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.
What makes a Dad? June 16, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
Tags: children, Dad, Father, Father's Day, God, heart, love, parent, parenthood, role model, step-parent
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With Father’s Day fast approaching, I reflected on how I came to be in that category, and the factors that shaped me into that role. There’s a reason children don’t come with instruction manuals, while some may be similar, no two are exactly alike. As such, the ability and skills to be a parent differ widely with every child, and while there is an almost endless list of texts and “experts” on the subject, in most cases we learn as we go.
Years ago, I accepted a request by my local church bishop to teach young children basic Sunday school lessons. While I assured him I was woefully unqualified to do so, he calmly informed me the children would teach me all I needed to know. At first I considered this strange advice, but I soon realized that teaching was as much about trying to connect with the class as it was the chosen subject matter.
There is an oft repeated old saying that goes something like, “Any man can be a father but it takes a special person to be a Dad.” There has seldom been more truth captured in a single sentence, and we need not look far in today’s society to find plentiful examples of both with many levels in between.
I think most fathers want to believe they’ve been good to their children, but only their children know the impressions they leave behind.
I have to give my father credit for teaching me a great deal about life in general and the importance of good work ethics. He dealt out a generous amount of tough love, and although he was difficult to deal with on many occasions, there were always those quiet, open moments when he confessed the things that mattered most.
Maybe I got a few more of those moments than my older siblings as time and disease crumbled away his last few years of life.
I was only nineteen when he passed away, but he left indelible impressions on my soul. For better or worse, he was my Dad.
Yet among all those lessons and memories, how much of it prepared me to be a father myself? Those are hard questions to answer but there must have been some effect, even on a subconscious level. But this much is certain, my children have been the biggest contributors to making me who I have become. Only they can truly judge my success or failure as a father, and I owe them immense appreciation for every element they added to my life.
So now, I would like to spotlight each of them for simply being who they are.
I call her, “Missy,” and she calls me, “Daddy.”
She is my firstborn, and the core of the single most vivid memory I have of parenthood.
I was dressed in one of those silly yellow paper gowns when the nurse laid her into my arms, and in that moment I knew my life was forever changed. It was no longer just me, I was from this point onward a father, and my goals and priorities now included this tiny person who was dependent upon me.
I held her in my arms that day, and many years later I gave her away to a young man she loved, but in my heart I still hold her close.
Today, she is the mother of my first grandchild, and I see so much of her in that darling child with each passing day. I know she has done for Missy what she did for me, and that is a priceless gift that can never be replaced.
Missy and I have shared many interests and moments over the years, and from her childhood days to her time as a wife and mother, she has taught me the value of heart and emotion, the importance of expression, and the assurance that the best gifts are the kind not bought, but given with pure intent.
She stood by me through some of my darkest times and helped shape the life I live today. Without that kind of support, my world could be a very different place, but when its your child that believes in you, great things are possible.
Thank you, Missy, for making me a Daddy.
I call him, “Bubba, Hot Rod, Killer, Joshman,” and many other terms of male endearment, and he simply calls me, “Dad.”
He is my one and only son, my flesh and blood, and I’ve never met anyone who wants so fervently to be a hero. Such heart and strength of will are forged like steel, with fire, the force of the hammer, and the unyielding resistance of the anvil.
Sometimes I believe it is the pure will of God Himself that fathers should contend with their sons, and history is replete with examples of such struggles. But just like the blacksmith that shapes the sword, the steel speaks to him, and his use of the fire and the hammer are ultimately designed to hone the steel into something stronger and more powerful. The blows can be both light and fierce, but in the end, the craftsman holds his creation with reverent pride, knowing he gave all his talent and knowledge to make it the finest and best his hands could produce.
Raising a son like mine was filled with challenges, but we met each head on, and while sparks often flew there were also many times we played as hard as we fought. Like my Sunday school class, the effort was trying to connect, and the rules for that game changed almost daily. At times it was frustrating, but the times when it worked gave you the spirit to never give up. It was almost as though I was being tested each day to prove my worthiness, like a king and his promising upstart training and teaching each other to groom him for the path ahead. The work is hard and tense, but the glimmers of progress are rewards in themselves.
Josh and I are divergent in many ways, but in those places we connect, we make the most of the common ground. Josh has been my single greatest teacher in dealing with the unexpected, learning to adapt, and realizing that different directions are not bad things.
His strength of will and rigid sense of right and wrong have always impressed me, even if we didn’t agree, and I know as life wears him down it will only make him sharper. The time will come when he will step into my role as a parent, and I have every faith the fire that made him will ultimately serve him well. I believe he will lead by strong example, and his experience will temper the metal of the hero he has always wanted to be.
Thank you, Josh, for making me a Dad.
