(Last) Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Attains Obsolescence Edition

I predicted this a year and a half ago, but I thought I’d have more time before it actually came to pass. This past weekend John and I went to Louisville for a BMX national race. The boy seemed tired both days and only made one of three possible main events, so on the way home Sunday I suggested we stop at Lebanon Bike Park, which is fast becoming one of his favorite places. I didn’t realize at the time that both of us were about to become no-kidding sick the following day and that John’s listlessness had been due to the fact that he was warming up to stay home for most of the school week.

My son enjoys competition and will create it anywhere he spots an opportunity. I wasn’t surprised when he started challenging the other children at the pump track to a few races, which he won. He then started working his way through the adults present, including two college-aged men on first-rate mountain bikes. Eventually I got tired of him dunking on civilians, so to speak, and I pulled him aside.

“Alright, enough messing around with people. I hope you don’t think you can beat me like that.”

“Then you hope wrong,” he responded. I frowned and put my helmet on.

It’s a foolish man who doesn’t understand his strengths as well as his weaknesses — and the bicycle pump track is one of my personal strengths. I wouldn’t finish within ten seconds of a modern pro rider around a 60-second BMX track, but around a 30-second pump track I might be within two seconds, or one. So I had no doubt that I would handily beat my excessively cocky kid in this situation. So I let him ride ahead of me by one bike length, expecting to buzz his back tire within the first hundred feet or so.

What actually happened was this: By the hundred-foot mark, he was three bikes ahead. John was simply faster than I was over everything. He is ten years and five months old, so this is utterly humiliating. With that said, I knew that the second half of the pump track had a particularly unpleasant double jump which requires a stout pull to clear. I hadn’t seen him clear it in any of the earlier races, so it seemed reasonable to assume I’d get some distance back. Naturally, he jumped it without a second thought — and just as naturally, I tapped the landing and lost momentum. We crossed with about twenty feet of gap between us.

John was not particularly gracious in victory, not when there were fellow children to impress, and I’ll admit that I got my mouth all the way open to say “Let’s go again” before some kind of vestigial sense of human and/or parental decency kicked it back shut. “Let’s go again,” of course, is the Great Santini’s response to having his son beat him in basketball. It’s the displaced father’s lament, the rage against the dying of the proverbial light.

Also, there was more than a good chance that my second loss would be even worse.

Remembering that Vet Pro Josh Smith had circled the pump in 18.69 seconds, I challenged John to run it against the clock. This would determine whether I’d lost a step or he’d gained one. He crossed the line in 20.05 seconds — so it’s the latter. I can feel good about that, at least. I didn’t get any worse. My son got better. Still. My father and I never had any kind of formal baton-passing between us. All of the things he could do better than me in my youth — basically any stick-and-ball sport plus the major track-and-field events, golf, and tennis — he can still do better. Anything I can do better than he can — ride a bike, write something, perform a bit of math, solve a technical problem — is a skill acquired so early I no longer remember not possessing it. So there was never a moment where I stood up and he stepped down.

I owe my son a Wendy’s Frosty as a result of losing that race. We didn’t have a chance to get it on the way home. I think I’ll make a big deal of taking him to get it. We will celebrate his achievement while at the same time reassuring him that the center still generally holds, that there are many areas from fiscal solvency to picking up heavy objects in which I expect to preserve my reliable superiority for a useful bit longer. It’s important, one suspects, that one’s father eventually prove beatable at anything and everything — but it’s even more important that the old man doesn’t make it too easy. Which might be why I recently found myself signing up for a couple of as-yet-unproven knee treatments. The first one featured a big needle right to the worn-down end of my femur. It’s going to be worth it. The next few Frostys* won’t be so easy to get. He will have to fight for each one after that. And I think we both understand that he will have to eat the last one by himself.

* * *

Last week I wrote about the everlasting impact of a deceased auto executive.

* As a proper noun and a brand name, I believe it is “Frostys” and not “Frosties”; I am, however, always willing to be convinced otherwise.

34 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Attains Obsolescence Edition”

  1. AvatarFred Lee

    You’ve taught your son some interesting skills. Might I suggest you next teach him some humility and grace? Maybe even, dare I say, by example?

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      He spends much of each week at school assisting a young girl who suffered a severe brain injury a few years ago. He helps her get through class, helps her find a table at lunch, assists her with anything she can no longer quite physically manage. And yeah he’s been teased for “helping the retard” quite a bit. So if he wants to dunk on some random adults at a bike track I’m not going to send him to therapy, or go there myself.

      Reply
  2. AvatarJohn C.

    On Piech, I think Jack is right to put so much focus on the Mrk 4 Jetta/Golf, the 98 Passat and perhaps bridge to far Phaeton that he was so instrumental in. The interesting point to me is how unsuccessful that generation was in the marketplace. You look at what others were offering and Corollas, Camrys, Civics, Accords, Neons, Cavaliers and Sentras of the day were just offering restyles of old platforms clearly designed to take cost out. Only Ford was trying to meet the challenge directly with the Focus. Yet the same old guys took no sales hit from VW or Ford. Piech got that message and from then on joined them, a shame.

