It happens so fast. One minute life seems a place of nearly unbearable normalcy, the next you are turned on your head (sometimes literally). It’s a difficult position to find yourself in: the forced decision to purchase a vehicle in a short time frame.
Sometimes the cause is a faulty head gasket; other times it is a faulty head. In my friend Gordon’s case, it was the latter. He was waiting patiently in his Mazda Miata for the traffic light to turn green (he has no other method of waiting, as he’s been accused of having “no concept of urgency” by some very close to him) when he was rear-ended by a Nissan Pathfinder (whose driver evidently had a very real sense of urgency). They both climbed out to assess the damage, went to the back of the car, and quickly realized that it did not look good for the little roadster. That’s it. Done. Game over. In an instant, he had to find a replacement.
I sensed what was coming next. He, in a momentary lapse of judgment, asked me to help him seek out another car. (I blame undiagnosed head trauma from the accident.) This tends to happen often when you’re pigeon-holed as a “car guy.” I’ve always found this a bit unfair since I also consider myself a guitar guy, motorcycle guy, dog guy, coal stove guy, Greenland kayak guy, and–most certainly–an boutique/vintage amp guy. Somehow people always seem to focus in on the car aspect of my limited knowledge base and attempt to employ me in their quest for The Perfect Car. Read more
There was a time in my life when I found myself mesmerized by the character of cars–those elements of design and style that set them apart from across a crowded parking lot; like heaven itself was smiling on them. Those old enough to remember Johnny Carson will recall the signature three-dimensional pendant the domestic manufacturers would adorn their flagship products with. Standing upright and proud, they were an example of how companies used to take pride in their product. “Yes. We built this.”
In the heyday of American automobile manufacturing each company seemed to have its own identity. They took pride in their work and strived for perfection in all that they did. Some of the great ones were world-class. Not “world-class” as used in one of today’s marketing department press releases, but truly, honestly World-Class. It could be argued that the best of America’s heartland offered design and quality that was above that of even the European coach-builders. Companies like Peerless Motor nearly were, if not for the existence of Packard and Pierce-Arrow. And, like the Christmas tree that isn’t complete until the delicate angel is placed on top, these pieces of rolling jewelry were still unfinished without that symbol of elegance and grace: the hood ornament. Read more
The Labor of Love
As I climbed into my beloved BMW E30, the guilt trip began before the journey started. It happens every time I walk past. Rarely does it escalate into anything more than a slight nag, but occasionally we’ll have it out.
“Why are you ignoring me?”
“Ignore you?! How can you even suggest that?”
“I don’t feel loved.”
“I drive you. I wash you. I completely rebuilt your suspension. AND interior! I just flushed your brakes. I changed all of your fluids. I even put Swepco in your gearbox and Amsoil in your differential, for crying out loud!”*
“I know. And I appreciate all of your work.”
“So why do you say I’m ignoring you?”
“When was the last time you touched me?”
I pause and try to remember. It has been too long…far too long. When I wash it, I take it to the local car wash. It is not that I’m lazy; it’s just that my home has the water pressure equal to that of an elderly man at a rest stop urinal. I attempt to justify my choice by using the foaming brush, but it never gets the car as clean as washing it with a bucket and sponge. The intimacy is gone.
An Apex of Seasons
There is magic in the air these days, and I am rather certain that it is not pollen. We have reached that wonderful point of seasonal change in the Northeast as autumn approaches at a steady pace. It is not entirely summer and not entirely fall; a seasonal apex, if you will. Like a good mutt, this time of year inherits the strengths of both seasons. It truly is a most pleasant time of year.
