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Daring Greatly February 18, 2015

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Poetry.
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CaddyLogoCadillac has been in transformation for over a decade, and their cars continue to reach new heights. What was once scoffed at on the international stage is now becoming feared and respected as the carmaker produces cutting edge new models that rival the best Europe has to offer.

Cadillac recently moved it headquarters from the parent company in Detroit to New York City, a move designed to put their image in touch with the level they seek to represent. No other major city in the country can compete with the scale and impact of not just Manhattan, but the Big Apple as a whole. It is THE iconic metropolitan urban landscape, and Cadillac seeks to be the same.

Elmiraj-CaddyRecent concepts such as the Elmiraj and the Ciel show the level of upscale luxury the company is striving for while still paying fitting homage to their domestic roots. New models like the potent ATS-V display the kind of performance usually reserved for German engineering.

In an age of business forever focused on bottom lines, it is refreshing to see a marque dare to rise up and challenge both tradition and perceptions. Cadillac recently launched a new marketing campaign entitled, “Dare Greatly” where images of New York are narrated by the lines of a poem written by Teddy Roosevelt. If find this prose fitting not only to this resilient automaker but to athletes and actors alike who live their lives under the scrutiny of the press and public at large.

Powerful words from a President who lived with a bold heart and strength of will.

“Man in the Arena”

It is not the critic who counts

Nor those who point out how the strong man stumbles

Or where the doer of great deeds could have done better

The credit belongs to the man in the arena

Whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood

Who strives valiantly

Who errs

Who comes short again and again

Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming

But those who actually strive to do the deeds

Who knows great enthusiasm and devotion

Who spends himself in a worthy cause

Who at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement

And at worst, if he fails,

He at least fails… while daring greatly.

While I may never own a Cadillac, I have a growing respect for an automaker that dares greatly.

The Man in the Glass December 24, 2014

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phonto

 

 

 

 

 

For those of us who are sports fans, the days and weeks of the holiday season are laced with our passion for the game of football. For college teams it marks the end of the season and the culmination of bowl games. For the NFL, it is a time when those final decisions are determined of who will vie for a berth in the Super Bowl. The playoff brackets are filled and everyone else is home for the holidays.

At a time when most religions and beliefs are centered around the spirit of giving, I find many great analogies in the game of football. Players give themselves to the game, they muster all their strength and will for the greater good of a team, to play for each other, and the respect and admiration of their coaches and families.

In the last few seasons, the NFL Network has been producing a series entitled, “A Football Life.” In each episode, a player, coach, or team is showcased for their unique contribution to the game, but more importantly, the program reaches into the personal background to reveal not only roots, but the stark and sometimes harsh realities of the human lives involved.

Champions and greats of the NFL always seem larger than life to their fans, and given their physical prowess along with the colorful and intimidating battle armor worn on game day, it’s easy to see why. Yet when those trappings of gridiron combat are stripped away, we see the tender human soul and the terrible price the game exacts upon the physical bodies of the once proud warriors.

Many came from humble beginnings, and some have fallen back to simple existence with relative anonymity, but there are those chosen few that have lived their lives as they played the game and their reach and inspiration to others goes far beyond the accomplishments of the hundred yard arena. Men like Roger Staubach, Doug Flutie, and Kurt Warner have both personified and exemplified what it means to be a champion in life, even if the pinnacle of their sport eluded them. Their stories are woven of enduring confidence, strength of will, and abounding generosity. Not only generosity of the monetary kind but of deep compassion and self-sacrifice. They remain giants of the sport long after their uniforms gather dust.

I find that I am especially moved by the stories of great coaches. Perhaps more than any other member of a given team, the coach truly has to give of himself every single day. He must be both teacher and leader, he must find ways to inspire and motivate, and above all, he must find that fleeting element that brings all his players together with a common cause. These goals must be accomplished week in and week out all through the season, and if they are both diligent and fortunate, one group will hoist the trophy that bears the most legendary coach’s name in the history of the NFL…Lombardi.

Marty Schottenheimer never hoisted the ultimate prize of his sport, but he delivered one of the most poignant descriptions I have ever heard. “There is a gleam, men. A gleam in that trophy, shown in the reflection as it is held high. A reflection of the hearts and hands that hold it aloft, of the team that gave their all for each other.”

Coaches like Marty Schottenheimer may lack the accolade of a Super Bowl title, but no trophy can measure the wisdom, inspiration, and pure kindness that he imparted to countless players and other coaches. From little league grass fields to the cathedrals of the NFL, coaches everywhere are mentor, confidant, father figure and friend to an endless stream of players and families alike.

I recently watched the story of Coach Bill Parcells, and he shared a poem that has stayed with him for his entire life. I found it both touching and thought provoking. Published by Dale Wimbrow in 1934, I share with you, “The Man in the Glass.”

(Forgive the inconsistencies, as there appear to be several variations online)

 

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you King for a Day

Go to the mirror and take a long, hard look

And see what that man has to say

 

It isn’t your father, mother, or wife

Whose judgment upon you must pass

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the man staring back in the glass

 

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest

For he’s with you clear to the end

And you’ve passed the most dangerous, difficult test

If the man in the glass is your friend.

 

You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum

And think you’re a wonderful guy

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

 

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

 

Upon first reading, it might seem as though the poem invites us to be selfish and goal-oriented, but I can say from harsh experience, the man in the glass tells no lies.

He will listen to all your woes, but sees through empty excuses. He will never fail to be there, and he will always expect the best of you, even when you don’t think you can. He silently reminds you that if you cannot exercise the simple Golden Rule, how can you hope to achieve your goals? He gives his all to you, and believes in you when no one else will.

Scripture says God created man in His own image, and I often wonder if it’s truly our own eyes that look back at us from the glass, or is it a gateway, a kind of glimpse at the better part of ourselves? The person capable of giving and caring unconditionally?

This Christmas season, maybe we can all be our own best coach and give the best part of ourselves, not just to those we love, but to those who might need it more than we know.

 

 

 

Dear Sergio, the time is right… October 27, 2014

Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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The CEO of the Fiat Group, Mr Sergio Marchionne is a rare breed in the auto industry. He is a well versed businessman who is passionate about cars, and he clearly understands how one drives the other. Italians have a long history of building uncompromising supercars, but even their more pedestrian offerings still possess that ethereal quality of driving soul.

When you sit in the big chair of the company that owns controlling interest in the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo, you had better understand how some cars are needed to fuel the desires of driving over the rationale of practicality.

With that thought in mind, I wish to make a proposal to the the savvy petrol-head holding the reigns over Chrysler Corporation.

The recent announcement regarding the realignment of Pentastar product lines makes a lot of sense, and I think it opens a few prime opportunities. With Dodge filling the role as the face of performance cars and Chrysler moving away from the notion of near-luxury in favor of a more mainstream market immediately makes the Chrysler nameplate a more high value vehicle.

I was happy to read the Durango is most likely going to transition over to become a Jeep, since it Charger-esque styling might be somewhat eye-catching, it has all the performance and handling of a small bus…with similar fuel economy. The Avenger was already DOA, the Grand Caravan was competing against the Town & Country in the same showrooms (not good business) and the 200 needed a full overhaul, which it got at the cost of losing the convertible. However, another drop-top model is rumored to be in the works and if it bears even a passing resemblance to the Maserati Gran Turismo Cabriolet, the world will be a beautiful place.

