Maggie the 21st November 10, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
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The automotive enthusiast comes in many forms, but all have one thing in common. Whatever facet of motorsport it happens to be, there is a passion that burns inside of us, a symbiotic bond between man and machine. For some it’s all about power and speed, the thrill of racing, or the quest to conquer terrain yet untouched by wheels. For some it’s about collecting the rare and handcrafted work of automotive art, while others are driven to create and bring the drawings and ideas into three dimensional realities. All of these talents and skills not only write the history of automobiles, but push the boundaries of innovation and inspire others to make ideas part of our everyday lives.
On a much more basic, work-a-day level, our cars are some of the largest investments we ever make of our hard-earned dollars. While some regard them as just another appliance, others form an emotional attachment, and when the day finally comes that the last mile has been run, we often bid a sad goodbye as if we lost a pet or friend. The cars we form this bond with tend to creep under our skin, slowly winning us over with the things they do well and the journeys we share.
This is a very different emotional experience than the one we have when we fall head-over-heels for a car we see and simply must have. Those cases tend to be short-lived, fiery relationships that burn out when we realize how woefully impractical, troublesome, or expensive said diva can be. I’ve owned several such seductive machines, and I’ve found an analogy often used for boats to be quite applicable; “The two best days are the day your buy it, and the day you sell it.”
One might equate such an experience to the significant other in your past that you dearly loved but simply could not stay with and preserve your own sanity. This is where the collector with means has a distinct advantage, by turning such wheeled divas into garage queens who shine brightly for short time, work their magic, and are quietly put away until another shot of intensity is required. Great stuff if you can afford it, but it still doesn’t grasp the kind of long term connection I’m driving at.
Jay Leno has a 1955 Buick Roadmaster that has been meticulously restored and updated with all the modern improvements, and while it’s not the most valuable car in his collection by dollar standards, it’s a car he will never part company with. This was the first car he bought when he came to Southern California, and for a struggling young man it served as transportation and often as a bed when times were tight. He dated his wife in this car, and once his career took off it became neglected for some years, but when the time came to let it go it was simply impossible because of what it meant personally.
I’ve owned over thirty cars in my fifty-plus years, but there have been a scant few I will never forget, especially the ones I wept over when they went away. I fell in love with the Dodge Intrepid from the first time I saw one at the Auto Show. Few sedans possess a sleek, sporty appearance but the first gen LH car had the goods. I managed to buy one in 1996 but financial troubles sent it shortly on its way, but I knew I must own one again at some point. Under more meager recovery circumstances, I found a used 1995 model with 90k on the clock, and while I was happy to get the car at the time, I never thought it would become such a piece of me in the years to come. I put over 100k miles on that car as it turned into the most reliable horse I ever owned. When the time came I passed it down to my son who put almost another 100k under the wheels before it finally rumbled for the last time. We stood shoulder to shoulder, my son and I, as we paid final respects to the steed that served us both so well for so long.
I have since searched for another machine to win me over in such fashion, and while some grown dear to my heart, there has yet to be another of its kind. While I’ve often thought of restoring an older Intrepid, that seemed both expensive and futile, so I forged ever ahead, looking for a worthy descendant.
A couple of weeks back, my vivacious young granddaughter climbed into her booster seat in the back of my 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T. I’ve always thought the Magnum was the coolest wagon ever to hit the street since the Chevy Nomad so it seemed a fitting “Grandpa ride.” Since the car came into my stable it has been often referred to as “Maggie, Maggie the Bee, or more recently, Maggie the Bruiser.” The latter name as a result of a parking lot crunch that claimed a headlight housing but left only a scuff on the front bumper. The car looked as if it had a black eye but blew it off like Ronda Rousey fells opponents in the octagon. Maggie’s Hemi also has a thirst for 89 octane, but thankfully present day fuel prices have made that a livable downside.
My granddaughter readily embraced calling the car Maggie, but the other day she proclaimed it to be “Maggie the 21st.” Neither I nor her parents have any clue where that came from but it was entertaining at the moment. Over the next few days my curiosity got the better of me and I counted the cars I’d owned in chronological order, and what played out before my eyes was almost spooky. Car number 21 was the 1995 Dodge Intrepid.
Fate? Coincidence? From the mouths of babes? Anyone’s guess.
The point is I bought the Magnum more for its utility and daily driver abilities than any kind of heated passion. Having something roomy and reliable so I could garage my convertible for the winter was a big priority, and the aforementioned wagon cool factor, which I’d take over a SUV anyday. I also have never been thrilled with a silver car, but when your shopping used and on a budget, trade-offs have to be made.
Now that my Chrysler 200 “Roadrunner” has been put to roost for the winter months, my time with Maggie has been more frequent. I also loaned the car to my daughter for a few days not long ago while I repaired her car. It was interesting to see the change in her attitude toward Maggie after living with her that short time. At first she hated the car as too large and ugly, but when she turned over the keys it was, “You know, Maggie isn’t so bad after all…and she sounds mean.”
Daddy and daughter recently made the trip to Virginia International Raceway for the Laps for Charity event, and Maggie surprised me with how well she hauled her bulk around the track, yet on the ride there and back, she is a comfortable, capable highway cruiser. A week or so previous, my wife and I took a day trip to the Blue Ridge for a fall foliage tour, and Maggie gobbled up the curvy mountain roads while her Hemi power barely broke a sweat. Sixty-five mph seems to be her happy spot, rolling with little effort and delivering her best possible fuel mileage. Granted, she can just as easily play cruise missile at seventy-five-plus, but her appetite gets hefty at those speeds.
