Quick Stats: Patrice O'Neal, actor and comedian
Daily Driver: 2011 Dodge Durango (Patrice's rating: 7 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: New York to Boston
Car he learned to drive in: 1985 Chevy Citation
First car bought: 1995 Cadillac Seville
Comedian Patrice O'Neal really, really wants to love his 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel. And he approaches any discussion of the Durango with the thoughtful angst only a seasoned comedian possesses.
As he waxes on about the Durango, O'Neal isn't doing a bit. It's like watching a Ping-Pong game, because he's clearly trying to convince himself it was the right choice. But it may not be flashy enough to equal the beloved, tricked-out Dodge Challenger he formerly owned. As O'Neal rattles off his car history, he sounds like he's doing stand-up for a party of one.
"It's $50,000, so I could have paid $50,000 for something else," O'Neal says. "I had a 2007 Yukon Denali and was able to trade it in so I wasn't upside-down. I owed $20,000 but it was worth $25,000, so I got from under it and got a Dodge Challenger because I really liked it. But I've got a family and my mother visits, so that's not a car if you have other people in your life. So I had to trade that in within a month of when I got it."
He wishes Dodge had the Hyundai philosophy. "Hyundai is trying to work with people with this trade-in thing," he says. "They'll keep it in the Hyundai family; you can come get a new one. But Dodge, they don't go, 'You're a Mopar guy, you're part of us.' They go, 'You're going to get jerked because you bought this car.' And boom! So I go in with the Challenger, 'I just bought this, I need the full value of the car.' They didn't give me the full value. They got me. They put the upside-down value into the loan. And I didn't know they did that."
A commercial for the 2011 Durango caught his attention and got O'Neal to take his Challenger back to the dealer. "I have a Citadel. It looked really good. It had a hemi; I was into that whole muscle thing. I don't know if I made a mistake or not," he says, adding that it does drive well.
O'Neal rates the Durango a 7. "I like it, but do I love it? Like I feel fantastic? Not really. I'd give a Challenger a 10. If you're a single man, the Challenger is a 10 and if you've got people in your life it's a 0," he says, with a laugh. "The Durango looks sharp. It looks, like everything else now, these mid level -- not really SUVs and not really a car -- they all look alike. I'm a big guy and it's like everyday I try to convince myself I made a really good purchase."
O'Neal realizes what his apprehension is all about. "I'm a slave to the culture, so I see an Audi, a Denali, or an Escalade, my neighbor got the four-door Porsche. I have a really nice truck. But it's a Durango and I like frontin'! I like to ride by and show off," he says with a laugh. "If I got to someplace where everybody's driving Escalades and I'm coming up in this Durango, that's my midlife crisis thing where I still I want to have 20-30 girlfriends. But I have one woman. I don't have a kid, it's my step-kid, and we all go get dinner and I guess I feel like I'm defeated because it's not pimp enough because it's a Durango."
O'Neal tells himself he's bucking automotive trends. "I actually took a step in the direction of being a leader," he says. "I bought a Durango! I just have to stand on top of my purchase and I do. But sometimes I feel it just meets a criteria. Like no one buys a Prius for no other reason except for being practical. You don't need an Audi A8. I really want that big Audi. But I'm looking to buy a 1999 S420 Mercedes fully loaded. Costs about $7000."
He admits he likes the Durango's driver's aids and the keyless ignition. "It's got blind-side assistance, so if you're driving and you don't see a car on the side it gives you a warning. It has rear sensors, all that stuff. The first time I was introduced to that was with my Denali," he says. "Once you get into this technology, mentally it enslaves you. It's a nice, classy-looking truck. It's all leather, it has satellite radio. I just hold the key and that's a real cool thing."
After a few seconds of thought, O'Neal decides the Durango also is good because his car payments are lower. "I've still got that little freedom part of me that wants to have a car that looks really sexy," he says. "This is a sexy car, but let's be honest, you don't think Durango when you think sexy. I end up only paying $200 less than the Denali. That's the moral of the story. I ended saving $200 a month and I'm not sure if this is a $50,000 truck. No Durango should ever be that much."
Car he learned to drive in
O'Neal grew up in the Roxbury area of Boston and didn't learn to drive until he was 22, in his mother's blue 1985 Chevrolet Citation. "My buddy had a license, so I would drive to his house up the block to go get him and we would drive all around the city," he says. "I would drop him home and drive back to my mother's house. That's how I got my first taste of driving."
Passing his driver's test was pretty easy, except for parallel parking. "I'm still not a good parallel parker. Nowadays with the backup camera, I really need that to help me out," he says.
O'Neal left Boston and moved to New Jersey, where he took the train, and when he later moved to Jersey City, mass transit abounded and having a car wasn't necessary.
"Then 9/11 happened," he says. "The trains started to run funny because of all the high alerts, so I ended up getting a car." He bought his first car, a 1995 Cadillac Seville with a white top, at an auction for $4000. By that time, he made some money from his half-hour Showtime and HBO specials.
"It was all red and it had the whitewall tires," he describes. "I loved it, but it was a Northstar engine and as soon as I bought it the head gasket blew. That's why I don't buy used cars anymore. My mother says, 'When you buy a used car, you're buying somebody's else's problems.'" That problem cost O'Neal another $4000 to fix.
First new car and used car karma
In 2004 O'Neal bought his first new car: a Chevy Suburban. "My credit was bad and my mother helped co-sign a car," he says with a chuckle. "My mom helped me co-sign a car in 2004! It was a Z71 package. I love that truck."
He added aftermarket wheels, which became a problem. "Of course I had to try to pimp it out a bit. And I started having a lot of problems with that!" he says. "It started tearing up the suspension and the stabilizer links. So I would take that to the shop all the time. But I loved that truck. That was a bad truck. It was gray but I had it painted black."
