Weekly Roundup: The (Dead) Ant And The (Dying) Grasshopper Edition

This is a true story; only the names have been changed. Let’s change them to… Bill and Rick. About forty-five years ago, give or take a few, Bill and Rick started a business. At first glance, they were quite different. Bill was lily-white, a farm-raised college basketball player with an Ivy League graduate degree; Rick was black, a self-made man and former Cleveland cop, working the worst streets and not always playing strictly by the rules. When asked how he paid for a customized Eldorado on a police salary, he said “You turn some people upside down and see what falls out of their pockets.” Their sole common denominator was size; these were 300-pound men who radiated menace even when they smiled.

Bill and Rick created their business out of nothing but some good will and laser-sharp instincts. It relied on public funding, and it was supposed to help people, although you’d have a hard time finding anyone who was ever truly helped in the process. Actually, that’s not quite true. Their business helped the doctors who worked there, most of whom had exhausted every legitimate opportunity and burned every bridge before joining the firm. It helped the woman who ran their public relations program, a fading but legitimate beauty whose inexhaustible appetite for trade-show hookups had scorched the industry before she settled down with a man ten years her junior who knew nothing of her past. Most of all, of course, it helped Bill and Rick.

If you looked at the disclosure statements filed by the company, neither man ever earned much more than $175,000 a year. But that was the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more money to be extracted. You just had to turn the operation upside down and see what fell out of its pockets.

This is the story of how those two men spent their money, and what happened next.

Remember the fable of the ant and the grasshopper? If not, here it is:

It was fall and the ants were laying their food away for the winter. A grasshopper stopped by. “Why are you wasting your time with that?” he laughed. “There’s always plenty of food to eat. Now is the time to play music, fall in love, live life to the fullest!” The ants made no response but continued to carry their provisions to the anthill.
.
Four months later, in the dead of winter, the grasshopper showed up starving at the entrance to the anthill. “My friends,” he begged, “a little food, please! A little charity, lest I die!” The ants replied,
.
“If you play during the summer, you will starve in the winter.”

That’s the story, and in that story Rick was the grasshopper. His showcase home in a prestigious subdivision was double-mortgaged to the hilt, interest-only deferred balloons and every payment made at the last possible minute. Though he lived alone — at least between wives, of which there were four — the three-car garage was always fully stuffed with Porsches, Benzes, Range Rovers, you name it. Nothing was ever left stock. There was always a full aftermarket stereo, chrome wheels, ceramic tint. His Cadillacs were restyled by a Cleveland firm called “Roman Chariot”; golden transparent vinyl wraps and massive “dubs” on pearl white Escalades and Sevilles.

Most of Rick’s clothes were by Pelle Pelle. His usual going-to-work outfit was something like this: bright-yellow tracksuit, fresh Nikes, sunglasses worn indoors, Kangol cap. Think Jim Brown in the Seventies. He affected the speech patterns and behaviors of the Black gangsters for whom he’d once been a stainless-steel scourge. You could find him most evenings at a steak restuarant, holding court and telling fabulous stories of days past. His sense of humor was both subtle and considerable, and he was in a good mood more often than he was not.

Rick’s excesses and his behavior never sat well with the company’s board of directors, and it occasionally ruffled the feathers of the elected officials who oversaw his funding, but that’s where Bill came in. He reassured everyone that the firm was in sane hands. Bill owned and drove a single vehicle, usually a Chevrolet truck. He wore flannel shirts, department-store denim. Rick had gold teeth; Bill’s were stained the crooked brown of rural healthcare and intermittent cigarettes. Where Rick had a quip and a leer for every occasion, Bill’s words came slowly and after much consideration. You would talk to him for half an hour and realize after the fact that nothing had, in fact, been said; that what seemed like a commitment or an approval at the time was, when re-examined in daylight, merely a few vague phrases strung together with a smile.

By common acclamation, Bill was senior to Rick, though they had founded the company as equals. “You see,” Rick told me once, “everybody likes to see a White man in charge. They figure he’s keeping me in line. We do it the other way… well, that’s unnatural, isn’t it? Raises a lot of questions. They’d be asking about the money. You can’t ask an old cracker like that about the money, cause that would… impugn his integrity, you see.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “but isn’t it ever a problem that you’re out here in a Cayenne Turbo and Bill is in a Tahoe? How do you get away with it? Doesn’t Bill want to do something similar?”

“Oh, Bill gets his,” Rick laughed. “And one day you’ll see. Bill has… a plan.” And one day in 2005 or thereabouts I found out all about it. I went out to Bill’s house.

It was fifty miles from the city, in a small town that had once been rich from farming and industry, on a street with a bunch of other Victorian-era mansions. From the outside it was impressive enough, but once you went inside you understood in a moment that Bill was, in fact, getting his — and possibly to a greater extent than Rick. I have never seen a 122-year-old home like it. Every single square foot was flawless. Leaded glass, long curving staircases, hardwood floors of a quality unapproachable today. A full custom kitchen that wouldn’t have been out of place in a ten-million-dollar Manhattan co-op.

