Weekly Roundup: Fourth Place Is the First Winner Edition

I don’t recall when and where I read it, but I remember the impact this phrase had on me at the time: Children are powerless. They are easily hurt, easily damaged, easily broken. Consider, if you will, the USABMX Bluegrass National of this past weekend. It was a purpose-built track in a lovely facility… but there was too much moisture in the dirt, courtesy of an accident during storage and transportation. A layer of muddy sand extruded itself from the track surface. And my sixty-two-pound child with his single-digit body fat and ethereal proportions, always so fast and so capable on concrete or asphalt or a wooden box jump, was stuck on that surface like a butterfly in a Venus flytrap.

He’d won five races in a row going into the weekend, but against the bigger, stronger Southern children he struggled. Always first or second into the initial corner, he would then simply be dragged to a near halt while the competition chopped along. The track conditions affected everybody — on Day One, we had 21 riders in the 46-50 Expert class, on Day Two, just nine of us returned — but it was hardest on the lightest and smallest racers. After barely making the main event on Saturday and finishing sixth of eight riders, John was simply furious. I told him that we had an option: we could cut his gearing by seven percent. It would give him a chance to climb out of the sandy ruts. But he would have to pedal at least seven percent more — this, on a track that was already a few hundred feet longer than anything he’d ridden in almost a year.

“I think,” he replied, “I am okay to try anything.”

On Sunday morning I made a critical mistake: I let him sleep too long and we arrived at the track just as his first moto was leaving the gate. This meant he would have a single chance to make the main. In that single chance, he bounded out at the statt and led the pack into Turn One… but then he started slowing down. A child passed him, then another, then another. He needed to finish fifth. Which he did, barely. At the finish line, he was in tears. “It hurts so much to pedal at the end and I’m not going anywhere!” It took the combined efforts of both me and his coach over the course of nearly half an hour just to calm him down. “I can’t do it! I’m going to get dead last and I’ll look like an idiot!

I asked him to trust me. I told him that I would take the responsibility for his loss, should it occur; after all, I’d been the one to change his gear. “It’s my fault, not yours!” he snapped. “I’m too small and too weak to keep up!” And in truth he was at least twenty pounds lighter than the majority of his competition. In a normal race he simply glides and jumps where they chop and pound — but out here in the mud, chopping and pounding was the order of the day.

“You can’t fix that right now. You have to be smart, and you have to push harder than anyone else. Otherwise you’ll lose. And I won’t care about that, not for a minute. But I know you will.”

“I will try as hard as I can.” There were five riders in the main. He was in second place exiting the first hairpin. Then he slowed. And he was caught. Third place. Then fourth. Then the fifth place child simply rode straight through the second turn and rammed John off the bike. They both fell. John’s shoe was tangled with his handlebars. The other rider got up and sprinted off. John stood on unsteady feet, mounted his bike, and started pedaling. He was ten feet behind going into the last turn. He railed it high, relying on his superior balance, and exited dead even with the other rider. From then on, it was a street fight between an eighty-pound Kentucky boy and my own insubstantial clone.

John won by six inches. He gave me a thumbs up then chattered to his coach in pure ecstatic joy. He’d pushed himself as hard as he could go. He clutched the fourth-place trophy like it was true gold instead of bright plastic. He had been a little damaged by this, but not, I hoped, in any way broken.

“You did what I asked you to do, John. What do you want from me in return?”

“I want to go to Dairy Queen.”

And we did.

* * *

In my second to last column for R&T, I discussed the slippery slope of need and want.

45 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Fourth Place Is the First Winner Edition”

    • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

      speaking of, at ttac.com there was a review of the Mazda 3(?) or whatever they call it now. Whoever wrote the review just said “Mazda flew me here and paid for my food. So here’s my review.” Huge difference compared to the old days.

      • Avatargtem

        Within the context of modern TTAC, I’d say Corey Lewis (who has a day job and just does occasional press trips) is one of the best guys remaining. The generic Canadians who I can’t keep track of, and especially the one-off authors they get reviews from, those are the ones that tend to moreso regurgitate press releases and give meaningless content.

