One thing I remember fondly from my early college years was watching The Price Is Right around lunch time in the TV room with the other residents of my dorm floor. Few things have been a constant throughout my entire life like this game show, starting with sick days spent home from elementary school while nursing a cold, augmented with chicken soup, Vernor’s ginger ale (fellow Michiganders know about this common home remedy), and a comfortable knit afghan on the couch. Even after decades-long host Bob Barker retired from the show in 2007, by which point I had been a working adult for years, I would enjoy watching new host Drew Carey’s rapport develop with contestants in what seemed a very comforting continuation of long-established tradition.
Looking back at those college days in the mid-’90s, though, I now find it pretty funny that a bunch of young adults would gather in the break room in the middle of the day, between classes, to watch new episodes of this ancient game show and actively participate along with the contestants on the program. Granted, it was a pretty wholesome activity, but with some of my siblings’ offspring either being or fast approaching college age, I’m having a hard time imagining them watching TPIR with the same fervor as my dorm mates and I used to. I can remember it getting as loud in that TV room between 11:00 A.M. and Noon as it did during some football games.
I recently watched a 2017 documentary on this game show called Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much, which is the story of one gentleman named Ted Slauson who had an extraordinary memory and had trained for being a Price contestant like an Olympic athlete. Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just say that I recommend watching it. One of my takeaways from this movie was that he had tried to memorize the prices of vehicles, but also that the MSRPs of similar makes and models of cars could be affected by features and options (besides the ubiquitous “California emission”). Back when I was among fellow students raucously watching TPIR in the ’90s, there seemed to be an abundance of toothpaste-colored Fords in hues similar to our featured car.
There weren’t just Escorts that came in colors like this, which I believe to be “Bright Calypso Green Clearcoat Metallic”, but there were also Mustangs and Probes in “Teal Mist” (an example of the latter of which I owned in this color), Aspires in “Teal”, Rangers in “Bright Atlantic Blue”, and Tempos in “Cayman Green Metallic”. All of these, and more, reminded me of the color of toothpaste. In fact, what the guys and I came to label as the “Toothpaste Tempo” on the show became synonymous with the kind of booby prize you didn’t actually want to win outside of the thrill of successfully testing your knowledge in guessing the prices of things accurately, even in relative terms. You may win it, but would you want to pay taxes on it, and then also drive and be seen in it? I mean, a free car is a free car, but still.
When I stumbled upon our featured car a few weeks ago, the sight of it stopped me dead in my tracks as if it was saying, “Allow me to escort you… back to the ’90s!” Here at Curbside, we tend to celebrate with special affection those kinds everyday cars that were once all over the place, but are present in very small numbers today. Ford sold almost 320,700 Escorts for ’95, most of which were wagons, the most popular body style that year with 116,000 units. In fact, the five-door hatchback was the least plentiful of the four body styles available that year, with 50,200 units moved against 91,800 three-door hatchbacks across Standard, LX and GT trim and another 62,700 four-door sedans. Just one year before, the five-door hatchback was the most popular configuration, with 116,300 finding homes. Undoubtedly, Ford’s “one price” strategy that year for the LX models impacted these numbers, and the wagon represented the most bang for the buck for many price-conscious shoppers.
Meanwhile, over at Chevrolet, the ’95 Cavalier was all-new and priced very similarly outside of the convertible, which Ford did not offer in the Escort line, though the Cavalier wagon did not return with that years’ redesign. With only 151,700 units sold, the Cavalier was outsold by the Escort by a ratio of 2:1. Over at Chrysler Corporation, the exciting, new Neon moved about 300,300 units between both the Dodge (178,900) and Plymouth (121,400) versions. If I had been gifted a new example of one of these three, then-new cars as a present for college graduation, I might have been drawn toward the Neon’s novelty and somewhat revolutionary style. To be clear, all three of these cars looked a bit like Easter eggs and also came in as wide a color palette from the factory that would make Paas proud, but maybe I would have been biased against the Escort only due to its ubiquity on The Price Is Right.
I suppose there are more offensive things than having a paint finish resembling the color of mint-flavored, fluoride-fortified dental cream. This is true especially today, when most vehicles come in a range of exterior colors about the same as a line of midrange office furniture. It’s likely that this Escort, with its model year positively identified using a license plate search, never lit anyone’s fire, so to speak. With its Mazda-sourced mechanicals, it was efficient and reliable, and with four doors and wide-opening rear hatch, it had a high utility quotient. This one looked a little broken down and dejected, sitting alone on its side of the street away from the other cars, but it’s here among us in 2021, doing at least a few things well – perhaps still getting the groceries, including the toothpaste.
Edgewater Glen, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, March 20, 2021.