The Coffee Dilemma April 18, 2016Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
Tags: aroma, beans, brew, cappucino, coffee, coffee shop, free wi-fi, roast, starbucks
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Coffee and I have a long history together, albeit a rather diametrically opposed relationship. My father was the kind of man that felt there was never a bad time for coffee. He fell into the category of some of the hilarious scenes you might see in film or television, such as the retrieval of the filter containing used grounds after discovering there was none left in the kitchen cabinet. The one that stands out in my mind was how he would pour last nights leftover coffee back through the machine to heat it up rather than taking the time to make a new pot. This is a level of dedication against wasting an ounce of coffee I have never since witnessed in real life.
Any good father will always teach his child to perform daily tasks, especially if those tasks might save him the trouble. Some might view this as a level of slave labor, but in most cases it gives the child a sense of accomplishment. The downside is when the task is not performed in the prescribed manner there can be repercussions. Thankfully, the reactions to poorly made coffee were more often humorous than dangerous. Adding too many scoops usually got a response such as vigorous shaking, as if some horrible medicine were ingested, followed by, “That’s good paint remover.”
My personal favorite in this category came from my wife, as she slowly places the cup on the table saying, “Oh yeah, you can build shit with that stuff.”
Oddly enough, making coffee too weak generated more anger than making it too strong, affording a reaction such as, “I told you to make coffee, not horse piss!”
That comment always made me wonder what circumstances dictated the actual tasting of horse urine? What ever they were it couldn’t have been pretty.
So, I was well schooled in the making of coffee from an early age, in everything from stove-top percolator pots to the more modern wonders of Mr. Coffee. Who can forget an endorsement from Joe DiMaggio saying it was the best he ever tasted, especially coming from the man who married Marilyn Monroe?
Given all my experience with making coffee, and the wonderful aroma that comes not only from the brewing process but the fond memories of going with my mother to the A&P grocery store where you ground beans right into the bag. The smells have lingered with me to this day and I’ve always found them to be moments worth savoring.
It wasn’t until I neared my 16th birthday and was under the heavy thumb of my father’s driving instruction that he forced the first cup of coffee in front of me. I was weary from an evening of bombastic obscenities regarding my skill as well as the origins of my DNA. We pulled into one of his favorite truck stop haunts and he insisted this cup would cure my ills. In point of fact, I’m sure it was calming his nerves rather than improving any ability or genetic building blocks of my own.
He suggested I try it black for the greatest effect, and my reaction was immediate, almost spewing the drink all over the bar. I followed further instructions by adding milk and sugar, which I continued to do to taste. I found no amount of either additive had the ability to quell the bitter stab on my tongue, and after a few minutes he asked if I planned to drink or turn the cup into a milkshake. Needless to say, we left with my cup still very full and his attitude only slightly improved.
Years rolled by and the coffee shop took on a life of its own, starting off in bookstores and further exploding to almost every street corner. So often on a chilly day, I’ve walked past one of these distributors of legal stimulants and breathed in the aroma with great appeal. More than once it has stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to wonder if my taste buds had evolved over the decades? Given the new variety of flavors splashed across the menu board and the visual allure of watching someone with a mug the size of a soup tureen topped with a quarter pound of whipped cream settle at a cozy table, the pull of the moment can be powerful. Yet every time I’ve fallen prey to this onslaught of temptation, one sip of the cup immediately reminds me at the base of all this fanfare is still…coffee.
I can think of no other drink that has been doctored and embellished to such extent. Yes, there are many flavors of tea and countless brews of beer, but I have never seen either marketed with so many additives and toppings. Listening to people order their favorite mix of coffee is almost disorienting, and seems to annoy the shop wait staff as well. I remain both dumbfounded and curious as to why they don’t simply offer 5-8 types and call it a day. Burgers have become a thing as well but at least there are menu limits.
I recently entered a train station where I was picking up my wife from her trip to Manhattan, and the coffee shop nestled in the end of the lobby began to lure me in. The setting looked so social and warm with friendly bar height tables, free wi-fi, rich wood tones, and the potent aroma lingering in the air on every breath. I stood there spellbound, thinking how inviting it all seemed, but wondering underneath if anything would be different? I stepped closer, savoring the visual and the scent, fantasizing the experience of a warm cup in my hands, the swirl of whipped cream creating the image of dessert, and the thought of pleasantly passing the time while inviting my wife to join me when she walked in. It all seems like a vision from a romance film, which is exactly what it was until the bold, unshakable taste of coffee slaps you back to reality.