        I do miss Jack’s rental reviews greatly. I ended up buying a lightly used ’16 Town and Country this weekend, in part from digging up and rereading some of Jack’s reviews from a few years ago. It’s not the latest and greatest or the tightest-screwed together thing (and has its share of cheap Chinese and mexican components), but boy was it too good of a value to ignore. Our Midwestern roads are absolutely packed with them, once I started to notice them over these past few weeks. They outnumber Odysseys and Siennas notably, especially on the used market, which keeps prices nice and low.

        • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

          T&C rocks (it doesn’t suck). I rented a “Grand Caravan or similar” and at the counter they said we got a brand new GC with 3 miles on it, or this older T&C. I said give me the T&C. It was an absolute pimpmobile compared to my Odyssey.

          • Avatargtem

            We got our Touring L with 34k miles for $18,500, that’s with that wonderful heated steering wheel and seats, rear entertainment, all the usual bells and whistles. We had been looking at 2-3 year old Siennas and Odysseys and to get the basic leather heated seat trims (without much else), it was $24-26k. I get that there’s a very real reason for the Chryslers being cheaper, but I just couldn’t ignore that value proposition. I did end up buying a zero deductible extended bumper to bumper warranty with a fraction of my savings by going the T&C route so that’s some piece of mind.

        • Avatarscotten

          Good description of the crew at TTAC – I can’t tell most of them apart. I liked the old days when each author actually had a PERSONALITY…

          • Avatarsgeffe

            Very true.

            Chris Tonn is OK, as well. You can’t tell the others apart. Maybe it’s a little USA/Midwest bias.

            Mark’s contributions are appreciated, as always. And Murilee’s and Sajeev’s columns are also worth the visit.

  1. AvatarGene

    I dunno Jack. I’m troubled that your R&T article is instructing that freedom is a want as opposed to a need. Are you joining the other side?

  2. Avatardejal

    A need is something that lets you survive.
    You don’t need those cars and bikes.
    Your kid doesn’t need to do BMX.

    Wants are everything after that.
    Just admit you want something.
    If you are funding those wants on your dime, have at it.
    Wants are the things in life after mere survival.
    Everybody has them.

  3. AvatarJohn C.

    On the R/T article, what struck me was not that the rich guy jumpted the line, was that the first of the top of his head instruction after America is attacked is find me the nearest Toyota dealer. Hope he lost his shirt at the tables of Vegas.

      • Avatargtem

        Wow that’s my kind of grandpa lol

        I’m planning on passing my ’96 Limited down to my son, by the time he’s driving it’ll be a bonafide cool old classic 4×4 cruiser. Just gotta keep road salt off the frame and I’m golden.

        • AvatarJohn C.

          For the 4Runner I can understand that, You can drive them through all the worlds 3rd world hovels, still feeling superior to the locals who have switched to the not so Great Walls. At the same time you are only giving up some capability compared to Land Rover Defenders with all it’s colonial baggage. You know people who actually went there to make the places better rather than just sell them cell phones and shoot poverty porn.

          For America it is mostly an aspiration as at this point the fun police want you to leave only your footprint, if that. We are past the day when being in a guzzling 4×4 that shares a brand name with their favorite hybrid will help.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            I wouldn’t feel good about trying to go any further in a Defender than I could go in an EV. What’s the additional capability of a Defender exactly? Does it involve starting conversations with other anglophiles? I’ve yet to meet anyone that thinks post-Series Land Rovers are interesting that I didn’t want to move away from.

            I want a Heritage Edition 2020 Land Cruiser with the goofy D-pillar badges in a very bad way. I’d forgotten what it was like to desire a new vehicle. Thanks Toyota.

          • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

            The Brits did colonialism well. Just about all of the most successful countries in the world have been official or de facto British colonies. I think it had something to do with the rule of law and a functioning civil service.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Not my area of expertise, but longer travel suspension and some sort of differential lock when half stuck come to mind. Plus places to mount an extra tire on the hood and Gerry cans. Plus those sideways benches to carry some Sikhs/Gurkhas in back in case non Anglophiles are encountered. With all these vehicles after all there is a heavy whiff of fantasy.

            I hadn’t seen the heritage Land Cruiser, I did like the c pillar emblem. Looks a bit to Range Rovery, like it was built more for Lord Salisbury than Cecil Rhodes, if Japan had either type.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            What years did Range Rovers have chrome trim? Isn’t the C-pillar between the door window glass and the luggage compartment side glass? My neighbor has three Range Rovers, although they all have suffixes of Sport or Evoque. None of them looks remotely like a Land Cruiser of any variety, while their primary purpose is to look like Range Rovers.

