I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to all of you before, but one of the MX-5 Club cars used by the Skip Barber School is joining our ragtag fleet of misfit toys. I’m awfully excited by this. We have all sorts of plans in store for the car and we already have forty — count ’em, FORTY! — extra tires for it. There’s also something to be said for having an easily cannibalized donor vehicle for your enduro racer, although I hope it never comes to that.
Click the jump to read excerpts from one of my more prolific weeks so far.
Thirty-four months to the first million and twenty months to the next. When I started this blog I had no expectation that it would eventually attract a couple thousand readers every day of the week. It’s not like Bark and I have done very much to make that happen. Rarely do we have more than a few new posts every week. Much of the credit has to go to the tireless and perceptive Tom Klockau. His classic curbside (wink) reviews are tremendously popular here, and with good reason.
As I did at the one million mark, I’ll answer some Infrequently Asked Questions below.
Here is a highly uncommon sight here in the Midwest, at least outside of big cities like Chicago, Des Moines or St. Louis. Spotting a Lotus Turbo Esprit in the small town of Geneseo, IL (pop. 6,586), a mere twenty minute drive from the Quad Cities, is a rather rare experience.
If, like me, you grew up in the totally awesome 1980s, your most vivid memory of the Esprit could be of the white S1 from the film The Spy Who Loved Me. Kind of funny, thinking a British car could be watertight, eh? Ha! I guess Q Branch had really stepped up their game. “Now 007, we’ve installed rather numerous gaskets and grommets to ensure your car will stay leak-free. Do try not to destroy it this time!”
If you’re still waiting for this month’s issue of Road&Track here’s a preview for you. Richard Pardon and Paul Rees used the day after I flew home to make this short and fun video showcasing the Mercedes GT C in the mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy. Look at how handsome Paul is! If you’re already in possession of your magazine, of course, you know that I had the cover story and the long feature as well. Let me know what you think!
Wallace Stevens published his first and arguably greatest book of poetry, Harmonium, at the age of forty-four. Thirteen years later, he published “The Idea Of Order At Key West”. I do not know what future generations will make of Stevens or his work — as with Eliot and Pound, I suspect that the exhaustive demands that Stevens makes of the reader, his footnote-fancy-free requirements that one be both massively erudite and finely sensitive, will cause him to eventually disappear from a canon unable to properly encompass much more than the feelgood blatherings of Maya Angelou or Pablo Neruda. Stevens wrote for men like himself, men who were not immune to emotion but who had subjugated their passions to the work of creating the Western World. We will not see their like again and their cultural legacy will not fare well in the new pedagogical tradition that largely defines itself in terms of the negative space between tangible accomplishments.
Perhaps all that anybody will remember is that Stevens worked tirelessly in the insurance business for most of his adult life. By the time Harmonium was published, he had already put in seven years at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would work well into his seventies. Never well-liked at his day job, Stevens was nevertheless efficient and successful. He was also sufficiently vigorous at the age of fifty-six to break his hand on Ernest Hemingway’s jaw in a rather odd dust-up that was apparently founded on mutual artistic contempt and in which Hemingway, like recent lime-green Huracan purchaser Conor McGregor, failed to capitalize on a considerable advantage in youth.
I think about Wallace Stevens quite a bit when I read today’s younger autowriters. Almost without exception, they would be better off working some kind of day job and thus having the freedom to be a bit choosier about both the assignments they accept and the quality of the work they turn out. I’ve had this discussion with a few of them and I’m always told that “nobody is hiring”. That’s ridiculous. McDonald’s is hiring. Home Depot is hiring. Your local car dealership is hiring salesmen and service writers. What they mean is that nobody wants to pay them $75,000 a year to perform some kind of vague white-collar work that requires no prior skills or experience. That’s a shame but I can’t help but point out that I faced an identical situation when I left school in 1994 with an English degree and an extremely patchy resume consisting mostly of missed opportunities.
There’s a lot to be said for flipping burgers nine hours a day and spending the rest of your waking hours becoming a better writer. It’s going to pay off much sooner than sitting around the house talking shit on Twitter and curating the pornography collection on your laptop. There’s something about repetitive, unpleasant labor that really stimulates creativity in people, assuming they have the knack for it in the first place. Oh well. I don’t expect anybody to take this advice. It’s too easy to stay plugged into social media and the Brownian motion of endless, pointless conversations.
Let’s see what I managed to get written this week while also working a “real job”. As the man said, let be be the finale of seem.
My first mishap with a car was with my first car, a 1991 Volvo 940 SE, black over tan, with sunroof. I was eighteen, had only been driving a few months due to health issues, but LOVED driving. So much so, on occasion I would get up really early, like before sunrise, to take the car for a ride before school. I remember several instances where I’d sneak the car out about 5:30 (so as not to wake anyone up and ask me why I was doing a damfool thing like going for a drive at 5 AM), go for a ride around town listening to the oldies station, and then head back, get my school crap and head off to Alleman High School.
