Posts Tagged ‘cars’

Car Talk

29 June 2011

Dear J-

I remember when my parents traded in their old Cougar in 1980. It was eleven years old at that point and pretty tired, 351 Windsor backed up by an automatic transmission somehow making it through the gas crises of the 70s but finally falling victim to the desire for more cargo space. It was supplanted by an Oldsmobile Cutlass wagon whose rear windows didn’t roll down: that was considered either unsafe for children or lazy on the part of the designers. On the other hand the cargo space was measured to make sure that my brother and I could lie down side-by-side to sleep so safety may not have been the paramount concern.

I imagine my dad had a bit of an obsession since going to Yellowstone the year before with his uncle. We rode in the Cougar crammed full and riding on a plywood board converting the back seat into a seatbelt-less playpen while my grand-uncle drove his kids majestically in a new Olds Ninety-Eight wagon complete with nausea rear-facing 3rd-row seat (unfolded to my amazement and constant wonder) and power windows, heck, power-everything. The Cougar left us stranded once in Spokane (outside of R&R in fact) and that must have sealed its fate. Hubcaps missing and headlight covers somewhat askew (we never killed any cats but they were always tempted by warm spaces under the hood) we rolled into Barton Oldsmobile looking for our next ride.

The first Camry followed in quick succession and later cars for the family we imported from China: a Citation for my uncle and aunt, an Escort for my cousin, a cargo van for the store which we spent hours insulating and upgrading in the driveway — I was young enough to not have much homework and fascinated by tools and the promise of change too, at the conjunction of child and sullen pre-teen that velcros themselves to the nearest parental adult and believes they can do no wrong. I think about my fourteen-year-old Subaru and wonder if I should get something new when it still runs fine and economically and wonder if figgy would miss it like I do the Cougar sometimes.



Four Hundred Miles

29 June 2010

Dear J-

It’s funny (not in a ha-ha way) what I decide I’d need for a given trip; when I was little those decisions were pretty necessarily limited to a particular flavor of chips to bring along and maybe to pick out a restaurant along the way. Of course, back then you could take a roadtrip in a sedan (the canonical example I like to point out is the one we took with four adults and four kids piled into a red Ford Fairmont rental to the Canadian Rockies (Banff/Jasper); hopefully my uncle has forgiven us by now) and not worry about the child-rearing paraphenalia that accompanies even the shortest trip now.

Back to gadgets, though; before if you were lucky you had a tape deck and you’d maybe make up a mix tape or two whereas nowadays the iPod is almost an unremarkable extra. You would have to listen to obscure radio stations and local deejays if you wanted a relief from the same sequence of songs (even more so if you had an eight-track or an autoreversing unit, endlessly looping back and forth). And that was okay. You’d take a break every so often to stretch your legs (running around rest areas set in the middle of nowhere, voice raised in howling chorus with the wind) and check your course against a paper map, cross-referencing road signs and towns passed. Now if it wasn’t for biological breaks (and I had friends whose dad made a solution for that involving a rubber tube and various cappable containers) we’d never get out of our cars, drive-thru dining and GPS keeping us steady and level.

I’ve long suspected that cars are sized for roughly four hundred miles on the freeway — by which I mean that even if you get fifty miles to the gallon, your tank is small and you’ll have to stop for more gas; likewise the ten MPG tanks out there have correspondingly huge tanks. It’s a reminder that for all we do, comfort-wise (when was the last time you had to actually crank a window or live without air conditioning?) we are the weak link in the movement of people on the highway. Four hundred miles is a reminder that there’s a world outside our glass and metal beetles, and we’ve got something to explore beyond those confines we limit ourselves to.


Dealer Drive

2 November 2009

Dear J-

The two RX-8s I was keeping a casual eye on — over the weekend, one of them apparently got sold or withdrawn, and the other one jumped in price by 10%, which means probably that the dealership was offering them with the $5K cash on the hood Mazda had as a special closeout offer on 2009s.  Yet when I’d called them and asked about it, they claimed that there was no valid cash back offer; it only puts me in mind how much car shopping is a process much marred by the dealer.  Here in an age when manufacturer’s invoices and dealer margins are the first thing anyone researches, why has it been so difficult to change the image of the dealer from some rapacious, dishonnest guy you deal with because you have to, not because it’s a pleasure?

I remember the extravagant measures my dad would take in dealer negotiations:  physically walking out of deals, cross-shopping brands and dealers, all the while holding on to the invoice in his head in order to get the best deal.  For my part, in the five trips to the dealer (minimum) it took to get the right price on the right car, well, dealer lobbies are no fun for anyone under the age of sixteen:  even the appeal of sitting in new cars pales after a short period, but it was definitely a learning experience for me, that combative relationship.

I was five before my parents attempted to go car shopping with us; sometimes I wonder how figgy would react to running around a dealer’s lot, but it’s all useless speculation at this point, given that I’m not seriously looking, and don’t really need a newer car besides.  I understand that car sales staff are just trying to do their job — maximize dealer and personal profit — but it’s done at the expense of the buyers, and that makes it impossible to form anything but an adversaril stance; there is much genius in the way Saturn’s business model used to be — now, if it hadn’t taken them fifteen years to come out with compelling products, on the other hand …


Neo Jones

22 October 2009

Dear J-

There’s a Honda Civic which magically appeared in the park’n’ride lot we use as vanpool staging; though I see a lot of the same cars every time I go I call this one magical because it’s clearly been towed and dumped.  Somehow, it’s come to grief, with the front passenger’s side nearly obliterated, and yet it’s neatly tucked in to a parking spot, slick as anything — cleverly positioned with its back facing the freeway off-ramp, so that none might suspect it’s inoperable and therefore towing it to the junkyard prematurely.  Someone put some money into the car at some point; the headlights are some custom reflector assembly, and it looks recently washed.