I enjoy making coffee for my wife in the mornings, and I have found through unpleasant experience that my life will be far better each day if I make sure she gets her morning elixir. I watch how she relishes that first cup, and I have to admire the passion of her addiction. Indeed there are days I feel the tinge of envy, mostly because the notion of enjoying something with her that carries such importance and emotion seems like it should be shared.
Maybe it’s the coffee shop, maybe it’s the aroma, maybe its my long-standing connection, but I still find it ironic how something with such broad-reaching effects and memory triggers in my life remains a disdain to my taste buds.
I’m sure at some point the coffee shop craze will fade like so many other trends have done in the past. There will always be those that remain in certain areas or locations, but I feel certain coffee itself will soldier on. I don’t know if I will ever come to grips with my love/hate relationship over coffee, or if my desire to share the emotional glow of morning cups with my bride will win over, at least for that hour of the day. Until then, measuring and brewing in the morning makes her smile, and that’s a joy no drink will ever replace.
Step aside, alcohol, this is a job for coffee.
-T. August Green
Bucket List Drives January 24, 2016Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts, Uncategorized.
Tags: 24 hours of Le Mans, bucket list, California, Circuit de La Sarthe, crater lake, elkhart lake, glacier national park, jack nicholson, monument valley, morgan freeman, oregon, pacific coast highway, pikes peak, road america, soap lake, sun road, tail of the dragon
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Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman succeeded in making the term, “Bucket List” a household name. The funny and entertaining film gave us all perspective on things we would like to see and do before our lifetime comes to a close.
Being the dedicated gearhead that I am, I’ve read many articles and lists about the Top Ten Best Driving Roads in the World or Top Ten Scenic Drives of America, but I decided to combine these elements into a “bucket list” of drives I’d love to experience before my wheel man days are over.
I’ve been fortunate enough in the last decade to have driven many of the iconic roads that carve their way across this vast landscape we call America. I’ve cruised the Overseas Highway to Key West, crossed the lofty reaches of Beartooth Pass and Trail Ridge Road, two of the highest altitude paved roads in the country. I’ve rounded the twisting curves of Needles Highway, the lazy bends and vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the vast open reaches of the Bonneville Salt Flats. One can never forget the stunning Rim Road of Grand Canyon National Park, the dance of light on the Vegas Strip, the towering palm trees of Hollywood Boulevard, the twisting switchbacks of Mulholland Drive, or the lonely cactus that decorate the miles of the Mother Road, Arizona’s Route 66.
There are more experiences of lesser known ribbons of pavement, but what follows is a list, in no particular order, of the trails of asphalt I still hope to travel someday. The experience of man and machine is one to be relished, but much more so when the journey and destination are rare and filled with breath-taking sights to behold.
Tail of the Dragon, Deals Gap, North Carolina
There are many two-lane winding roads that cut through various paths of the Appalachian Mountain range but few are as celebrated as Rt129 through Deals Gap. This is one of those shame-on-me locations since it is within a day drive of my home, but I have yet to visit in much the same way New Yorkers rarely set foot on Liberty Island.
The Dragon has gained tremendous notoriety for its 318 turns within an 11 mile stretch of pavement. As it borders Great Smoky Mountain National Park, there are no side roads to intrude, and this beckoned spirited motorcycle riders and sports car drivers from near and far. I have no desire to tame the Dragon, nor do I wish to challenge my cars limits, I just want to dance.
There are two photo ops that bear witness of this experience, one is the Tree of Shame, decorated with all manner of scrap parts, unwittingly donated by those who challenged the Dragon and lost (hopefully not with life or limb but certainly with mechanical calamity) The other is a Dragon sculpture made from car and motorcycle parts. I doubt these were all donated via wrecks near Deals Gap, but I think it’s a fabulous metaphor for the road and its ongoing legend. I’m looking forward to an “I rode the Dragon” photo with this unique selection of welded art, smiling and all in one piece.
Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Post WWII, America became enamored with sports cars and road racing. This form of motorsport had long been a savored challenge in Europe, but the famed Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) came together to sanction events here in the USA.