At that point he was a host for the VH1 show "Web Junk 2.0." "It was just me by myself on VH1. People knew me from that," he says. "I was getting paranoid, I thought people were following me. One night, me and my girl were driving around and I swear to God, somebody was following me with their lights off. I pulled up and stopped and they stopped behind me. I pulled up near a police station and they took off."
O'Neal soon traded in the Suburban for a 2007 GMC Yukon Denali, because he was worried people recognized his Suburban. "At that same time, my credit got good," he says. "So it served two purposes: It also cleared my mom for any responsibility for helping me out with her credit."
Even with good credit, he says he ended up getting what he calls "a dumb loan." "I got that on some no-money-down sh-t," he says, in a self-flagellating tone. "That was the first time I ever experienced having good credit and I did something stupid right out of the box!"
O'Neal says he then became part of the used-car karma game. "I felt the Yukon was going from something brand-new to used. You can feel the ignition was going a little, the ride was a little different, water was getting into the door when it rained. I got rid of it before the jig was up!" he says. "So I can tell you the used-car game is bad karma and I'm part of the bad karma, because I know that truck was going."
2010 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic
O'Neal traded it in for what he calls "a white guy's race car," a black 2010 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic "which was beautiful," he says wistfully. "I put a rear view camera, backup sensors in. It was a bad ride. I got a lot of compliments. It had the racing stripe, it had everything. Man!"
O'Neal tinted the windows and got stopped by the cops a few times. "I think the cops thought, 'What is this black dude doing in a white guy's race car?"
He also added a better sound system. "These Dodges don't have good sound systems," he says. "I need a little bass and I don't even need that crazy bass to break your face. I just want it to sound good when I have my favorite song."
O'Neal says this is one musclecar that was comfortable for someone of his size. "I'm big and tall. So if your 6'4" to 6'5" from 250 to 350 pounds, you can buy a Challenger, you'd fit right in it. I looked at that Camaro, but you can't sit in that.
Unfortunately, O'Neal got rid of the Challenger because his passengers didn't look like they belonged in a musclecar. "My girl was in the side of the car and I was looking at her. It's not a car for your wife or a woman that you think of highly. It's a car that your girlfriend sits in, like a chick that rides on the back of a motorcycle," he says. "So she didn't look right and the kid was squeezed in the back. Then I had my mother and a few friends. So my mother is getting in this race car."
Not everyone could fit in the Challenger, so they often drove two cars to functions. "We've got to drive two cars every time we go somewhere. It was weird," he says. "I said, 'Damn, I like this car, but for my life right now, I can't be selfish to have a Challenger. It's a selfish car."
He laments that someone right now is driving around in that Challenger. "They probably sold that for $10,000 more than it was worth because I left all the stuff in it. I left everything in there -- the woofer, the system, the equalizer." O'Neal raises his voice as if getting to a punch line, "If there's a guy driving around, if he bought a Challenger with a camera system mounted on the rear view mirror, that's my sh-t! Nobody else put that on there."
Favorite road trip
O'Neal's favorite ride is driving back to Boston, and the route he takes keeps him on his toes. It includes taking the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Sawmill River Parkway, the Hutchinson River Parkway, and the Merritt Parkway. "I don't like rides that are too straight. If I go on I-95 and I take it straight, that puts me to sleep. The only thing you've got to worry about is a deer popping out, but it's this long stretch of road."
He eventually ends up on the I-90 to Boston. "I love that ride," he says. "I need to know that I'll be making a turn or I might have an exit that I might miss."
After leaving Boston 14 years ago, the drive is really about going home. "Around Natick, I start seeing the buildings for Boston. I go to see my mom and I go to be nostalgic," he says.
Nostalgia includes cruising his old neighborhood. "I like to peek out the window to see if I see somebody I know from high school and see if they look good or not," he says. "Dorchester, Roxbury - in Boston, all the black areas was one big black area. They make you say I'm from Roxbury or I'm representing Mattapan, or Dorchester, but it's just where they put all black people."
"Elephant in the Room"
O'Neal has had half-hour specials on HBO and Showtime, and in February Comedy Central aired his first one-hour stand-up special, "Elephant in the Room," which is now on DVD.
You might know him as a regular guest and fill-in co-host on "The Opie & Anthony Show," appearances on "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn," or his recurring role as Lonny on "The Office." O'Neal's onstage charisma invokes vintage Bill Cosby, but edgier.
"I am that guy who will say things that people seem to think is a little edgy, a little racy," he says. "I hate people who describe themselves as edgy or the person who says things that should be said. It just was easy for me to say 'Elephant in the Room' because I'm a big guy and it had a double meaning. It was to be tongue in cheek, so people who hate me can go, 'Of course, the elephant in the room!' And people who know me, they just get it."
O'Neal waited a long time to do the Comedy Central special. "I haven't done an hour special my whole career," he says. "I didn't want to do a do-it-yourself homemade one. I think it's one of my best things I've done. I'm going to be promoting that for as long as you're allowed to promote stuff. I'm not a prolific self-promoter, but I will stand behind this. Look at this, buy it, and not so I can make a ton of money, because I won't. Buy it because I think you'll like it. It's material that should be heard."
O'Neal is also working on a CD in which will go "deeper" with his musings. "As I'm getting older, I'm really trying to do more and more material that could be helpful at some point to people. So I'm moving in that direction," he says.
O'Neal will be in Sag Harbor, New York, on July 25 and Phoenix, Arizona, July 29-31. For more upcoming gigs, please visit Patrice O'Neal.com and follow him on .