In the end it’s been kind of amazing how one little blurb from an adorable four-year old can taint your perception. Have I unwittingly stumbled on the successor I’ve searched for? Despite her exterior color and penchant for munching fuel, Maggie seems to be ever-so-slowly creeping under my skin, winning me over by inches with all the things she does well. I wouldn’t call the relationship cemented at this point, but if she keeps proving herself in the years to come, well, anything can happen.
Who knows, maybe this will be the car I pass down to my daughter instead of my son, and possibly could be the same shared experience of coming to love something we didn’t expect to happen. Even more interesting will be seeing if the fondness between grand-daughter and grandpa car grows along with us. Time will tell all, and maybe someday I’ll be writing another blog post, wistfully remembering “Maggie the 21st.”
The Warrior Poet, Then and Now October 8, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
Tags: 300, braveheart, bruce lee, dead poets society, Greek, japanese, katana, katsumoto, robin williams, Samurai, Spartans, teacher, the last samurai, warrior poet
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As far back as time itself, there have been those who stand in the face of adversity. Those who stand when others run, not because they lack fear, but because their heart and love is stronger. Ultimately, it is under these circumstances their lives will end, but they do so with conviction and purpose. In recorded history, the earliest examples were recorded by the Greeks, and one such example is Heraclitus, or “The Weeping Philosopher.”
Do not mistake the poet’s tears for weakness, they are an extension of his passion, an expression of his heart, and they drive his strength of will. Heraclitus summed up the rarity of the true Greek warrior,
“Out of every one hundred men that march into combat, ten should not be there, eighty are targets, and nine are true fighters. We are lucky to have them because they make the battle, but ah, the one, the one who is a pure warrior, he will bring the others back home.”
There is a reason humans find such a fascinating connection with an edged weapon. Before them came shaped stones, slings, and the bow and arrow, while the bow is an artful and elegant weapon that requires a skill all its own, the sword is probably the first weapon humans crafted for the specific use of combat. Other weapons served the purpose of hunting to provide food, but the blade was crafted to defend and conquer.
Over the centuries, sword-making became an art unto itself, and the Japanese excelled at it as the sword and its master were taught to become one. Only the ancient Greek Spartans matched this martial philosophy, but their strength was in the unity of their numbers, and while a single Spartan soldier still stands among the greatest of all time, the Samurai cultivated a way of life that still inspires grace, beauty, a centering of the spirit with the mind, and a symbiotic relationship to the blade.
Today, the sword is largely symbolic, and the warrior poet takes many other forms. In our modern reality, the pressure from our jobs, family, relationships, and the world at large can be formidable enemies. Sometimes if it were only as simple as drawing a sword and facing those opponents, life might be easier to decide. Sadly, they are not, but once again the oriental martial philosophy provides strong insight as stated by Bruce Lee’s teacher,
“We all have inner demons to fight. We call these demons anger, fear, and hatred. If you do not conquer them, a life of a hundred years would be a tragedy, but defeat them and a life of single day would be a triumph.”
There are those who are eternal optimists, and those who possess great business savvy, and in many cases these people are successful in all the monetary ways, but in later years they often find themselves surrounded by all their trappings and still alone. The Spartans fought to preserve their way of life, as did the Samurai, and while as a particular race of people they no longer exist, their idealism still survives. As was said in “The Last Samurai,…I will not tell you how he died, I will tell you how he lived.”
An even better example is Katsumoto in the garden of cherry trees, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing, you could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life…But then I come to this place of my ancestors and I remember, like these blossoms, we are all dying. There is life in every breath.”
To know the art of physical war is but a single tool, and one that changes with time, but more important is what we fight to gain, to preserve, and to protect. Those are skills we must employ each day of our lives, and if we do not remind ourselves of those things most important, then we are already defeated.
To find beauty and talent all around us, to soak in the gifts of nature that are fleeting each day, to appreciate the heart of those who are dear to us. All these things can quickly become difficult to juggle, and occasionally we drop the ball on a few things, but few statements sum up direction and priority better than Dr. John Keating, masterfully portrayed by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”
“Medicine, law, business, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life, but poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are the things we stay alive for! The powerful play of life goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Dr. Keating was indeed a warrior poet, yet he needed no blade or bow. He challenged life armed with books, spirit, knowledge, and pure heart. To impart his knowledge of life, of beauty, of passion, by teaching and setting the example by which others of his kind might follow. He was indeed the one warrior who lead the hundred men back home, maybe not in the sense of combat, but in the way he told his students the first day,
Rip! Rip! I want to hear nothing but ripping! This is a battle, gentlemen, a war, and the casualties could be your heart and souls.”
Today, the warrior poet can be hard to spot. They can be any gender, tall or short, any race or creed, but in every case they are driven by the things they love more than themselves. They smell the flowers along the way, express themselves in the ways that might enrich others lives, and quietly inspire others to reach to higher goals, even if they never reach those things themselves. They can be found in many walks of life, but in each case they take pride in what they do, however small, and in that way they will never be insignificant.
And maybe, just maybe, they have a ceremonial sword hanging on the wall at home.
-T. August Green
A Letter to Mom October 4, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
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It’s not your birthday or Easter when you went home to those who missed you for so long, but not a day goes by that I don’t remember something about you. I think of all the things that have happened since you left, and it’s almost staggering the way time waits for none of us.