On the day I was there, two Amish craftsmen were making a new railing for a staircase. The rotted original railing was laid out on a rug and they were copying it, using nothing but hand-powered tools. Bill’s wife noticed my interest. “They’ve been working on it for a few weeks,” she noted. “I think it’s almost ready to go.” I thought about what it would cost to have two master carpenters at one’s disposal for a few weeks. For a staircase railing. There were other contractors coming and going as well. “We’re redoing it from the ground up,” his wife explained. “You’d be amazed at what everything costs.” A massive double-door Sub-Zero refrigerator had just been installed; from personal experience I knew that it cost perhaps $30,000, or more.

Not that this money-pit mansion was the only expenditure Bill had on the books. During my visit, one of his two worthless adult children poked his head in to see what was going on. He’d been “on tour” for over a decade with a rogue’s gallery of unsuccessful bands. In-between tours he lived in the home, on his parents’ sufferance. Two years later, he would come off the road for good and his father would celebrate this mid-thirties achievement by giving him, of all things, a Dodge Nitro. “A loser of a car,” Rick suggested, “for a loser of a son.”

The people who knew both Bill and Rick thought they understood the story. Rick was the grasshopper, thoughtlessly squandering forty or fifty thousand dollars every year on leased vehicles and that much again on fine dining. Bill was the ant, rebuilding a dream home that would surely recoup his seven-figure investment while driving a thrifty Chevrolet to work and wearing JC Penney. My father, upon hearing the story, suggested that I was much closer spiritually to Rick, but that I could learn something from Bill.

It wasn’t just the money, of course. It was how they conducted themselves. Everyone figured Rick would die of a heart attack at some point; he was too heavy, ate too much red meat, ignored the counsel of doctors. Bill, by contrast, was under constant medical advice and pursued a fitness program designed to keep him vital into his seventies. When Rick became ill and almost died fifteen-ish years ago, Bill moved to take full control of the company and the peanut gallery nodded as one: It’s the triumph of the low-profile, rural-mansion, health-nut ant over the AMG-Benz, velour-tracksuit, steak-and-vodka grasshopper. This reading of the situation was not exactly contraindicated by the fact that Rick was black and Bill was white. “It’s just what you’d expect”, the company accountant told me, though he declined to clarify further.

That’s the end.

No, it’s not.

Rick recovered — not perfectly, but enough. Having been cut out of the company, he accepted a small pension and curtailed his lifestyle. He lives a modest life today in a rental unit for senior citizens; his sole extravagance is a leased Audi, which everyone thinks he should give up. Rick is not interested in this advice.

And Bill? He didn’t make it to seventy. With a new kidney, he’d have made it, but his sons decided that on the whole they’d rather have the life insurance than go under the knife for a donation. His death happened at the tail of what we now remember as “the global financial crisis”. His wife tried to hold on to the house, but without the income to maintain it there was no way to do so. One of her sons had been given a $100,000-a-year job at Bill’s old firm by the board of directors on purely sentimental grounds, but of course he had other ideas for that money. After a two-year cascade of periodically lowered asking prices, the house sold for less than they’d paid for it as a shell in 2004; you couldn’t have duplicated the kitchen for that much.

Last week, my man Rodney and I went out to a rural dealership to order my new truck. We knew the sales manager there, because we’d both worked for him back in the day. Going down the main street of that town, I realized… that’s the house! It was Bill’s mansion. I hadn’t seen it in fifteen years, but I recognized it immediately.

Rodney and I pulled my Lincoln over and stepped out. The house didn’t look abandoned, but it showed the clear signs of a decade’s neglect. “This was Bill’s dream?” Rodney was incredulous. “It looks like shit.” We could see where the restored slate roof had been replaced with vinyl in a few places to fix leaks. There was a car in the garage, which looked like it had suffered a break-in at some point. The yard wouldn’t have passed muster in a suburban neighborhood. I didn’t look in any of the windows — that’s a great way to get headshot in a small Ohio town — but I suspected that the interior bore similar signs of neglect.

On the way home, Rodney offered his opinion. “You know, Bill was always smarter than Rick, so I’m surprised at how it all turned out.” I thought about this for a few miles, listening to Coltrane’s “Lazy Bird” as the farmhouses flashed past my windshield, before replying.

“Everyone always said Bill was smarter. But he died with two worthless sons and an incomplete house that turned out to be worthless, too. All those years of driving a Tahoe, dressing cheap, eating salads in his office. It was all for nothing. While Rick… shone. Renting vacation homes in Hilton Head and Vegas, driving six-figure cars exclusively, eating an eighty-dollar steak in a custom Giallo Fly velour tracksuit and wearing a solid-gold Submariner. Four wives and who knows how many women in between. So who was really smarter?”

“You,” Rodney admitted, “might have a point.”

