By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 26, 2008 at 8:14 AM

Eleven years ago on our first visit to continental Europe, my wife and I came face to face with our first Smart car in Siena.

Parked outside the imposing church of San Domenico, we couldn't resist snapping a picture of this most compact of compact cars. It was just so ... European and exotic. It seemed as photographable as the preserved head of St. Catherine inside the church. 

News that the Benz-made car would arrive in Milwaukee this year was welcomed by at least 400 Milwaukeeans, who snatched up every one of these babies at the Smart Center of Milwaukee -- run by Bergstrom Auto of Neenah -- before they even unloaded them at the docks. I saw one on the road yesterday on the way to work, in fact.

The Smart car (Smart is an acronym for Swatch Mercedes Art; the idea came from the Swatch folks) was fresh off the design table when we saw it in '97, the year it was launched in nine European countries.

We were the target audience back then. Now that it's here, we're three -- plus two big dogs -- and it just doesn't seem feasible at the moment.  

When we drove through France's Dordogne a few years later in a Renault Twingo, we loved that, too, and seeing the hail-battered Fiat Punto that our cousins always lend us in Italy always makes me wish I could get one here.

These are simple cars, without a lot of bells and whistles, that get great gas mileage, are easy to maneuver and easy to park in tight spaces. Perfect!

Sadly, the base price for a Smart car is about what we paid for a pretty fully loaded Honda Civic not too long ago. The Civic is reliable, gets good mileage (though probably not quite as good as the Smart) and has room for all of us.  

The Smart car still has a place in my heart, however, and when the time and the price are right, I still hope to get one and park it next to the Mini that's on the wish list, too. Luckily, by then the craze should have subsided. Right now, wait times for one are predicted to be about a year! 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.