With Dodge moving away from mini-vans and SUVs, Chrysler options get more interesting. I pray they burn and bury any notion of reviving either the Aspen or Pacifica SUVs, since both were over-priced, bulbous heavy whales with horrid mpg ratings.

There are many of us who enjoy a more practical vehicle without wanting to give up the sporting feel of a car. The Charger and the 300 prove you can have room, comfort, power and real world economy in a full-size sedan, and those are great things, but one element is missing… a bit more carry space for those occasional large items.

Not everyone wants to jump to a mini-van or SUV, and there is no sense competing against your own sister brands, so why not offer something different. Bringing back a Charger-based Magnum would probably not fly with the musclecar image of Dodge (nobody will care about a Hellcat Sportwagon) but the 300 is another story entirely.

Dodge-Magnum_SRT8

The 300 falls short of the Charger in sales virtually every month despite having similar equipment and the same engine lineup. Daimler-Benz sold an estate version of the 300 in Europe for several years, but with the drastically upgraded styling and materials used by Fiat/Chrysler, I think the time is right for the 300 Touring estate car to debut in North American showrooms. Leave the bloody fake wood in the trash where it belongs and give us the sleek 300 style we’ve come to love.

Dodge Magnums still command top prices in the used market, and the 5-door body would offer something unique for the 300 model line that Dodge couldn’t touch. The “S” variant would make a slick shooting brake while the fabulous Pentastar 3.6/8spd auto would deliver great utility with real-world, high 20s fuel economy.

The Magnum R/T was one of the coolest hot rod wagons ever built, but it suffered from Daimler-Benz lackluster interior and being the first of its kind in the country in years. A 300 S Touring on the other hand would deliver comfort, space, power, economy and true versatility.

Mr. Marchionne, I’ll have mine in black if you please! chrysler-300-wagon-03

The Sun and the Roadrunner June 20, 2014

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One of the most prominent car-guy memories from my youth was what I considered to be my first real brush with an honest-to-horsepower muscle car. I had barely gotten my driving permit when I went for a ride with some of my friends in a 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner, and as I recall, I giggled and laughed like a foolish school boy (which I was) at every throttle rush, howling rear tire, and roaring exhaust note. It was a memory that stuck deep, and I’m sure was rooted in how often I watched cartoons where the Roadrunner would flip his tongue and zing away from the hapless Coyote.

SunRnnrAvtrOnce bitten by the car bug, the effect has never let go, and I fawned over the muscle cars I watched rumble by me at every turn, dreaming of the day I would feel the punch from the driver seat. By the time I graduated high school, the muscle car era was history but many examples of the proud pavement warriors still roamed the streets.
Most regard the late 1960’s as the heyday of the muscle car, and while Chrysler might have come late to the party, they made their mark with some of the most legendary cars and engines in modern automotive history.

The Roadrunner was born in 1968 as an entry-level performance car. Plymouth was Chryslers’ budget division and they already had a performance model in the GTX, but the Roadrunner aimed to be a less expensive, bare-bones tire cooker. Utilizing the base Plymouth Satellite gave them a wealth of go-fast goodies to pick from since its B-body platform shared mechanicals with not only the police units of the day but the already well-known Dodge Charger and Coronet. While options like air conditioning, plush carpet, and leather seats fell by the wayside, stout drivetrains and engines all the way up to the mighty 426 Hemi could be checked off in the options list.

One such animal proved to be my first hands-on experience when I took a job in the service department of a local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer shortly before I graduated high school. I started to leave for lunch one day when the parts department manager asked if I would grab him some food while I was out. The conversation went something like this,
“Hey, dude, grab me a burger while you’re out?”
“Sure, whatcha want?”
“Get me a double, and here, take my car,” he said as he tossed his keys to me.
“Umm, okay, which one is yours?”
“Right outside the back door of Parts, it’s a maroon Roadrunner. You can drive a stick, can’t you?”
“Yeah, I can, but are you sure about this?”
“Plenty of guys here have driven it, just don’t wreck it.”
“Yes, sir!”

68runner

 

It was a hot summer day and the Roadrunner had no a/c, but did that matter? Not a chance. The car was slick and shiny and wore the factory Rallye Wheels wrapped in Goodyear raised white letter tires. I suppose to him this was a basic, daily driver car, especially since I had heard stories of his radical 340 ‘Cuda parked in the garage at home. A twist of the key and the 383 Magnum big block rumbled to life, and a slow release of the clutch and I was officially at the helm of a dream muscle car.

Reality rarely measures up to fantasy and in this case that held true. The black vinyl interior was cooking hot and the lack of power steering made parking lot maneuvers challenging, but once on the street things changed for the better. I admit I didn’t choose the closest burger joint just for the excuse of driving the car a bit further, and every stoplight made me fight the urge to unleash the wild bird. I managed to hold my reserve for the most part as I spared the tires by not launching the car but pulled slowly away until I shifted up to second, and then I mashed the loud pedal. The rush of sound, wind, and speed was immediate while slower traffic forced me off the throttle in short order. This was probably for the best since I already felt guilty about that little dose of jollies but the conversation when I got back was even more surprising.
“So, dude, you like it?”
“Yeah man, that’s nice”
“Did you punch it?”
“Just a little,” I admitted sheepishly.
“Don’t you love that tire chirp between gears?”
“I didn’t do that.”
“Dude, what’s wrong with you?”

It wasn’t until 1969 that Chrysler offered the Roadrunner in a convertible body style, but soft tops in those days suffered from a multitude of ills. Convertibles were also not looked on as the best candidate for a muscle car because just like today, they are heavier than their coupe counterparts. Chrysler was one of the first domestic automakers to build cars with what they called “uni-body construction,” but today, virtually every mass produced car is built this way. This means there is no frame for the body to sit on, but the strength of the body itself provided the rigidity of the vehicle. When you cut away the roof, you’re left with the equivalent of two bricks being held together by a single playing card, so a bit of increased support becomes necessary, therefore adding to the overall weight.

General Motors began offering the “T-Top” with their lift out glass panels to give that open air feeling while holding on to some of the unit body strength. My other youth dream car was the Pontiac Trans Am, which exploded in popularity in the late 70’s after being immortalized by Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.”

79TransAmIn 1980, I finally managed to get my grubby mitts on a gently used, black and gold Bandit Trans Am, complete with the screaming bird across the hood and T-Tops overhead. Sadly, I only got to keep the car a scant three or four months before I was forced to sell it due to a layoff on my job. In the long run, it may have turned out for the best as I soon realized the car had a back seat fit for no human over three years old. The trunk was miserably small and if you put the glass roof panels back there the space was completely filled.
As hauntingly beautiful as the car is to me to this day, I’d have to admit it’s one of those cars only good for a fun drive and little else, let alone any kind of travel that requires luggage.