So here’s the old fable, revised: All summer the grasshopper played. There was no malice in his heart, and no thought for the future. Just a desire to enjoy a life he’d always imagined as a dirt-poor child, just an innocent delight at the idea of owning a thirty-thousand-dollar watch and driving an Andial 930 Turbo. Meanwhile, the ant had contempt in his heart for the grasshopper. The ant had a better idea. It was future-oriented. It was respectable. It was decent, and it was normal. But the ant didn’t live long enough to see his plan come to fruition, and the economy had other ideas about home valuation anyway, so he died as if he’d been poor his whole life. The grasshopper continued to live another decade, always hand-to-mouth, without the dignity for which we’d all hope in our old age — but if you lived the way the grasshopper had lived, just once, while he was young and it was all there to be taken, who could worry or care about the conditions of that closing chapter?

At the end of the winter, both the ant and the grasshopper were dead. But only the grasshopper had ever really been alive.

The end.

For them, anyway. It’s the end for the rest of us, as well; for you, for me, for everyone who reads this. We just don’t know exactly when. So if you see me driving by that house a few months from now, in a truck I probably can’t afford and shouldn’t be driving, just think of me as a grasshopper, living in the pure moment, hopping and skipping at the dog-days end of my summer. What lies ahead? Nothing but hard seasons, of course, but not yet, my friend. Not yet.

* * *

For Hagerty, I considered the odd fate of an ambitious automotive platform and reviewed the maximum Lexus.

97 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: The (Dead) Ant And The (Dying) Grasshopper Edition”

  1. Newbie Jeff

    Well done, Jack. Timely… and I realize that’s the point.

    We all die. And if we’re lucky, not penniless and alone. But we all die either way. It’s truly a psychotic, selfish sociopath who not only expects to live forever, but expects society and everyone else to sacrifice all he requires to ensure he lives forever…

    Reply
  2. goose

    I’d like to propose a toast to the grasshopper.

    We all get it, in the end. ” Sometimes you just have to say, what the heck.”

    Reply
  3. John Van Stry

    Shortly after I got out of the service I got a job in aerospace and was sent to the other side of the country a year later on a ‘short term’ contract that ended up running almost 4 years. I had a pretty good expense account and I was pretty pissed about a few things that I’d worked hard for previously and been screwed out of.
    So I took that incredibly high expense account and a decent salary and I not only blew every last cent of it on ‘wine, women and song’, I also went through several cars, motorcycles, etc.
    It was awesome.
    Then my company went completely out of business (one of the largest aerospace companies out there) and I lost my job and well, I was pretty heavily in debt. Took a few years to pay it all off and find a new career.
    Still, I don’t regret it at all. I learned how to have fun and f**k all if people didn’t understand that. I also learned how to work harder so I’d have the money to blow whenever I wanted to blow it.
    Now?
    Now I’m in a lot better shape financially than if my company hadn’t gone out of business and I’d be getting ready to retire with a pension. And I can honestly say I’ve done a lot of shit that 99.9 percent of the folks out there wish they had.
    Loosing everything you own is a hell of a lesson, and a growing experience. So is learning to enjoy life – because there aren’t any refunds!

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Interesting comment John – your last line reminds me of the beer barrel polka: “In heaven there is no beer, that’s why I drink it here”. On the other hand, heaven is usually portrayed as a wonderful place to reward a life well spent, but if the grasshopper is an atheist type who does not believe in an “after-life” or heaven, the memories of the wine, women, and song will only be a few extra particles of dust.

      The other element that I think your personal story misses is that you actually seem to have earned all your wine, women, and song, and therefore also have enough skill, dedication, and talent to survive the winter. In contrast, the grasshopper in the parable seems to have no skills or talents besides the ability to party off of someone else’s efforts, while the parable does not really tell us anything about the personal satisfaction (beyond survival) that the ants receive from building something valuable from their own efforts. If you look at real world examples, the people who are often the most miserable are those that get “free stuff” that does not require any personal effort or sacrifice (i.e. welfare recipients, lottery winners, trust-fund children), while the people who forgo a few parties (or leased luxury cars) while working hard to build a career, business, nest egg, or caring for family tend to be far happier.

      Reply
      • Jack Baruth Post author

        I know a young woman who started renting a place in Columbus when it was worth $75k, fifteen years ago. It’s worth $600k now. At least.

        Reply
        • Harry

          Columbus is crazy, I can’t imagine what the victorian dump I rented on Buttles 20 years ago is worth now. Charming farming towns in rural Ohio people would pay out the nose for a house in are harder to come by. Or at least they used to be. Maybe he died a decade to soon?

          Reply
          • Jack Baruth Post author

            For what it’s worth, I worked the check cashing store at High and Buttles for most of 1996. At the time it was best avoided by everyone and weapons were frequently drawn. Very chic now.