After a tragic spectator death in 1952, road racing on public courses was outlawed, and in 1955, Road America opened its gates to what would be regarded as the most beautiful and challenging road course in the country. Today, Road America still lives up to its legendary heritage, but the byways that made up the original road course have been historically marked and preserved.
I had the good fortune to be able to drive a similar experience with the Watkins Glen course, and it was like rolling back though time. To traverse the same pavement that was driven in earnest by the early legends was thrilling, but to do so around Elkhart Lake would be like driving hallowed ground. Historic markers have been placed for each section, and they stand as quiet sentinels for all those who blazed the trail for modern sports car racing. History can be an exciting thing when it lets you participate, even for a scant few minutes.
Pikes Peak Highway
Known by the Ute Indians as the “Sun Mountain,” the Arapaho as “Long Mountain,” and early Spanish explorers as “El Capitan,” the highest mountain east of the Rockies is known today as Pikes Peak. One of 53 fouteeners in Colorado (meaning those reaching higher than 14,000 ft, Pikes Peak stands the tallest at 14,115 ft above sea level.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb or Race to the Clouds was first run in 1916. The course used the upper reaches of the Pikes Peak Highway and changed from pavement to dirt and gravel halfway to the summit. In 2011, the road was fully paved and today provides a stunning vista of the surrounding landscape. So captivating is the view that Katherine Lee Bates wrote the song, America the Beautiful after visiting Pikes Peak. A commemorative plaque bearing the lyrics resides on the summit in her honor.
The Race to the Clouds has always been a perilous one for its daredevil hairpin turns and lack of guardrails. Full pavement has helped reduce slides that ended in terror, but the spectacular road still commands respect at any speed. This is another legendary stretch of motorsport history, and a thrilling drive through the pages of American heritage.
Monument Valley, Arizona
Some places are so awe-inspiring that they become iconic images of our culture. This picture probably looks quite familiar even to those who have no clue where it actually is located. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was partially shot here, even though Devils Tower is much farther north. Forrest Gump was also shot here during his marathon of running across the country. Monument Valley captures the haunting image of desolation with its enormous monoliths rising majestically above the desert floor below.
Route 163 often stretches to the horizon, seemingly leading to oblivion, but to me it represents the essence of the early pioneers that braved an unknown frontier. They set out with all they had in wagons or carts, seeking a new way of life. How spectacular must it have been to behold this vast landscape for the first time? To many it must have been daunting, while others saw it as a gateway to greater things. Today we cover in hours what took them days or even weeks, but the stones of Monument Valley have born silent witness to all our travels.
Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Barbara to Monterey, Northern California
I was fortunate enough to experience a small portion of the PCH from San Diego to northern Los Angeles, but have often been told the most beautiful part of the coastal road if the northern leg of California. So many of the Sunshine State’s well known landmarks reside on or near this stretch of road, and the west coast chapter of the convertible message board I belong to makes an annual pilgrimage down the PCH in “top down” weather conditions. No matter if its on my own or with like-minded friends, an open top ride to soak in the amazing views of the Pacific Ocean along with the sounds of crashing waves and the intoxicating aroma of salt air is something not to be missed.
Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington locations.
While the Northern section of the PCH in California has an allure all its own, where the coastal road extends into Oregon possesses a rugged beauty unique to the area. To the east, the view from the ring road around Crater Lake is one of those locations (like Grand Canyon) where no photo can do it justice. With a massive lake that fills the mouth of a dormant volcano, it must be like riding on the precipice of the world.
Just outside of Portland, Oregon, the Columbia River Highway follows the river gorge east, affording expansive views of the lush valley along with the Vista House, and Multnomah and Latourell Falls. It is claimed to be a 75 mile marvel of visual engineering, and how can you resist a drive that carries that kind of reputation?
To the northeast, in Washington State, is the town of Soap Lake, and the mineral-rich body of water by the same name. Soap Lake has been prized for it healing properties since the early history of local Native Americans, whose tribes would call truce over any conflict to mutually enjoy the benefits of the waters. A compelling monument is situated nearby of an eagle-feathered tribal medicine man, holding a water-bearing maid as he reaches outward, calling to the healing waters. The beautiful sculpture doubles as the world’s largest monument sundial.