I have since owned many different cars in search of one that would fill that emotional void and move me the way the Trans Am did, and it has been a unicorn hunt to say the least. I feel I’ve come very close on a couple of occasions, and the internal inspiration has led me to name most of my cars after various birds of prey. I find wild raptors in nature to be fascinating creatures and their speed and hunting techniques make them great mascots of power and awe-inspiring beauty. On the whole, a natural fit for a car that wants to be a fighter jet.

The Roadrunner on the other hand is one of nature’s great deceptions with its unassuming and non-threatening appearance. A bird that is capable of flying but chooses to run also makes for something comical, and probably what inspired the cartoon artists at Warner Brothers to begin with. But in reality I was amazed to learn the desert Roadrunner is a strictly carnivorous creature, making meals of lizards, frogs, scorpions (yikes!) and even leaping to snatch other small birds in mid-air. However its true badge of respect is watching it make short work of a rattlesnake. Yes, you read that correctly, and this isn’t a freak occurrence of luck, as the roadrunner easily matches the snake in lightning-fast reflexes, and as it taunts the snake to strike, it will jump and clamp its beak with a death-grip on the neck of the rattler. Then with blinding quickness, it will execute a rapid series of vertical slamming motions, breaking the snakes’ back in several locations, after which the bird consumes the reptile whole. Maybe Wile E. Coyote should’ve done a bit of research to consider what might actually happen if he ever caught said bird. The results might not be pretty.

AZroadrunnerRReatsnake

 

 

 

 

 

 

From my car-guy perspective, the Trans Am was always about sleek power and beauty while the Roadrunner personified driving fun. Sadly, Chrysler Corp. ended its affiliation with Warner Bros. and the last Plymouth Volare Roadrunner was offered as a 1980 model and I have to say it was a paper tiger at best, a mere shadow of the hoot-to-drive animal it once was. To be fair, those years saw all performance cars fall prey to the quest for cleaner emissions and the crunch of the gas pump. True performance cars were rare beasts indeed.

My 1976 Volare Roadrunner was a weak bird when I bought it but a sprinkling of 340 parts onto its 318 engine along with a close-ration four speed transmission turned it into a respectable street machine. The better than average performance along with a bellowing set of Thrush sidepipes proved to be enough to make me a constant source of attention to local law enforcement. This Hemi orange cop magnet proved to be another car that provided a torrid, short-lived romance and was best sent on its way before I lost my driving permit.

76RnnrAftr

 

 

 

 

Years and cars came and went, and most for the very pedestrian uses of family life, but the mid-life crisis is a well documented phenomenon and my personal hormone imbalance bypassed the desire for a motorcycle and went for the open top car. Thankfully, convertible technology had made huge strides in three decades and I dove in with a 2004 Chrysler Sebring convertible as my rite of passage.

In the last ten years, retro styles and names of cars have become all the rage as automakers reach back for a slice of their glory days. The results of some have been impressive, and the 2005-up Mustang probably reigns supreme as the most successful retro design. If there is one thing car-guys are famous for, it’s the adage of, “If you can’t find one, build one yourself.” High dollar auctions are replete with replicas masquerading as vintage iron, but the well done replica has gained a level of respect many never thought possible.

I had no desire to pass my Sebring Roadrunner off as anything valuable, but more to play into the fun aspect of “what if?” The end result got more than a few thumbs up from other enthusiasts and even a few “are they making these again?” from the less informed passer-by. All in all, the fun quotient was partially achieved but the nagging problems of an older car and the lackluster performance of the tiny 2.7 V6 engine made it expendable.

Entry3

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m on my forth convertible now, and I feel I’ve finally run across another Chrysler worthy of wearing the Roadrunner birds. My previous 2008 Sebring was a great car in a lot of ways, and I put over 50k miles under its wheels including an amazing cross-country drive, but it suffered from the same under-powered 2.7 engine and an outdated four speed auto trans. The Chrysler 200 that followed in its footsteps is a vastly improved car in many ways, most notably its impressive 3.6 engine and six-speed Auto-Stick trans. The interior is also a major upgrade and the tweaks to its exterior styling softened some edges and transformed it into an attractive cruiser.

SebringIMG_1516

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me, the most beautiful Roadrunner is easily the 1972 model year. I owned a 72 Satellite Sebring in classic Petty Blue with a white top that I had high hopes of turning into a Roadrunner clone but finances never made that possible. The slick aero lines of the 71-72 made it one of the favorites of King Richard Petty, and mine too. I’ve always thought this model would look amazing in a targa roof style but that will be up to a custom builder and customer with deeper pockets than I’ll ever have.

BessiePlumCrazyRR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 200 however cuts a handsome figure with its top down and its transformation in to modern feathered flyer is well underway. I may not be authorized by Chrysler or Sergio Marchionne, but I plan to attend the All Chrysler Nationals in Carlisle, PA next year and show off a prime example of what the designers passed up on. I say long live the Roadrunner, even if it’s a Do-It- Yourself retro package.

IMG_1561

Hash Browns and Roofing Shingles April 12, 2014

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Like many others I would assume, I consider myself something of a fast food connoisseur. Having worked for several fast food chains in my youth and short stints of my adult life, I feel as though I’ve had a reasonable sampling of the various menus. If not my time spent working in such places, surely the number of times I’ve frequented the fast food businesses should give me reasonable qualifications.

 

The cheeseburger and the french fry are two of the most recognizable utensil-free foods in all of North America. Many feel hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries are as American and as essential to our culture as red, white, and blue. Burgers and fries easily fit into almost any lunch or dinner menu, but breakfast is quite another matter to me.

 

Now, let’s be clear up front, opinions are like exhaust pipes, everybody has at least one, and the nuanced difference in taste from one person to another can be narrow or vast. So, what follows is my little take on the realm of fast food, especially the ubiquitous potato in its many prepared forms. You can get them baked, mashed, roasted, and fried while the end result can range from wonderful to befuddling.

 

As I said before, I question the fast food breakfast as a whole. While there is the occasional burrito or biscuit that seems appealing, the final delivered product never fails to raise questions. The pre-shaped and cooked egg always forces me to wonder about its origins and level of process, and the bacon is never crispy, leaving it to look more like limp salted fat back rather than a nicely marbled slice of pork.

 

I’ll admit I was probably spoiled as a child by the breakfast my mother often prepared. No matter if it was scrambled eggs with cheese, crisp bacon, or pancakes, nothing was ever served on a bun or muffin. She never really cooked what you would call hash browns, but sliced potatoes pan fried with onions, and to me they were delightful. Now I’ll admit you can’t compare true home cooking with fast food, or even the likes of Cracker Barrel or IHOP, but some of the spirit should remain.

 

My father was never a huge fan of fast food either, but he did love a good dive or truck stop. Anything that stayed open around-the-clock seemed to draw him in, and from a young age I was indoctrinated with one of his favorite haunts, the Waffle House.

 

Waffle House to this day remains a thriving 24 hour breakfast machine, even to the point of comedy where their stores have been used as a gauge for the severity of natural disaster. If Waffle House is open, there is hope, and I’m sure my father would agree, especially if there is coffee being served.