Unknown Grief 5082 -sm

I like to build back-stories and speculations in my head based on what I see; part of this is undoubtedly the seemingly millions of shipwreck discovery articles I read in National Geographic — it’s like the crew depicted in The Perfect Storm (if there were no survivors, all we know is that the ship was presumed lost, not all the drama surrounding their personal chemistry).  When my parents wanted me to go see a lot out in Moreno Valley, I went to document a bare, trash-strewn lot with the crowning achievement of a burned-out S12 Silvia; my brain worked overtime to come up with some high school bacchanal, echoing silently in the hot, still air.

We’re sliding through the fog again; somehow we’ve co-opted harvest festivals into prime time for ghosts and costumes, just over a week from now.  If we went by sea instead of freeway, we’d stand watch and regale each other with sea tales of derelict ships and unrestful spirits.  Simple physics would tell me how much and how fast, but not why that Civic came to rest; was it some foggy night, and why would it just be abandoned to fate in some Sargasso lot?  It’s neo-archaeology:  finding (or inventing) stories in the artifacts of today.


Slow Lesson

1 August 2009

Dear J-

I suppose that if I see karma as being some kind of cosmic justice system I’ve missed the point; it’s not about smiting enemies, whether those I’ve held for long years or the yahoo who just cut me off on the freeway, it’s about knowing that good deeds are their own reward. Let the other guy be the jerk; I’m not the one who has to live with them or those actions, for the most part. I just tend to forget those calm words in the heat of the moment, but it’s not my job to enforce traffic laws, just to ensure that I drive safely and don’t put anyone into jeopardy, whether they’re riding in my car or not.

Some days I feel the fatalism more than others; perhaps, I think, perhaps it’s because I didn’t do this or that, maybe if I’d done things differently. It’s an excuse, like everything else. It’s more a question of taking responsibility again — the sooner I realize the truth behind serenity (accept the things I can not change, and the courage to change those I can) the sooner I can reject the rage that runs in a steady undercurrent and threatens to flood over me as a tsunami inundates the rational land.

Music or Gym 5068 -sm

Slowly, figgy’s teaching me what it takes; opportunities for patience, chances to turn from anger to answers and rewards, always rewards for the right way to handle it. I keep trying to remind myself that despite John Lennon’s reassurances, karma is not instant, neither effect nor reward. We may tote her around until our bones creak and our muscles fail; she may refuse to walk, or take a nap, or sit patiently for meals. It’s part of the compact we’ve made, and it’s the agreement we’ll keep; we may have miles and years to go, but we’ll remember everything, we’ll have to remember every lesson.


Last Car Driving

10 July 2009

Dear J-

Get up early enough and it’s easy to convince yourself that some kind of apocalypse happened overnight or — more happily — that you’ve managed to sleep through to Saturday and the world stretches out before you as on a platter.  Some mornings I don’t see evidence of another human until I get to the Park’n’Ride lot, yet the streams of traffic passing on the freeway might as well be piloted by robots for all the humanity they evince: just metal beetles hurrying away from the light, rubber wheels scrambling madly.

Speaking of which, Ford’s new Taurus is rolling out; I understand that we should be suitably celebratory that in this, Ford’s flagship sedan, we have a car that can sit up against its fellow large sedans — see Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, etc. — with its head held high.  Much has been made of the style, which is in keeping with the Ford Interceptor concept from 2007, and adheres to the latest Ford design language, but the sharp contrast with 1985 and the first-generation Taurus for me is that the Taurus is now a trend follower (it looks like a Fusion, slightly inflated in all dimensions) rather than a trend setter.  The other worrying statistic is the weight — more than two tons in SHO trim; granted, the SHO packs Ford’s new EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 and 365 horsepower, but where did all the weight come from (if you want to compare, Taurus SHO has gained 25% in weight over ten years — 1999:  3329 lbs; 2010:  4368 lbs.)?  Granted, it’s similar in weight to the big LX-platform Mopars (two tons, give or take), but gearheads like to brag that there’s no replacement for displacement for engine size; we’re standing that on its head:  for fuel economy standards, mass is gonna cost you gas.

The clever engineers should be able to balance safety (systems, structure) and weight without resorting to specifying that everyone shall drive tanks — the United States M-1 Abrams, for instance, uses a gas turbine engine for 1000 horsepower, an honest 60 MPH on the road, and fuel economy better measured in gallons per mile.  Despite lacking airbags, I would venture that it would survive a crash pretty well.  I understand the need to hail an American car champion, but the Taurus isn’t going to be it — it’s a cosmetic re-skinning of the old Volvo platform underneath the Five Hundred.  For Ford, think Focus or Fiesta instead:  not the traditional big American sedan, but CAFE heroes with reasonable space and style; we associate size with value, but it’s time to break that habit, whether with food or cars.