I saw this picture of empty shoes where the photographer created a compelling shot of his shadow, and I wept thinking how some shoes can never be filled. No one will ever be able to take the place of Dad, despite his flaws he was still unique. There are roles I will never be able to fill. I know you told me to treat Arlie as if she was my own, but try as I may I will never be her father. There will always be that line I can never erase and she will never cross. That doesn’t mean I’ll give up, but it’s a truth I can’t change any more than I can fill your shoes with someone else.
I miss our phone calls, and last week I had to visit Walmart in Petersburg, just to buy a memory card for Trish’s camera, not thinking what would happen when I got out of the car. I saw an elderly lady on one of the electric shopping scooters and I recalled our grocery runs. Once inside the store, I could almost see you buzzing up the aisles, and each time I looked away I’d have to hustle to catch up with you. I made it about halfway back to electronics before I had to stop. My glasses were wet with tears, standing next to the counter with scented candles where you always stopped without fail.
It’s amazing how the simplest of things can be a catalyst for something that was nothing more than an errand at the time, but it happens, and always when I least expect it to be waiting around the corner.
There was a park bench on the river bank near the pumphouse at work, and it was recently taken away. I have often wondered if your spirit had some hand in making that happen if only for my benefit. That bench was the location of a young child trapped in mans body, crying out in pain for his mother. The last time I spoke with you on the phone I was at work (wasn’t I always?) and you complained of feeling cold and shaking but we were sure after the weekend you’d go back to the hospital and get things straight.
Sometimes the darkness at the river in the deep of night can be spooky, but that night the moon was high and I could almost hear you voice telling me you wanted to see your daddy again. I knelt at that park bench and prayed with a bleeding heart that I loved you too much to ask you to stay. I wept to God in Heaven that I didn’t want you to suffer, and if it was time for Him to bring you home, then please do so with all speed.
The very next day…I watched you leave.
I returned to that park bench often, and one morning on the 12-8 shift, I sat watching the sun break over the trees, and I swear I could hear you singing next to me, “Here comes the sun, little darling. Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright…” That music played in my head all the way home that morning, and I stopped several times to clear my eyes.
I returned to that bench often to talk to you, and I swear a couple of nights I saw you standing over there as if you were waiting for me to come and sit. You looked young and lovely, like your senior portrait in the hallway, and I knew any and all physical suffering was something you’d never endure again. It was as though you took the time to come check on me, and then one day the bench was gone. It hasn’t felt the same there since, both the guilt of praying for your merciful departure or your presence as if you were listening. However, I will never look on a sunrise the same for all my days.
It’s as though I’ve tried so hard to busy myself since then. Maybe if I keep moving I won’t fall down again, and I can only hope I’ve made you proud along the way. Being a grand-dad is something I still haven’t fully adjusted to, but like everything else I’m sure time will polish the edges.
Saying I love you and I miss you seems so understated, so inadequate, and yet what else can I say instead?
But I think of you every time I see a pair of empty shoes.
Godspeed, Mom…until we meet again.
Your baby boy,
Would-a, Should-a, Could-a, or The One that Got Away September 15, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
Tags: auto show, Bob Lutz, bonneville, Diana Gabaldon, Dodge, Firebird, G8, gearhead, GM, GXP, hemi, magnum, Northstar, Pontiac, trans am, Van Gogh, Vows, writing
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One of the most essential elements of writing is research, and I’ve never heard the definition expressed better than by Diana Gabaldon, “If I send someone to the store for franks and beans, that’s exactly what they will return with. But if I go shopping myself for franks and beans, I may come home with steak or curried chicken.”
Her point was well made, if we don’t let ideas roam free and have their place, then we corral our own creativity and the truly great results may never see the light of day. I think this is fabulous advice for the practice of writing, and indeed it could work for many other applications, but for the brain of a car-guy it can spell danger.
The very act of research is exploration, and that makes it oh-so easy to slip down the rabbit hole. Thank goodness it’s not a crime to explore ideas, but as a car-guy I sometimes question my own sanity, but so did Van Gogh…so much for comparisons.
I’ve never met a gearhead in my adult life that couldn’t wistfully run down a list of automotive regrets. There is always ‘the one I used to own,’ or ‘the one I never should’ve sold,’ and especially, ‘I wish I had one just like that.’ It’s the car-guy equivalent to the hunting/fishing story of ‘the one that got away.’
For me the unicorn has always been the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Unlike the mythical horned horse, I actually captured and owned one such beast for a short period of time, only to be forced to sell it due to a work layoff.
I have lamented on these pages more than once regarding the lost object of my passion, but time eventually proved it to be a woefully impractical creature, and I thought that fact might finally lay the fantasy to rest for good. But just when you thought you were in the clear, the devilish crafters at Pontiac shot me with another poison arrow.
My weakness for the 2000-up model Bonneville is also no stranger to this blog, and multiple entries can be found documenting my temptations all the way up to my dance with the sultry wench that lasted almost four years. “Bonnie the Ghosthawk,” as she was called both in affection and rage, was a beguiling creature that lured you in with all the things she did so well, and then sucker punched you while blowing kisses. Never has a car looked so good being pulled onto a rollback tow truck, especially when the driver can’t shut up about, “Man, this is a nice looking car!”
Yes, it was gorgeous…even as a 4000 lbs paper weight. After this happens several times the beauty begins to lose its shine, and with miles on the high side of 150k, I sent the car on its way. I have discovered that it hasn’t been without regret.
