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The Fuzzy Creature Syndrome September 14, 2016

Posted by T. August Green in cats, Uncategorized.
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dog-n-cat

A recent survey showed more North American households owned a dog than any other pet. While the number of homes with a cat comes in second, it’s also noted most cat owners have more than one. There are other pets people choose, but most have one thing in common; they are covered in fur.

Easily one of the most popular episodes of the original Star Trek series was, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”  Sci-fi writer David Gerrold penned the script for the episode and I have often wondered if his house was overrun with pets. The genius of the story is the Tribble being a non-descript ball of fur with no specific attribute other than the soft purring sound when it was held. While dogs wag their tails the purring sound was most certainly derived from cats, and the nature of owners to cuddle with their pets lures us into a level of insanity when it comes to other creatures.

Nowhere do I see this on display more often than when I visit a zoo. I have taken the tour of more than a few animal parks in my time, and without fail people step up to cages that hold large cats, eyes wide with wonder, followed by something like, “Oh, he’s SO pretty! I just want to hug him!”

tiger

Obviously, most of these people have never watched any kind of nature documentary. You know the kind where the tiger pounces on a gazelle, ripping it down with its claws, bites through the spine or crushes the throat before making dinner out of fleshy internal organs? Oh no, these nice zoo animals wouldn’t possibly do that, would they?

Whenever I look through the barrier between me and one of these beasts, I am grateful for engineering prowess because I don’t think I look like a visitor to this magnificent creature. I look like dinner.

Granted, Walt Disney animators have brought to life such benevolent things like an Arabian princess with a pet tiger who understands her and a little boy lost in the woods with a furry dragon the size of a dinosaur, all of which feeds our fantasy of having such a thing for a pet of our very own.

I don’t mean to sound as if I’m criticizing others because I am absolutely guilty in my own right. We recently visited a zoo where I saw a Red Panda up close for the first time, and I was completely taken with how adorable they appear to be. They grow to about the size of a large Maine Coon cat (which is a bloody big feline) and their bushy tails along with a raccoon-like face make for unabashed cuteness.

red-panda-outside

Then you read the placard (I wonder how many people skip this part) and you take note of the claws and teeth that tear apart bamboo for food. Have you ever tried tearing apart bamboo, much less eating it? Why yes, I thought I’d nibble on a little knotty pine after dinner! No, wait, I mean I’m having knotty pine for dinner!

My living room furniture already has a plethora of tiny nicks and pulls courtesy of our furry co-inhabitants. I can only imagine the shredded chunks of sofa arms, missing table legs, and gouged sheet rock leading a path to the cute little Red Panda hanging from the ceiling fan. Maybe? Not so much.

The Ring-tailed Lemur was another critter that looked like it belonged on the plush rack in the gift shop. I found it interesting that lemurs are sometimes used as service animals, although not surprising given their articulate hands and feet. The large orange eyes lend the image of a spooky Halloween figure you place in the window, but then our yellow-eyed black cat can be just as creepy. The lemur is also equipped with serious claws, ones used to clear away tree bark in order to find its chosen diet of bugs. (yuck)

ring-tailed-lemur

I can just see myself strolling into the pet store now, “Excuse me, but where can I find the five pound bag of assorted insects? My lemur has been a very good boy today.”

There could also be a variation on the carpet-covered kitty condo, “You know those oddly arranged geometric towers the cat never uses? Yes, but I’d like one without the carpet, preferably still covered in bark and natural greenery.”

“I’m sorry, sir. That’s called a tree.” (Anyone who has ever worked in retail can relate to that answer.)

There are lots of reasons certain animals make it to the pet store and others go to the zoo. I have to feel confident some poor soul has paid the price of learning which animals adapt to domestic environments and others, shall we say, have their drawbacks. Then again, I’ve seen more than a few animals in pet stores I wouldn’t dream of bringing home, but that’s another story.

My last example was a furry creature made lovingly popular by Coca-Cola. Who doesn’t think the Polar Bear isn’t a large, white, fluffy teddy bear after seeing those commercials? The truth is, even in person, they are white, and maybe even fluffy, but 1500 pounds is enough to make even a stuffed animal look scary. There is still a lovable quality on the outside but the size of one of his paws makes a print I can stand in with room to spare. “Hey, Fluffy, let’s run around the back yard and make craters to plant trees in later!”

polar_8

There was an amazing statue nearby in the form of a dancing polar bear. If you run an image search online for “dancing polar bear” you will get dozens of examples of hand carved, Native Inuit art that showcases their belief in reincarnation. The Inuit revere the polar bear as the predator at the top of the food chain, therefore, to return in the next life as one of these beasts is considered a great gift. When they see polar bears acting playfully with each other it is cause to dance and celebrate, believing they could be past ancestors reborn.

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When you look at this statue you can’t help but smile, and it did make me think that when bears look at you, they seem to be curious while a tiger or leopard has a cold, deadly stare. I do have a hard time picturing some of my ancestors as dancing bears, but after seeing “The Jungle Book” maybe it isn’t so far fetched after all.

In the grand scheme of things I’ll stick with our cats. They may be plenty dumb, especially the one who can figure out how to push the door open to enter a room, but is completely stumped on how to pull it the opposite direction in order to exit, but they can still be lovable without the danger of lethal bloodshed. My shoes, on the other hand, might be killed without warning.

T. August Green

Beautifully Practical September 8, 2016

Posted by T. August Green in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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carmags

I feel I owe a great debt to automotive magazines. I never discovered the ‘joy of reading’ when I was a child. I did my required assignments in school, and some of those turned out to be both interesting and entertaining, but it was car magazines that opened a whole new world. A lot of guys would grab car magazines in the library at high school, but most would leaf through looking at pictures, but reading the articles turned into my obsession. Those articles taught me a wealth of knowledge, not just about automotive technology, but how to convey those thoughts and information in an entertaining way.

When my children were young they would often hear my laughter when I sat down to read, and my first wife was forever puzzled at what could possibly be so funny. These people always possessed what I felt was the dream job, to drive some of the greatest cars in the world and then attempt to capture that experience for the rest of us to enjoy. To explain to someone else how you feel when you drive an exciting machine is no easy feat, but the creative ways these journalists came up with never ceased to amaze me.