Soap Lake sets at the base of a geographic gemstone, tied by canals to a string of lakes, they reach northeast through a rugged showcase of Ice Age, erosion-sculptured landscape that terminates at Dry Falls State Park. Route 17 snakes along the valley floor and the lake edges as it cuts its way to the amazing rock formations of Dry Falls, left by the collapsing glaciers and subsequent flood they set free on the lake beds below.
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana
This 50 mile stretch is a civil engineering landmark as it climbs to 6,646 ft through Logan’s Pass, crossing the Continental Divide. It is also one of the most difficult roads to clear from snow, taking the Park service roughly 10 weeks even with heavy equipment. The majority of the twists and turns lack guardrails or barriers of any kind, not for lack of trying, but the snow avalanches unleashed by the mountains have carried away any barriers previously built. The road traverses the width of the park from entrance to entrance and image of Saint Mary Lake reflecting the sky on sunny days is one of the most photographed locations in the park. Sun Mountain is also part of Blackfeet Indian tribe lore.
Le Mans, France, and the Circuit de La Sarthe
Everyone must have a dream to shoot for, and this one is mine by far. Chances are good I may never make it to Europe, but if I do this is a must-see location. I have always been torn between attending the madness and beauty that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or visiting the sleepy French countryside when the race weekend is not in action. To be able to walk freely among the town squares, visit the Cathedrale Saint-Julien, and drive what would surely be a rental car along the famed Mulsanne straight, down the route to Indianapolis, around the corner to Arnage, and past Mansion Blanche would be a fantasy come to life.
As a bonus, to drive through the gates of the Circuit and visit the Musee’ de Automobile de La Sarthe would be equally thrilling. Housed inside those walls are the legends of almost a century worth of the greatest spectacle of motorsport on the planet. The men whose names are carried today by their proud marques, the daring drivers who set record after record, and the ground-breaking machines they drove to victory. There is no other automotive museum in the world that holds such rich history, and none that embody the ultimate grand prix of endurance, efficiency and performance.
I know that I shall never turn a lap around that hallowed course, but to drive there and touch the pages of history, to stand in the presence of the most incredible racing cars in the world has to be brushing the ethereal plane. To pause, listen closely with heart and soul, and almost hear the sounds of begging horsepower laced with the elated cries of victory, doused under the spray of champagne. To walk in those footsteps would be the exclamation point on any gearhead Bucket List.
Never stop dreaming
-T. August Green
Making the Jump December 27, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Uncategorized.
Tags: age 65, big windshield, clint eastwood, heartbreak ridge, john bingham, lottery, miracle, novel, rearview mirror, retirement, risk, starving artist, the courage to start, we bought a zoo, writer
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“Jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft is not a natural act, so let’s just do it right and enjoy the view.” – Clint Eastwood as Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway from Heartbreak Ridge
Pivotal moments come and go in each of our lives. Some feel small but turn out to have significant impact later, while others loom large with the consequences they bring. The monster decisions are always laced with fear because they impact more than ourselves, and the possibility of failure can be daunting. History has shown that the safe decision is not always the best, and while the courage to dare greatly brings the biggest risk, it is only by those means we achieve more lofty goals.
It’s easy to sit here at my keyboard and string together words of inspiration while it’s quite another to actually turns words into action. With that thought I am reminded of yet another quote by John “The Penguin” Bingham, the self-made marathon runner who transformed himself from overweight, over-forty couch potato to never-say-die athlete.
Bingham never broke records or took the running world by storm. Instead, he became the champion of the everyman with the focus to compete and finish. This empowerment of self-reward in lieu of medals, trophies, or recognition won him throngs of followers, and the motto was the title of his first book.
“The miracle is not that I finished, it’s that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham
I tried to follow his path as a self-made runner, but foot blisters ended my determination in that arena, yet I have found his mental approach to be applicable in many other ways. I find it to be very similar to the advice Benjamin Mee gave his son in, We Bought a Zoo.
“Sometimes, all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally, 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will happen because of it.”
Greater words of truth have rarely been spoken, and it took all of the above advice for me to make the decision to retire from my job. This is not retirement in the conventional sense given my job employs a points system of age plus years of service. Once you reach the magic number of 80 points you have the option of taking your pension and moving on.