          • Harry

            It was well on its way to being gentrified in 02, I am not that much of a pioneer. Also fwiw I was running a Riverside Green adjacent ski shop on Sawmill and 161 at that time. The streetview of my old address makes me think it might still be a renovation holdout on that block.

  4. Phillip

    I really enjoyed the Ford D3 article. I learned to drive in a 2006 Freestyle AWD. My parents had just traded in their loaded to the max 2005 Highlander Limited V6 when I got my temps. I remember it being a pretty notable “conquest” sale at the time, replacing a Toyota with a Ford. The Freestyle was blue and silver two tone with a gray leather interior (a no-cost option Ford offered as an incentive). Probably had the wimpiest stereo ever, but that’s about the worst thing you could say about it. Had a lot of space. Very comfortable. Great in bad weather. It was really slow. While that Duratec wasn’t too bad when mom and dad test drove a FWD model by themselves, the AWD version drove them both crazy with a family of five driven by a 15-16 year old. They didn’t even know it had a CVT until they brought it home and I read the window sticker to them.

    I later got to drive a 500 with the 6 speed auto. That really was nice. Much later, at work, I also borrowed that D3 generation Explorer for a 6 hour drive to DC and some local light-duty towing in Ohio. I really enjoyed it for both. Always wanted to write in a defense to TTAC in the days when it was routinely trashed to create a wobble.

    Reply
    • gtem

      Swapping a first gen Highlander for a CVT Freestyle, wow. I can’t think of a bigger leap down in long term (long term) reliability/quality, except maybe to jump into a Trailblazer or Durango of that era. But hey maybe the Freestyle worked out just fine!

      Reply
      • Phillip

        They never keep anything long enough for reliability to matter. A long wheelbase Trailblazer actually preceded the Highlander. The next year it was back to Toyota for an 07 Camry. Then a string of four (yes, four!) CX-9s.

        Reply
  5. MrFixit1599

    At age 49, I am selling or leaving behind most everything in Wisconsin, except all the new furniture we bought over the past few years, and some sentimental things and moving to Tulsa. Keeping the same traveling maintenance job I’ve had the past 16 years. New house must have certain amenities that are going to put the mortgage at the very limit of affordability for us. Makes me wonder if I was a Bill morphing into a Rick, if that’s possible. Then again becoming an empty nester is bound to change philosophies.

    Reply
  6. Panzer

    Jack, I read this as you defending your lifestyle against the judgement of random internet participants, and I understand that.
    I would say though, that this is unnecessary. None of us (with very few exceptions) know you personally, so are in no position to commentate on how your life runs or the decisions you make.
    Simple as that.
    In saying this though, I had a conversation with my mother this last weekend and it seems that her 50 year old relationship with my father may be coming to an end.
    That’s OK, i’m in my 30’s and my brother is not much younger, (though he makes Bill’s sons look like winners) but what this has taught me, is that life just does what it wants, it doesn’t care about your cherished assumptions or your plans or anything else. So the only thing you can do is do your best to create the best future you can for yourself and your family.
    Bill wasn’t an idiot, he was just trying to do his best. And despite his sons, he went to his grave with a certain honour.
    Rick on the other hand, just got lucky, because like I said l, life just does what it wants, and sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice versa.
    TL;DR You just keep doing you, there’s merit in your approach, and merit in being future oriented too.

    Reply
  7. Disinterested-Observer

    Steinbeck, via Tom Joad, told Jim Casy a very similar story about the difference between Pa and Uncle John.

    Reply
  8. stingray65

    Great D3 story, as is your ant and grasshopper essay above. The D3 and Bill share many elements – both seemed to be mostly logical and hard-working with minimal flash and waste, and yet neither had the success that is expected from the ant side of the parable. Ford and Rick share some grasshopper characteristics – both seemed to focus on wasteful and frivolous elements that were fun (Ford with the F-150 and Mustang, Rick with his flashy cars and wardrobe and steak diet) and perhaps surprisingly turned out to be profitable and unexpectedly long-lived.

    Yet there are some elements that don’t fit your modern day telling of the ant and grasshopper parable. Would Rick have been able to live his flashy lifestyle without Bill’s restraint and business prudence? I’m assuming that Rick’s role in the business was as a “minority” owner that was required for tax dollars to flow into their business, and perhaps as some literal muscle to deal with the unsavory types their ethically challenged business likely dealt with on a regular basis. This would suggest that both Bill Ant and Rick Grasshopper were dependent on a reckless money printing government for their business “success” and personal lifestyle choices. Thus the modern day version of the parable would have the ants gathering their winter provisions from the scraps left on the ground by the local wastefully run food processing plant, which the grasshoppers also gleefully gather up and instantly consume rather than save for winter, but when the wasteful plant eventually goes bankrupt (or in a real fantasy eliminates the waste) they both will die of starvation. As for Ford, what will they do when the government shuts down their source of “food” by banning the wasteful but profitable F-150s and Mustangs and forcing them to live on prudent but unprofitable EVs?

