perspectives of TTAC’s readers.  Today’s contribution, from Jag Singh, reveals that, for an Indian immigrant in post-9/11 America, love of the Panther chassis could hold hidden dangers.

Coming out of India two decades ago, I had a broad experience with 2 wheelers of various types. But, my experience with 4 wheels was limited to micro Suzukis that still rule the road over there. When I bought an old Integra it was everything I could ask for, and provided more hoonage possibilities than I could muster courage for. I used to travel every week, and Taurus was my default weekday rental car. Soon I had a gold plated card from Hertz, and could walk into the rental car lot to pick up any car available there. There were always some Town Cars or Grand Marquis’ in the lot, most people seemed to ignore them. And so did I, initially. Jaguars were rare, but Maximas quickly became my favorite. I tried Mustangs but did not like the rattling noises or the cheap plastics used. Also, they felt way underpowered compared to a Maxima.

I was forced to use a Panther one day, when the options in the rental lot came down to: a Hyundai smelling of stale cigarette smoke, or a shiny new Town Car at the end of the lot. I was immediately hooked. Panthers made me appreciate the finer points of the RWD experience. For the first time I understood the meaning of torque steer, for it was totally absent. With traction control light blinking like a Christmas tree, I got taste of the warm and happy feeling of oversteer on hot turns. The fact that the traction control was protecting me from my own stupidity was a lesson that would come later. From then on it was only Panthers for me, and since most people ignored them I was always guaranteed of one. Thank you, Panther.

This is when the 9-11 tragedy happened. With all the flights cancelled, and a new baby at home, I decided to drive the rental Grand Marquis I already had, from Dallas to Chicago, non-stop. It was a revelation to find it doing 120, floating effortlessly, on the almost empty and endless interstate. You do NOT understand Tedious, unless you have driven across the vast expanse of the Midwest. I had to slow down as the night approached, unable to keep alert to look out for the cops. I gained confidence as I crossed Illinois border, as I was back in my home state (of the time), where people drive way over the speed limits. What I forgot was that I was sporting Texas plates on the rental car. As soon as I spotted the cop car brake lights, I hit the brakes hard, and let them go as soon as I crossed the cop car. I was still doing 85 on the 65 section. The fact that I had Texas plates probably made the cop stop me. The fact that I am from India, which makes me look like a Middle Eastern, ensured that it was early morning before I was let go. Minus my driving license. Oh well. At least I was back home. Thank you, Panther.

Back at work, the cost cutting started almost immediately. I moved out of the Mariott and took a lower end apartment close to the work site. What I did not account for was that my rental Panthers stood out like sore thumbs in this apartment parking lot. Few weeks later I got a call from FBI, they wanted to talk to me, at my apartment, 6PM sharp. Special agent Todd showed up at the door with a padded jacked, one hand extended in greeting, other behind the back. I could see other agents standing outside, wearing ear pieces, providing backup. Special agent Todd was very polite, and after he was done with the questions, he told me that the neighbors had called the FBI to report on me because I was driving all these “suspicious” looking big cars every week. So long, Panther.

Not willing to give up on RWD totally, I picked up a Mustang next week. Next day it started to rain and I took a turn, fast, as usual. A Panther’s traction control would have saved me, but I would have never learned about the consequences of throttle lift off. Also, my knowledge of counter steering was limited to motorcycles. Before I could realize what was happening, I was sitting on the side of the road with a broken axle, the wheel almost falling off. It was time to go back to Taurii and Maximas during the weekdays. Missing you, Panther.

For weekends, I sold the Integra and got a Miata. I still have it today. Farewell, Panther.

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15 Comments on “Ur-Turn: Panther Love In The Time Of Homeland Security...”

  • avatar

    “‘Suspicious’ looking big cars” hilarious.  Great read.

  • avatar

    Suspicious looking cars?  If anything, you’d think people would suspect that Jag Singh was in law enforcement as an undercover officer, etc.

    Granted, things were crazy right after 9/11.  It’s easy to look back now 9+ years and laugh at some of the things that happened right after.  But we were learning as we went along.  During 9/11, I was an airline pilot, an FO (First Officer) in the Canadair Regional Jet.  Luckily, I was home that day after finishing a 5 day trip the night before.  I was also lucky that I got to keep my job while so many other pilots and FAs (Flight Attendants) were furloughed for months after.  All pilots were immediately retrained in how to deal with terrorism.  Up until then, we had been trained to cooperate with terrorists and chances were we’d come out alright.  After 9/11, we were trained how to resist – or die trying. 