Driving a high performance machine around a track is a tsunami of emotions unlike any I’ve ever experienced. My respect for the professional racing driver grows exponentially every time I turn a lap or attack a challenging road. Anyone who thinks a pro driver is not a ‘real athlete’ is someone who has never had a brush with the true experience. I’ve seen more than a few people step out of a ride-along at the track, and they do so sweating, gasping for breath, and quivering all over from the adrenaline rush. These are after effects of riding, not actually turning a wheel in anger, so imagine turning that intensity level all-the-way-up! I’ve never been sky-diving, but I can’t imagine anyone calmly jumping out of an airplane for the first few times…unless you have a death wish.

The truly talented automotive journalist finds brilliant new analogies and adjectives in every paragraph to convey these experiences onto the page, and to this day I find that ability fascinating. A recent case in point is the Ferrari GTC4Lusso, a car bred from racing technology but blessed with the attributes to function in the real world.

2017-ferrari-gtc4lusso

Enzo Ferrari cared about one thing…winning races. The Grand Prix Team that bears his name was his central focus, and he only began producing sports cars for sale to the public to finance his racing team efforts. Given that knowledge it comes as no surprise that most cars wearing the Prancing Horse Shield have little use except a pure driving experience. The halo cars produced in Maranello employ technology taken directly from the Formula 1 Team, and as such are basically racing machines tamed for street legal use.

Sergio Marchionne, current CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which in turn owns Ferrari, has made the statement that it was not in their DNA for Ferrari to ever build a crossover or SUV. The number of Ferraris produced with a back seat is severely limited, but at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show the company unveiled the “FF” marking the first Ferrari ever produced with four-wheel drive. The FF also boasted seating for four adults and storage space for luggage under its hatchback design. The shooting brake body style of two doors and an estate-like body didn’t prevent the car from keeping with Ferrari’s signature sleek looks.

While Marchionne certainly kept his word of not producing a SUV, they came as close as possible while still building a sports car. The FF had its growing pains with its unusual 4WD system which utilized a gearbox on both ends of the engine in order to keep the hood and overall height low.

With almost every other premium car brand now producing a crossover/SUV, Ferrari has remained true to its heritage by updating the FF into the “GTC4Lusso.” This new version improves on the FF in many ways, but to me, the biggest leap is the staunch resolve to stay the course rather than buckling under to the latest trend.

gt4c-lusso-web-496

Crossovers and SUVs have a lot to offer but they still fly in the face of basic rules for a sporting machine. A tall roofline means wind drag and high ground clearance raises the center of gravity, both hurt mileage, performance, and handling. Modern engineering and electronics have made huge strides in taming the inherent side effects of the basic SUV, but the Lusso proves there is an enticing compromise to be struck.

An estate car need not be a land barge, nor does it need to seat seven people. It has NO need of any manner of carpentry on its outer panels, and it need not be shaped like a shoebox. Granted, the Ferrari costs $250k, but it also has four wheel steering, streaks to 60mph in under 4 seconds, and packs a muscular 680 horsepower from its screaming 6.2L V-12 engine.

For me, the Lusso stands as an exotic example that practicality need not be ugly. A Ferrari should possess this level of performance and style but a similar domestic version could be produced for a fraction of the cost. A 300 horsepower/30mpg, coupe/shooting brake could easily find a place in the market, and the quirky, quasi-homely Hyundai Veloster is blatant proof of that.

Sports coupes like the Camaro and Mustang are passed over every day in favor of a crossover simply because a couple has a child, or they occasionally carry a friend, neither of which is practical in either car. A machine as beautiful as the Lusso selling for the price of a Mustang would be heaven sent for many a new car shopper.

In a society that relentlessly pursues the concept of “having your cake and eating it too,” I’m amazed a car like the Lusso isn’t already on the showroom floor. Ferrari is showing the way if any one of them would dare to be beautifully practical.

  • T. August Green

Fifteen Years Ago September 7, 2016

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twintowers

Time waits for no one…

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

We’ve all heard these words before, but this year, the weekend of 9/11 strikes close to home, and it is not without deep reflection.

My wife is a Bruce Springsteen fan, and seeing him in concert was a bucket list event for her. Back in June, I discovered The Boss was going to be playing Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. I was able to secure decent tickets and get the time off from work, but it wasn’t until I started searching for hotel reservations that it hit me…the concert is on 9/11.

While I don’t feel as if some eerie karma is attached, taking a road trip on the 9/11 weekend does bring on a flood of memories. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, in 2001 my bride-to-be was still living on Staten Island, her native New York City home.

I came to visit her about once a month as my work schedule allowed, and Monday, September 10th was a beautiful late summer day. We had lunch at the Cargo Café, overlooking the harbor as the Twin Towers rose majestically above the skyline and we wistfully soaked in the moment before I departed for Virginia once again. I returned to work the next morning at 8am and was stunned, along with the rest of the world, at the events unfolding with each passing minute. I frantically tried to call her but phone lines were jammed. Cell service wasn’t what it is today so that was no help but I finally got through late that afternoon and the harrowing sound of her crying was even more desperate than I already felt.

The months that followed were like tending an open wound and I’ll never forget when ferry service was restored to Lower Manhattan. I ventured over with her and her daughter and we stepped off the boat into a surreal version of New York none of us had ever seen before. Thick gray dust clung to everything, streets were devoid of cars, taxicabs, or buses, all replaced with utility trucks and various city service vehicles. Remnants of office equipment, paper, and fragments of furniture lay in the oddest of places while posters of missing people occupied almost any flat surface.

Once we were close enough to see Ground Zero, the impact was overwhelming. I have never been to war, never trodden the streets of a city or town bombed beyond recognition, but I could only imagine it must have looked similar in appearance. To have stood in the shadow of these phenomenal feats of engineering and construction, to have strolled the courtyard, stepped inside to view the top of the world, and browsed through the multi-level complex that lived below the street, only to see it reduced to smoldering rubble was devastating.

Yet to me, the most impactful sight of that day was the people. Those who stood near us, wept beside us, and cried out in pain, but they did so with no regard to their differences. People in suits or street clothes, different races and gender, and I can only assume various religious faiths, all stood side by side, leaning on each other, holding each other, and offering comfort. In the months that followed, the outpouring of humanity in the city was an inspiring sight, and it was living, breathing proof that deep down, we are all human. We all bleed the same color, we all know loss and pain, and we all are capable of holding each other up in times of need.

