A Shore Thing
I leave for the shore tomorrow evening. I’m not sure why those of us living in the Mid-Atlantic states call the place where land meets sea water The Shore, nor why elsewhere it is called The Coast, The Beach, or The Ocean. I do find myself reacting to the mere mention of The Shore as though someone was talking of The Plague or The Gout. I find it best to avoid any of them, for two reasons: 1) massive amounts of people (and massive people, more often than not), and 2) the traffic jams.
I must admit that I tend to dislike people, in general. I find them to be genuinely rude and inconsiderate of others (namely me). They also tend to speak too loudly and, while they’re at it, seem to have no concept of when to stop talking. I will admit that there are a few exceptions, and those are usually real gems. (I am not one of them, sadly.) However, by and large, most people fall into the category of Best Avoided, and a strict adherence to this rule has kept me alive and at least partially sane to this day. Read more
Drawn to Magnetism
I was explaining the virtues of driving my 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel (aka “The Rabbi”, then later “The Whistle Pig”) and was greeted with a rather interesting response: “You’ll never get a wife in a car like that!” I found this a particularly shallow and unnecessary observation on his part. Of course I wouldn’t. I knew that. I had no plans of bird-dogging chicks at the local strip mall with this thing. No illusions of females swooning at the sharp turbine whistle emitted by the side-exit exhaust. The mismatched hatch would not make them weak in the knees. That isn’t why I found that car so appealing.
What drew me to it was it’s simplicity, the pureness of the driving experience, the excellent fuel economy (better than today’s uber-complex hybrids), and the fact that the $175 purchase price seemed relatively affordable. (Truth be told, the previous owner’s girlfriend told him to make the decision between her or the car, thus the quick sale and low, low price.) Yes, it is ugly, rough, and will mark its territory with the predictability and dedication of a terrier in a public park. I love the directness of the manual steering, the boost-induced giggles of a self-installed turbo system, and the honesty of its reluctance to get going on a cold winter morning. It has character. It is a bit special. Read more
Travels with Gordie: In Search of Britain, Part 1
I was due for a vacation. It had been weeks since my last one, and I noticed that fatigue was setting in. I couldn’t eat my own body weight anymore, and I was having trouble sleeping more than 12 hours a day. I needed to get away, but wasn’t sure just where or how. It was a terrible dilemma.
I already knew who would join me. My friend Gordon would join me—that was a given. We’d been on many trips together over the years: Vermont, Delaware, Maryland, all over Pennsylvania, Vermont again, Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont again, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In fact, we’d been to Vermont so often that I considered becoming a Phish fan just to make the locals hate me even more for intruding on their state. (It is also strange, considering that I like New Hampshire more.) A couple of years prior we had flown out to visit a friend of mine in Seattle, where we proceeded to drink our body weight in espresso-based drinks every day. I always preferred to drive to our destination–not for the convenience of it, but for the enjoyment of hitting the road and listening to Gordon’s astute observations of the world. Since we had flown once, we could fly again, so it opened up our options. Read more
Failure Breeds Failure
It happened again. I left my driveway and started down the ¾ mile long gradual hill that leads down my road to the highway. (I use those terms loosely, since I allow others to use my road and the highway is just two lanes’ worth of crumbled concrete.) For whatever reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving my brakes a gentle squeeze test when I reach the slight flat before the final downhill grade that ends with a stop sign and heavy traffic. I feel better knowing that my brakes are slightly warm before asking them to pull hard duty. Either that or I’m just super paranoid about losing my life. I’m glad I became addicted to this behavior, since I had the wonder of complete brake failure during this test.
The first time this happened was in my BMW. When my foot went to the floor I was going slow enough that I could easily slow the car with the handbrake. (I always baby my vehicles when they are cold. I’m a softie.) The crisis was averted, and I could return home unscathed to switch into a “safer” vehicle: the Rabbi (1981 VW Rabbit Turbo-diesel). While many will argue that they’d rather die in a BMW than drive a Rabbit, I was in a bind and, frankly, I have low standards. The Rabbi has been a faithful (if not trying) partner over the years, and it responded to the call of duty and got me to my dinner date that evening. Read more
There was a time in my life when I could identify any car being produced. Granted, it was probably during my time spent in purgatory (also known as Junior High) when I had nothing better to do with my time than peruse the stack of auto literature my brother and I had. We amassed these annals from various car shows and dealer showrooms visited on family excursions throughout the years. Our shared bedroom was akin to a small, stuffy library of all things automobile and tractor. (Although the familiar scent of library mildew was missing, it was more than made up for by the fragrant bouquet of dirty clothes strewn about on my half of the floor.) Since, in our household, the television was seen as a treat on par with a day at the zoo or eating sugared cereal, we would spend rainy days perusing the various brochures, learning as much as we could about each model. We studied horsepower and torque curves, engine displacements, transmission options, and cylinder configurations. I could spit them out ad nauseam, and it often resulted in just that.
Perhaps even more importantly, we studied the body lines and trim details of each manufacturer. Designs seemed to actually carry a purpose at that time. There was a family resemblance within a brand, and each car had its own distinct design within the clan. A Ford looked like a Ford. A Mercedes was, unmistakably, a Mercedes. A Citroen, sadly, looked only like a Citroen could. Surprisingly, my hometown had a grey-market Citroen dealership that seemed to come and go with the seasons. Upon sighting a Citroen BX Break* kneeling curbside, passers-by would often change facial expressions from curiosity, then shock, and eventually ending in a lasting grimace of disgust. This fascinated my young, impressionable mind. I knew there had to be something intrinsically wrong with a company that could produce a car so vile on the outside, yet also had the audacity to sport a one-spoked steering wheel in the interior. There was no escaping itself.
*aka “wagon” or “estate,” but if owners of early-models are ever asked, the original name seemed aptly chosen by the factory
In Defense of the Sunday Drive
When I was just 16 years-old, (just weeks ago by my recollection), I simply got into the car and drove. I had no real destination. There was no devotion to my navigation, and rarely was a chart consulted for guidance. It seems strange to think of the risk I took in doing that, heading out alone with only the cash in my Velcro-secured wallet. I had no mobile phone and no GPS, not even a credit card. I didn’t even have my mother along. It was simply me, the car, and the road. It was wonderful. I got in, put the windows down, turned the key, and was off. I was looking for nothing more than to discover a bit more of this world than I had known when I left the house. Sometimes I was even successful.
The road that I chose inevitably led to another one and sometimes two. I was forced to make a choice: which direction would I take? More often than not, it was the one that led further from home. I wasn’t trying to escape home as much as I was striving to embrace freedom. For the first time in my life I could make my own decisions and get myself into some REAL trouble, if I so chose (which I rarely did).
It used to be a weekly occurrence for many in America to pile into the family Buick (a brown ’73 LeSabre in our case) after Sunday lunch and go for a drive. The kids were all stuffed in the back seat and forced to look out the window to observe the world. There were no DVD players or other electronic devices to keep their minds occupied—that was up to the kids’ imaginations and the parents’ route. This drive allowed the family to get out from the city and the suburbs to see some scenery, to witness another style of life, or at least other brands of cars. Read more