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Bill was little more than the “face”; Rick made almost all of the decisions and dealt with all the drama. Bill attended a lot of meetings and dinners.

      Reply
        • Jack Baruth Post author

          He was a profoundly strange fellow. Never met anyone like him before or since. He positively radiated insincerity but he also looked like the proverbial hick from the sticks.

          Reply
  9. John C.

    It would be interesting to compare the first owner of Bill’s house to Bill. Bill, fully credentialed by the system of the recent past, chooses to team with Rick to extract government money to do societal good that can’t easily be explained. Perhaps thiis story will sound familiar to the first owner, but I bet he was either an industrialist or at least a leader whose job was to bring civilization to the new town. When he expressed his success, it was by bringing a new style of living to the new place. Bill, despite more dollars is left to just try to put back right what was, as there no longer are new styles. Notice the attention to the kitchen, because the time when a gentleman’s family is attended to by actual servants is over and we are left to labor savors to compensate.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      The interesting thing about most high end kitchens is that their owners almost never cook. Instead the most used item in the fancy kitchen is the microwave to heat up take-out when owner is too busy (or afraid of Covid) to eat out.

      Reply
      • John C.

        True enough. My condo came with a Wolf oven that looks quite fancy. I was able to keep my wife, who isn’t much of a cook, to not use it for the first five years. It was only going to be new once. The microwave she used from day one and we already have had to replace it.

        Reply
  10. hank chinaski

    In the current year, grasshopper behavior is encouraged. Our government and monetary system are in fact giant grasshoppers that feed each other: zero interest loans to themselves and anyone with a pulse, money printer go brrrr, the everything bubble, and stimmy checks for all. Mammon is god and God is dead. The ants get ZIRP, hyperinflation and unlimited immigration/outsourcing.

    But yeah, in the end, we’re all dead. I’ve seen more than a few ants go out in their 50’s, some right on the doorstep on the early retirement they had planned years for.

    On home improvement: “Never have the cheapest or most expensive house on the block.” Best case: it’s your labor (and congratulations, you’ve just developed another skill nobody can steal from you) or next-best, you’re a GC and get the work done at cost.

    That Lexus nose is fuuuuuuuugly.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Not only is the government a giant grasshopper, but its policies encourage citizens to become grasshoppers. Why work and save when the government will print out money to pay citizens (and non-citizens) to not work and save, while heavily taxing the work and savings of any ants who persist in their productive and prudent activities.

      Reply
  11. John Lock

    But Bill wasn’t an Ant, he didn’t mind his home (wife, kids and other) only the shell that housed them. He just looked the part….

    Reply
  12. ScottS

    It seems the era of drawing attention of one’s success, at least for all but the ultra rich, is dead and gone. It’s fashionable to draw attention to one’s virtue nowadays whether real or imagined. So we have the Prious for the virtuous lower classes and the Tesla for virtuous upper crust.

    A friend who lives in a Northern Virginia mansion on one of those old estates lined with stone walls for miles recently confided that she can’t remember the last time she was invited to attend a luncheon or dinner party and not be expected to bring a checkbook. The Phantom in her garage doesn’t get much exercise these days as the occasions where it would be appropriate are few and far between. Her daily is a Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum which is somehow more socially acceptable than the Phantom. How ironic is that! The reality is that the Escalade is the only real luxuary car made by an American Manufacturer. Is it any wonder that Lincoln as struggled, and Lexus seems no longer to have a clear understanding of it’s future or the kind of vehicles it should produce and for whom? The wealthy aren’t into having fun any more, at least not how it was done in the past. This leaves the lower strata of society in a quagmire. We still admire and aspire to automobiles and other symbols of success that the real rich have abandoned. The solid gold Rolex that once worked both Rick and the Corporate CEO now only works for Rick. The CEO is wearing an Apple watch and Patagonia made by slaves in a foreign land.

    And yes, the D3 Explorer was massively preferred by cops over the Taurus. One of the huge liabilities for the Taurus was the inability to fit a Pelican 1750 (and other bulky cop gear) in the trunk.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Does it matter what is in your mansion’s garage when you have a private jet or two awaiting your orders (perhaps to take you to the next climate conference) at the local airport?

      Reply
      • ScottS

        No. It doesn’t matter in the least, and there are may not even be a proper mansion for this generation of rich and affluent. The future for most of these fabulous estates is to become vineyard/wineries, and wedding venues were the little people get photos to post on their make believe Instagram lives. Of course they will be owned by the truly rich who visit occasionally.

        Reply
        • stingray65

          Of course they only visit occasionally, no self-respecting rich person only has one mansion/estate/penthouse apartment, which is another reason they need that private jet to visit all their properties.