The connection to the Bonneville was deep rooted, and I honestly don’t recall if the phrase I’ve used so often came from a magazine ad or if it flew off the top of my head. But I clearly remember telling my friend as we stood staring at the glimmering red 2000 Bonneville SSEi under the lights of the Richmond International Auto Show, “This is what a Firebird Trans Am looks like when its all grown up.”
With the coming of the 2005 model year, ‘Maximum Bob Lutz’ was given the reigns to product line up at GM, and he decreed Pontiac was to be transformed into the ‘American BMW.’ Mr. Lutz is as car-guy as you can get without a petroleum blood transfusion, but his goals proved to be ill-fated. However, in his defense, the Bonneville GXP proved to be one of his last great gifts before the demise of the Pontiac marque. (Yes, the G8 was a great car, but it soldiers on in other guises)
If ever a Bonneville personified the ‘Adult Trans Am,’ the GXP pulled out all the stops for the H-Body platform, including rumbling V8 power. Now, many will immediately boo-hiss the Northstar engine shoehorned under the aluminum hood, but rabbit-hole research uncovered some interesting points.
The quad-cam, multi-valve screamer was designed to answer upscale powerplants from Europe, and early on it was hailed by the automotive press as a great achievement, but time proved the hi-tech engine to be unreliable and expensive to repair. But was it really? We all know how much America loves an underdog, and there is a loyal group of savvy technicians and master mechanics who believe GM purposely engineered the Northstar to fail on or about the 100k mile mark. I can’t say it sounds like paranoid conspiracy theory because time has proven the results, and I can say it sounds like something corporate bean-counters would approve without hesitation.
The upside is this loyal group of Northstar enthusiasts has solved the design weak points, and it’s now possible to own a Northstar and enjoy its rev-happy performance without fear of self destruction.
The GXP version of the Bonneville was also blessed with better brakes, sport suspension, a unique interior treatment, and a clean, slick exterior style that exudes its more athletic attitude. The GXP looks like it means business as any adult Firebird should. No, it will never be a performance match for a real Trans Am, but then a Firebird doesn’t have a back seat fit for any human with legs, or a trunk capable of carrying more than a weekend beach bag (especially if its equipped with T-tops.)
The Hemi engine in my Dodge Magnum is considered by many to be “bulletproof,” but rabbit hole research also proved this engine, like most, has its signature flaws. Expensive to repair? Let that beast overheat once (hoses and such do fail occasionally) and it will reward you with a dropped valve seat, which generally destroys lots of other stuff in the process. By comparison the Northstar head gasket problem sounds mild.
What is really a shame was the best looking, best equipped Bonneville was also its swan song. Even worse, you find many pristine examples of this seductress lurking on Autotrader, but shoppers cut them a wide berth because of the dreaded Northstar. Like so many other automotive ideas, resources are what make realities, and if you have those resources you can pick up a beautiful, sexy sedan for well under the $10k price range, invest another $4k in the improved/rebuilt Northstar, and be rewarded with a fun-to-drive Pontiac icon.
It wont get the best fuel mileage out there, but then my Hemi downs 89 octane like a redneck swilling beer on race day, and given the current crop of trucks and SUVs that are roaming the highways, you’d still be miles ahead…and looking awfully good doing it.
If I had such resources, would I own one? Like Van Gogh, I’m probably insane enough to try. Sexy women have always had the power to compel men to the brink of stupidity and beyond, and wear a smile in the process.
Bonnie the ____ (enter your descriptor) has such power in my world…for better or worse, for richer or poorer…wait, that sounds rather familiar for some reason.
– T. August Green
A Little History: The Story Behind Writing Moonracer August 23, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
Tags: Audi, Days of Thunder, Driven, firefly, Grand Prix, Joss whedon, Le Mans, patrick dempsey, Ronald D. Moore, Rush, star trek, Steve McQueen, Truth in 24
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I’m a sucker for a good love story, mostly because it’s the most basic yet powerful human emotion. This force inside each of us reaches much farther than how we feel about other people, its wound into the fiber of our beings, driving how we react to sports, hobbies, jobs, and even how and where we live.
I love science fiction, and the more grounded the story the better. I’ve never been a huge fan of extreme stories that push the edge of fantasy and magic, nor am I thrilled over the recent trend toward post-apocalyptic dystopian societies. Granted, I believe these stories have their place, and they are cautionary tales based on some of the more horrific things mankind has done to itself over the centuries, but I prefer a vision of the future where the human race gets its crap together and moves forward without almost wiping ourselves out.
I was indoctrinated into Star Trek at a young age, and Gene Rodenberrys’ vision of mankind reaching out to find other worlds and races of beings was interesting, especially given the United States was in the midst of trying to land on the Moon. Many years later, Joss Whedon would produce a single season of a show called Firefly, and little did he know the far reaching effect it would have.
Whedon depicted a scenario where we survive but with our fair share of growing pains, and that was wonderfully realistic to me. His blending of frontier life on outlying planets where the bulk of modern technology had yet to reach created a unique dichotomy of old west/space age action.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, screenwriter Ronald D. Moore breathed life into the Klingon culture and penned some of the most in-depth episodes of the show, filled with rich and complex characters. Years later, he re-imagined the television series Battlestar Galactica, and the transformation from the popcorn 80’s show into a dramatic, darker, and more intense story was nothing short of amazing. Mr. Moore’s work on Star Trek: TNG remains as one of my earliest inspirations to write
We’ve all seen stories about people in dangerous professions, from police to fire and rescue, as well as the military in various stages of war, but the great story about the dangerous sport of auto racing has yet to rise to the top. It certainly hasn’t been for lack of material, and Ron Howards’ recent film Rush was a great period piece about two legends of the sport, but there are so many more yet untold to a wider audience.