    The point is, yes, some elements of law enforcement possibly over reacted and profiled certain people right after 9/11.  However, that has to be considered in the context of the time.  As a nation, we were angry and paranoid and wanted to strike back at Bin Laden (I still do), or someone, anyone.  Remember the anthrax powder that was delivered to Washington DC around that time?  Things were crazy for awhile.  As a veteran of the Gulf War 90-91, I can understand the desire to want to do something, anything.  George W Bush’s approval rating was hovering at around 90%.  For a short while, we were united as a nation. 

    As an example of a well meaning but honest mistake, I did a flight soon after from Phoenix to El Paso late one night and the FA called up front to report several “suspicious looking” men sitting together in the back of the plane.  She told the Captain and I that they looked “middle eastern”.  We relayed our concerns to ABQ Center, who in turn notified the ELP tower.  As we pulled into the gate, TSA, airport security, the local sherriff, and National Guard troops were all standing in the jetway ready to board our plane.  Passengers were kept seated while this group boarded the plane to investigate and detain these men.  Turns out the “suspicious looking” men were Italian Air Force Officers traveling together to train at the local air force base.  Our Latino FA wasn’t being racist – she was just scared to death.  I’ll admit, the Captain and I were worried.  These kinds of mistakes happened.  Live and learn.

    Anyway, sorry for the rambling.  Now back to cars.  Interesting article.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Panther love, thwarted by events neither could control… Will our star crossed lovers meet again or will our hero be doomed to FWD rentals forever?

  • avatar

    That sucks dude. You never really think about being white because you never take any shit for it. I hate the fact that there are people in this world that are so scared and backward that they’re legitimately afraid of ethnic folks. The aftermath of 9/11 was crazy but it’s too bad so many people decided to turn their backs on what made this country great and give into the fear mongering and ridiculousness that was so prevalent at the time. I can’t imagine being of an ethnicity that assholes are suspicious of, it would drive me absolutely bullshit.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    Ah, the land of the free!

  • avatar

    Ah, to be brown during 9/11.  Actually I didn’t have a problem, as there are plenty of brown people in Houston.  Brown people in big American iron is really more of the norm ’round these parts.

    But thanks for writing, now I know that more of my people love them some Panther.  Makes my heart all soft and gooey inside.

    • 0 avatar

      Sajeev, perhaps you can explain to me why Arabs are considered “brown”, but Jews, who are closely related to Arabs (cf. Abraham, Isaac & Ishmael) are not. I’ve known Sephardim that are darker than Pres. Obama. At the risk of incurring a Godwin citation, there was a time when Jews were considered dark skinned and swarthy.
      Figuring out racial and ethnic calculus is so, so difficult.
      And that’s why I like cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Who said Arabs are brown?
      The hate during 9/11 was directed towards Muslims.  For whatever reason, ignorant Americans started identifying brown people as Muslims, and decided to lump Arabs in with them too.
      Before 9/11, I had been called a f*cking Hindu by an ignorant American visiting from WA.  I bet that same idiot would call me a f*cking Muslim today.
      So what’s the car connection?  That idiot ran a stop sign while I was crossing the street and almost hit me.  When I yelled at him, he stopped, rolled down the window, and swore at me.  I still remember the car, a white Taurus with the oval grille.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Ronnie, about 80% of Jews are Ashkenazi Jews with European ancestors in the family tree.
      Jews are much more likely to look like someone from Poland than someone from Syria, Lebanon, or Jordan.

  • avatar

    Who said Arabs are brown?

    The hate during 9/11 was directed towards Muslims.  For whatever reason, ignorant Americans started identifying brown people as Muslims, and decided to lump Arabs in with them too.
    Before 9/11, I had been called a f*cking Hindu by an ignorant American visiting from WA.  I bet that same idiot would call me a f*cking Muslim today.

    So what’s the car connection?  That idiot ran a stop sign while I was crossing the street and almost hit me.  When I yelled at him, he stopped, rolled down the window, and swore at me.  I still remember the car, a white Taurus with the oval grille.

    • 0 avatar

      The hate during 9/11 was directed towards Muslims.

      Oh, I see. That little thing during 9/11 when three planes were flown into buildings and 3,000 people were murdered was just an expression of Muslim love, not hate, for non-Muslims. Okay. Now I get it.
      Naomi Regen, the novelist, once came up with a perfectly apt description of the attitude of Palestinians, “It all started when he hit me back”. The same applies to jihadis and their apologists in the West.
      Interesting that you are upset about people stereotyping you yet use the phrase “ignorant American” as if it describes all Americans.

  • avatar

    On 9/11 I was still assigned to patrol. It happened to be one of my regular days off and I was glued to FOX News when the phone rang. One of my fellow officers who ran his own private security company on the side had gotten a call from one of the local television stations. They were implementing their “Security Protocol Directive Omega” plan in response to the attacks and needed an off- duty officer to sit at the edge of their property and check employee i.d. cards for $40 an hour. (One imagines the conversation between Bin- Laden and his lieutenants: “We attack the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House and the third  rated television station in the Lexington, KY viewing market! That will bring the infidels to their knees!”)