I was in the gig economy before the gig economy was cool, you know. In the past two decades I’ve been a consultant, a third-party service provider, a contributor, a self-employed technocrat, and just a plain old temp. Sometimes it’s been remarkably lucrative and often it’s been remarkably depressing. Sometimes both at once.
Last month I said goodbye to the last of my technical support customers and took a new full-time contract. I’m surrounded by very nice people there. The commute is short and the parking is free. It’s a little hard not to get depressed when I’m sitting in my cube and seeing all my various journo-friends and journo-foes traveling the world and enjoying all the perks that the business can provide. The best I can tell myself is that Hawthorne started his adult career in the Custom-House and Melville spent his final years there. At the end of every day I do not worry about whether I sold my integrity cheaply or whether I failed to fight for the truth on any given subject. Such things have no meaning or relevance in the eternal late-fall twilight of that seventy-four-degree flourescent office building.
I make no decision on any subject beyond the technical. There are a thousand dreams and ambitions in that building and there are people who are compensated to a truly stunning degree and there are people who spend their lunch hours in worried dialogue about bills and childcare but it matters not to me. I show up in the morning and I do my work and I leave and by the time the oil is warm in my CB1100 on the road home all thoughts of the job have slipped from my mind with that same light viscosity.
This past Wednesday I assisted one of the fellows in the office in conducting a short technical interview. It was my intention to ask a couple of bland questions and shut up, but things got a bit out of hand.
The modern equivalent of “Never look a gift horse in the mouth” is “If somebody invites you to race a C5 Z06 in Colorado, you shouldn’t ask too many questions about whether they brought enough tires and brake pads for the whole event.” Which explains how I found myself looking at six shredded Yoko A-0052s just seven hours into a 24-hour race. How many tires did we bring? Ten. Also, the brake pads were down to one-eighth. How many extra brake pads did we have? One used set.
Needless to say, we didn’t exactly set the world on fire for the rest of the race. Still, something good came out of it. Ross Bentley was one of my teammates for the event and I was able to convince him to spend an evening in Ohio working with John at Circleville Raceway Park. The results were immediate and obvious; the kid is now confidently sliding through turns with the throttle pinned.
Click the jump to check out what Bark and I wrote last week and also to see a picture of my rear tire after ninety minutes — it will help you understand why I found some of the fourth-gear corners a bit unsettling!
For some reason, I’ve always skewed toward American luxury cars. With the exception of Porsches and Volvos, that is-blame my parents and their cars for that one. But as a kid, watching 1980s TV, I always wanted the black Cadillacs, Town Cars and Fifth Avenues the bad guys drove, not Magnum’s 308GTB or Michael Knight’s talking Trans Am. You can probably blame that one on my grandparents, my Grandma Ruby’s 1977 Thunderbird and Grandpa Bob’s navy blue 1977 Continental Mark V saw to it.
One of the earliest memories I have of car shows was when my mom and dad took me to the June Jamboree, a car show and festival in town back in about 1986 or 1987. I would have been about seven. The only car I remember, and have strong memories of, was a gigantic black 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special. Even more imposing when you’re four feet tall.
Fast forward thirty years and I still love vintage domestic lux rolling stock. And with all my car buddies near and far, I never know what I’ll get to check out next. Case in point: K V Dahl, a friend of mine who just happens to also be the local Ford dealer, got a blue 1962 Continental convertible about a year ago. I’ve been wanting to write it up for a while, and though I had some pictures of it, I wanted to get some beauty shots of the car sitting outside. K V said we could definitely do that. So back in May I called him up and said, “Hey, I’d like to get some shots of the Connie sometime this week if you’re around.” To which he responded, “Well sure, but you should see what I got this week in Indianapolis!” “What?” “A 1960 New Yorker convertible. It’s sitting out front of the dealership right now. Wanna stop by?” *long pause* “I’m on the way!”
Success carries its own kind of burden. We are knock-knock-knocking on the door of two million visits here at Riverside Green, and we’ve had more than twenty thousand comments in the past thirty months. This is all great news. The problem occurs when you are looking for a particular needle in that comment haystack.
A few weeks ago, one of the commenters recommended some American-made cookware. I wanted to go back and feature that company, but I couldn’t find the comment. I ended up calling up a list of American-made cookware manufacturers and searching the comments for the brand names until I came up with Nick D’s comment regarding Vollrath. They make some awesome stuff in the literal sense that I am in awe of their pricing. Check it out. Be aware that not all of their brand lines are USA-made, but the high-end stuff definitely is.
Meanwhile, here at Schloss Baruth of the West (the Eastern one is here) we’ve just taken delivery of some Lodge iron pans. The verdict so far?