The landscape changes dramatically over these days as well. The once proud stands of field corn of the deepest green mellow with age to an olive-tan drabness. Forage choppers gorge themselves on the stalks and ears. The intense heat of summer has subsided, and lawns have returned to a spring-like vibrancy. Leaves are browning and dropping off the walnut trees. Pumpkins and squash ripen on the vine, dotting the soil with spots of color. Within a week’s time, it seems the hillsides have turned all shades of greens and oranges and browns, like the shag carpet covering the family room floor of a split-level house from the 1970s. (No, not that Family Room—the one on the lower floor. No, the other lower floor, just past the garage. Nope, you’ve gone too far!) Read more
Like a Troubled Bridge Over Water
Several years ago, I made a frightening discovery while on a run near my parents’ home. Fortunately, no one had been robbed, nor was there any need to call the coroner. This was far worse. Two of the roads that I took to get to their home from the highway were in terrible shape, broken and crumbling from years of neglect. This was not the discovery, but a harsh reminder of the real tragedy: these two roads had never been repaved since I was born. Without getting into too much gruesome detail, I will just say that meant a very long time indeed: decades (several).
It was always harsh to drive over these roads. The winter cycling above and below the freezing point that makes our soil so easy to turn in the spring also wreaks havoc with pavement. Potholes and frost heaves are the result and, in fact, the norm for most of the Northeastern U.S. In Lancaster County, we also have the moving chicane known as the horse & buggy. Outsiders view them as simple and majestic, but they don’t take into account the havoc the carbide embedded in the steel shoes does to the road surface. The middle of each lane is often marred by deep troughs running the length of the road. It is only when riding motorcycle, bicycling, or in this case, running, that it becomes shockingly evident just how bad these roads were getting; you tend to notice these things when you’re more vulnerable to the elements. The potholes were deep enough to extend through the pavement and past the sub-base of coarse stones into the dirt beneath. While not wide enough to swallow a car tire, they could do some serious damage to a bicycle wheel. Or engulf a whole running shoe, and perhaps a whole runner. As I continued to run my course, fearing for my ankles, I pondered just how bad the Highway Department would allow these roads to deteriorate before slothing to action in an effort to repair them. Read more
Rider’s Report–KTM at Indy
We all know one. That guy. The one born of wealthy and intelligent stock, who is not only good looking and athletic but seems to be talented in all aspects of life. The guy that can do absolutely anything he puts his mind to. Meanwhile, the rest of us in society are left looking onward in disbelief. You are amazed by him. You are humiliated by him. You respect him. You covet him. You would secretly wish him dead, if it weren’t for that one flaw that you know about. It could be his giant nose, but often these flaws are hidden deep down beneath the surface, where only those close to him know the truth. That ugly truth is: he’s got a terrible sense of rhythm. And it delights you.
The golden boy of the two-wheeled world these days seems to be KTM. Their off-road lineup is a brutal force to be reckoned with since nearly every machine in their product range seems to be either a class-leader or at least right up there with the best of the best. They have a strong reputation as four-stroke single-cylinder masters (and their acquisition of dirtbeast builder Husaberg certainly didn’t hurt that), and they still have the backbone to offer a great two-stroke choice in each class as well. (It’s still nice to have the option of premix.)
There come times in your life when you have to make difficult choices. Many times you can see these crossroads on the horizon, gather information about your options, and make an informed decision. Years later, when looking back on the chosen path, one will often smile inside with the satisfaction of knowing that the correct resolution was reached and life was better for it.
Climbing out from underneath my BMW 325, I was recently faced with just such a dilemma. I am in the process of rebuilding the rear subframe with new bushings, shocks, and springs. Normally, this isn’t such a terrible task. (Normally, the fist-sized metal & rubber subframe bushings don’t break off inside the chassis, during the removal process either.) It took me nearly an entire week’s worth of evenings to get the broken bushing out of the chassis. Trying to do the job right, and since the subframe and rear trailing arms were off the car, I decided to give them a quick coat of semi-gloss black paint to freshen up the underbelly a bit. Things were starting to look up. Read more
Rider’s Report–Road to Indianapolis
As a devoted follower of The Driving Farce, you are certainly aware by now that I rode out to Indianapolis with a group of friends for the Red Bull MotoGP race. We headed out from Lancaster, PA on a warm, sticky morning just in time to catch a wicked thunderstorm just west of Harrisburg. We invested in $16.25 in PA Turnpike tolls per bike. That’s $162.50 for our crew, round trip. I will admit that the Turnpike did offer us decent road, with the exception of the tar patches that they have in the central sections. In the rain, a bike tire will spin up while changing lanes when crossing these which is anything but reassuring, and especially not expected at partial-throttle. They can do better. For that kind of money I expect more, frankly; like train service with a bunk. And perhaps a bag or two of stale pretzels.