If you were to ask an auto enthusiast to name his favorite film about racing, the list would be short. There have been many good documentaries, with Audis’ Truth in 24 probably the best and most recent of those along with Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans, but for a fictional story aimed at pure entertainment the choices have been scarce.
Many would still say Steve McQueens’ classic Le Mans is the best, but let’s face it, for all its stunning action photography, the story is napkin thin. In addition, even with all its attributes it was still released in 1971, and given the Hollywood propensity to reboot anything over ten years old, I’d say the time is ripe for something new.
Another highly regarded racing film was Grand Prix that released in 1966. This film certainly delivered a much more in-depth story, and its action was certainly realistic, but once again, we’ve seen very little since. Days of Thunder attempted to tackle the world of NASCAR in 1990, and Driven tested the waters of Formula 1 in 2001, and while both were good stories, neither were great, nor will they probably still be talked about and revered thirty years later.
You’ve probably noted all of my references so far have been about films rather than books, and that would be because the literary choices are even slimmer than those of the theater. Once again, you can find great biographies and history of the various men, machines, and time frames, but very little in the way of literary fiction.
So with a great love of both the automotive world and the realm of sci-fi, I felt the racing novel suffered from two things. Historical fiction would be difficult since winners and champions are well documented and contemporary fiction for some of the same reasons, but you have to basically brush aside the modern greats and rising stars in order to create a new character. It was here I felt science fiction had an advantage, because a futuristic story can pay fitting homage to the legends of the sport while writing its own current state of being. Then the all-important suspension of disbelief can be achieved without displacing a team or driver who may have won their first race last week.
With all due respect (and a lot of it) for those who pen screenplays, even some of them will say great films come from great books, so I set out to write the great film that was playing in my head. Something that had the hopeful vision of the future, characters that were flawed and driven by their passionate emotions, and the concept of a dream that would be chased to its eventual outcome, no matter the cost. A story that would take the infancy of modern auto technology and launch it forward, showing that even the depletion of fossil fuel would not stop intelligent, inventive people from competing at top speed.
The sport of racing has been with us since mankind found ways to go faster than our own two feet would carry us. From chariots to the winged, wheel bullets they ride today, racing has been in our blood since before the first wheel was hewn from raw material, and I have every reason to believe it isn’t about to die off.
These were just some of the inspirations that drove me to write Moonracer, and it’s my sincere hope that so many others out there who share my passions will find it as entertaining to read as it was for me to write.
– T. August Green
Moonracer: The Long Shadow August 18, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
Tags: amazon, apple, auto racing, barnes&nobles, download, ebook, epub, ibook, kindle, Le Mans, mars, moon, motorsport, nook, romance, science fiction, smashwords
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After years of work and research, I have finally completed and published my sci-fi novel, Moonracer: The Long Shadow.
I’ve always loved Star Trek and other adventures that showed mankind had a promising future, and here the human race has branched out to terraform and colonize the “Six Worlds.” The moon is now populated, Earth-like, and called Terra Luna, Venus has become a tropical resort planet, and Mars is also teaming with cities and life as a sister planet to Earth. Two moons of Jupiter, Ganymeade and Castillo, are both mining colonies with terraforming processes still underway so they represent the rugged frontier.
The story centers around Terry ‘Tug’ Glenman and his love of ten years, Kelly Armstrong. Tug is a successful Planet-racer (The term for the worldwide racing series on Earth) who has made a name for himself by building cars as much as driving. His best friend and mentor, Jonny ‘Shadow’ Clark is a Planet Champion and helps to elevate them both to highest echelon of their sport, the blistering-fast Moonracing Series where turbine-powered machines rocket around huge courses at nearly 400mph.
A spectacular crash on Terra Luna claims the life of Shadow, leaving Tug distraught and Kelly fearing for the man she loves so much. Shadow’s wife, Sara, blames Tug for his death and turns bitter with subtle revenge. All the while Tug is haunted by Shadow’s last words urging him to press on and shoot for the goal they started together.
Tug stands at uncertain crossroads until the gorgeous queen of Moonracing, Anna ‘Lancer’ Lachey enters the picture and offers to make Tug part of her team, and in a whirlwind of events, suddenly the crown jewel of the sport is within his grasp.
Kelly laments his dangerous choices and Lancer dances across the line between team mate and desire as she seduces Tug to stay in her world. She makes no secret that her ultimate goal is to be the first woman to win the pinnacle of Moonraces, the Luna Le Mans 24, held at the daunting Circuit de L’Aurore on the Aurora Plains of Mars. The marquee race is also the culmination of Tug and Shadow’s dream, but will the turmoil back home destroy everything they worked so hard to achieve?
Promises are made and scores are settled both on and off the tracks of Terra Luna and Mars. Spirits soar and hearts are broken as glory and victory extract their high cost as a man with deep loyalty to a lost friend holds all he loves in the balance.
Moonracer: The Long Shadow is available for eBook download at both Amazon Kindle Store and Smashwords. Print and eBook versions at other retailers such as Barnes&Nobles and Apple iBooks will follow very soon.
Sleepless Nights and Loves Lost, but Rarely Found August 2, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
Tags: Big Apple, chrysler 200, convertible, Dodge Intrepid, internet dating, love story, mid-life crisis.mid-life Chrysler, New York City, Road Runner, t-tops, trans am
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The title to this entry sounds like it belongs on a romance novel, but from the car-guy perspective it is a love story. My sleepless nights are most likely a product of years of shift work, which leave the body clock confused and sometimes the effort of lying in a dark room only lets the mind run amok. This limbo state allows thoughts to be entertained and dreams that disturb even the lightest level of sleep, and so I wind up here, at the keyboard.