The rebuilding process in Manhattan still marches on, and they continue to prove they can overcome virtually any obstacle. We still make the trip back as often as we can, and with each visit we see and touch the diligent work that many hands have labored to create. All shiny and new, but still with thoughtful, caring reminders of the sacrifices paid in dearest flesh and bone.

In the passing years, September 10th has been good to us, with new things to show us and prove that life still brings joy despite our downfalls. My precious granddaughter was born on 9/10/11, so my wife and I will always have reason to find happiness on the day before 9/11. This year, our Springsteen road trip affords us the chance to visit the Flight 93 Memorial on our way home and I know we will stand together, looking out over that grassy field and remembering how far we’ve come.

In the years ahead, I’m sure the day will arrive when someone will ask me about living through those dark days. While I can certainly share my personal experience, I’ll be just as happy to relate how many rose to the challenge in the aftermath. How so many gave so much when it was needed most, but more than that is the truth that time alone doesn’t heal all wounds. No, time is required but it’s how much we love and care that soothes the pain. It’s how much we do with the time granted to us that makes all the difference.

Time marches on, but don’t stand by and watch. Get on board and enjoy the ride. You’ll make wonderful memories that way.

  • T. August Green

The Specter of Doubt July 10, 2016

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Doubts

 

(‘doubt’ /noun/ a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.)

I can’t imagine a human being that has gone through life and never experienced some kind of doubt. To be honest, it’s a daily occurrence for me, and while I think it can be healthy in some circumstances, in others it can be downright frustrating.

We all grow up learning as we go, and we face uncertainty as teens when we must deal with more mature situations in our relationships, but then we are faced with the decisions about the direction of our lives, our jobs, our education, and how to achieve any of those goals. In some cases, decisions are thrust upon us and we must deal with them the best way we can, but vague and unforeseen outcomes are always daunting.

When we cross that line into parenthood, the level of doubt becomes phenomenal. The problem is always twofold in that we haven’t been a parent before and each child is as individual as a snowflake. We can soak in advice in massive amounts but in the end we must sift through that advice to find the pieces that work for each of us…today.

If there is one constant in the universe it’s that children will seldom react the same under given conditions, especially if we want them to. My children are grown in their thirties and they still find ways to surprise me, so I assume that factor will forever remain.

In August 2015, I published my first novel, “Moonracer: The Long Shadow,” and after four long years of research, writing, editing, and re-writing, to say I had my doubts would be an enormous understatement. It’s easy to love something that is your own creation, especially after devoting so much time and effort to bring it to fruition. When someone else reads and enjoys your work, the feeling is truly wonderful but that’s a far cry from public acceptance.

I recall a line of dialogue from a television show, and shame on me for not remembering the title, but the son of an accomplished author was enjoying the success of a best-selling book. The father spoke in a condescending tone over a glass of wine, “Everyone has one book in them, but the proof of you being a true author is what you do next.”

I have found a great deal of truth in not only that line but many other words of advice spoken by real-life, accomplished authors. The world of books is a brutal business and the hugely successful authors are as rare as lottery winners. I think of this often when I roam the aisles of one of my local book stores. Every book on the shelves, stacked on tables, and filling the bargain bin was written and published by someone. Someone who probably worked as hard as I did but here was their result, languishing in a two dollar bargain bin.

You don’t have to look far to find stories from best-selling authors about how many times their work was rejected. I read one saying to paper your office walls with rejection letters in the promise you will be accepted before you ran out of wall space. I have to admire that level of optimism, but that’s also the reason for the recent migration to self-publishing.

While it’s true a publisher is probably a well-seasoned judge of what makes good writing, the author is also at the mercy of what the publisher deems marketable. Literary giants like Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling were turned away by many because their work wasn’t mainstream popular at the time, but even Anne Rice admitted she wrote what she loved, not caring what publishers thought. She also added that every book has an audience, but finding that group of people is the most difficult challenge.

All of the doubts I have over the quality of my work, the lack of sales, a couple negative, lukewarm reviews, and the cost of advertising with little return all compound themselves to make you feel your time at the keyboard is wasted. But under all of that is the smallest glimmer of desperate hope, fighting its way to into the light.

The essence of that ray of hope asks the most pointed of questions. The still, small voice that whispers from deep inside, cutting into your soul, “Why did you write your story? Was it to make money and be successful? Was it to find a new career? Was it to gain recognition or fame? If any of those reasons are yours then you are doomed to fail. A prostitute screws people for money without passion or soul. Is that the kind of writing you want to do?”

Then as quickly as that mythical blade stabs home, the same voice reminds you of the powerful truth that outweighs all else, “We write because there is a story to tell, and that’s what we do. We craft imagination, we conjure worlds, and we mold characters from memories and emotions as we reach into the dark places of fear and pain. We chisel out heroes and give them demons to grapple against, we revel in victory and spill the torment of defeat, and we forever spin the yarns of love, loss, and bitter revenge. We make hearts race with suspense and eyes weep with both joy and pain, but in the end it’s all because there is a story that must be told.”

Any writer wants the success of being a top-selling author. Why wouldn’t we? But none of that matters as much as the words on the page, because without those words we use to paint that image in your mind or that voice in your heart, they will forever remain in that ethereal place known as the back of our minds.

What a shame that would be.

T. August Green

Dear Mom, May 8, 2016

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HeartPuzzleSunset

Dear Mom,

I remember you saying in the hospital, “You got to be tough if you want to live.”

Greater truth has seldom been spoken and I find myself more and more often embroiled in personal struggle. I miss our phone calls, even if they never accomplished much it was comforting to know we could commiserate about our diverse problems. I know there are others who miss your voice as well, and while I don’t mean to sound selfish, it’s your voice I hear in those wee hours of the night when sleep escapes me.

I knew life would be harder without you, even though I fervently prayed for your suffering to end. I knew I needed to step forward into a new chapter of my life but it might be easier if the obstacles were physical ones to move. I still weep when I think of all the things you wanted to do but never accomplished, however simple they may have been. There are times I curse myself for not making them more a priority.

I try to find solace in the fact that you are once again in the company of those you loved so dear. I’ll never forget holding your hand in the hospital as you shed tears over how badly you missed your father. To hear you lament over “I haven’t seen Daddy in so long. I miss him and love him so much..”

