It is 52 degrees outside. That means the dead of winter is upon us once again. It is a dreadful period, and I find myself slipping into a dull state of monotony, looking for an escape from this grisly reality. Normally, I wouldn’t be in such dire straits, but normally we wouldn’t be experiencing springtime in February, either. Instead, we’d be basking in the wonder of winter and the sub-freezing temps that go along with it.
I happen to thrive in winter—a proper winter. I much prefer going out into -5 degrees to the sweltering heat of 95 degrees. I’ve always said “You can always add more layers to stay warm, but you can only take off so much before you’re arrested.” (Sadly, I am always the only one listening to this endless wisdom and, frankly, find myself quite boring.) You can imagine my dismay when faced with the timid, meek attitude displayed by this current winter–the seasonal equivalent of a Corolla driver. So I find myself plotting an escape from this existence.
I tend to prefer fantasizing the old fashioned way. None of this new electronic animated and easy scrolling stuff for me, thank you. I like the old fashioned ink on paper media to escape my reality. I go to the old standard: road atlas*. So, several times during every January and February I will dedicate a portion of the kitchen table, fix a beverage of my choice, grab a pencil, and open up my North American Atlas** to slip into a slow stupor of potential road trips. Read more
Today I have the opportunity to work on another old car. While it isn’t exactly a “classic” like an Alfa GTA or ’55 Chevy (the ‘57s are just too gaudy for me) it is very near and dear to someone’s heart, so I am taking great care with it. I am cautious when I drive it and try to let the wrenches caress the fasteners, rather than just man-handle them. In reality, the car isn’t worth much to most of the world, but after spending some time with “Nellie” I have come to a conclusion: they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The beautiful thing about Nellie is how she is the last from a bygone era. She’s not a big German luxury barge, nor is she powered by an American small-block V8. She’s not even rear wheel drive. (the horror!) She’s just a humble baseline 1990 Honda Civic, but a completely capable car. She’s as basic as they come—a reminder of simpler times before power windows, power door locks, power steering, and power outlets became necessities to get from Point A to Point B. It makes me wonder what we’re doing wrong as consumers.
Over the years we have become lazy. We have forgotten how to drive. We’ve demanded the fastest, quietest, most coddling cocoon to wrap ourselves in. We need air conditioning. We can’t live without cup holders. Our arms ache at the thought of having to exert effort while parallel parking. The wheels beneath us cannot slip. Brakes mustn’t lock. A haunting voice will guide us to our destination (or not). Wind must be seen but not heard. And in the event of a collision (who allowed that to happen, anyway?!) we want to be surrounded by pillowy curtains on which to rest our weary heads. (never mind that those same pillows explode with such force that they will take your head clean off if they hit at the wrong angle) Read more
I enjoy getting together with a good group of motorheads. I’m not sure if it is the comradery of carburetors that draws us together or the simple fact that most of us are so passionate and opinionated about our transportation choices, that sooner or later blood will be drawn (like the pending horror of a train wreck that simply must be watched. Or the pain of Bobby Unser on television). Whatever the reason for getting together, the conversation always seems to flow without pause (and often without purpose, point, or poignancy, according to many onlookers) as we dive into the history, present day, and future of mechanized transportation.
Try as we might to come to an agreement on what makes a car “great,” the segregation inevitably happens: as the discussions continue the group breaks into smaller and smaller subcomponents, a sort of reverse-assembly line. Eventually, everyone finds themselves grouped in with one clique or another. This is not a choice that can be taken lightly, nor made at that very moment. Rather, it is the culmination of choices and attitudes that one exhibits over years of development. Some may even declare it to be genetic.
The Japanese fans quietly keep to themselves, presumably in an attempt to grasp the concept that cars might actually vary in character and personality from, say, a baseboard heater. Read more
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