          Reply
  13. gtem

    Loved the MKT piece Jack. You never fail to make me want some random fairly pedestrian car that I had never considered before. My only experience with the platform has been a few rental Explorer Limiteds about 7-8 years ago, as well as a FWD SEL Flex rental a few years back. The Volvo platform is very safe, as you note, but in the Explorer especially I found the distribution of space very odd. There’s this strangely large gap of space to the (very thick) door, the base of the A-pillar looks like a massive tree root or something. Just a few things that stood out as weird. The Flex felt more “normal.” Though I couldn’t think of any particular advantage it held, in FWD guise, over a similarly affordable Mopar van for family duty, and several notable ways it fell short (lack of sliding doors and stow-and-go).

    The city put in a new traffic light right before two lanes merge to one, so there’s been a lot of impromptu drag racing going on. My FWD Town&Country just can’t hack it. The Pentastar immediately overwhelms front wheel traction, and at the same time the 3.6L just doesn’t have the grunt to really get 4700lbs off the line with authority, further hampered by the dimwitted 6spd auto. An Ecoboost MKT/Flex would certainly take me up a few pegs in the stoplight drags.

    Reply
    • Dean

      Disagree on the stoplight drags – the Pentastar with the short 1st and 2nd gears are more than enough to move a T&C off the line. Ease into the throttle to avoid losing traction. I agree that the 6-speed can be truly dimwitted from a roll (I wind up shifting manually around town and on the highway), but it will gladly shift with authority at redline from a stop. I rarely lose a stoplight drag race in my T&C unless I’m up against something truly sporty. Nobody expects a silver minivan to have any beans so the element of surprise works in your favor.

      Reply
      • Jack Baruth Post author

        For the record, this level of discussion about the ability of Pentastar vans to win stoplight drags is EXACTLY what I had in mind when I registered the domain!

        Reply
        • Dean

          By contrast, I NEVER won a stoplight drag with the 2006 Freestyle (FWD) that we traded in on the T&C. The CVT was a real weak link. Admittedly, the Freestyle was quieter on the freeway. I liked it but traded it for a useful 3rd row (needed with 3 kids) and a lot more cargo room. The T&C has done everything from tow a 6 x 12 U-Haul trailer 106 miles to Chicago to touring laps of Watkins Glen.

          Reply
        • One Leg at a Time

          As I am in the market for something vaguely resembling a sports car, I have had this discussion more than once.

          My wife really likes the GR86 – however, while I will tolerate the slings and arrows of a certain internet writer about my purchase of POP-figures, I will not purchase a “sporty car” that gets curb-stomped by a minivan pulling away from a stop light.

          Reply
          • Jack Baruth Post author

            I’m afraid that’s going to be the case more and more, even for higher powered cars, as one-trick-pony EVs become more common. The good news is most of them can’t do two hard starts in a row!

      • Eric L.

        I need more practice launching the CVT in our ’14 Quest, but Nissan theoretically provided enough juice in the detuned VQ35DE to motivate the mere ~4550 lbs in LE trim, but it’s not easy to use, either. There’s nothing like the last iteration of the Sienna’s 2GR-FKS. Direct injected 296HP minivan? Yes, please. Death to that thing’s permanent hybrid replacement; it was obviously built for Uber drivers, not actual families.

        I’ll freely admit my wife has beaten me to a turning lane once when she caught me unawares in the G35 at a light. My older sons in the backseat were cackling with laughter that dad’s fast car lost the race. Dad wasn’t prepared, and couldn’t overcome the deficit from taking off in first gear per usual before the turn lane started. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Reply
        • Fat Baby Driver

          As a man who also owned a G35 and a Quest at the same time, both ’04 models, I tip my hat to your exquisite taste in vehicles sir. I traded the Quest for – what else? – a ’14 Flex SEL. The Quest could run away and hide from it at any speed. The only thing the Flex really did better than the Quest was not remind me of my ex wife. *shrug*

          Reply
          • Eric L.

            How can the world be this small, sir? 😀

            If you liked your G, you’d definitely have enjoyed the ’05 with the “rev-up” engine and legitimately useful shift light. I don’t know what can possibly replace it.

      • gtem

        Dean I agree, I’ve fine tuned my foot and reflexes to get the jump at the light AND roll on smooth enough to not spin my Continental True Contact Tours excessively (just a slightly embarrassing squeal). To be fair I’m never truly going full throttle in this thing, not with my 2 year old in the back seat (maybe when he’s a bit older). It’s all about that reaction time and hooking up. But I live in the land of Explorer STs, Tahoe RSTs, and increasingly Teslas. Had a Bolt eat my lunch a month or so ago and I’m still salty about that one!

        Reply
      • danio

        I have a picture in my office of myself in a 2017 Pacifica launching off the Christmas tree of Thunder Mountain Raceway versus a 1996 Mustang GT. Mr GT wasn’t too pleased that a modern mommy wagon could go door handle to door handle down the strip with his Stang.

        Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I noticed the same thing about the D3 Explorer, and covered it in my first review for TTAC.

      I believe the odd proportioning, like the similar weirdness in the first-generation “New Beetle”, was caused by a considerable difference between the way they wanted it to look on the outside and the position of the chassis hard points on the inside.