    Anyway, I put on my uniform, climbed into my assigned CVPI, stopped to grab some snacks, and by noon I was sitting in my car at the edge of the station’s driveway, checking driver’s licenses of local celebs (the hot female evening newsreader drove a BMW Z4, I still recall), and listening to reports of the carnage from NYC, DC, and the wilds of PA. I had been there for about 4 hours when a car pulled up. The driver told me that there had been an injury accident up the road.

     I decided that Al- Queada probably wouldn’t fly a plane into the TV station while I was gone (and if they did, I would see the fireball and be able to slide back to my post before they realized i was gone) and left my post to go render aid until on- duty units and the FD could get to the accident.  It turned out to be a one- car non- injury accident. A Volvo station wagon had been forced off the road and was in the ditch. The Volvo had Illinois plates and was occupied by two of the hinkiest acting Arab men I had ever come across.

    They insisted that they didn’t want an accident report and that they just needed the car pulled from the ditch and they would be on their way. I took both of their IDs, which said thy were from Boston, MA. I ran them, both licenses were valid, no wants or warrants, but these two cats would not calm down. Their recounting of the accident was similar, but the details of where they had been and where they were going was screwed up. An on- duty unit arrived to stand by while they waited for a tow truck to pull them out of the ditch. I peered and peered in the windows of the Volvo, looking for something, anything, that would give me PC to make them unload it. It was packed with suitcases and boxes, none of which had alarm clocks or dynamite wired to them like on Looney Tunes. There was some minor body damage to the car, but they continued to insist that they didn’t want a report. They wanted to get gone in the worst possible way. Could they have just been shook up from the wreck? It was more than that. They were wrong.

    In the end, I couldn’t figure out why they were wrong, so I wrote all of their info down on Field Interview cards so that there would be some sort of record of them since they didn’t want an accident report and went back to checking IDs at the television station. 

     So when I go back to work a couple of days later, there’s a request from the FBI to all PDs across the country for us to forward them “any and all” information, contacts, or other interactions we might have had with strange acting Arab and Muslim men. I make copies of my FI cards and forward them up my chain. And a few weeks later the FBI busted up an Al- Queda cell in Boston. Cue “X-files” theremin music here.

    Now do I really think my FI of those two mopes broke a terrorist cell? Of course not. Probably not, anyway. But the fact remains that there were a lot of Muslim men doing a lot of “hinky” things in the country in the Fall of 2001.

  • avatar

    Ahhhh… the “wonderful” feeling to have assisted in the “equalization” and the lusted-for “self-guilt” owed by the soon-to-be non-majority within the USA as I performed my politically correct duties when living as an Anglo minority in the Chicano majority (and, at times USA citizen minority areas) of California.
    I performed my duty as a target of the pistol-wielding Chicano shooting at me as I scampered away, full-speed, followed by shouts to remove myself from the illegals’ part of town.
    The punches and kicks as the eight Chicano gang bangers pummeled me for being a despised Anglo daring to dwell in their town while I was a part of the temporarily present harvesting crew was salved by knowing the “brown people” were being appeased, their built-up hatred towards non-Chicanos released.
    Of course I did not question their inability to adopt multi-culturalsim or to realize that diversity is their strength, also.
    And that pistol-in-the-face at 15 when my two Chicano escorts to the Brown Beret cell meeting had to argue their rationale for honoring me by bringing me to that cell meeting and why I should not be harmed allowed me to realize how evil I was due to my merely being a USA citizen and having the nerve of being a dreaded despised Caucasian.
    I do not expect the well-indoctrinated politically correct crowd to conceive how repulsed one such as I can be after reading the PC mewings I observed above.
    However, may I recommend for those actually desiring to evidence what I consider to be an excellent rebuttal to at least some of the all-pervasive PCness enveloping USA society?
    The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats

    Jim Goad
    Non-affiliate link to book at Amazon (TinyURL  used to reduce URL length)


  • avatar

    Jag, you should buy and enjoy a Crown Vic, Grand Marquis or similar if that’s what you like.  By the very act of driving it around, you’ll reduce perceived notions (silly as they are) of who belongs in which kind of car.
    After a day cruising in your large, rear wheel drive American sedan, you might sip a glass of Narmada wine. See for the contextual connection.

  • avatar

    Hey, Congressmen don’t have to do this, ask John Boehner.  Kind of like they don’t have to fund their own retirements, or buy health insurance on the open market like the rest of us………
    I too would have taken to the road….good call.  Lady Friend gets kudos and a weekend at HER favorite location.

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