    To me they were more important than the Audi Quatros, that were just putting a band aid on an inappropriate but vestigial front drive architecture that Audi was too cheap to change.

    Reply
  3. Avatarrambo furum

    That line about hoping to be remain better at “fiscal solvency” than a pre-teen was mysteriously revelatory, and I’m not sure if it was meant to be humorous or not.

    I think a counterpoint to the Peich article could be done, although I’m not the one to do it. In the day of overwrought designs, both interior and exterior, the case could be made that he was a flash in the pan. I always think of him as Jonn Z. Delorean, fussing over dashboard texture while ignoring much more pertinent design issues.

    Reply
  4. Avatarbluebarchetta

    Jack, have you seen Super Speedway – the IMAX movie about IndyCar in the 90s? There’s a moment when Mario Andretti discusses the first time Michael beat him fair and square, and there’s no shame in Mario’s demeanor – only pride.

    I remember the first time my son beat me fair and square at 1v1 soccer. He was 12. I was bigger and stronger, but he was agile and fast, with skills I had never mastered. He couldn’t understand why I was happy about losing. Now he’s on varsity at one of the best schools in the state.

    Here’s hoping our sons eclipse anything we’ve ever done.

    Reply
  5. AvatarE. Bryant

    My 9-year-old ain’t there yet on a mountain bike, but it’s only a matter of time. He’s getting faster, and I’m getting slower. The only question is when those curves cross. All I can do is ensure that it’s an honest accomplishment when it finally happens.

    The topic of Piech’s legacy is immensely complicated. He’s obviously one of the most influential execs of the post-war era, having grown VW to the world’s largest automaker (or 2nd-largest, depending upon how one classifies some commercial vehicles). But his legacy is also a company that burns capital at an unrivaled rate. The much-ballyhooed MQB cost perhaps $50-60 billion to design and launch, which is going to be hard to earn back with the recent pivot to EV. The company told investors back in 2017 that it expects to earn about 15 billion Euro/year over the next half-decade, but don’t expect to see a penny of that since the company plans on spending every dime on EV and AV development. Pick on Toyota all you want for being second to the party, but at least they are creating return on investment, which is why they are worth approximately 3x more than VW. Just like Tesla fanbois will eventually learn, organizational excellence trumps the cult of personality. But that’s less fun to write about (unless one is Jim Collins).

    The shorter way of saying the above is that Piech basically lived up (down?) to every businessman’s stereotype of an engineer.

    Reply
  6. AvatarCharles Altemus IV

    I think I’m having a reading comprehension brain lapse;

    “This would determine whether I’d lost a step or he’d gained one. He crossed the line in 20.05 seconds — so it’s the former. I can feel good about that, at least. I didn’t get any worse.”

    ‘The former’ is referring to you losing a step, no? Does that make the follow up ‘I didn’t get any worse’ contradictory?

    Reply
  7. AvatarEric L.

    1. Definitely check out San Diego’s new pump track in the equally brand-new Pacific Highland Ranch neighborhood. It’s incredibly cool and has super-fast concrete. https://pumptrack.com/track/pump-track-pacific-highlands-ranch-usa/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO4MNOzqwrI

    2. I didn’t even know the name pump track referred to doing it without pedals, but that explains what all the guys your age on BMX bikes (with the same size wheels as my 7 year old’s bike) are doing. My son doesn’t have the right bike or upper body strength for that, but maybe we can work on that. Man, now I need to get a proper bike to try it for myself…

    3. You know, a lot of dads could brag about how their sons didn’t pass them up in an activity until they were in their teens. You, however, have given little J every chance to get better at BMX and that’s definitely something to be proud of. You didn’t handicap his learning to preserve your superior performance for a few extra years, but you also didn’t ruin his life by forcing him to become an expert at something that you are personally invested in. So congrats. Being a dad is difficult, but you’re definitely shining in these areas.

    Reply
  8. AvatarDirt Roads

    Excellent story Jack. Thank you for reviving, once again, my hope that this upcoming generation of kids will actually have some spirit and grace, as taught by their father. Mr. Lee’s untoward, trolling comment to the apparent contrary.

    I always read the RG articles before I read the click-throughs to Haggerty so off I go now.

    Reply
  9. Avatar-Nate

    As always another testament to good fathering Jack .

    My son eclipsed me in various things when he was about 12 although it made me sad to feel so old I was far more happy and pleased to know that my son would succeed in life beyond my wildest dreams, he has and that makes me inordinately proud, I’m sure you are feeling the same about Jon .

    Your legacy will be this amazing young man you’ve sired, trained and will soon let loose upon the world .

    Me, I’m still stuck nursing 12Y.O. crack babies I wonder if they’ll ever be able to support themselves .

    Keep on keeping on Jack .

    -Nate

    Reply
  10. AvatarCarmine

    Peich blew money on vanity projects like the Bugatti and the Phaeton and he made VW the largest carmaker in the world, for the time being…..Alfred P Sloan made GM the largest CORPORATION(period.full stop) in the world AND the largest automaker and it reigned in both categories for nearly decades upon decades while being at the top or near the top of the Fortune 500(before it was all squandered by business degree flunkies for the last 30 years) let me know when Peich does that, which would be hard since he’s dead, but a remarkable achievement none the less……..