 

I will have to admit I’ve visited a Waffle House or two that felt seedy, but hands down there is not a better waffle put on a plate anywhere for my money. Other places may doctor them up with whipped cream and other fruit toppings, but when the waffle itself is as crunchy as corn flakes, no amount of culinary decoration can save it. Over the years, I’ve come to cringe anytime I see the words “Belgian Waffle” on a breakfast menu, which to me equates to a good stiff potholder covered in syrup. If this is truly the texture and style of waffles in Belgium, I tip my hat to a hearty and sturdy people with outstanding dental health.

 

Another menu item that Waffle House serves is hash browns, and from my seat at the bar, they are the standard by which all others are judged, particularly in the “scattered and smothered” variety in which their signature metal ring is discarded and onions are generously mixed in on the grill. I’ve had very good home fries at other places, and Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole is a wonderfully tasty item, but for simple hash brown goodness, Waffle House stands alone.

 

 

Although it tells my age, I was actually working at McDonald’s when the breakfast menu was introduced, so I got firsthand knowledge in all the classic items and their preparation. Many of you may have heard of McDonald’s Hamburger University, and I can tell you with staunch conviction that it’s no joke. The Golden Arches employs a team of master chefs that research, test, prepare, and standardize every single item on the company’s menu. They and the people they train enact rigorous procedures in the effort to ensure that an Egg McMuffin purchased in California will be the exact same quality as one purchased in Maine. They seek a world-wide standard, and I have to give them credit for succeeding on a large scale. For my wife and I, McDonald’s has become the oasis outpost for our vacation travels, even on the most barren stretches of interstate highways across the country, The Golden Arches can be counted on for clean bathrooms, refreshing drinks, a decent place to sit and rest, and more recently, free wi-fi access.

 

Unfortunately, for all the attributes I enjoy about McDonald’s there is one fast food standard they seem to have set that is a complete dud in my world, the breakfast hash brown. I feel quite confident that the team of McDonald’s chefs researched long and hard to find the magic combination of a potato cake that could be eaten directly from its wrapper with no utensils and not fall apart in your lap. Mission accomplished, but to me a potato cake is not hash browns, and something cooked to such a rigid texture loses the goodness of the potato itself. A brown, crusty outer shell that encases precious little potato inside gets my taste buds going about as much as a slice of roofing shingle. Even worse is the fact that virtually every other fast food chain that serves breakfast has followed suit and the only variety is the shape of the shingle that falls into your bag.

 

I recently tried Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu, and I ordered hash browns with high hopes of different results, but sadly I was given a perfectly rectangular crunchy brown shingle with only the most scant portion of potato hidden inside. One bite was more than enough to tell me there was no point in going any further, and as I looked at the sturdy side dish in my fingers, I was forced to wonder if I could actually roof a small shed or birdhouse with a collection of these things. I have so often heard the claims that fast food items are so laden with preservatives that they will never rot, and if that’s the case then hash brown shingles should be quite durable.

 

I find it strange that these potato patties are so universally cooked to such a crispy consistency, especially when the very same fast food chain wouldn’t dare serve a french fry in such a crunchy state for fear of a lobby revolt spearheaded by a line of irate customers pressed against the counter ready to hurl said potatoes like angry projectiles. I have on occasion been tempted to fling one of these crispy shingles against the wall or window of the restaurant in question just to witness the bounce factor. I have no quarrel with the employees of these places since I know they are only following the procedures they have been taught, so a window might not be the best choice on the off chance the rigid potato facsimile actually broke the glass.

 

I sometimes wonder about the people out there who actually enjoy these semi-burnt potato shingles. Is this what years of black coffee in the morning hardens you up to? Maybe those who have been on safari to wilderness locations and have been munching on bamboo or cracking coconuts with their teeth? Possibly anyone who has been stranded in the high desert or the Australian Outback for weeks? Could it be one of the Golden Arches chef consultants is a former astronaut and thus well versed in food that comes in quasi-pellet form?

 

All of the aforementioned questions are pointless in the grand scheme of things since I only need look at the sheer number of people streaming around any given McDonald’s drive-thru on any morning of the week to realize my opinion of the fast food hash brown represents a tiny minority. I suppose I need to allot myself time to visit Waffle House more often, where the only shingles on the menu are purposely near-burnt toast.

Eko the EV November 30, 2013

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I have always been fascinated by science, and while some look at science as being at odds with nature, the nuts and bolts of it has mostly been about trying to emulate the things nature does so well.

Mankind has tried to fly like birds, be amphibious like a frog or pelican, run as swiftly as a gazelle, or be as strong and powerful as a bear or gorilla. In most cases man has failed to reproduce these amazing examples of nature, but he has become proficient in building machines that perform similar feats with grace and beauty. Well, most of the time.

However, when it comes to the house cat, I’m not quite sure what qualities man would want to gain. Always landing on your feet could be useful, and being able to fit your whole body through any hole your head will go in would be interesting, although I’m not sure what purpose it might serve.

In the world of modern science, anything we build that is intended to be friendly to our environment almost certainly gets the prefix, “Eco” attached to its name. Just as any electronic device that begins with a lower case “i” is surely a product made by Apple, anything that begins with “Eco” is supposed to reassure us of its planet-friendly abilities, even if it isn’t the most practical or useful thing we can choose.

This past summer, we adopted a kitten from a local animal shelter. He is mostly white with some faint, tawny brown tabby markings on his body, along with smoky feet and face similar to a Siamese breed. These markings reminded me of a baby Bengal white tiger so I named him “Toraneko,” which is Japanese for “little tiger.”

My little two year old grand daughter, Layla, comes to visit with us one or two days a week and her vocal skills are improving every time we see her. Almost from day one, everyone in the house had taken to calling our new pet “Neko” but Layla took off with “Eko” from the first time they met. Thankfully, Neko has been a very good pet, allowing Layla to pick him up and carry him without complaint. We have also found it quite entertaining that she can now say the word, “name” yet she still omits the “N” sound when she calls out or asks about the cat. “Eko,Eko,Eko,” is still what we hear despite our efforts to the contrary.

Nowhere has the cry for “Eco, Eco, Eco,” been any stronger than the automotive world. Science and technology have made huge strides in recent years to make the automobile cleaner and more efficient. Virtually every auto manufacturer produces a hybrid/electric version of one of its models. But two car companies, Nissan and Tesla, have made quantum leaps in perfecting the EV, or pure electric vehicle.

The EV, or Zero Emissions Vehicle as it’s sometimes referred to brings the promise of reliable, daily transportation that you plug into a common wall socket at night to recharge. This concept actually works very well for short daily commuting and local errands, but where the EV falls down is extended range or trip driving.

Tesla and Nissan both have managed squeeze as much as two hundred miles worth of driving from a single battery charge but the downside is it can take up to sixteen hours to fully recharge again. I don’t think any of us have spent sixteen hours at a fueling station by choice, so once the battery charge is depleted, the car becomes a two-ton paperweight.

In their defense, performance of the modern EV has become shockingly potent ( please excuse the pun.) Jeremy Clarkson tested the Tesla Roadster against the Lotus Elise on which the Tesla is based. A half-mile drag race saw the Tesla demolish the Lotus from start to finish by an embarrassing margin as Clarkson commented, “This car is biblically quick, and it seems the Volt-head has overtaken the Petrol-head. I’ve also just received a report, yes; it is now snowing in hell!”