I call her, “Arlie, Cutie, or Kiddo,” and she calls me, “Timmy.”
I fell in love with her Mommy and stepped into a small world that had been a private one for most of her life. Arlie broke the ice between us like throwing bricks through glass windows, and I quickly learned when to duck and when to catch. Being a potential step-parent is not always a welcomed idea, and this certainly looked that way, but behind the outward rage I could see something else, something wounded and guarded, yet daring.
The hardest thing about step-relationships is the absence of history. You didn’t start off together, you miss the growing experience of each other, and the shadows of different people can block your way. Finding a path through this maze is fraught with peril as loyalties to those they know well always trump the fledgling relationship.
Trust is hard earned and comes in uneasy pieces, like a bridge made of random stones that will never fit like smooth bricks.
She taught me the stark difference between being a father, a father figure, and a close friend. The most important of which was to throw the roles out the window and learn to flow with what the given situation demanded.
There are no comparisons to be made between others because all that mattered was the two of us and what was needed to make that work. My primary task was to love and care for her mother, given she was the most important constant in Arlie’s world.
Thankfully, that hasn’t been a problem since my wife has fully encouraged my efforts, but even that couldn’t smooth the emotional wringer we put each other through.
Starting in younger childhood years has its own set of challenges, but we kicked off pretty much as adults with all the hills and valleys that entails. Getting past the walls and defenses we put up can be slow and painful, but when we eventually open doors, even a little at a time, what we finally reveal inside can be fragile, but also kind and beautiful.
The strange part is how wonderfully in sync we are in certain areas while others are polar opposites, but that has been an education in itself. It can be difficult to be strongly at odds with another person yet still find it within yourself to accept those traits, lose the expectation of it ever changing, and still hold them dear to your heart.
The bond between a parent and a child can be the most powerful thing on Earth, but with a step-relationship that bond must be meticulously constructed and cared for like a prized friendship. It has the potential to be as strong as any created by blood, and in some ways stronger because both gave of themselves to make it happen. Both people had a need or want to fill, even if they didn’t recognize it at first and if they manage to cement the strand together there is little that can tear it apart, even among family.
Arlie has taught me it is possible to let someone into your life you didn’t foresee coming, and grow to love them in ways you didn’t know were ever there within you. It is treasure of unexpected wealth, and while different from others that came before, is still valuable beyond compare. The task of finding that connection wasn’t easy, but the sacrifices in heart and tears from both sides created something wonderfully unique, and one I believe will stand the test of time. I hope so at least, because she has become more a part of me than I ever thought possible.
Thank you, Arlie, for making me a “Timmy” I never knew I could be.
When Father’s Day comes in the future, I will remember with great pride the three wonderful reasons why and all they have given me. To be a Dad is to be more than you can ever be alone.
– T. August Green
Top Ten Cars Uglier than the Pontiac Aztek April 1, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
Tags: accord, Acura, amc, Aztek, BMW, Buick, crosstour, crv, cube, Durango, endeavour, gremlin, Honda, hyundai, i3, juke, Lexus, mitsubishi, Nissan, pacer, Pontiac, Rendezvous, rx, veloster
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“Beauty, like supreme dominion, is only supported by opinion”- Benjamin Franklin.
Beauty has always been a subjective thing, and so often we see something as beautiful after it proves its value to us in many other ways. At that point, our opinions have moved beyond simple outward appearance toward richer, deeper feelings.
The Pontiac Aztek has been the automotive press whipping post for more than a decade. I penned another blog post in 2010 defending this oddity of the vehicular realm.
You can read that post here; The Much Maligned Aztek.
What follows are definitely my personal views, and while some of the vehicles on the list may well be sturdy, reliable machines that have been good to their owners, the fact remains I find their outward appearance revolting. If anything, this is a turnabout for all the insulting press I’ve read about our Pontiac over the last ten years.
And here we go….
As mentioned in the related post, this was the Aztek sister ship, and how it escaped insult along with its sibling is beyond me. While its styling might not be as edgy as the Pontiac, I’ve seen cliff boulders with more pleasing lines. The large tail lights accentuate the bizarre hatch glass, which with its black trim looks like a giant welt growing off the rear like a tumor. If the Buick were featured in an episode of Cars, I could hear the following lines.
Buick; “Excuse me, honey, do my tail lights make my butt look big?”
Hummer H2; “Not as blocky as mine, baby, but I like some boom in the back.”
This was one of the Aztek competitors in the SUV market, but I’ve yet to see this vehicle make an ugly car list. With that pig snout grille and body side sculpting that looks like its about to sprout pontoons, I guess it was considered more adventurous. Wild Boars are adventurous, dangerous, and unreliable, but they still aren’t attractive. Its nice to know the Mitsubishi has natural company.