      Reply
    • Compaq Deskpro

      A few years back I dropped my 14 no options base Challenger off at the dealer for warranty work, a blend door motor in the dash broke blocking the heat, the only thing that broke. The loaner they gave me was a new Grand Caravan GT, with the dark grey wheels and red stitched seats, hilarious. In a Challenger the Pentastar has a dual exhaust that makes a wonderful understated V8 like burble up to 3K and a dual cam harsh scream from 4-6500K, it sounds so good that it largely sold me the car. In a Caravan with a single exhaust and 20 less horsepower, the engine note is largely drowned out by the transmission’s gear whine, and doesn’t sound better than a Toyota or Honda V6. It feels more like 250 horses, the transmission had a harder time making decisions than my Mercedes 5-speed, which is also criticized for hunting. The comment about traction is correct, I had an “oh shit” moment the first time I hit the onramp, the front tires were completely overtaxed and started howling rather than turning. My base Challenger is a squishy car, and is not the authority on body roll, but it seems my car had much a much beefier suspension. The Caravan hit bumps with a rattliness typical of solid axle cars (especially from the seats), and it felt like a big empty subwoofer on thuds. Still, if this had a 4 cylinder it would largely be just boring, and I love that the very last run of the most boring and cheap family and fleet cars has some muscle style just because it can.

      Reply
      • Carmine

        First time I saw a “Caravan GT” I was 100% convinced it was some schlub that just stuck on the letters, later after seeing a few, I learned it was from the factory….and today I actually found out there was a difference, I never cared enough to know what the GT actually consisted of…….

        Reply
  14. Kenneth Lundquist

    Loved the D3 article. Any thoughts on how the CD4 relates to the prior D3?

    Seem like Ford has evolved it as well as the duratec.

    Reply
  15. gtem

    On the ant vs grasshopper thing, I’d definitely put myself in the ant category for the first part of my life. Granted, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing some truly awesome things (a cross country motorcycle trip in college done on a shoestring budget, backpacking trips deep in Siberia near the Mongolia border, some other fun travel) but there’s always been a focus on being frugal and smart with money. Near term goal is paying off our “forever” house so my wife and I can “semi retire” in our mid-late 30s. That in my mind will be the payoff for a few decades of “ant” habits. The hope is to then start enjoying our money some more, especially once kids are old enough to enjoy more outdoors stuff. But even then I think my habits will be hard to break. I have a tendency to buy cheap older stuff and fix it up to my liking, so it’d be a used pontoon boat, used dirt bikes, etc, etc. But I’m learning to gut check myself on that habit. Sometimes I feel like I trick myself into thinking “fixing it up is half the fun!” when really, sometimes it’s not and I spend a bunch of time dicking around in the garage rather than enjoying a new toy.

    Reply
    • Eric L.

      Eh wot? I started reading your comments on TTAC a decade ago and assumed you were born in the early 70s. Good luck on your “FIRE” goals. 🤘

      Reply
      • gtem

        Heh guess I’m just kind of an old curmudgeon at heart. I even had the beige Buick Park Ave to prove it earlier this year! My dream really is to start a lifestyle of a (very athletic) 60 year old, by 35-36. Or at the very least allow my wife to go part-time or take a break from work altogether.

        Reply
    • Nick D

      I’m on your plan gtem. Our goal was to have FU money as soon as practicable, and we’re almost there through living well below means but far from eating expired cans of plankton. My job puts me close to some extreme wealth (jets – plural – and houses all over). Didn’t really think hedonic adaptation was real until seeing that up close. If you could accurately measure happiness, I’d bet I got the same serving of joy at figuring out what caused my snowblower to die at idle with one of my sons over the weekend as he did rocketing down the runway in his own jet to a fabulous beach house.

      Reply
      • Jack Baruth Post author

        From your lips to God’s ears, both of you. Can’t wait to see how well you both do, largely because when I’m seventy-five years old I’m going to need a place to crash, and I’m not talking about Turn One at Mid-Ohio.

        Reply
      • gtem

        My own material aspirations for the future are what I’d consider fairly modest: some kind of lake/woods property to eventually build up into a home to move into permanently in 20ish years, some home and landscaping renovations (even here I would largely DIY), a few vintage powersports toys (think fleet of 80s dirt bikes/trikes to take up to Silver Lake in Michigan), update our car fleet. But the single biggest thing will be the feeling of freedom of not having some kind of debt hanging over my head or the absolute NEED to work regularly at a mind numbing or stressful corporate day job. That to me will be true “luxury living.” A somewhat telling example is mowing: I currently pay someone to mow our acre lot due to work/time constraints. When I was doing it myself last year I didn’t really enjoy it most of the time because it was a chore that I had to squeeze in among many other obligations. Under different circumstances I would absolutely relish this task, along with more diligent landscaping upkeep. IE the type of stuff that retired guys really get into.