Yesterday was another chapter in frustration with my car as I tore in once again to install the next set of headlight housings. I thought I was finished only to be dismayed when the passenger light stopped working. I discovered a faulty plug on the new unit and I had to pull the front end apart once again. At this point I was livid enough to pummel someone senseless, but what made it worse was feeling angry toward a car I dearly love. See “Engineering for Insanity”
If there is one constant in the realm of the gearhead it’s the repeated lament of the dream car. If you’re young, it’s all about the car you plan to own someday, and if you’re older it’s the wistful memories of the car you wish you still had. When I was young I dreamed about too many different cars to count, but looking back its safe to say I’ve owned my share of nice rides. Yes, there are several I still hold fond memories of, but in the grand scheme the one I own now has a powerful hold on my heart.
I think I miss my Trans Am because I love a black car and its T-tops made it the first open air machine I’d ever owned. I miss my Roadrunner for its fun factors, the magnificent noises it made, its eye-popping metallic orange paint that couldn’t be ignored (by onlookers or police) and its implied image to a cartoon bird I laughed at with joy in my childhood. (And still do today)
Parting company with my Trans Am was forced due to a job layoff, and marked the beginning of a long line of used cars that carried me through the years of raising children. All were adequate in their own way, but many I dreamed I would make-over from top to bottom and keep until I was old and gray, but none of those ever came to pass. Most of that is my own fault, but some is the weakness many of us suffer from, and that is simply that newer cars just keep getting better.
My wife would probably say I am still in the throes of mid-life crisis, and that may be partially true, but at least I feel that progress has been made. I’ll easily concede my first convertible was exactly in that category, but more than that it marked the first time I’d ever owned a second car for myself. Two drop-tops later, I think I have landed on my gemstone, however unlikely that may sound.
I can’t say I ever spent hours dreaming about a Chrysler 200, especially since its really a warmed over version of the 2008 Sebring I owned for several years. But a funny thing happens when you bring an Italian in the kitchen, and suddenly leftovers can become a dish you never expected to taste so good. I must admit to being both impressed and fascinated when I encountered the 200 at the New York Auto Show, but the day I laid eyes on this metallic red ragtop started a yearning I couldn’t ignore. (Another entry “The Sun and the Roadrunner” explains this notion more in-depth.)
I doubt the Chrysler 200 is on anyone’s sports car wish list, and I openly admit its not a serious sports car by any means, but it does deliver a fun package the likes of which I haven’t owned in years. In its present faux Roadrunner guise, the car draws stares and compliments aplenty, and I find myself admiring it whenever I draw near. The V6 engine delivers as much or more power than many other cars I’ve owned. By comparison, if you owned a 300hp car when I was young, you held the reigns to a mean street machine. The beauty of the 200 is that power doesn’t punish you at the gas pump, and that makes it all the more joyous. Throw in the drop top, a great sound system that also answers the phone, an intoxicating mix of intake and exhaust music, and all the elements I missed from my early days are suddenly right at my fingertips to enjoy. Now if I can just get the bloody headlights to work…
My other throwback loss is a more recent one. At least once in our car-lives we run across the unexpected machine that seems to run forever, and when it finally lays down it’s like losing a best friend. I think you have to go through years of raising kids to gain the appreciation of a sedan, but when one comes along that looks good despite its extra set of doors, and displays a spirited nature to boot, that car can get a hold on you down deep.
I loved the cab-forward style of the Dodge Intrepid from the day it landed in showrooms, but it would be years later before I would finally own one. Even then, it seemed unlikely I was purchasing a landmark vehicle since it was several years old and had 90k miles on the clock. I was recovering from the expenses of divorce at the time, and the car seemed more an economic choice versus a passionate one. Little did I know I was mounting the driver seat of one of the most rock-dependable cars ever to grace my driveway.
I met my wife via an internet dating site where an unusual glitch put us in contact. I doubt either of us had plans to find someone such a distance apart, but over the next two years the trek between Virginia and New York City became a familiar run. The Intrepid handled this monthly jaunt with comfortable aplomb, and at sometimes shameless speed, so much so it became affectionately known as “The Taxi.”
I have since tried to find another daily steed that would be so dear to my heart, but I’ve found that to be a difficult task. Not for lack of trying, mind you, I have come close on occasion but have yet to discover that same magic mix of beauty, charm, dependability, and fun. Nothing will ever be perfect, but if I could be lucky enough to locate that daily driver that could win me over the way my 200 Roadrunner has done, that would be enchanting.
On the bright side, all those miles to New York and back won me the best woman a man could ask for, so in that respect I couldn’t have done better. Love is a crazy thing, and in honor of my miles to the Big Apple, I wrote a poem you can find here on the blog entitled, “Heart on Wheels.”
– T. August Green
Engineering for Insanity July 26, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
Tags: auto repair, bumper cover, design, dummies, engineer, halogen, headlights, labor, parts, sealed beam
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Most of us have seen the series of self-help books entitled “_______” for Dummies,” which are designed to give us the nuts and bolts of a given subject. I would personally like to find “Automotive Engineering for Dummies” and mail out mass quantities to every designer and engineer employed by the automakers of today.