Needless to say I felt helpless and no amount of spoken sympathy could soothe that pain. Each day I understand more and more what that feels like, and a tiny piece of me fades with each moment it happens. I find my passion for things we shared has begun to fade as well, which I noticed most recently attending cruise night and that child-like charm simply isn’t what it used to be.

Making the big step in retiring from the plant was spooky all on its own, but I have found my new job to be a new source of daily challenge. I suppose I never considered the emotional impact and wear of a sales job before but it never ceases to amaze me how people put forth so many of their worst qualities when you try to help them. The insults both subtle and blatant can be startling, and it’s difficult to breathe deeply and walk away. All of the above being compounded by the shit-slinging clown circus that comes to town every election year.

Mother’s Day keeps getting harder each passing year, and while I am insanely proud of my daughter and her precious family, there is a vacancy that will remain so for the rest of my days. I relish every memory I have of you and the times we shared. Those gemstones are safely held within me and cannot be erased save God see fit to wither my mind away. Maybe you didn’t realize the impact your life carried while you were here, but each of us holds fast to the threads that bound us to you.

Lacey’s mom recently passed away and the mark it left was unexpectedly hard to fathom. We held each other and wept as we now both fell into the category of children with no surviving parents, and it brings a unique kind of loneliness that is hard to describe. We know there are others to be thankful for, and still others that we love so dear, but it’s like a beautiful puzzle laid out that is missing a piece that cannot be replaced.

To say at this point that I love you and miss you is a drastic understatement, but I know you suffered through this very same dilemma and now so must I. The sound of your voice singing la-la-la along with certain songs still makes me break down, and the exaggerated moves of playing the imaginary piano still wave in my mind like a conductor in front of an orchestra.

I will never be able to express the quantity of all you poured into my life, and to say I’m grateful falls desperately short, but if there is one thing that can possibly come close to saying it all its two simple words that I would shout from the rooftops. Two words that I would defy any and all to say to me with disdain. Two words that I will never be more proud to stand as an example of, so let them be written and placed alongside my very name with pride…

“Momma’s Boy”

Godspeed Mom, until we meet again.

-T. August Green

The Coffee Dilemma April 18, 2016

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cup-of-coffee

Coffee and I have a long history together, albeit a rather diametrically opposed relationship. My father was the kind of man that felt there was never a bad time for coffee. He fell into the category of some of the hilarious scenes you might see in film or television, such as the retrieval of the filter containing used grounds after discovering there was none left in the kitchen cabinet. The one that stands out in my mind was how he would pour last nights leftover coffee back through the machine to heat it up rather than taking the time to make a new pot. This is a level of dedication against wasting an ounce of coffee I have never since witnessed in real life.

Any good father will always teach his child to perform daily tasks, especially if those tasks might save him the trouble. Some might view this as a level of slave labor, but in most cases it gives the child a sense of accomplishment. The downside is when the task is not performed in the prescribed manner there can be repercussions. Thankfully, the reactions to poorly made coffee were more often humorous than dangerous. Adding too many scoops usually got a response such as vigorous shaking, as if some horrible medicine were ingested, followed by, “That’s good paint remover.”

My personal favorite in this category came from my wife, as she slowly places the cup on the table saying, “Oh yeah, you can build shit with that stuff.”

Oddly enough, making coffee too weak generated more anger than making it too strong, affording a reaction such as, “I told you to make coffee, not horse piss!”

That comment always made me wonder what circumstances dictated the actual tasting of horse urine? What ever they were it couldn’t have been pretty.

So, I was well schooled in the making of coffee from an early age, in everything from stove-top percolator pots to the more modern wonders of Mr. Coffee. Who can forget an endorsement from Joe DiMaggio saying it was the best he ever tasted, especially coming from the man who married Marilyn Monroe?

Given all my experience with making coffee, and the wonderful aroma that comes not only from the brewing process but the fond memories of going with my mother to the A&P grocery store where you ground beans right into the bag. The smells have lingered with me to this day and I’ve always found them to be moments worth savoring.

It wasn’t until I neared my 16th birthday and was under the heavy thumb of my father’s driving instruction that he forced the first cup of coffee in front of me. I was weary from an evening of bombastic obscenities regarding my skill as well as the origins of my DNA. We pulled into one of his favorite truck stop haunts and he insisted this cup would cure my ills. In point of fact, I’m sure it was calming his nerves rather than improving any ability or genetic building blocks of my own.

He suggested I try it black for the greatest effect, and my reaction was immediate, almost spewing the drink all over the bar. I followed further instructions by adding milk and sugar, which I continued to do to taste. I found no amount of either additive had the ability to quell the bitter stab on my tongue, and after a few minutes he asked if I planned to drink or turn the cup into a milkshake. Needless to say, we left with my cup still very full and his attitude only slightly improved.

coffeeshop

Years rolled by and the coffee shop took on a life of its own, starting off in bookstores and further exploding to almost every street corner. So often on a chilly day, I’ve walked past one of these distributors of legal stimulants and breathed in the aroma with great appeal. More than once it has stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to wonder if my taste buds had evolved over the decades? Given the new variety of flavors splashed across the menu board and the visual allure of watching someone with a mug the size of a soup tureen topped with a quarter pound of whipped cream settle at a cozy table, the pull of the moment can be powerful. Yet every time I’ve fallen prey to this onslaught of temptation, one sip of the cup immediately reminds me at the base of all this fanfare is still…coffee.

Cappuccino_reg

I can think of no other drink that has been doctored and embellished to such extent. Yes, there are many flavors of tea and countless brews of beer, but I have never seen either marketed with so many additives and toppings. Listening to people order their favorite mix of coffee is almost disorienting, and seems to annoy the shop wait staff as well. I remain both dumbfounded and curious as to why they don’t simply offer 5-8 types and call it a day. Burgers have become a thing as well but at least there are menu limits.