In the world of industrial rotating shift work, I have known a scant few people that made it to the widely regarded retirement age of 65. Some did and didn’t live long afterward, while others crossed the finish line in stride. The vast majority wind up leaving because they simply can’t take the grind any longer but it’s never an easy decision.
When you’ve been employed for thirty-plus years on a job with a living wage and benefits, you’ve most likely built a life that involves a home and family, so your decisions impact them as much as yourself. Luckily, my children are grown but I still have a wife and home to contribute to, so leaving one job means stepping into the world of another.
If anyone had asked me years ago that I would leave industrial work for a sales job, I probably would’ve called them crazy. Then again, many in the mainstream world have long thought I was crazy to stay at my job for so long. There is no argument that my position has been demanding and relentless, while the pay was good it came with a high cost to your life and health. These among other reasons finally made me weigh the scales of life more closely and choose to make a jump.
Writing a novel was a big self accomplishment for me, and while I continue work on the next book in the storyline I have learned the harsh truth that success and fortunes in the literary world are as common as lottery winners. So with the option of writing full time falling in the area of starving artist, I knew other paths had to be explored.
I look forward to my new venture in the world of sales, but my trusty laptop is still along for the ride and my passion for all things automotive has yet to fade. With that in mind, there are those who think me insane to walk away from my present job, but almost 38 years of shifts and sleepless nights followed by 20 seconds of insane courage have told me otherwise.
Will I have regrets? I can’t imagine there won’t be days when those thoughts cross my mind, but time and life move forever forward, waiting for none of us. The rearview mirror and reverse gear are there for a short but intended purpose, but forward gears and the view through the big windshield is what gets us where we want to go.
I leave behind a bounty of memories and people who have greatly impacted my life, and I count myself all the better for the experience, but I’m always up for a road trip, and all the amazing places yet to be seen.
Time to jump in the driver’s seat and motor!
-T. August Green
Some say, All Good Things Must End December 17, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
Tags: adam ferrara, Amazon Prime, BBC, chris evans, Hulu, iTunes, James May, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, rutledge wood, tanner foust, The Stig, Top Gear
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God Save the Queen! In the year of Our Lord, 2002, the British Broadcasting Company gave birth to a revamped television series called, “Top Gear.”
Humble beginnings to be sure, and as host Jeremy Clarkson often called it, “Our pokey motoring show.” One only has to dial back the episode selection on iTunes or Hulu to Season 2 or 3 to see just how accurate Clarkson’s description was at the time. Little did any of them know the flame they lit would take the world by storm.
As with most successful forms of entertainment, time runs its course until the flame dies a slow miserable death or blows out in a fireball. One might say Top Gear suffered both as its three presenters were growing weary after 22 seasons, and all came to a screeching halt when Clarkson punched one of the producers at the end of a long day’s shoot.
Before the implosion, Top Gear reached heights unheard of in modern television by spawning international versions of the show in Russia, China, South Korea, Australia, United States, and more recently, France. While the US version has been cancelled due to cost and conflicts between its presenters, these only represent versions franchised by BBC Worldwide. Many other similar shows have tested the waters, but most, like the US version are not willing to front the cost for the time it takes to build a strong audience.
The US is particularly woeful in this category as television production companies happily grind out one lame reality show after another, tossing them aside after a couple seasons like disposable lunch bags. As long as they make money and are cheap to produce there is little desire or dedication to create something with relevant value. If any producer says, “Who cares that much about cars?”…then they haven’t bothered to look at the multi-billion dollar automotive business worldwide, especially the high-end exotic sports car trade. But no, they would rather feed us another warmed-over version of who-gives-a-damn, “Survivor.”
Any other detractors need only look at the reruns of Top Gear and how they still survive to this day. The other international versions of the show march on, and the BBC is bravely forging ahead with a new single host format featuring BBC radio personality, Chris Evans. This man is shouldering a daunting task, and the pressure must be staggering, but I wish him all the best.
Meanwhile, rumor continues to circulate about the trio of Clarkson, Hammond, and May starring in a show being produced by Amazon Prime Video. One can only speculate what the results will be, and in my opinion, they face as large a challenge as Chris Evans.