Honda owners are some of the most loyal on the planet, but I think even they have to admit the company’s styling tastes comes in ebbs and flows. Let’s face it, there are some mundane looking Hondas in this world, but the conflicting lines of the roof against the sloping back windows make me feel like this vehicle was designed after one too many bottles of saki. Go home, Sensei, you’re drunk.
Sometimes you wonder if a certain model is produced in only one color. While I have seen the rare Lexus in black or gold, pearl white appears to be their dominant choice. The overall ovoid shape of this vehicle immediately clicks in my brain as an egg on wheels. As a car nut kid I did my share of model bashing, but I never put Humpty Dumpty on a set of truck tires. This was also one of the first vehicles equipped with clear tail light lenses that turn red when lit, and being stuck behind a RX in traffic is akin to having a red-eyed robot winking at you. Both ugly and annoying.
To “juke” means to move in a zig-zag fashion, and I think that’s exactly what the designer of this car was doing at the drawing board. Was it one of those freak days when the exterminator didn’t keep his appointment and the studio was crawling with offensive little bugs? Was it a nightmare the designer just had to get off his chest the next morning?
For all of the “WTF” questions that have been asked over how the Aztek made it to production, I scream those questions from the rooftops over this car. Every time I see one I suppress an overpowering urge to swat it with a giant backhoe.
For all those who point to the Veloster and call it cute, quirky, different, or some other adjective to deflect its oddball looks, I point backward a generation to two cars that hit the market with similar descriptors; the AMC Gremlin and its bloated cousin the Pacer.
I actually owned a Pacer for a short time and found it to be a very useful and reliable car, but that did nothing to stem the non-stop flow of stares and jokes I took during that time. I have to admit one of my co-workers summed up owning a Pacer in simple terms, “It’s kind of like a bathtub. You don’t mind being in it, but don’t exactly want to be seen there.”
I think the biggest benefit of owning a Veloster is that if you’re driving it, you don’t have to see it passing by.
I read that in Japan, owning a boxy looking vehicle is considered macho, and for all the things Japanese culture has given us, I hope that one is never widely adopted. Although given the short term success of the Hummer, and now the growing sales of the mini-boxes, I’m left to wonder. Many of the micro-vans or whatever their popular nickname happens to be, remind me of basic kitchen appliances. Toasters, canisters, or what-have-you, but the Nissan Cube should be renamed the Icebox. This offbeat, asymmetrical, styling hangover painted white looks like you should clear a parking spot in your kitchen. But hey, picnics and pot luck dinners should be breeze. Nissan should offer massive discounts to catering services the world over.
The poor, lost child Durango has been through some tough changes. The SUV started off well enough, borrowing from its Dakota cousin, and all seemed well until the tumultuous years Chrysler ownership bounced from Daimler-Benz to the inept hands of the Cerberus Group. (The latter knowing NOTHING about running a car company, and boy did it show.) Thankfully, the passionate people in control these days have transformed the Durango into a truck that begs for its life to be a Charger, but those murky models in between were insane bastard offspring of a mish-mash of Jeep and Ram truck DNA.
Not attractive from any angle, these Lego-block beasts should be herded to service in the distant wilderness where wild animals could care less, and park rangers will never lose them as much as they might want to.
If this is the future of automotive technology then its time for me to move to an urban location over-run with public transportation. This latest product from the Bavarian Motor Werks might be cutting edge, but it looks like a deformed astronaut helmet. I almost envision a frustrated chief of design sounding off to his staff, “Give me a car so advanced and incredible I wont give a damn what it looks like!” Job done, except the rest of us just might disagree with the apathy toward appearance.
Here is yet another left field sister ship. The Honda Accord Crosstour, now known simply as the Crosstour, has drawn its share of detractors. Despite the criticism from the press, the Crosstour has found a niche in the market as it pulls off the utility of a wagon without quite looking like one. All of which probably pleases the execs at Honda no end since the Crosstour replaced the Accord wagon to begin with. While the Crosstour sports a love-it or hate-it appearance, its Acura cousin pushes that envelope to its outer limits. The styling attempts to hide the rear doors fail in execution, and the more sharply angled glass lines only make the vehicle look more cramped. But for me, the biggest laugher is the beaver-tooth front grill treatment. Acuras are meant to be upscale cars, but I would feel a pang of nausea every time I looked in my driveway only to see Punxsutawney Phil staring back at me with glowing eyes. I’ve noticed more recent models with the grill given a muted black treatment in an effort to tone down the effect. That’s nice; the beaver needs his teeth cleaned. Those morning coffee stains are just annoying.
And my Aztek is ugly? Maybe so, but she aint alone by a long shot!
– T. August Green