I recently entered a train station where I was picking up my wife from her trip to Manhattan, and the coffee shop nestled in the end of the lobby began to lure me in. The setting looked so social and warm with friendly bar height tables, free wi-fi, rich wood tones, and the potent aroma lingering in the air on every breath. I stood there spellbound, thinking how inviting it all seemed, but wondering underneath if anything would be different? I stepped closer, savoring the visual and the scent, fantasizing the experience of a warm cup in my hands, the swirl of whipped cream creating the image of dessert, and the thought of pleasantly passing the time while inviting my wife to join me when she walked in. It all seems like a vision from a romance film, which is exactly what it was until the bold, unshakable taste of coffee slaps you back to reality.

I enjoy making coffee for my wife in the mornings, and I have found through unpleasant experience that my life will be far better each day if I make sure she gets her morning elixir. I watch how she relishes that first cup, and I have to admire the passion of her addiction. Indeed there are days I feel the tinge of envy, mostly because the notion of enjoying something with her that carries such importance and emotion seems like it should be shared.

Maybe it’s the coffee shop, maybe it’s the aroma, maybe its my long-standing connection, but I still find it ironic how something with such broad-reaching effects and memory triggers in my life remains a disdain to my taste buds.

I’m sure at some point the coffee shop craze will fade like so many other trends have done in the past. There will always be those that remain in certain areas or locations, but I feel certain coffee itself will soldier on. I don’t know if I will ever come to grips with my love/hate relationship over coffee, or if my desire to share the emotional glow of morning cups with my bride will win over, at least for that hour of the day. Until then, measuring and brewing in the morning makes her smile, and that’s a joy no drink will ever replace.

Step aside, alcohol, this is a job for coffee.

-T. August Green

Bucket List Drives January 24, 2016

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Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman succeeded in making the term, “Bucket List” a household name. The funny and entertaining film gave us all perspective on things we would like to see and do before our lifetime comes to a close.

Being the dedicated gearhead that I am, I’ve read many articles and lists about the Top Ten Best Driving Roads in the World or Top Ten Scenic Drives of America, but I decided to combine these elements into a “bucket list” of drives I’d love to experience before my wheel man days are over.

I’ve been fortunate enough in the last decade to have driven many of the iconic roads that carve their way across this vast landscape we call America. I’ve cruised the Overseas Highway to Key West, crossed the lofty reaches of Beartooth Pass and Trail Ridge Road, two of the highest altitude paved roads in the country. I’ve rounded the twisting curves of Needles Highway, the lazy bends and vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the vast open reaches of the Bonneville Salt Flats. One can never forget the stunning Rim Road of Grand Canyon National Park, the dance of light on the Vegas Strip, the towering palm trees of Hollywood Boulevard, the twisting switchbacks of Mulholland Drive, or the lonely cactus that decorate the miles of the Mother Road, Arizona’s Route 66.

There are more experiences of lesser known ribbons of pavement, but what follows is a list, in no particular order, of the trails of asphalt I still hope to travel someday. The experience of man and machine is one to be relished, but much more so when the journey and destination are rare and filled with breath-taking sights to behold.

 

Tail of the Dragon, Deals Gap, North Carolina

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 There are many two-lane winding roads that cut through various paths of the Appalachian Mountain range but few are as celebrated as Rt129 through Deals Gap. This is one of those shame-on-me locations since it is within a day drive of my home, but I have yet to visit in much the same way New Yorkers rarely set foot on Liberty Island.

The Dragon has gained tremendous notoriety for its 318 turns within an 11 mile stretch of pavement. As it borders Great Smoky Mountain National Park, there are no side roads to intrude, and this beckoned spirited motorcycle riders and sports car drivers from near and far. I have no desire to tame the Dragon, nor do I wish to challenge my cars limits, I just want to dance.

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There are two photo ops that bear witness of this experience, one is the Tree of Shame, decorated with all manner of scrap parts, unwittingly donated by those who challenged the Dragon and lost (hopefully not with life or limb but certainly with mechanical calamity) The other is a Dragon sculpture made from car and motorcycle parts. I doubt these were all donated via wrecks near Deals Gap, but I think it’s a fabulous metaphor for the road and its ongoing legend. I’m looking forward to an “I rode the Dragon” photo with this unique selection of welded art, smiling and all in one piece.

 

Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

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 Post WWII, America became enamored with sports cars and road racing. This form of motorsport had long been a savored challenge in Europe, but the famed Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) came together to sanction events here in the USA.

After a tragic spectator death in 1952, road racing on public courses was outlawed, and in 1955, Road America opened its gates to what would be regarded as the most beautiful and challenging road course in the country. Today, Road America still lives up to its legendary heritage, but the byways that made up the original road course have been historically marked and preserved.

I had the good fortune to be able to drive a similar experience with the Watkins Glen course, and it was like rolling back though time. To traverse the same pavement that was driven in earnest by the early legends was thrilling, but to do so around Elkhart Lake would be like driving hallowed ground. Historic markers have been placed for each section, and they stand as quiet sentinels for all those who blazed the trail for modern sports car racing. History can be an exciting thing when it lets you participate, even for a scant few minutes.

Pikes Peak Highway

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 Known by the Ute Indians as the “Sun Mountain,” the Arapaho as “Long Mountain,” and early Spanish explorers as “El Capitan,” the highest mountain east of the Rockies is known today as Pikes Peak. One of 53 fouteeners in Colorado (meaning those reaching higher than 14,000 ft, Pikes Peak stands the tallest at 14,115 ft above sea level.

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb or Race to the Clouds was first run in 1916. The course used the upper reaches of the Pikes Peak Highway and changed from pavement to dirt and gravel halfway to the summit. In 2011, the road was fully paved and today provides a stunning vista of the surrounding landscape. So captivating is the view that Katherine Lee Bates wrote the song, America the Beautiful after visiting Pikes Peak. A commemorative plaque bearing the lyrics resides on the summit in her honor.

The Race to the Clouds has always been a perilous one for its daredevil hairpin turns and lack of guardrails. Full pavement has helped reduce slides that ended in terror, but the spectacular road still commands respect at any speed. This is another legendary stretch of motorsport history, and a thrilling drive through the pages of American heritage.

Monument Valley, Arizona

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Some places are so awe-inspiring that they become iconic images of our culture. This picture probably looks quite familiar even to those who have no clue where it actually is located.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind was partially shot here, even though Devils Tower is much farther north. Forrest Gump was also shot here during his marathon of running across the country. Monument Valley captures the haunting image of desolation with its enormous monoliths rising majestically above the desert floor below.

