An Uninvited Guest Drops In; Plus, the 10 Coolest Rides Under $25,000

PLAYING IT COOL: The Scion FR-S again tops the Kelley Blue Book list of cool rides for less than $25,000.
PLAYING IT COOL: The Scion FR-S again tops the Kelley Blue Book list of cool rides for less than $25,000. –TOYOTA

NAPLES, FL—This is about the Geico gecko—or at least one of that green-skinned fellow’s distant relations.

Southwest Florida definitely is gecko country. You see these tiny lizards scurrying about on buildings and shrubbery on a daily basis. They pretty much mind their own business and outnumber their human neighbors.

They’re cute, even if they don’t speak with a Cockney accent the way their famous relative does in the insurance company’s TV commercials.

A few nights after we arrived here where it’s seemingly always warm, we were driving down a palm-lined boulevard. The temperatures were balmy, and we had the windows down and the sunroof open.


That’s one way to differentiate visitors from residents. Resident drivers never seem to have their windows down. And maybe we were about to learn one of the reasons why.

Did I mention we were driving under a canopy of palm trees?

Oh yes.

All of a sudden I felt something land on my shoulder. I flinched. And shouted. And jerked my shoulder.

Then that something scurried across the back of my neck to the other shoulder. And back again.

Then it disappeared. Out the window, I hoped, even though I was sure it actually had jumped to the rear seat.

Meanwhile, I’m still squirming.

If you spend time in Florida, you’re familiar with the mosquito. However, locals also have ongoing relationships with the Palmetto bug, also known as la cucaracha or the great American cockroach. And then there’s the Southern version of Black Fly Season—when mating flies called love bugs are drawn to highways by lights and exhaust fumes, and they coat vehicles with their hard-to-remove dead carcasses.

Meanwhile, back to Wigglin’ Willie as Mrs. G started to call me.

“I think a gecko just landed on me,’’ say I. “It must have fallen out of the trees.’’


Now Mrs. G generally describes herself as “skeeved,’’ by creepy crawlies. Say you’ve seen a mouse in our house and she’s immediately standing on a chair. Yes, just like in the cartoons. And she’s demanding, “Do SOMETHING about IT.’’

Surprisingly, that wasn’t her response on this evening.

In retrospect, she says, “It’s because the geckos are so cute … and probably because it didn’t land on me.’’

Arriving at our condo, my assignment was getting rid of “the little fella.’’

I left the car doors open for a half hour, hoping he’d leave—and that nothing else would enter during that time.

No luck, but no baby gators took residence, either. The next few days, we’d see El Gecko (him/her/it?) on the backseat or rear window shelf or darting under the seats. By the looks of him, the varmint wasn’t finding much to eat or drink inside, despite the crumbs left from our three days on the road.

Even though he was markedly thinner each time we’d spot him, he wasn’t slowing down enough to catch or shoo out.

Washing the car didn’t help. El Gecko was able to escape the vacuum hose and wouldn’t rejoin The Great Outdoors while the car doors were open.

So, when in doubt, consult the internet. You’ll find lots of somewhat funny comments there about people who were freaked out by geckos suddenly appearing out of the air vents in their cars.


But the best advice on the net was to put down flypaper to catch the interlopers. So a sticky trap became the No. 1 item on our shopping list.

However, a line of heavy thunderstorms came by later that day, leaving the car a mess yet again.

While I was washing the car, our neighbor Joel Stark, a Michigan snowbird, walked by. I explained how I’d just exhausted the gecko by chasing him around the backseat and under the front seats.

El Gecko, meanwhile, was sitting on the hump on the back floor of the car, recuperating—and probably laughing at me.

Joel made one swipe at him with his baseball cap, catching him on the inside of the hat brim.

He flipped El Gecko onto the grass, and I don’t know which of the three of us was the most relieved.

Now that The Great Gecko Caper is over, there’s the matter of Geico’s latest ad campaign, the one featuring Maxwell the Pig. I don’t think there’s room for him in the car unless pigs really can fly.

10 cool rides under $25,000

Kelley Blue Book’s editors have compiled a list of 10 cool cars under $25,000. KBB concedes that the “cool factor’’ is ever subjective but the list is “hand picked for shoppers who are looking for their dream car but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it,’’ says Jack Nerad, KBB’s editorial director and executive market analyst. For the second year, the Scion FR-S (sibling of the Subaru BRZ) topped the list. The rest: 2) Ford Fiesta ST; 3) Jeep Wrangler; 4) VW GTI; 5) Chevrolet Camaro; 6) Mini Cooper S; 7) Ford Mustang; 8) Honda Civic Si; 9) Fiat 500 Abarth; 10) Mazda MX-5 Miata. One observation: You might have to stretch that $25,000 limit to buy the version you want.

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