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      GM has much less impact on the modern auto world than VW has. They are on the way to being a Chinese local brand.

      Reply
      • Avatarsgeffe

        Jack, we’re on our way to be automotive surrogates of China! Why did Honda dump the V6 in the Accord and go with a 2.0, and why is everyone else doing the same?

        If you want to sell a car in China, any engine displacing over 2.0 liters, of course, carries a displacement tax!

        Since they’re potentially a larger market than the United States, if not North America, the automakers have to build to their broader requirements by default!

        Of course, GM has taken that to an extreme, and even has the temerity to export their garbage (Buick Envision) built there, back here, after the taxpayers bailed them out eleven years ago!

        Reply
        • AvatarWill

          Or they dumped them for emissions purposes because of the “progressives” in California basically trying to outlaw the car and to meet cafe standards. This is not all on China.

          Reply
      • AvatarCarmine

        That was a Paul “Needledick” Neidermeyer/TTAC level stupidity response and I’m not wasting my time replying to it…..

        Reply
        • Avatar-Nate

          #1 : you _did_ just reply to it .

          #2 : Paul’s an unhappy man and doesn’t need anyone kicking him when he’s down .

          #3 : he attacked me in print, I don’t know why, I still see no need to hurt a person who so obviously suffers .

          -Nate

          Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I wrote:

          “No other auto executive since the time of Henry Ford has done as much to shape what we drive as Piëch. Alfred Sloan? Lee Iacocca? Carlos Ghosn? Don’t make me laugh. There’s Piëch, and then there’s a Challenger Deep’s worth of gap, then there’s everyone else.”

          You responded with quite a bit about Sloan and the Sloan Plan. Which had a lot of impact until, say, 1990. Now it means very little and General Motors means very little on the international stage. They invest more in China than they do here. Their products are aimed at China. Their market share in the United States slips every year. Their global market share slips every year. Without China they would be the size of Ford.

          This has nothing to do with hating GM or not hating GM. I spent $60k on a Chevy truck two years ago. I’m just discussing the present realities of the business.

          Most critically, the Sloan Plan is dead and gone. Today all the brands compete all the way up and down the ladder, whether you’re talking Mercedes-Benz or Hyundai. The only thing that Sloan brought to the table — the only thing that GM brought to the table — was a rigid and disciplined brand stratification, which isn’t even practiced at GM any more, much less anywhere else.

          Sorry to have upset you.

          Reply
          • Avatar-Nate

            What upsets me is the lack of decent GM products for average Blue Collar Americans .

            Were I to be interested in a new vehicle I’d look off shore and that’s a shame .

            -Nate

          • AvatarCarmine

            I’m sure it upset me no more than my questioning of your assertion of Peich…..sorry, Lord Obbergruppenfuher St Peich….(pause for appropriate genuflection and crossing….left right up down…ok…whew….almost angered the gods) was the unassailable “capo de tutti capo” of automotive CEO’s

            In the end were really arguing over ultra rich 2 dead guys, one still pretty fresh and another thats probably considerably more skeletal that had no idea either of us existed either way.

            Though I have to ask, if GM, in your hyperbolic filled estimation, is 4 weeks away from becoming a subsidiary of the Ching Chong Chinese Rubber Hot Dog Company LTD, why did someone as smart as you seem to believe you are spend $60,000 on one of their trucks? Why are they still in the top 3 largest car manufactures in the world? Why is their stock so much more valuable than Fords of Fiatsler? Why did they far outsell Ford and Fiatsler last month? I mean by your estimation this is a company that is months away from being smaller than Lotus and will soon be selling bicycles out of showrooms with ducks hanging in the windows, because you know, they “do business in China”……(Because their money isn’t green…..ok its not, its like orange or something…but its money)

            Who doesn’t? Sainted VW has been in China for over 30 years. If any other car company was in the same market position as GM worked it way into in China in the last 20 years, they would be lauded,

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            Dude, I’m not really a Piech fan and certainly not an acolyte.

            Why did I buy the truck? It was the right truck.

            Why are they still in the top 3? They have a major presence in China.

            Why is their stock so valuable? American business loves China.

            Why did they far outsell Ford and FCA? China.

            Ford and FCA know they are small fry who are in danger, which is why the Sweater Man was trying to do a merger.

            The problem with GM’s American disappearing act is this: China isn’t solid ground for anyone but the Chinese government. And “New GM” was paid for by the American taxpayer, not the Chinese one.

  11. AvatarCompaq Deskpro

    Shouldn’t it be “Frosty’s”, because the apostrophe kind of buys you poetic license to spell stuff wrong? Maybe it should be Frosties because the name was intended to be the adjective to describe the food, regardless of it being a brand.

    I firmly believe that that multiple rodents are “mice”, and desktop computer controllers are “mouses”, but nobody else seems to think so.

    Reply

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