Lets be clear right up front, I’m all for technical automotive advancement. Modern cars are quite simply some of the best ever built, and their overall track record of reliability and safety bear that out. The engines and drivetrains of today deliver more power and superior fuel economy than any predecessor, and they do it on lower octane unleaded pump gas. All of these advancements came by way of research, hard work, and the forward thinking minds of smart people. I applaud them, one and all.
I also have a level of respect and sympathy for those tasked with trying to package modern systems into smaller, lighter weight vehicles. This area is always filled with trade-offs, and some of those are glaringly exposed when it comes to maintenance and repair.
The first few cars I owned were equipped with sealed beam headlights. They were made of glass, prone to crack or break, and produced a weak light compared to modern units, but usually a couple small screws and one electrical plug made them easy to swap out. Halogen lights that followed were also sealed beam and much brighter but were soon replaced by the bulb-in-socket twisted into a plastic housing.
The latter wasn’t a bad idea as most early set-ups made the housing relatively easy to remove and gain access to the bulbs. The plastic housings on the other hand tend to turn white from extended UV exposure or lose their seal, allowing condensation to form inside. The water droplets will soon rust the bulbs into their sockets, cause electrical shorts, and generally create headaches all around.
It stands to reason that as cars have become more reliable, automotive service departments have less work to do, or so they say. In my personal experience, there have been exactly zero times I’ve seen an auto repair shop empty with everyone twiddling their thumbs. If this problem does indeed exist at dealerships, it might be due to the following example of engineering insanity.
The headlight housing on my 2011 Chrysler 200 recently filled with condensation, so I ordered new replacements. I’ve swapped housings and bulbs on my wife’s Pontiac Aztek in about a half hour, so I expected no big problems. Little did I know…
YouTube has been a wonderful modern resource of information with regard to auto repair. Some of these videos are posted by auto mechanics, which tells me they wish desperately a few of us would learn to do some of these ridiculous tasks so they don’t have to be bothered quite as often.
After discovering I had to remove the entire front bumper cover from the car in order access the headlight housings, I asked myself why on earth anyone would think this was a good idea?
The day off I had to get the job done was a hot cooker outside with temps in the 90s. Thank God for power tools that help speed such things along, but by the time I was finished I had to believe any shop mechanic would find the job equally annoying.
I’ll admit when I was cleaning up afterward, I had thoughts of finding the engineer/designer who came up with this brilliant scheme and dumping him naked into high speed traffic.
Curiosity then forced me to my computer to see if my car was an isolated problem child or if others suffered similar debacles. I was astounded to find a huge number of models designed exactly the same way. One post on a forum I frequent told of a visit to a dealer for a faulty headlight. Two and a half hours labor plus parts whacked this owner’s wallet for $300, and the dealers wonder why business is down? Am I suddenly not amazed when I see a car with a spotlight duct-taped to the front fender?
This reeks of engineering designed to force people to throw up their hands in surrender and take their cars to shops for repair. As if they aren’t busy enough, but if the dealer service departments are still wanting, I can tell them extortion engineering isn’t going to bring customers back smiling. $300 to swap a $20 bulb? Seriously?
Changing a headlight bulb shouldn’t require a brain surgeon, nor should it cost ten times the price of a bulb. Modern automotive engineers have done many things right, but this isn’t one of them. I won’t pretend to understand the logic, if any, behind designing such an idiotic way of doing things. I wonder if the same engineer removes the entire door frame, facing, and a few panels of siding just to get a Christmas tree in the house? More to the point, does he pay someone else to do the drastic job for him?
Maybe he should have to once or twice.
Crossing Over with Humble Pie July 6, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
Tags: Audi, BMW, countryman, crossover, cx-5, estate, Honda, mazda, Mercedes, MINI, outback, sedan, Subaru, SUV, Toyota, trucks, wagon
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If there is one constant in our world its change, and while we all resist new things on some level, over time we may find something new can actually be better. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the world of electronics, where yesterday’s brand new toy can be obsolete by nightfall. The automotive market is driven by change, either by steady improvement or trying to react to the rollercoaster of public taste, the latter of which can about as predictable as the next wind shift.
I have written many words bemoaning the absence of the car-based wagon in this country, all while cursing the existence of the malignant virus called the SUV. While I’m still not happy with that state of affairs, my constant reading and watching of the market shows a compromise forming. Part of my argument was the car-based wagon being more capable of sporty driving fun than the high center of gravity SUV. For the most part this is still true, but the fast-evolving creature in the middle is the Crossover.
First, let’s be clear on terminology. SUVs began as truck-based body-on-frame vehicles, and as such were heavy and tall with the aero qualities of a brick. These vehicles won out over wagons for generous space and greater towing capacity, and neither ever had sporting intentions.
Our friends across the pond proved wagons were not fake-wood-sided land barges, as Mercedes, BMW, and Audi all produced “estate cars” based on their best performance sedans. They still can’t match the truck towing capacity, but they did show a wagon can haul the goods and haul butt at the same time. Granted, the sport versions of these wagons come with an equally muscular price tag. Many sedans in this country have since followed the performance standards set by the German automakers, but the wagon died here long before those improvements took hold of mainstream cars.
Crossovers were born from the efforts to meet increasing fuel economy standards and a more affordable SUV. These vehicles share their platforms with cars rather than trucks so they use the lighter unibody construction. While many still don’t offer large towing capacity, market research revealed most customers didn’t need that feature but still wanted the taller seating position and increased cargo room.
