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You are what you drive. Or are you?

You are what you eat. But are you also what you drive? According to some Eastern professors, the connection between vehicle and personality is remarkably strong.

History professor Stephen Gatlin’s 2005 Beetle convertible, for example, links him to the past he so dearly loves.

“Several things converge,” he said. “It’s kind of a nostalgia piece from my childhood and it follows a design that is roughly reminiscent of a kind of [Bauhaus] minimalism.”

Gatlin, whose dad bought the family’s first Volkswagen in 1959, grew up with several Beetles, including one that predated gas gauges.

“There’s a sense in which this car doesn’t go out of style,” Gatlin said. “It’s a classy car without getting too high-falutin’.”

Gatlin chose the color “Harvest Moon Beige” for his Beetle, a decision that some say landed him in a “chick car.”

“I don’t regard it that way,” Gatlin said. “To me it eludes the vagaries of fashion… like classic clothes.”

Moving on to Eastern’s theology department, don’t expect to find tweaded and dusty scholars driving wood-paneled station wagons. Professor Chris Hall’s daily driver is a “Patriot Blue” PT Cruiser.

“I bought it strictly for fun,” Hall said. “When it came out I thought to myself, that is just the neatest looking little car.”

Hall was convinced the Cruiser’s price tag would be exorbitant, but instead found an affordable, retro-styled sports car. “When I priced PT Cruisers, geez, they were really cheap!” Hall said. “I thought, here is a cheap car. It’s fun to drive and a little perky.”

Do the terms “perky” and “fun” describe Hall? According to Lauren Arnold, Hall’s administrative assistant, perky might be a stretch but fun is definitely applicable.

“It makes you feel young,” she said, speaking to Hall from her desk outside his office. “You’re fun, you like to drive fast, you like the idea of a bright red mustang and the PT Cruiser is closer than an Oldsmobile.”

And then there is Betsy Morgan, Eastern’s Emmy award-winning professor of English, who admits she feels a bit of automotive bi-polarity.

“For years I drove a red Alfa Romeo Spider,” a wistful Morgan said. “I was irrationally attached to that car.”

But an accident totaled Morgan’s “little beauty” and compelled her to buy the most “generic and efficient” vehicle she could find: a white 1996 Tercel, on which the only flare is a “Barak Obama for President 2008” bumper sticker.

The car is simple and, according to Morgan, “pudgy.”

Morgan believes her daily-driver catches some of the nuance of her personality, but not all. “We are all plurals,” she said. “There is a little red sports car in me and there is a little steady Toyota too.”

But perhaps the most interesting vehicle on campus belongs to New Testament professor Dwight Peterson, whose specialized minivan sports joystick acceleration and braking, and a suspension system that lowers the vehicle and spits out a wheelchair ramp. “It’s a great vehicle,” Peterson said. “It has really changed our lives.”

Like Peterson, the 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan has adapted. Its original design has been altered, yet it remains functional, flexible and unique.

Peterson was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis in 1979, a definition he said cloaked his real diagnosis, which was “we don’t know.”

Peterson has since had to surround himself with all kinds of “helps” to get along in the world, including a specialized vehicle. But he admits that his minivan has never felt as much an extension of himself and his personality as his smaller vehicle, a wheelchair.

“The longer I’ve been in the wheelchair,” Peterson said, “the closer the connection becomes between my body and that chair. In some sense, the chair is me and I am the chair.”

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