However, Mr. Clarkson and his tame racing driver, The Stig, used their heavy right feet and hair-on-fire driving style to reduce the Tesla-projected two hundred mile range to a mere fifty-five miles. Then again, no gasoline powered car gets its best mileage at wide open throttle either, but it is much faster to refill with fuel.

Having taken note of these EV drawbacks, I began to notice striking (not shocking) similarities in the behavior of Neko, our house cat. In the evening hours, he will display an almost boundless amount of energy as he chases cat toys, dismembers helpless house plants, and tests the theory of gravity by pushing various small objects off of high shelves and watching them plummet to the floor below.

Any person who walks down the hallway with bare feet and ankles is fair game for him to perfect his pouncing and attacking skills, but this can easily be interrupted by an errant ice cube striking the floor in the kitchen. These are matters that require swift and immediate investigation. One must also remember that the term “cat toy” has a wide number of applications, up to and including pieces of tape or string, balls of trash or discarded gift bows, and any small chunk of food or pill you happen to drop from the kitchen counter. Writing utensils and electronic device charging cords are also fair game.

The motion of a human appendage under a blanket or sofa throw is a beast that must be stalked and killed. Then again, sometimes the movement of said blanket alone is cause for action, human appendage notwithstanding.

All of the above activities can consume an enormous amount of energy, so in keeping with his mostly nocturnal nature, the vast majority of daylight hours will find Neko in recharging mode. Like his kindred spirit, the EV, Neko is a paperweight during these hours of deep, revitalizing sleep. In most respects, he resembles a sack with very little bone structure as picking him up while in this mode begs the question if there is anything rigidly attached inside him. We can only assume sufficient energy is required to hold his framework in place.

NekoSleep

I have also noted that his sleep/recharge mode is almost exclusively performed in well lighted areas. This habit prompts the thought that his tabby marking may well be a solar panel of some kind, and his occasional swapping of sides must be a required cycle to gather as much solar energy as possible. He does sometimes take short twenty-to-thirty minute naps during his evening rampages which may indicate a short regeneration period needed to transfer power from the furry panels.

The frightening thought occurs to me that EV designers may indeed be avid house cat owners, and in the scientific quest to emulate the wonders of nature around us, they have pushed automotive technology to new feline heights.

I might also add, as a footnote, that Neko is decidedly NOT a zero emissions creature, especially when he plunders our other cat’s bowl of canned food.

While I admire the engineering efforts to improve and perfect the EV, I need look no farther than the back of the living room sofa on any given day to realize that emulating the horse was a much better idea.

NekoSolar

On the other hand, I’m actually very happy with Neko and his EV nature. If he was a hybrid house cat, capable of refueling in matter of minutes, I don’t believe any of us could stand the strain of his non-stop antics, and we would be constantly in search of his “off” switch.

So it seems that Layla was more accurate in naming our new pet than we were.

From the mouths of babes…”Eko!”

What is a Leaf? November 20, 2013

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The botanical definition of a leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, while the word foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of whole plants. In either case, the function of the leaf in nature is to perform photosynthesis, whereby said leaf absorbs light and carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen to our atmosphere.

Many things from Mother Nature are a double edged sword. Anyone will tell you rain is an essential need of our environment but I’ve never heard anyone say, “Wow, we haven’t had a good flood in a long while, and I sure do miss that knee-deep water in my basement!”

My yard is dotted with oak trees and its one of those things when you buy a house that doesn’t come off as a downside. Farther to the north, yards get blanketed with snow, but at my place every autumn brings a full-on foliage bombing. After we’ve been pelted with acorns, dusted with pollen, and set upon by seedlings that resemble some breed of furry worm, the oaks attempt to cover all their previous sins with a thick carpet of leaves.

I have since thinned the heard, but not wanting the place to look as though I was harvesting lumber, I left three or four trees as scenic decoration, and each year I rue the day I made that decision.

To the car guy, a leaf is an annoying little piece of cast-off tree that is neither adhesive or has legs, but acts as if it has both. I never cease to be amazed how a dried, crusty leaf can float on the gentle breeze and manage to guide itself so accurately into the blades of my windshield wipers or between the window and weather strip seal.

I would dare a Vegas-like, million dollar wager that I could not stand on my deck (which is next to my driveway) on a slightly breezy day and sail a deck of playing cards, one by one, toward my car and have a single one of them lodge so firmly in either location.

I’ve often been told, “Oh, don’t let it bother you so much. When you drive the car again they will just blow off.”

Oh, will they now?

I’m curious how many other people have driven away with such notions, only to get on the highway and find a leaf clinging to a windshield wiper or hood hinge with such tenacity that you suspect it was glued there as a joke.

Seventy mile-per-hour speeds aren’t sufficient to dislodge (or even dismember) said leaf, but instead it rattles madly against the windshield creating a buzzing sound capable of inducing temporary insanity. The only thing more insane is how easily it is loosed from its location when you stop to remove it before you bite something in two. You want to be able to yank it free with a furious jerk, but if you do, you’ll only pull a muscle or wind up on your backside, almost as if it lets go on purpose knowing its been caught in the act.

I have often wondered why Mother Nature made trees so they live hundreds of years yet they manage to scatter so much trash like acres of messy toddlers. I’ve been told that some types of fruit trees can go years before they produce, so would losing leaves every five or six years really have been such a stretch?

The yearly fiasco of raking and blowing leaves, all the while being taunted by the wind gusting inevitably in the opposite direction, and the trees laughing as they hold their last reserve of leaves until you give up for the day, is a pure exercise in futility. Logic suggests even the Borg Collective would agree.

I am also astounded at how something so crunchy and sticky can “just add water” and instantly transform into a slimy lubricant capable of felling an elephant. The slippery quality of leaves on a wet surface are not to be underestimated, and any motorcycle enthusiast of the knee-dragging variety can probably tell you a story, show you a scar, or both.

Wet leaves also take their last breath of life to do a little artwork in the form of ugly, brown stains they leave behind. It might have a quality of beauty to some, but on the paint of a white or other light colored car, it’s an acid-stained mess. There is a certain wry humor when a random pattern of stains  that resemble duck feet tracks all over the hood, roof and trunk are left from wet leaves. I can almost hear the tree nearby snickering, “It wasn’t me, honestly, it was a flock of geese!”

At least the evergreen trees have the unapologetic gall to scatter their needles with no effort to disguise them in any way. They are the ultimate wise-cracker of trees, as if to say, “You said you didn’t like leaves, so you get needles, now shut up before I fall on your house.”

Now I’m sure some environmental types might feel I’m being narrow-minded or stupid. As a gear-head, I realize I fall into the category of the evil-doers who burn gasoline and enjoy it. Maybe they feel my desire for a five-year leaf cycle is ridiculous or un-natural, but to those people I ask the following questions.

