Posts Tagged ‘car’

Crashing Halt

13 June 2011

Dear J-

I see the car stopped in front of me, but too late. Slam-bang, I’m on their bumper and before I know it we’re pulling over and trading information, me more than a little sheepishly as I know I’m at fault here. Thankfully no one’s hurt and that’s the first thing they ask — are you okay — and I want to reply that I’m fine aside from being sleepy but that’s my mouth getting me in trouble so I bite down on my tongue some more. The van is amazingly undamaged — I goggle at it a bit and call the passenger out to see if he can see anything I’m not — but the Infiniti Q45 (post-94 remodel with a grille) isn’t quite so lucky — I’ve slammed into them hard enough to push their rear bumper in a little bit, and the trunk is jammed.

Strange, I’m out of sorts and jittery until I get a call from the insurance company. I may pay more for my insurance but it’s strictly for the hand-holding I get on the line, reassurance that everyone’s as foolish as I am and we could all do with a little of that after you beat yourself up like crazy over every little thing that goes wrong. And I hate being snappish: even though that’s understandable it’s stupid to take it out on people who I have yet to affect with my inattention. Or maybe I already am: what’s the point of being preoccupied when you’ve got so many other folks to help out and take care of?

It’s Monday. Is this a trend? Too soon to tell, as Zhou Enlai would put it. If you spend all day bringing your mind to a crashing halt by not doing work or slacking off maybe this is the reward you reap. On the other hand if I wasn’t so tired (and got more sleep, notch) I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Do what’s right. Change your life to fit the situation, don’t shoehorn everything in like you’re still in college, man.

Mike

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Morning Drive

26 May 2010

Dear J-

Because I had yet another doctor’s appointment today (really, is it too much to ask that I not see him every month for some random follow-up or another — I have been variously diagnosed with various anemias and other deficiencies in the last year since switching to this one, who is nice and reasonable but rather aggressive with the followups) I got to drive myself in to work again, and that always means I’m out with roving eye spotting cars as well. Some of the always-tempting RX-8s were on tap, but it was the new Hyundai Sonatas that were out in force today — I pulled in next to one at the clinic’s parking structure very carefully because I thought it was some sort of exotic European sedan-coupe hybrid (think Mercedes CLS or Volkswagen CC).

It’s bigger than I thought, and better-looking, to boot; if I didn’t have an unreasonable bias against sedans and goofy coupe-roofline sedans in particular, it would make more sense, but it’s a sign of how far — along with the Genesis — Hyundai has come from the days of the Excel twenty years ago. Cars are funny things; you either regard them as appliances — something to get from here to there with as little drama as possible — or aspirations — extensions of who we are, two-ton glass and chrome rolling monuments to our egos. There is some middle ground, but it’s reflected in my mind — keep the one I’ve got, find an appliance, or something that makes me want to drive more.

Having gotten used to driving a car with a failing clutch means assuming no power reserves, no sudden bursts of acceleration, and jockeying for position — looking further down the road than I’m used to — it’s ultimately a humbling experience, but it’s taught me that horsepower isn’t everything for a car, expecially in our Southern California ecosystem. I watched someone bounce from lane to lane today, going progressively more slowly as their desperate maneuvers ended up costing them time — we’re our own worst enemies sometimes. It’s hard to give up excitement for numb appliances, but isn’t it more about our perceptions and assumptions?

Mike

Just Maintain It

5 January 2010

Dear J-

At this point the bike is waiting on a lot of deferred maintenance: the right pedal has lost a fair number of bearings, though I haven’t had a pedal fail on me outright, that will be the second set of pedals I’ve gone through on this bike. It’s still better than the first one, which broke at the bottom bracket, but I’m breaking things I never did when I was riding to school: one chain, two right pedals, and the stem. The answer is not, as I might want, a new bike (my imagination, or does the Abio look a lot like the Beixo?) that I’ll just end up breaking like this one.

The Sube’s got a lot of miles on it (although thanks to carpools and vanpools, not as many as you might think for a 1997: 130K, give or take. It is the car I learned to drive stick on and consequently that first month filled with burning clutch smell is now starting to catch up as even mildly aggressive throttle will result in the clutch slipping, revs building, and me petrified of trying to get up to speed. It’s another vehicle that deserves more than it’s gotten (the tires are probably marginal now, as I haven’t replaced them since they got slashed in Davis nearly ten years ago, and if I keep putting off replacing the battery it’s going to strand me somewhere through no fault of its own).

We live in such a disposable society; it’s cheaper to discard than mend. To impress a girl I liked once I fixed her Panasonic-branded Walkman; it was easy to crack open and diagnose (the single-layer circuit board had broken a corner off; all I had to do was bridge the gap with a few soldered wires. Another friend found out and brought over a Sony, which I struggled to get open, and then failed to fix as the build was even more compact. I’m still amazed at those who can open us up and tinker around with the insides — we can transplant organs nearly as easily as swapping engines in a car now. Yet in the end it seems the body heals itself, and the maintenance we end up performing is on our own (exercise, reflection, resolution) which makes us a perfect target for New Years hopes.