Route 163 often stretches to the horizon, seemingly leading to oblivion, but to me it represents the essence of the early pioneers that braved an unknown frontier. They set out with all they had in wagons or carts, seeking a new way of life. How spectacular must it have been to behold this vast landscape for the first time? To many it must have been daunting, while others saw it as a gateway to greater things. Today we cover in hours what took them days or even weeks, but the stones of Monument Valley have born silent witness to all our travels.

Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Barbara to Monterey, Northern California

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 I was fortunate enough to experience a small portion of the PCH from San Diego to northern Los Angeles, but have often been told the most beautiful part of the coastal road if the northern leg of California. So many of the Sunshine State’s well known landmarks reside on or near this stretch of road, and the west coast chapter of the convertible message board I belong to makes an annual pilgrimage down the PCH in “top down” weather conditions. No matter if its on my own or with like-minded friends, an open top ride to soak in the amazing views of the Pacific Ocean along with the sounds of crashing waves and the intoxicating aroma of salt air is something not to be missed.

Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington locations.

 While the Northern section of the PCH in California has an allure all its own, where the coastal road extends into Oregon possesses a rugged beauty unique to the area. To the east, the view from the ring road around Crater Lake is one of those locations (like Grand Canyon) where no photo can do it justice. With a massive lake that fills the mouth of a dormant volcano, it must be like riding on the precipice of the world.

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Just outside of Portland, Oregon, the Columbia River Highway follows the river gorge east, affording expansive views of the lush valley along with the Vista House, and Multnomah and Latourell Falls. It is claimed to be a 75 mile marvel of visual engineering, and how can you resist a drive that carries that kind of reputation?

To the northeast, in Washington State, is the town of Soap Lake, and the mineral-rich body of water by the same name. Soap Lake has been prized for it healing properties since the early history of local Native Americans, whose tribes would call truce over any conflict to mutually enjoy the benefits of the waters. A compelling monument is situated nearby of an eagle-feathered tribal medicine man, holding a water-bearing maid as he reaches outward, calling to the healing waters. The beautiful sculpture doubles as the world’s largest monument sundial.

Soap Lake sets at the base of a geographic gemstone, tied by canals to a string of lakes, they reach northeast through a rugged showcase of Ice Age, erosion-sculptured landscape that terminates at Dry Falls State Park. Route 17 snakes along the valley floor and the lake edges as it cuts its way to the amazing rock formations of Dry Falls, left by the collapsing glaciers and subsequent flood they set free on the lake beds below.

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Going to the Sun, Glacier

 This 50 mile stretch is a civil engineering landmark as it climbs to 6,646 ft through Logan’s Pass, crossing the Continental Divide. It is also one of the most difficult roads to clear from snow, taking the Park service roughly 10 weeks even with heavy equipment. The majority of the twists and turns lack guardrails or barriers of any kind, not for lack of trying, but the snow avalanches unleashed by the mountains have carried away any barriers previously built. The road traverses the width of the park from entrance to entrance and image of Saint Mary Lake reflecting the sky on sunny days is one of the most photographed locations in the park. Sun Mountain is also part of Blackfeet Indian tribe lore.

Le Mans, France, and the Circuit de La Sarthe

 Everyone must have a dream to shoot for, and this one is mine by far. Chances are good I may never make it to Europe, but if I do this is a must-see location. I have always been torn between attending the madness and beauty that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or visiting the sleepy French countryside when the race weekend is not in action. To be able to walk freely among the town squares, visit the Cathedrale Saint-Julien, and drive what would surely be a rental car along the famed Mulsanne straight, down the route to Indianapolis, around the corner to Arnage, and past Mansion Blanche would be a fantasy come to life.

As a bonus, to drive through the gates of the Circuit and visit the Musee’ de Automobile de La Sarthe would be equally thrilling. Housed inside those walls are the legends of almost a century worth of the greatest spectacle of motorsport on the planet. The men whose names are carried today by their proud marques, the daring drivers who set record after record, and the ground-breaking machines they drove to victory. There is no other automotive museum in the world that holds such rich history, and none that embody the ultimate grand prix of endurance, efficiency and performance.

Audi R10

I know that I shall never turn a lap around that hallowed course, but to drive there and touch the pages of history, to stand in the presence of the most incredible racing cars in the world has to be brushing the ethereal plane. To pause, listen closely with heart and soul, and almost hear the sounds of begging horsepower laced with the elated cries of victory, doused under the spray of champagne. To walk in those footsteps would be the exclamation point on any gearhead Bucket List.

Never stop dreaming

-T. August Green

 

 

 

Making the Jump December 27, 2015

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Jumper“Jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft is not a natural act, so let’s just do it right and enjoy the view.” – Clint Eastwood as Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway from Heartbreak Ridge

 

Pivotal moments come and go in each of our lives. Some feel small but turn out to have significant impact later, while others loom large with the consequences they bring. The monster decisions are always laced with fear because they impact more than ourselves, and the possibility of failure can be daunting. History has shown that the safe decision is not always the best, and while the courage to dare greatly brings the biggest risk, it is only by those means we achieve more lofty goals.

It’s easy to sit here at my keyboard and string together words of inspiration while it’s quite another to actually turns words into action. With that thought I am reminded of yet another quote by John “The Penguin” Bingham, the self-made marathon runner who transformed himself from overweight, over-forty couch potato to never-say-die athlete.

Bingham never broke records or took the running world by storm. Instead, he became the champion of the everyman with the focus to compete and finish. This empowerment of self-reward in lieu of medals, trophies, or recognition won him throngs of followers, and the motto was the title of his first book.

“The miracle is not that I finished, it’s that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham

I tried to follow his path as a self-made runner, but foot blisters ended my determination in that arena, yet I have found his mental approach to be applicable in many other ways. I find it to be very similar to the advice Benjamin Mee gave his son in, We Bought a Zoo.

 “Sometimes, all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally, 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will happen because of it.”

Greater words of truth have rarely been spoken, and it took all of the above advice for me to make the decision to retire from my job. This is not retirement in the conventional sense given my job employs a points system of age plus years of service. Once you reach the magic number of 80 points you have the option of taking your pension and moving on.