Tires were originally made from rubber, which came from trees, and today we still use rubber, but we make much better tires. Things falling off of trees in massive quantity are natural, I admit, but if a set of natural tires fell off your Toyota Prius every few months, wouldn’t you get tired of replacing them? Imagine tires turning a lovely shade of yellow, orange or red, and then promptly falling off on the ground. Good for the environment? Sure. Annoying? I think so.

However, there is one great redeeming quality to leaves, and in this case, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Image

Godspeed the Wizard and the King March 1, 2013

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Cats are truly amazing creatures. They will bring out the most basic mothering instincts in many women, as they pamper and care for the animals’ every need or want. Men are no exception to pet feline influence as they will coddle and caress a cat as if it were an infant child, not to mention being reduced to the level of a three year old when times call for any kind of romping or play.

There is an old saying, “Dogs have owners but cats have subjects,” and having spent the bulk of my adult life in the company of a house cat, I would have to testify to the truth of that statement. Parents will turn themselves inside out, work day and night, and do whatever else might be required to provide for and make their child happy. In that same vein, adult humans will alter their homes, habits, and purchase endless varieties of food in their efforts to keep a cat content. I speak from extensive experience in these matters, but I imply no hardship because with pets and children alike, the joys of our efforts far outweigh the burden.

By the time we invited Gandolf into our home he was already a member of the senior feline generation. His previous owner (or subject) had given him the name “Dale,” in honor of NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt.

T. S. Eliot said, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter,” and one need only set gaze on the cat in question to see he was no beer-swilling, swaggering, good ole’ boy. His previous subject may well have been a grass roots racing fan, but his pet decidedly was not. So upon entering our home, a more serious name was required that fit his outward demeanor.

In homage to J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “Gandalf the Grey,” the wise old resourceful wizard in “Lord of the Rings,” we christened him “Gandolf,” since no feline could ever tolerate having his name spelled the same as a human, wizard or otherwise.

In time, the name proved to be a fitting choice as Gandolf began to display many wizard-like abilities, such as being exactly under your feet with out you ever noticing him arrive there. He could magically block virtually any doorway where you or any other household member needed to enter or exit from. He could silently appear behind you and brush his tail across the back of your bare legs lightly enough to tickle or spook you into almost spilling whatever hot drink you had just prepared. Then in stark contrast, if you needed to administer medicine to him, or place him in his carrier for transport, he could vanish from one room to the next in the instant you averted your attention.

There were many other personality traits he possessed that were worthy of a king moving among his subjects. First and foremost was his respect of space and distance for Queen Tatiana, our other resident feline. Gandolf quickly realized that Tatiana wielded more than just seniority around our house, but her moody and volatile temperament was nothing to be toyed with. For a short time they shared a mutual loathing of Rory the Terrible, or Rory the Marauder, or whatever moniker of mischief and cunning you wish to add to his name. But in time Rory was dispatched on a mission to a kingdom more fitting to his ambitious nature, leaving Gandolf and Tatiana in some facsimile of a medieval arranged marriage. They became housemates at best, but forever at furry tails length from each other.

This is not to say that Gandolf did not possess many endearing qualities. He would often crawl inside empty shopping bags, leaving a foot or tail exposed as a sign to let you know the space was occupied.  Whenever my wife would spread out one of her quilt projects, he would never fail to give his encouragement of her work by walking and lying down on the fabric, no matter where it was placed. He would leave large indentations in the sofa backrest as a reminder that he approved of the sun and view from the adjacent window, and as a loyal king will show compassion for his subjects, his presence was constant at our back door whenever one of us would leave or return home.

While Tatiana can be skittish about physical contact with her minions, Gandolf was happy to grace almost anyone with a measure of his company. Let’s be clear this was not to be confused with romping or other silly cat games, which he only occasionally joined in on. No, such activities are for youngsters, along with running about the house or constantly climbing on things. This veteran cat made every move count, and jumping onto things was done with careful scale, measurement, and proper warm-up preparation.

Once in your company, he would graciously accept a generous rubbing of the head, neck and shoulder area, to which he would respond with a robust purr that rattled so deeply and with such volume you might think someone was in the room trying to start a sputtering old chain saw with steady and methodical pulls of the rope. While the rubbing and scratching of his fur made him seem docile, don’t be swayed into thinking he wished to be picked up. There was to be none of that holding and cuddling nonsense, unless of course it was my wife, to whom he would respond by imitating a sack of dry beans, as illustrated in the adjoining photo.

Image

Gandolf was not a television watcher or a reader of books, but he was quite content to lie next to you or even on you for a few hours while you amused yourself with your pastimes. His fifteen pound girth could numb one of your extremities if he stayed long enough, and when the time came for you to move he would generally ignore such motions until gravity itself demanded he take action.

The expressions of his furry face could often say so much with little more than a slow blink of his eyes. I often thought that if he had the ability to speak he would share his sage wisdom in a regal British accent. I can easily imagine him often saying, “Let us begin by taking a smallish nap or two.”

If there was one ability where Gandolf was an undisputed champion, it was taking a cat nap. My wife has posted a collection of her favorite photos on her blog, which you can view here. The pictures speak for themselves, but they also showcase his napping talent, and his affection for his bedding material of choice, a cardboard box. The fit was of little consequence since he was quite flexible when box size was challenging, but he could make even the most ragged pieces of cardboard appear as comfortable as if I were in hammock at the beach.

If we could have indeed shared conversation, I believe he would have often quoted Winnie the Pooh, since they both shared a great tendency to a slow and simple life laced with affection to those people and things which matter most. I could also hear myself often answering with a smile as did Christopher Robin, “Silly old bear,” to which he would kindly reply, “Silly large boy.”

Gandolf may well have appeared to be a cat on the outside, but a heart as strong as any bear beat within him, and like a loyal and loving king, he gave us every last ounce of strength that heart had to offer. Even until the very last, he gazed and gruffed at us, almost as though he offered both gratitude and comfort for our time together. Like a wizard, I can envision him shedding his mortal physical ailments, and taking his slow and methodical walk across the Rainbow Bridge. There is no need to hurry, he will arrive precisely when he means to.

Godspeed, Sir Gandolf the Grey, the Wizard and the King, and the bear-sized paw prints he leaves behind, both on our lives and in our hearts. You shall not be forgotten.

Seasons of Love March 29, 2012

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Occasionally I feel the need to write about things not related to the automotive world, and today is one of those days. While the realm of the automobile is filled with many trophies and titles to win, and the people who win them are often moved to tears and elation for the goals they have achieved, in the grand scheme of things such accomplishments are fleeting moments.

 

Record breaking titles like Richard Petty’s seven NASCAR championships, Tom Kristensen’s eight incredible victories at Le Mans stand as temporary zeniths to one day be eclipsed, while tragedies like the loss of drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Dan Wheldon were temporarily mourned but the sport continued onward.

 

Even a supreme gearhead such as Jay Leno has openly admitted that even with his vast collection at his daily disposal, the one constant in his life is his wife, Mavis.

 

Many of us invest huge amounts of time and effort into our jobs, hobbies, and interests, and while they may generate many laurels for us to wear and possibly bloated bank accounts as a result, none of them will ever be able to provide true happiness.