Mike

Street Scene

11 October 2009

Dear J-

At the zoo yesterday we ran into traffic both ways; there was some sort of fundraiser walk-in-the-zoo with the attendant free admission, and kids under 11 were free with paid adult admission, so coming and going was spent stewing a bit in the unburnt hydrocarbon haze of idling vehicles.  It’s an object lesson in patience, letting people in front of you and pushing your way in as needed; though you may want to glue your bumper to the car in front, all you’re doing is giving someone else a headache.  Folks here in SoCal are irrationally protective of that fifteen feet in front of their car.

I keep repeating the same themes, which may be a consequence of frequency.  Life is hard enough without acting like a jackass towards others, for one, and we wouldn’t be so quick to be rude in cars if the offended party could talk back to us.  The more I drive the more I realize that for all our connections — around the world, nigh-instantaneous electrons weaving our modern life — we’ve become isolated from other people in ways we haven’t anticipated.  We put animals in cages for our entertainment, but we put cages around ourselves for our supposed protection.

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I’ve never been much good at street photography; part of me is infinitely embarrassed at the thought of asking permission to capture some stranger’s life, and the other part believes in exactly what Kirk Tuck warns about — that you need to be some kind of stealthy ninja, stealing shots based on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:  the very act of observation disrupts the data you’re trying to capture.  So if street photography is inextricably linked to the interaction between photographer and subject, I need to cultivate that relationship, rather than deny it ever exists; likewise our connections, whether virtual or personal, keep us honest.

Mike

Too Big

29 June 2009

Dear J-

Car advertisements lately like to play up superlatives; it seems like every car leads its class in one way or another — most horsepower, fuel economy, interior room, towing capacity, payload, warranty, etc.  Call it the commoditization of America, where we evaluate food ad gasoline based on unit cost rather than quality or other criteria; so long as you feel full at the end of the day, whether wallet, stomach, or fuel tank, so much the better.  Consequently we’re faced with both overarching envy and more than we actually need.

Consider the Camry we grew up with — a 1984 LE hatchback, automatic; the only real fault was a lack of power on hills (climbing out of Spokane west on I-90, we almost had to use the hazard lights and rub elbows with the tractor-trailers), but aside from that, it was plenty big enough for four adults, five in a pinch, stingy on gas, reliable (aside from exceeding the recommended timing belt life).  While not exactly stylish, it was in keeping with the designs of the times, but two years later, there we were stuck driving the old model, smaller and slower.  My parents upgraded after eight years, and then again ten years after that — bigger and more powerful every time, even though we were both out of the house by then.

How do you reconcile it?  The ___ (let’s say car) you want is not the ___ you need; it’s the advertiser’s job to sell you on the utility of a pickup, even if you’d only drive it with the bed unloaded, or the need for your typical three hundred horsepower sports car (guilty here; the new Camaro seems so cheap for so much; advertising works).  Recognize and separate your needs and your wants; I’m not saying that you don’t need that burly V-8, but unless you plan on driving somewhere other than the realistically 80-85 MPH-limited freeways around here, you’re far better off investing in nicer seats and a stereo system to keep you sane in traffic than a burbling monster you keep in check with your right foot.  Be smarter than the ads, that’s all.

Mike

Car Talk

22 May 2009

Dear J-

If you think back to the car trends I’ve seen — admittedly few, since the late 70s or so — one thing jumps out at me, that there’s always some sort of style leader that others rush to imitate.  I’m not just talking about actual styling, mind you, but the trend leaders.  Whether there’s a significant upgrade in the imitations or not (when is the master mastered?), something provides the spark of change.  Wagons (estates) fell to minivans in popularity, which in turn were traded in for droves of SUVs, and are now being replaced by … wagons.

Point is that fashion cycles come and go, and moreover, the origins may be murky; who can really say whether the Ford Taurus or the Audi 5000 are the true progenitors of the jellybean aerodynamics?  Or was the SUV thing a partly-misguided nostalgia-fest of station wagons coupled with the rugged freedom of the go-anywhere (but mostly remaining on pavement) attitude?  We can’t point at root causes, and we sure can’t seem to predict the future (otherwise GM and Chrysler would be hale and healthy, instead of having hedged their bets on the continued health of the truck and SUV market).  So perhaps the lesson is to live in the now; unless, of course, your job is to predict and ride the trends.

My now involves crawling through holiday traffic; when we share the road, we do it with a few hundred thousand strangers passing under the same indifferent sun, pushing ever onward south.  What would happen if we stopped and introduced ourselves to our nearest neighbors?  Instead of guy-in-the-semi, let’s meet Bob, or Jane, or Bill, or Jean.  No matter which misbegotten trend erupts, does it really make sense to act like a jerk and make other people’s lives miserable just because they don’t drive the right car?