In the world of industrial rotating shift work, I have known a scant few people that made it to the widely regarded retirement age of 65. Some did and didn’t live long afterward, while others crossed the finish line in stride. The vast majority wind up leaving because they simply can’t take the grind any longer but it’s never an easy decision.

When you’ve been employed for thirty-plus years on a job with a living wage and benefits, you’ve most likely built a life that involves a home and family, so your decisions impact them as much as yourself. Luckily, my children are grown but I still have a wife and home to contribute to, so leaving one job means stepping into the world of another.

If anyone had asked me years ago that I would leave industrial work for a sales job, I probably would’ve called them crazy. Then again, many in the mainstream world have long thought I was crazy to stay at my job for so long. There is no argument that my position has been demanding and relentless, while the pay was good it came with a high cost to your life and health. These among other reasons finally made me weigh the scales of life more closely and choose to make a jump.

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Writing a novel was a big self accomplishment for me, and while I continue work on the next book in the storyline I have learned the harsh truth that success and fortunes in the literary world are as common as lottery winners. So with the option of writing full time falling in the area of starving artist, I knew other paths had to be explored.

I look forward to my new venture in the world of sales, but my trusty laptop is still along for the ride and my passion for all things automotive has yet to fade. With that in mind, there are those who think me insane to walk away from my present job, but almost 38 years of shifts and sleepless nights followed by 20 seconds of insane courage have told me otherwise.

Will I have regrets? I can’t imagine there won’t be days when those thoughts cross my mind, but time and life move forever forward, waiting for none of us. The rearview mirror and reverse gear are there for a short but intended purpose, but forward gears and the view through the big windshield is what gets us where we want to go.

BigWindshield

 

I leave behind a bounty of memories and people who have greatly impacted my life, and I count myself all the better for the experience, but I’m always up for a road trip, and all the amazing places yet to be seen.

Time to jump in the driver’s seat and motor!

-T. August Green

 

Some say, All Good Things Must End December 17, 2015

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top-gear

God Save the Queen! In the year of Our Lord, 2002, the British Broadcasting Company gave birth to a revamped television series called, “Top Gear.”

Humble beginnings to be sure, and as host Jeremy Clarkson often called it, “Our pokey motoring show.” One only has to dial back the episode selection on iTunes or Hulu to Season 2 or 3 to see just how accurate Clarkson’s description was at the time. Little did any of them know the flame they lit would take the world by storm.

As with most successful forms of entertainment, time runs its course until the flame dies a slow miserable death or blows out in a fireball. One might say Top Gear suffered both as its three presenters were growing weary after 22 seasons, and all came to a screeching halt when Clarkson punched one of the producers at the end of a long day’s shoot.

Before the implosion, Top Gear reached heights unheard of in modern television by spawning international versions of the show in Russia, China, South Korea, Australia, United States, and more recently, France. While the US version has been cancelled due to cost and conflicts between its presenters, these only represent versions franchised by BBC Worldwide. Many other similar shows have tested the waters, but most, like the US version are not willing to front the cost for the time it takes to build a strong audience.

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The US is particularly woeful in this category as television production companies happily grind out one lame reality show after another, tossing them aside after a couple seasons like disposable lunch bags. As long as they make money and are cheap to produce there is little desire or dedication to create something with relevant value. If any producer says, “Who cares that much about cars?”…then they haven’t bothered to look at the multi-billion dollar automotive business worldwide, especially the high-end exotic sports car trade. But no, they would rather feed us another warmed-over version of who-gives-a-damn, “Survivor.”

Any other detractors need only look at the reruns of Top Gear and how they still survive to this day. The other international versions of the show march on, and the BBC is bravely forging ahead with a new single host format featuring BBC radio personality, Chris Evans. This man is shouldering a daunting task, and the pressure must be staggering, but I wish him all the best.

Chris-Evans

Meanwhile, rumor continues to circulate about the trio of Clarkson, Hammond, and May starring in a show being produced by Amazon Prime Video. One can only speculate what the results will be, and in my opinion, they face as large a challenge as Chris Evans.

For me, the entire dilemma is a sad one, because Top Gear was a show like no other. The human-car connection is a sensual one that is fostered from a young age. The budding youth of the world put posters on their walls for a reason, because they are objects of dreams and fantasies. Gender is irrelevant here, no matter if it’s the hot actress or the hunky stud, the attraction is the same. The posters of cars do gravitate more to the males, but not exclusively. In either case, the chosen machine evokes a passionate response inside, and we dream of the day we might be close enough to touch the real thing.

Now, be it television or film, I’d say a scant few of us look forward to seeing that sexy actor/actress get beaten to a bloody pulp, skinned alive, or set on fire. Yet Hollywood seems to have an addiction to reducing automotive art to a flaming pile of junk. At my age, I’ve completely given up that the trend will ever change, and you can count the minutes until said “hero car” dies a violent death.

Aston Martin, the famed choice of James Bond 007 for a half century, went the obvious route with the most recent Bond film by providing a cadre of fictitious concepts produced specifically for studio destruction. Maybe even the craftsmen at Aston Martin can no longer bear the wanton massacre of their exquisite handiwork.

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Top Gear marked the first time such blasphemy was banished, and instead put such destruction where it belonged, on the miserable, mundane, econobox appliances that grind about on four wheels. In addition, they dispatched these forgettable pieces of junk in creative ways, chief of which was being crushed by a falling piano. I have no idea where they found so many used instruments to serve as wooden bombs, but the effect was hilarious.

Posters, like the pages of a magazine, are inanimate, still images but an exotic sports car is a living, breathing beast that beckons to be set free on open asphalt. Seeing such a machine at a car show surrounded by velvet ropes is still an amazing visual experience, but it tickles only one dimension of the automotive thoroughbred. It was here that Top Gear smashed conventional entertainment and bestowed the ultimate gift to gearheads the world over…our masked hero, The Stig.

The-Stig

We’ve seen superheroes in comics and film, but here on our television was the silent, super “tame racing driver” with nerves of steel and cajones to match. Superman, Batman, Iron Man, or whoever you chose, they are all pure imagination, but The Stig is for real.

Behind the tinted visor and white racing suit, he carries the dreams of us all into the cockpit of each unbridled stallion. The Power Lap is the stuff of legend as he puts on a magnificent show of daring speed and skill. Finally, here was the beast from our wall poster come to life, smoking its tires, spitting fire from its exhaust, and singing the mighty chorus of horsepower behind The Stig’s unyielding right foot. The Power Lap was the most exciting two minutes of automotive ecstasy ever to grace the screen.