 

The title of this blog entry, as many of you may have already guessed, is an homage to the long-running Broadway musical “Rent.” While some might think this play was simply to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, to me, and many others, it was a powerful statement about the trials and tragedies of life that love has the power to overcome. No matter if it’s the love shared between friends, or the desire that draws two people to want to spend their lives together, we witness the characters face fears and challenges with new courage they never knew they had, and that courage was provided by someone else who cared.

 

The lyrics of this song ask how a year in someone’s life can be measured. While the verses suggest days, sunsets, and how we lived as examples, the chorus echoes,

“How about love?”

 

Some might say this was a topic better suited to Valentine’s Day, but as someone recently pointed out to me, if we only bother showing our emotions about those we care for on one day a year, then all the flowers, cards, and chocolate in the world wont make up for the days we let go by.

 

I honestly believe The Good Lord blessed each of us with certain talents, and those gifts cover a myriad of skills and abilities, but it’s amazing how many of us struggle with putting our emotions into words. We’ve seen it in countless films and read about in novels, but one film stands out in my mind, and that is Steve Martin’s creative re-telling of the story of Cyrano De Bergerac called, “Roxanne.”

 

This entertaining comedy embodies how some can speak, some can write, and some struggle to do either one when it comes to matters of emotion.

 

Its not that those who struggle don’t feel these things just as deeply as anyone else, it’s just that uttering the words or writing them down is a painful process all its own. They wish to be able to do so, but not knowing how to craft such a message for the desired result is incredibly frustrating. The fear of a negative result only adds to the anguish, but many times the look on these faces can speak volumes if we but take the time to learn the cues.

 

The other end of the spectrum can be just as bad, as some can not only speak or write, but do both equally well. These people suffer from not being able to turn things off as they repeatedly seek to describe the things they feel. Somehow whatever comes out never seems to be quite right and a non-stop effort can then ensue in a quest for the classic capture of a given moment or emotion.

 

A good analogy for these extremes would be to say you’d like to take a dip in the pool on a warm summer afternoon. You close your eyes and step forward only to find you’ve landed in the center of the Sahara Desert, or the middle of the swelling Pacific Ocean. Both options represent an extreme end of what you were expecting, one being barren and the other wildly excessive, so instead of gaining any kind of pleasure, instead you now fear for your life…neither of which are good things.

 

All of us probably remember our first experience of joy and loss during our teen and early adult years, and while we thought the world was ending when it happened, we soon learned life had much bigger obstacles for us to deal with.

 

Some of us soon found the loss of our first truly adult relationship was much more difficult, mostly because we actually began to envision our lives with this certain person as a vital part of that equation. Nothing ever hurts worse than ripping apart a dream we thought was close to reality.

 

Unfortunately, a growing number of us have experienced the harrowing pain of tearing apart a reality after spending many years of effort building it brick by brick. To demolish a home, a family, and a life into so many puzzle pieces is one of the most brutal learning experiences a person can ever face, but it also shows how incredibly resilient our hearts and souls can be.

 

For many who have walked these paths, we have come to discover that the love provided by our families and friends can be the lifeline for survival. While it can never complete us in the way intimate love can do, its support can be the medicine that heals us and reassures our self worth. Friends and family members may also be the closest we ever come to people who will love us without prejudice or condition, and that can be a huge comfort in both good times and bad.

 

For me, my wife stands as a clear example of how happiness can be reached even after enduring tremendous emotional hardship. I honestly have to say that she has exceeded virtually any expectation I had hoped for in a relationship, and that is not because we have so much in common. While we do have some similar interests, it has been our differences that have made our lives so much more interesting. I have learned an incredible number of things from her, and she has opened my eyes to things I never took notice of before. While we still retain some separate points of view, for the most part we have embraced those things between us, and I’d like to think it has made both of us better people overall. I see her as glowing proof that differences can be very good if we try to learn from them rather than making them points of contention.

 

Many people of Asian culture practice Taoism, and one of its concepts that is more widely know in the western world is called Yin-Yang. The swirling white and black symbol is probably very familiar to most, but it’s the teaching behind it that I find interesting.

There is a common misconception that Yin-Yang represents good and evil, but Taoism discounts this notion in favor of a world of balance. The two halves are not seen as opposing forces but as complementary opposites such as light and darkness, earth and air, as well as men and women. Day and night cannot exist without one another, as one advances, the other slowly retreats. When the sun is hidden it is only then we can appreciate the beauty of the stars, even though the moon borrows her light from the sun.

 

Sunrise and sunset stand out as glorious and beautiful examples of how these opposite elements can co-exist with amazing result. Everyone has probably felt the unspoken joy that can come from a bright, sunny day, and what better way does that day end than with the fading glow of a radiant sunset?

 

Like ripples across a pond that eventually become calm once again, or the flowers that bloom, wither, and return in the spring, there is balance all around us each day.

 

While the desires and rewards of genuine love between two people is a great source of happiness, and essential to a full life in my opinion, there is only one other kind of love that can ever compare, and that is the love of a child.

 

We can wait for great expanses of time for that special someone, but from the moment we hold a child we are forever changed. Here is someone we feel an instant connection to, someone we value far above ourselves, and someone who will teach us more about life, love, and emotions than anyone else ever could.

 

Children come with no manual of operations, no personal guidebook, because each and every one of them is different in their own ways. But one thing is certain, no words spoken harshly from anyone else will cut as deeply or painfully as those from your offspring. Yet amazing as it seems, they can deliver a bright smile and soft spoken endearments, and like Superman drawing power from the yellow sun, we rise again, healed, forgiving, and with love that grows even stronger.

 

In some ways, the love of our children can be the most pure form of that emotion because it is devoid of romantic entanglement. All of the other hurdles that couples must face down are pushed aside, and all that remains is the connection that a parent sees someone they love more than life itself. This is not to say the relationship is not without its challenges, since most parents want so badly to give their children better than they had for themselves, they can easily become blinded to the needs the child is trying to cry out for. The parent’s expectations and the child’s direction can become wildly divergent, and often chaos ensues with unpredictable results.

 

My passion for automobiles started unwillingly on my part as I was forced to help my father work on the family car. Little did I realize at that time that he was sharing his knowledge with me, sharing his experience, and he did so because I was his son, and he wanted to pass this kind of love on to me.

 

My knowledge for the automotive world has never stopped growing since that time, and I hope I honor my father by excelling in what I do. By the same token, my knowledge of my children has never stopped growing either, and I hope that I have imparted some of the same kinds of love my parents have given to me.

 

The years I have spent as husband and father have by far been the most rewarding of my lifetime. I sincerely hope my wife and children feel the same, because I know there is still much left for me to learn, and much left for me to give of myself in the process. When I think about the time, effort and attention to detail I have expended on the long list of cars I have owned, I can only try to be sure I have given a greater measure of the same kind of heart to those I love and hold so dear.

 

I do love my cars, but none of them have ever held me close and whispered, “I love you.”

 

Material things can bring you temporary joy, but they will never deliver happiness that lasts. There goes that balance thing again, but more than that, how do we measure our success or shortcoming in our lives?

 

What about love?