            None of my fantasies involve world travel. I saw at least fourteen countries by the time I was thirty-five years old and got it out of my system. Hell, I just renewed my passport to go to a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta and then pulled the plug on that. Dreaming about the English empire at a time when they’re struggling just to hold onto their own sovereignty is an amusing hobby though.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Again not my expertise, but I think real Range Rovers as designed by Rover under British Leyland have suffixes like County and Classic. When I get all misty for Empire, feel free to wax poetic about the East Asian Co-prosperity sphere, where if you transfer enough wealth to Japan it will rub off somehow maybe eventually….

          • Avatargtem

            I can’t think of a single locale in the world where a Defender would be advantageous in capability over an equivalent Land Cruiser model, but I can think of many locales where I’d prefer to have the Land Cruiser’s durability and reliability: all of them. The only places the Defenders remain relevant as anything aside from glamping eye candy is in certain countries in Africa where there is good parts support.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Gtem, think of what you are saying in light of CJ’s original comment about the BOF Toyotas being the last of the Mohicans. I would quibble about that, there are still British, Nissan and American offerings in the space depending on how we define.

            Yet you come with your ample experience and say all anyone needs is a Land Cruiser. Having already lost Troopers, Monteros, Discoverys, Cherokees, Explorers, Blazers, Vitaras, and a bunch more that I am forgetting, does anyone really want to see more alternatives of individual expression go away. Remember they must sell miniscule numbers in their home market so I think it is safe to assume the Toyota offerings themselves are much at risk. If they last one year longer than the rest it is no victory.

          • Avatargtem

            Oh I’m not celebrating the loss of variety, not for a second. I’m taking issue with the “uh it has more suspension travel and some kind of diff thingie” comment. For pure capability and dependability, the Defenders have been superseded quite some time ago. They don’t have any supposed ace up their sleeve in terms of capability in exchange for that inferior dependability. I’d actually point to a Wrangler Rubicon as something that can outcrawl most anything Toyota makes globally in terms of pure capability, but it too falls well short on the dependability/durability aspect historically.

  4. AvatarDR Smith


    Excellent article. We had all better get our “freedoms” out of our system now, because ‘they’ are already starting to take them away. The very fact we even have freedom is why ‘they” hate us.

    As for your son, great over the weekend; maybe you realize it, maybe you don’t, but you just taught him one of life most valuable lessons, one never learned in any school -always keep trying, as you never know what might happen. Have the same issues with my 8 years old daughter, in everything from school work to tennis to cross-country..it is really hard sometimes to know how hard to push a child. Sometimes the only thing you can do is hope you don’t break them too hard!

  5. AvatarRoamer

    Regarding the R&T article, what I find most striking is the degree to which the US has become an ‘alles verboten’ society – one where what isn’t specifically permitted is forbidden. Only instead of laws detailing what is permitted, we have social media gatekeepers. These worthies move the goalposts as the whim, or the desire to harm, suits them. The ‘needs’ emails are from people who are desperate to justify the limiting of their own horizons, because they’re not choosing a car based on their wants, or even their needs, but on how their choice is perceived by those they associate with – or those they fear to offend.

  6. AvatarSaabing

    I appreciated the R&T article from a different angle: I’m not afraid of the morality police, but I do want to keep the time and financial commitment to my fleet minimal. But at the same time, there are some itches I want to scratch and skills that I want to learn, and maybe “because I want to” is sufficient justification.

  7. AvatarAoLetsGo

    That is really weird. I was having my teeth cleaned the morning of 9/11, the radio was on and talking about an attack. At the time I thought it was a rehash story of the unsuccessful basement bombing.

    I Need to keep my house somewhat warm during this polar vortex and F those people that try to restrict my Wants. Older and wiser now “I” decide if a new Want will give me more joy and freedom or just be another temporary high and then a financial ball and chain.

  8. Avatarhank chinaski

    “You can’t fix that right now. You have to be smart, and you have to push harder than anyone else. Otherwise you’ll lose. And I won’t care about that, not for a minute. But I know you will.”

    Stealing this.

  9. Avatarscotten

    So I think I have figured out what Jack’s Next Big Thing will be but don’t want to put it in writing here. Or is that okay?


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