My first experience of a heated car seat came in a 2013 Audi, shortly after I moved to Boulder, Colo., a place that last year earned the distinction of the snowiest city in America. When I arrived, my partner took me on a drive along the Peak to Peak highway — a satisfyingly denotative name for a particularly scenic stretch of the Front Range. It was December, and the mountains were vast and snowbound. Am I committing some sacrilege against the outdoorsy spirit of my adopted state when I venture that the chilly majesty of the Rockies is best appreciated from within a small vehicle with the passenger seat’s heating coils cranked to the maximum?
I am not alone in my enthusiasm. On Twitter, I find Ballard’s name invoked with hyperbolic gratitude: “Perfect. Perfect. Astounding. Impeccable. Beautiful, beautiful man”; “heated seats are the best invention ever; all hail Robert L. Ballard!” These minipaeans are, I think, about more than just heat. There is something more visceral at stake.
The heated car seat delivers an almost contradictory pleasure, simultaneously maternal and sensual. There you are, cocooned like a child in the lap of some warm, benevolent bear, while also privately experiencing a vulgar idiom made literal: a hot butt. But of course no one need know it; you are, in other words, in possession of a little secret. To experience a heated car seat, then, is to be simultaneously soothed and slyly reminded that you are not just a mammal; you are also a viable erotic being, alive in and conscious of your body. To be comforted like a creature, while affirmed in your carnal reality — is there a better double antidote to the ambient grief of our moment?
Bobby Ballard himself seems to have been almost aggressively wholesome — not a man, I’d venture, propelled by a desire to deliver erotic thrills to the driving public. An ad from 1950 encouraging boys to enter the Soap Box Derby features a grinning, grown-up Ballard: “Yes, Fellows,” he begins, “that wonderful day back in 1937 when I won the National Championship was the turning point in my life. It gave me the four-year college scholarship that let me prepare for this job — helping design America’s most beautiful automobiles!” Another ad from 1967 continues the hagiography. It declares: “You can tell a lot about a guy who enters the Soap Box Derby. What kind of guy are you?”
I suppose I’m the kind of guy who thinks a warm bum is better than any trophy. I’m also the kind of guy who wonders why Ballard never got an ad celebrating the greatest automobile invention since the wheel itself. In short, I guess I’m the kind of Englishwoman who thinks that all-American overstatement sometimes has its place, especially when facing down another Colorado winter. So let me abandon middling, gray, humdrum speech and just say it like a Yankee would: Heated car seats — best thing ever.