Winter and Snow December 29, 2011

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Now that the holidays are behind us, the majority of the gearhead community is settling in to wait for spring. There are some who have the benefit of heated facilities to continue work on a project, and there are those who are just zealous enough to get out there and brave the elements for the sake of getting the next thing done.

Those who reside, vacation, or possibly “snowbird” to the southern reaches of North America can still enjoy a temperate climate that is warm enough through the winter to enjoy the outdoors. They can ride their motorcycles and drop the tops on their convertibles, if only for a few hours on a given day.

Then there are those gearhead souls who either by birth or choice, inhabit the upper reaches of the continent. Places where the temperatures plunge and the ground gets a regular blanket of that white stuff called snow. I have noticed during my life that snow has a profound effect on humans in many different ways. Here in central Virginia, snow is generally a once a year occurrence, anything more than that is considered a harsh winter. Mind you, we are only talking about a scant few inches when it does fall, and even then it rarely lasts more than one to three days max.

The forecast of three inches of snow in my area starts a level of madness and havoc, with people scurrying about in desperation to fill the gas tanks on their generators, and buying enough milk and bread to feed a small Eskimo tribe for a month. Last year we had about a six inch snowfall that lasted over a three to four day period, part of which was a Christmas shopping weekend.
When all was said and done, the Virginia State Police reported there had been over 3000 traffic accidents attributed to the inclement weather. Long story short, no matter if you own an all wheel drive, four wheel drive, cheap or fancy SUV equipped with all the right features such as ABS, traction control or stability control systems, it will still slide on snow and ice. The lack of respect for winter elements around here is astounding sometimes.

There is another kind of madness that is brought on by the flaky white stuff, and that is winter sports. Every four years the Winter Olympics is a showcase for an army of athletes who draw a very fine line between bold and just plain crazy. I can respect the adrenaline thrill of speed and power to be sure, and I can also truly respect the kind of athletic prowess it takes to generate these thrills from human strength combined with a total absence of the fear of gravity.

Ski jumpers immediately spring to mind as the epitome of this concept. If someone offered me an all-you-can-carry shopping spree through Fort Knox in exchange for strapping on some skis, blasting down a ramp as steep as many cliffs I’ve seen, only to be vaulted skyward at the end so that I could slowly watch my own demise approach a few hundred feet father down the same slope, I would be forced to ask if skydiving was an option instead. At least jumping out of perfectly good aircraft with a parachute suggests a level of survivability.

The contestants who ride the Luge are also a bunch who strikes me as slightly askew. Watching these people run and jump onto what looks like a sled made for a small child, and then racing down this track of glare ice carved out of mountain, begs the question in my mind of what would be an automotive equivalent? The only thing I can think of that comes close is asking Danica Patrick if she would strap me to the nose of her Indy car, and then let’s take a few hot laps around Laguna Seca raceway with some special emphasis on the dreaded “corkscrew turn”.

Being more in tune with actually driving a vehicle at speed, one would think that I would relate to those who pilot the bobsleds. Yet here again is a wild departure from anything remotely car-like. The driver of the bobsled has the singular responsibility of steering, while the contestant in the rear is the one who controls the brakes. What horror story addict came up with this arrangement? Did someone realize early on that if the driver actually feared for his life that he might slow down?…so the solution became giving the brakes to the man behind so he could feel somewhat secure in the knowledge that the driver would smack the ice wall first, therefore increasing the chances of his survival?

I won’t even begin to enter into the thinking of the four-man sled, which adds two more unfortunate souls purely as ballast. Tell me, how does it feel to be a human sandbag?

One only has to visit some of these locations where prolonged winters can drive gearheads to embark into edgy competitions of motorsports to see this type of madness slowly taking hold. The most glaring in my mind is snowmobiling, which for all purposes is a motorcycle for the ice and snow. For many years, this concept looked very appealing to me, that is until I began discussing the warnings with my wife’s cousin. At the time, he owned a cabin in northern Vermont, and he purchased himself a nice used snowmobile that he carried up from his home in Connecticut for some winter weekend fun.

 

He related to me the stories of the fierce cold at speed, and how some snow trails went across frozen lakes and rivers. He went on to explain how these areas are taken at full throttle, and if your buddy next to you suddenly drops out of sight, then don’t dare let off the gas, since this means you die too. I realize that driving fast cars has always had its own level of risk, but running off the track doesn’t usually mean throwing off the mortal coil.

Then one day I watched in amazement on television as two snowmobilers rocketed down an icy track which ended at a pond. This water was not frozen over, and the intrepid racers continued off the snow and across the water, with their machines skipping along like flat rocks shot from a cannon. One racer made it all the way across, while the other for some reason was not able to maintain enough speed to stay above the surface (can’t imagine why). While his machine quickly sunk, a small boat came and scooped him out of the freezing water before hypothermia set in. Isn’t it humiliating enough to lose your fine racing machine, but to then add threat of death to your bruised ego might be considered extreme. How would it be if the next winner of the Indy 500 got ice cold milk to drink, while the second and third place finishers got an ice bath that may or may not induce pneumonia? It certainly might raise the level of competition…then again it may impose a distinct desire to crash rather than finish second or third.

I’ve seen snowmobile round track racing, motorcycle ice racing, where the tires on the bikes wore huge spikes in order to give them traction. Woe be it unto the poor fool who has a wipeout and gets run over by others in the pack. The list of winter motorsports goes on, but the general feeling of going fast over the ice and snow to me is just this side of dancing with the devil. I’m sure that many would see motor racing in any form as having this quality, but to me throwing in the winter aspect ups the ante more than I care to play with. I tip my racing helmet with honor to those who do, but I still wonder if the more time you spend in cold and snow, if this is the lasting effect it has on just about any gearhead.

Each Christmas season I catch myself doing image searches online for a custom sleigh, done with a hot rod kind of theme. The Beach Boys classic Christmas tune, “Lil Saint Nick” is without doubt one of my all time holiday favorites, and any picture I can find that follows that is one I like to keep on file for future use.

SnowRod

This year I ran across a real gem, a snow going hot rod built by a guy named Lars Eric Lindberg of Sweden. Obviously, Sweden is one of those places endowed with a long and deep winter. Lars appears to be a true hot-rodder at heart, and must have been suffering from either cruising or drag racing withdrawals. The ‘snow monster” he has created is a winter hybrid of a snowmobile and an old fashioned Model “T”, or T-Bucket as they are often called. The wide back tires have been traded for a pair of Polaris tracks, covered by some slick looking custom fenders, and what looks like a dropped axle up front has been flipped over and rigged with set of skis in lieu of front tires. The crowning jewel is a blown Chevy 454 big-block, which, I’m sure, provides more than enough horsepower for anyone at first glance to call Lars’s hot rod a “deathtrap”. Granted, I would have chosen a Hemi instead, just for its visual impact alone as well as its threatening exhaust note.

This dedicated winter hot rod gives “dashing thru the snow at frightening speed” a whole new meaning, and is proof positive that gearhead is deep in the blood, no matter how cold it gets or how long winter lasts. If I ever wind up living in some area where winter comes heavy and stays for months, I shudder to think how it may mutate my car-guy habits, but Lars Lindberg is proof the hot-rodder will find a way to survive…without jumping off mountains.

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