For me, the entire dilemma is a sad one, because Top Gear was a show like no other. The human-car connection is a sensual one that is fostered from a young age. The budding youth of the world put posters on their walls for a reason, because they are objects of dreams and fantasies. Gender is irrelevant here, no matter if it’s the hot actress or the hunky stud, the attraction is the same. The posters of cars do gravitate more to the males, but not exclusively. In either case, the chosen machine evokes a passionate response inside, and we dream of the day we might be close enough to touch the real thing.
Now, be it television or film, I’d say a scant few of us look forward to seeing that sexy actor/actress get beaten to a bloody pulp, skinned alive, or set on fire. Yet Hollywood seems to have an addiction to reducing automotive art to a flaming pile of junk. At my age, I’ve completely given up that the trend will ever change, and you can count the minutes until said “hero car” dies a violent death.
Aston Martin, the famed choice of James Bond 007 for a half century, went the obvious route with the most recent Bond film by providing a cadre of fictitious concepts produced specifically for studio destruction. Maybe even the craftsmen at Aston Martin can no longer bear the wanton massacre of their exquisite handiwork.
Top Gear marked the first time such blasphemy was banished, and instead put such destruction where it belonged, on the miserable, mundane, econobox appliances that grind about on four wheels. In addition, they dispatched these forgettable pieces of junk in creative ways, chief of which was being crushed by a falling piano. I have no idea where they found so many used instruments to serve as wooden bombs, but the effect was hilarious.
Posters, like the pages of a magazine, are inanimate, still images but an exotic sports car is a living, breathing beast that beckons to be set free on open asphalt. Seeing such a machine at a car show surrounded by velvet ropes is still an amazing visual experience, but it tickles only one dimension of the automotive thoroughbred. It was here that Top Gear smashed conventional entertainment and bestowed the ultimate gift to gearheads the world over…our masked hero, The Stig.
We’ve seen superheroes in comics and film, but here on our television was the silent, super “tame racing driver” with nerves of steel and cajones to match. Superman, Batman, Iron Man, or whoever you chose, they are all pure imagination, but The Stig is for real.
Behind the tinted visor and white racing suit, he carries the dreams of us all into the cockpit of each unbridled stallion. The Power Lap is the stuff of legend as he puts on a magnificent show of daring speed and skill. Finally, here was the beast from our wall poster come to life, smoking its tires, spitting fire from its exhaust, and singing the mighty chorus of horsepower behind The Stig’s unyielding right foot. The Power Lap was the most exciting two minutes of automotive ecstasy ever to grace the screen.
Top Gear USA made the woeful mistake of minimizing our driving hero, and while I concede Tanner Foust is a talented racing driver, he ain’t no Stig.
All told, it has been a depressing gulf of time since Top Gear left the airwaves, made all the more gloomy by its muddy future. But if fate has dealt us the last hour of the “pokey motoring show,” then I count myself lucky to have lived through the era of the greatest automotive episodes of all time.
Some say, he is being rebuilt with new hybrid technology, and that he is now fluent in all forms of check engine codes. All we know is, he’s called The Stig…and we miss his heroic feats of speed.
They say all good things must end, but gearheads of the world are praying for it to be otherwise.
-T. August Green
The Bull Stops Here December 14, 2015Posted by tobthebat in Car Guy Thoughts.
Tags: Chrysler, concept, Crown Vic, explorer, Ford, interceptor, Peter Egan, police, roadrunner, SUV, T. August Green, taurus
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My favorite automotive journalist, Peter Egan, once said, and I’m paraphrasing here,“Never say this is the last car I’m ever going to buy, because as sure as you say it, something will happen to make you eat those words.”
Mr. Egan is a member of the over-65 club, and he’s had his share of daily drivers, project cars, and motorcycles. When someone of his stature and experience speaks about the automotive realm, I tend to listen or at least read carefully. Anyone who has a weakness for British sports cars, despite their woeful reliability has to possess a passion that transcends logic.
I’m only about a decade junior to this man I regard so highly, and when the road behind looks longer than the road ahead, your thoughts take a different turn. I’ve always admired the person who latches onto a car and never wants to let it go. I’ve never owned a car for a decade (six years is my record I believe) but I’ve never stopped searching for that magical connection.
At least I think I’m halfway there since the Chrysler 200 convertible I shelter in my garage, well, half the garage, is a car I’ve come to adore. I love how it looks, glistening metallic red as it sits in the driveway on a sunny day. I love it even more with the top down, and driving it on a summer afternoon/evening is one of the more potent drugs I’ve ever encountered. I recently saw an unknown quote that made me laugh with both amusement and self-admission.