As we made our way across the eastern part of the country we played Musical Bikes. We drew bike names out of a hat prior to our departure. At each fuel stop we switched seats (and keys, thankfully) to allow ourselves a chance to sample the pleasures and pains of various manufacturers, and to contort our bodies into different shapes for the next 120 miles. So, without further ado, I give you my impression of each machine in order of the riding stint. Read more
Back Home Again
There is a buzz in the air these days. My mind is preoccupied with thoughts of adventure and interstate. (Strange, since the two are often mutually exclusive.) I’m finding it difficult to remain focused on the work left to do before departure.
This particular trip will be taking me and five other riders from eastern Pennsylvania to Speedway, Indiana for the Red Bull MotoGP race. I know the route well, having been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway numerous times for the USGP Formula 1 races. (This was back when the United States still cared about Formula 1. Or, more accurately, when Formula 1 still cared about the United States.) I call it a route, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. No GPS will be needed (nor is it allowed in this group). Our path will take us up a two-lane highway for about 20 minutes, where we will make a left onto the Turnpike, then continue straight for about 11 hours.
It will be a very different experience from my previous Indy treks. We took a Coachman RV on every other trip to the Steakhouse Capital. I never understood the draw that a recreational vehicle offered to the elders of our society until I used it just once. It provided transportation, shelter, and entertainment to its occupants. (Albeit the last one in the tragic drama of nauseatingly high fuel consumption.) We could set up camp (extend the awning) in a parking lot directly across the street from the speedway. Aside from the fact that we were situated on top of blazing-hot asphalt skillet, this location proved ideal since there was no traffic to battle after a long day spent at the track, food & beverage were immediately available, and there was the added bonus of being awakened at 7AM to the shriek V10s turning 20,000 rpm. Also, motorhomes also give you the ability to pack once and be done. You don’t even need a bag, just pack your clothing and toiletries directly where you need them; none of this hauling suitcases and sleeping bags in and out of vehicles every time you stop for the night. Read more
Travels with Gordie: In Search of Britain, Part 2
We were welcomed into Brian’s home at Lancaster Gate and were shown around the flat. There was a lovely sitting room, furnished with rather lavish furniture that was a bit past its prime. A formal dining room was located off the sitting room, dark and unused—yet well-stocked with tall bottles of unopened liquor. A small kitchen offered a bright contrast to the rest of the living quarters; its tiny appliances proved to be equal parts utility and novelty. Brian’s room was in the corner. Gordon and I would be staying in the spare bedroom at the end of the hall, conveniently located next to a large bathroom.
There were still two rooms left unexplored. “Oh, that’s Dieter’s bathroom and his bedroom. Please don’t go in there.” I was perplexed and a bit miffed. Here I was, being the best friend I knew how by intruding on his Canadian hospitality, and he had the audacity to refuse me entry into the rest of his home! He went on to explain. “This is actually Dieter’s flat and I act as a sort of roommate/caretaker. Dieter has schizophrenia. Don’t worry; he’s not a danger to anyone. I’m just here to keep tabs on him.” As we took our bags back to our room, we passed the semi-closed door to the forbidden bathroom. My curiosity got the best of me and I looked in through the crack. I saw shower curtain withdrawn to expose the bathtub, but instead of seeing towels drying on the rung I saw a large, foldable drying rack full of black dress socks. There must have been two dozen pairs hanging there, the air drying them to the crisp stiffness of cold English toast. Intriguing… Read more