Subaru was probably the first to blur the line with the Outback. Virtually every Subaru is all-wheel-drive so the bones for an adventurous vehicle was already there, and raising the roofline and ride height was a simple matter. Subaru has long enjoyed a loyal customer base, but the Outback allowed them to nibble at the heels of the SUV market, luring customers in with better fuel mileage and more car-like manners for their do-it-all Swiss Army Knife on wheels.
Many say the Toyota RAV-4 is the first crossover to go on sale in the USA, followed closely by Subaru’s taller Forester, the Honda CR-V, and finally the Ford Escape as the first domestic model offered in 2001.
Today, almost every automaker that sells in the U.S. has at least one crossover in their line up, and sales figures for 2015 show the trend beginning to eclipse the family sedan. Foreign automakers got into the business of SUVs and crossovers purely for the American market, and as that market has grown the high end companies are in on the game as well. But when it comes to sporting manners, once again it was the Germans that led the charge. The BMW X5 was one of the first, and as time progressed Porsche joined the fray along with Mercedes.
Just as with the sport-minded estate cars, these crossovers represent the top level of performance and handling that come at a premium price, but just like the performance sedans, the technology is slowly filtering down.
Most crossovers have a shorter wheelbase and overall length than a comparable wagon, and offer at least as much, sometimes more cargo room, both of which contribute to better curvy road manners. Ford offers a sport version of their successful Edge crossover, and more companies will surely follow in their tire tracks.
Mazda has been loyal to fun-to-drive roots in keeping with their “zoom-zoom” motto, and the CX-5 crossover that replaced the Ford Escape clone known as the Tribute, shows just how dedicated they are to their customer base. The CX-5 is lightweight, nimble, and equipped with the 2.5 Skyactiv engine becomes a pure hoot to drive. Mazda also made sure to bring this quick but economical gem to market at a price point that makes a sedan shopper think twice…let alone a wagon.
The Mazda CX-5 represents the tip of an iceberg that I’m personally glad to see arrive. Until recently, these utility vehicles served their purpose but left the fun factor at the door step. Vehicles like the MINI Countryman also showed it was possible to make such a vehicle and not have it be insufferably mundane, but MINI still carries a slightly steeper price tag.
More vehicles like the Mazda are a welcome addition to the marketplace, especially if the nameplate attached says “sport” but is more than a set of wheels, a chrome exhaust tip, and a roof spoiler. I look forward to the day I can look at a sport wagon from overseas and think that it’s nice, but I’m really not missing the option because I’m spoiled for choice with fun options in my own backyard.
There are times when humble pie doesn’t taste so bad. Maybe I’ll even have fries with that.
– T. August Green
Chasing the Dream: The car writer road trip July 1, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
Tags: antique, chapparal, chrysler 200, collector, deals gap, gopro, hot wheels, journalist, Le Mans, matchbox, McLaren, Porsche, roadrunner, tail of the dragon, watkins glen
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There are so few people I’ve met that knew what they wanted to do with their lives from an early age. We all have dreams that usually involve stardom in some form but those are fraught with a narrow window of opportunity or become out of reach for a variety of reasons.
My fascination with cars began early with a collection of Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys. I still find it amusing how these old toys can command such prices as antiques and collector items, with the value going ever higher if they remain in their original packaging.
Original packaging? Surely you jest! That toy was out of that cardboard and plastic before it ever got home. Collector items? I don’t think mine would be of any great value because they ran countless miles across road courses carved from dirt, marked with chalk on concrete, and taped off on hardwood floors.
I loved watching racing on television, and while NASCAR was fast growing in popularity, I craved the winged warriors of Can-Am and the sports cars that stormed Le Mans. I still recall seeing the Steve McQueen film on one of our family movie nights at the drive-in. I was twelve years old, but the Porsche 917 was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever laid eyes on.
The passion for cars has stayed with me through the years, but it wasn’t until much later that the interest in writing took hold. I’d been a long-time reader of car magazines, and they were responsible for sparking the drive to learn more, both about the machines I was driving and the entertaining way that information was presented.
By the time I began to follow certain automotive journalists, I already had kids and was on a job with benefits that wasn’t so easy to walk away from. I’m not alone in that bucket because I’ve met a great many people who have talent far beyond what they do for a living, and that’s a shame. If I could make the jump to automotive journalist tomorrow I’m sure I’d enjoy the change, but in the meantime I’ll indulge myself here.
To test cars, visit interesting locations, storm track days, and write about the results sounds like it could be time demanding but seldom boring. With a mindset of getting my feet wet, I have some vacation time coming up and decided to venture out and document my own road trip test.
My ride of choice will be my 2011 Chrysler 200 Touring Convertible. While my self-created Roadrunner is more cruiser than serious sports car, it’s more than a paper tiger as it packs 300hp from its 6cyl engine, wider wheels and tires, and drilled/slotted brakes with ceramic pads. I won’t be spanking Mustangs or Camaros, but the car has an above average fun factor which I got a taste of on three laps of Watkins Glen.
My destination for this outing is Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the legendary road that carves it way through Deal’s Gap known as Tail of the Dragon. A headrest-mounted GoPro-type action camera should provide some good video and hopefully the weather will cooperate for some lovely summer scenery along the way. This is the kind of roads and landscape convertibles were born to roam and I’m sure the Roadrunner will earn its stripes.
Departure is planned for Sunday, July 12th 2015, so check back here for updates as I go and hopefully I can entertain you along the way.
– T. August Green
(Update) The Dragon road trip is temporarily postponed due to bad weather in the Smoky Mountain region. Between weather reports and time off from work will determine my next attempt, hopefully in the next couple of months.
More info to follow.