“The passion for cars is a deeper addiction than either alcohol or drugs. They have therapy and recovery programs for those things, but there is no known cure for cars.”
I’ll probably never own an exotic sports car, but my Chrysler 200 “Roadrunner” convertible is just as valuable to me. I can’t stop giggling at the glorious roar its 300hp V6 sings into the air and it manages to do so without making me regret it at the gas pump. Suffice to say I’m immensely happy with the car, but my dilemma falls in the spot of the driveway where the daily driver gets parked.
I’ve never been able to own a car for just utility purposes and nothing more. I’ve been exposed to my share of company owned vehicles that are simply driven, abused, and worked until they die miserably in their tracks. I’ve also seen my share of people who treat their personal cars in much the same way, and it bothers me in the same way other people display long faces over un-adopted pets. I take nothing away from the pets (I love a huge, lazy cat) but even going to the salvage yard makes me wish cars could talk and spin yarns of the places they’ve been.
The last three daily driver cars I’ve owned have probably been my most desperate efforts to keep a car long-term. Bonnie the Ghosthawk came close, and Maggie the 21st turned out to be an ill-fated effort despite her attributes, but now a 2013 Taurus has rolled into my driveway and I cautiously hope this could be a true keeper.
My loving bride tells me I wish for too much, that there is no perfect car, and I must concede her point. Then again, the relationship I have with her isn’t perfect either, but I wouldn’t part with her for the world.
Part of my present situation will be forced, as a job change and the drive to improve our financial status are now larger priorities. I was also cautioned heavily against “decorating” as she puts it, with regard to the personal touches I tend to add to every car I’ve owned. Well, not tend to, I absolutely do add certain items that make the car more “me.”
I’m sure in time I’ll do the same with this one, but thankfully, in the first few days of ownership there are very few things I’m looking forward to changing. I’ve put custom wheels and tires on just about everything I’ve owned (can’t remember the last time I didn’t) but the meaty 19-inchers on the Taurus give it an aggressive stance, so no rush there. A new air filter intake and different mufflers are also regular additions since I love the music of horsepower, but the stock dual exhausts deliver a muted growl, so improving on that without going overboard will require careful research.
Other cosmetic touches will probably come with glossy black spray paint. Blacked-out accents that lend an air of the Taurus Police Interceptor will certainly be on the menu.
Maybe this was the sub-conscience attraction to this car from the beginning. I’ve always had a strange soft spot for a police cruiser. In my youth, snapping up an ex-police car was a budget-minded way to snag a performance machine. The rich kids laughed as they tooled around in the sporty coupes their parents bought for them, but the trooper-ride was serious bang-for-the-buck. Beefy V8 engines with rumbling exhausts came standard, as did low-buck interiors and basic black paint jobs, but they were a hoot to drive and many people strangely moved out of your way on the highways at night. Self-imposed guilt is an amazing thing.
I’ve owned two former police cruisers, and while neither lasted long due to age and hard miles, they were both great fun while they lasted. When Ford killed off the long-toothed Crown Vic, I thought their fleet duty days were finished. I never thought the Taurus of all things would become the peace officer weapon of choice, but it has become a common sight on the highway, and they look more ominous every time I see one.
Before the restyled 2010 Taurus made its debut, Ford showed a brawny concept sedan called the Interceptor. Rumor had it the muscular V8, rear wheel drive machine was destined to be successor to the Crown Vic, carrying the fleet torch forward (hence the concept name) but hard economic times along with a more pressing need to build a car-based sport utility to replace the aging Explorer forced the Ford design team in a different direction. The new Explorer was an instant hit, and the return of the performance SHO to the Taurus line-up was also welcomed, but little did we know Ford was only teasing us with the basis for their next-gen police cruisers.
Both the Taurus and Explorer boast Interceptor versions, although Ford expressly says they are NOT Taurus or Explorer since the Interceptors differ too greatly to call them domestic names. Okay, Ford, but they sure do look a lot alike!
So it seems my dark blue clad Taurus is next-of-kin to a Police Interceptor? That doesn’t sound like bad pedigree, and who doesn’t like the idea of being a hero under your everyday street clothes?
The Bat is back on Patrol
-T. August Green
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