Top Gear USA made the woeful mistake of minimizing our driving hero, and while I concede Tanner Foust is a talented racing driver, he ain’t no Stig.

All told, it has been a depressing gulf of time since Top Gear left the airwaves, made all the more gloomy by its muddy future. But if fate has dealt us the last hour of the “pokey motoring show,” then I count myself lucky to have lived through the era of the greatest automotive episodes of all time.

Some say, he is being rebuilt with new hybrid technology, and that he is now fluent in all forms of check engine codes. All we know is, he’s called The Stig…and we miss his heroic feats of speed.

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They say all good things must end, but gearheads of the world are praying for it to be otherwise.

-T. August Green

The Bull Stops Here December 14, 2015

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My favorite automotive journalist, Peter Egan, once said, and I’m paraphrasing here,“Never say this is the last car I’m ever going to buy, because as sure as you say it, something will happen to make you eat those words.”

Mr. Egan is a member of the over-65 club, and he’s had his share of daily drivers, project cars, and motorcycles. When someone of his stature and experience speaks about the automotive realm, I tend to listen or at least read carefully. Anyone who has a weakness for British sports cars, despite their woeful reliability has to possess a passion that transcends logic.

I’m only about a decade junior to this man I regard so highly, and when the road behind looks longer than the road ahead, your thoughts take a different turn. I’ve always admired the person who latches onto a car and never wants to let it go. I’ve never owned a car for a decade (six years is my record I believe) but I’ve never stopped searching for that magical connection.

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At least I think I’m halfway there since the Chrysler 200 convertible I shelter in my garage, well, half the garage, is a car I’ve come to adore. I love how it looks, glistening metallic red as it sits in the driveway on a sunny day. I love it even more with the top down, and driving it on a summer afternoon/evening is one of the more potent drugs I’ve ever encountered. I recently saw an unknown quote that made me laugh with both amusement and self-admission.

“The passion for cars is a deeper addiction than either alcohol or drugs. They have therapy and recovery programs for those things, but there is no known cure for cars.”

I’ll probably never own an exotic sports car, but my Chrysler 200 “Roadrunner” convertible is just as valuable to me. I can’t stop giggling at the glorious roar its 300hp V6 sings into the air and it manages to do so without making me regret it at the gas pump. Suffice to say I’m immensely happy with the car, but my dilemma falls in the spot of the driveway where the daily driver gets parked.

I’ve never been able to own a car for just utility purposes and nothing more. I’ve been exposed to my share of company owned vehicles that are simply driven, abused, and worked until they die miserably in their tracks. I’ve also seen my share of people who treat their personal cars in much the same way, and it bothers me in the same way other people display long faces over un-adopted pets. I take nothing away from the pets (I love a huge, lazy cat) but even going to the salvage yard makes me wish cars could talk and spin yarns of the places they’ve been.

The last three daily driver cars I’ve owned have probably been my most desperate efforts to keep a car long-term. Bonnie the Ghosthawk came close, and Maggie the 21st turned out to be an ill-fated effort despite her attributes, but now a 2013 Taurus has rolled into my driveway and I cautiously hope this could be a true keeper.

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My loving bride tells me I wish for too much, that there is no perfect car, and I must concede her point. Then again, the relationship I have with her isn’t perfect either, but I wouldn’t part with her for the world.

Part of my present situation will be forced, as a job change and the drive to improve our financial status are now larger priorities. I was also cautioned heavily against “decorating” as she puts it, with regard to the personal touches I tend to add to every car I’ve owned. Well, not tend to, I absolutely do add certain items that make the car more “me.”

I’m sure in time I’ll do the same with this one, but thankfully, in the first few days of ownership there are very few things I’m looking forward to changing. I’ve put custom wheels and tires on just about everything I’ve owned (can’t remember the last time I didn’t) but the meaty 19-inchers on the Taurus give it an aggressive stance, so no rush there. A new air filter intake and different mufflers are also regular additions since I love the music of horsepower, but the stock dual exhausts deliver a muted growl, so improving on that without going overboard will require careful research.

Other cosmetic touches will probably come with glossy black spray paint. Blacked-out accents that lend an air of the Taurus Police Interceptor will certainly be on the menu.

TaurusPolice

Maybe this was the sub-conscience attraction to this car from the beginning. I’ve always had a strange soft spot for a police cruiser. In my youth, snapping up an ex-police car was a budget-minded way to snag a performance machine. The rich kids laughed as they tooled around in the sporty coupes their parents bought for them, but the trooper-ride was serious bang-for-the-buck. Beefy V8 engines with rumbling exhausts came standard, as did low-buck interiors and basic black paint jobs, but they were a hoot to drive and many people strangely moved out of your way on the highways at night. Self-imposed guilt is an amazing thing.

I’ve owned two former police cruisers, and while neither lasted long due to age and hard miles, they were both great fun while they lasted. When Ford killed off the long-toothed Crown Vic, I thought their fleet duty days were finished. I never thought the Taurus of all things would become the peace officer weapon of choice, but it has become a common sight on the highway, and they look more ominous every time I see one.

FordInterceptorConcept

Before the restyled 2010 Taurus made its debut, Ford showed a brawny concept sedan called the Interceptor. Rumor had it the muscular V8, rear wheel drive machine was destined to be successor to the Crown Vic, carrying the fleet torch forward (hence the concept name) but hard economic times along with a more pressing need to build a car-based sport utility to replace the aging Explorer forced the Ford design team in a different direction. The new Explorer was an instant hit, and the return of the performance SHO to the Taurus line-up was also welcomed, but little did we know Ford was only teasing us with the basis for their next-gen police cruisers.

Ford-Police-Interceptors

Both the Taurus and Explorer boast Interceptor versions, although Ford expressly says they are NOT Taurus or Explorer since the Interceptors differ too greatly to call them domestic names. Okay, Ford, but they sure do look a lot alike!

So it seems my dark blue clad Taurus is next-of-kin to a Police Interceptor? That doesn’t sound like bad pedigree, and who doesn’t like the idea of being a hero under your everyday street clothes?

The Bat is back on Patrol

-T. August Green