Mike

Mustang Mania

23 March 2009

Dear J-

Back in Sacramento again — technically, Rancho Cordova, and it feels just about, well, I’m not sure that right is the correct term.  Familiar, let’s say.  I got slightly lost on the way here, but I remember so much from before, from the skidding tractor-trailer sign to the mysterious sign for Avenue X, right where the I-5/I-80 interchange meet.  Things aren’t so different, eight years on; even driving down White Rock Road I could have sworn I passed by some of the buildings Worldcom was leasing.

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The thing that causes me mortal embarrassment is the car the rental agency left for me; I should have stuck with my gut instinct and asked for the Focus, but instead I’m in a head-turningly red Mustang.  The gas gauge dares me to try to eke some sort of reasonable consumption out of the beast, and it feels like I’m sitting in a well — the sills are high (in my usual car, I like to prop my left elbow on the sill; in the Mustang, the sill ends up being higher than my earlobe).  That said, it’s not a bad car to drive, but it is notably lacking in refinement.  And it makes me feel old to be behind the wheel — it’s either a young person’s car, or someone hoping to recapture youth; the retro touches are lost on me, and the overall effect is desperation.

I don’t think it’s endemic to Sacramento in particular, but out here in the industrial sprawl, the anonymous office parks are all marked with large parking lots, winding roads, and bermed planting strips — as though from above, all you’d end up seeing would be suburbia writ large, in earthen-toned offices with dark glass.  It’s in San Diego — right around Miramar — and I’m sure it’s in a neighborhood near you.  I just don’t remember it being so lifeless from the outside:  as though if no one told you there were people inside, you’d never guess at the activity within.

Later, I went to the nearest Jack-in-the-Box, across the freeway at the corner of Folsom and Zinfandel; possibly the sketchiest JitB I’ve been in for a while.  Employees kept disappearing out into the otherwise deserted parking lot, and I was left alone in the dining room staring at the bug zapper, hoping not to be carjacked on the way back out.  But perhaps I overestimate the ‘stang’s desirability.

Mike

Weathering It

6 February 2009

Dear J-

More rain the last couple of days; safely slow in the stately Subaru (130K miles now and still as strong as ever — meaning not very — though the clutch is starting to slip in 5th and the “check engine” light has been on for the last five thousand) and warm, I watch the wipers smear the drops ineffectively, reminding myself again to change the blades when I get the chance.  After all, I’ve got a spare set in the garage.  It’s irresistibly cosy behind the wheel, dry, watching the weather slide by outside, and knowing there’s nothing to do but fiddle with the HVAC to balance the fan between the steady, sleep-inducing roar and check if my voice has improved any on any number of sing-alongs from the Ramones to Bride and Prejudice.

You can listen to the rain too, though, shutting the radio off and listening to it drum on the thin steel roof like some tropical drum; this morning we had what we used to call a Pineapple Express blowing through, warm and wet.  If you could close your eyes (still driving, remember) you’d imagine it to be blowing through your beach-front hut, now contrasting the whisper of rain on sand with the the insistent thrumming on tin roof and fronds.

But my favorite part of the rain is watching it end:  first the moisture on the pavement gets eaten away by magical patches of dry, then the clouds themselves slink away like party guests who’ve overstayed their welcome, wandering around and spilling drinks while you attempt to clean up around them, hoping that they’ll take the hint.  Clouds breaking is like that first hint of decongestion after a week of being ill:  unfamiliar, but gradually you grow to appreciate how wonderful normal is.

Mike

Sleeper Vehicles

13 November 2008

Dear J-

There are few cars I enjoy more than sleepers — rather ordinary-looking cars, not at all extroverted (you know what I’m talking about, bespoilered and slammed rolling stock out there) yet with something extra once you bury the right foot.  It’s all thanks to the magic of the corporate parts bin — once you start sharing items between cars, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets the bright idea to stick the biggest engine possible in the smallest car; it’s how we got the GTO, 300SEL 6.3, and other magical letter/number combinations.

Right now I’d guess the most mental camouflaged car would be the 2009 (turbo) Chevy Cobalt SS sedan — you’ve got horsepower that used to be reserved for the hoariest of 80s Corvettes in a package that looks like another anonymous rental; it’s cheaper than building up your own — whatever you’ve got — and unlike the muscle-y cars of yore, it won’t head straight for the nearest ditch when you try to steer it.

I admit to paper-whipping together improbable combinations in my head during slow times at work; wouldn’t so many cars be so much better with immodest engines?  Would an ER27 fit into a BRAT?  Why not fit a 7M-GTE into a Toyota truck?  Do you realize how many times I read about small-block V8 conversions into Volvo 240s?  Where do the possibilities end?

Mike