        Reply
        • Nick D

          I hear you on that. I think you’re Hoosier-based as well, and a nice place in the UP is something I’d like to get someday. Great example about yardwork – there was a point when doing yardwork for others was an enjoyable way to earn extra money. I’d throw in some headphones and ear protectors and liked the activity. Now I outsource as well.

          Being in a place where my time is so damn valuable to make any non-work activity a ‘loss’ seems more like hell than a good place for me, even if it means there’s money on the table. It seems those who are delegating everything lose sight of the small things that matter if the bottom falls out on a life of luxury.

          “Unrestrained moderation,” as a wise old Emperor once said, is what I’m aiming for.

          Reply
          • gtem

            “Unrestrained moderation” is the absolutely perfect term for it. My daydreams are not of driving to work in a brand new Tesla, but rather taking my wife out to a nice long weekday lunch in an immaculate 90s Buick Park Ave Ultimate or some other fun oddball of times past.

  16. Trollson

    Maybe the ant was just as happy being an ant as the grasshopper was doing his grasshopper things.

    That said, my worst fear is having a kid who grows up to be a loser.

    Reply
  17. CitationMan

    There’s a happy medium between Bill and Rick that many of us live in. Ever watch a loved one die in a horrific Medicaid nursing home? I have, and that will get you to enjoy life *and* save for a rainy day. And there’s always a rainy day.

    Reply
  18. Gene B

    I know of so many people that saved for retirement while bitterly suffering through awful jobs, only to die shortly after they stopped working. People who live their whole lives like that won’t know what to do when they get the time, and some just get too old to do anything. I live in a house where the previous owner spent a fortune getting it ready for his dream retirement with his wife, and just a few months after it was done she died. He died of a broken heart soon afterwards. You never know when you will be called.

    I always took jobs that let me travel the world (on some one else’s dime, a friend said), and I always took extra time to see the sights. You don’t a lot of money to have an exciting, adventure packed life…just some courage. I would add that many experiences don’t require the best product in the category…in the early 90s I has an outside sales job in Germany and an Audi 90 company car with 90 hp. I put 100k miles on that car in 30 months over the autobahns, driving at 110-120 mph straight…those days you could, especially on Sunday. I will never forget driving the from Kassel to Bad Hersfeld on the windy 7 autobahn at 100 mph, that was redline in third gear. On the big hill down that 90 hp Audi hit 131 mph. Every 2 weeks on my trek from west to east I would push for a higher top speed.

    It’s not about the stuff as it is about the approach to life. Life is awesome, so much to learn, see and do, just remember to thank the Lord for everything as that is the secret to obtaining the greatest wealth.

    Reply
  19. dejal

    My uncle was a plumber. My aunts’ sister married a “Go Getter”. Owned 7 nursing homes and a golf course. Went to jail for “Bookkeeping” issues concerning the nursing homes. But, he got out.

    They owned a house, not too fancy, in town that was the logo for a local company founded in town. I believe it was a Fortune 1000 company. Now long gone. That house was probably on billions of small time products.

    My uncle would tell me that at Christmas the Sister-In-Law, instead of giving gifts, would make donations in their names to causes like “Save The Manatee”.

    One of the nephews made the State of Mass. Top 10 dead beat dads for child support payments.
    Another moved to Florida with dreams of becoming a NASCAR driver.

    The old man died. The kids took over the business. Ran everything into the ground.
    In later years the Sister-In-Law lived in an elderly housing project and would hit my aunt up for 20 bucks.

    I laughed.

    It’s fine to spend your money. It sucks if you out live it.

    Reply
  20. Bryce

    I almost purchased a 986 over the summer (per the mechanic that ended up buying the thing: I dodged a bullet) from the widow of a rather wealthy man. He was president of a surgical device dealer, and worked tirelessly, seldom enjoying life. Bought the Boxster in 2008 with the idea of saving it for a rainy day, maybe a Sunday drive or two; it was ultimately to be his retirement vehicle for a gleeful retirement with his wife. He never drove the Boxster, and it fell into some neglectful disrepair—no matter, he would fix it when he retired. He retired at 62, seemingly in good health. 4 months later he was dead of an aggressive esophageal cancer. The Boxster sat languishing under a weeping cherry tree—an apropos fate for the car that never was. I didn’t save the car, but a local Euro mechanic did. It was raggedy, and a telling tale that you can’t take it all with you.

    Reply
  21. AoLetsGo

    Like the Gladiator reference…
    Semi-retired now, doing a lot of crazy, mad stuff but still very careful on expenses.
    Should be able to go deep for the long run. Long term backup plan is to walk off into the snowstorm, aka Eskimo style.

    Reply
  22. Shocktastic

    “And yes, the D3 Explorer was massively preferred by cops over the Taurus. One of the huge liabilities for the Taurus was the inability to fit a Pelican 1750 (and other bulky cop gear) in the trunk.“

    A better answer is/was easier to hop in and out of the Exploder with all the gear festooned on law enforcement these days. Once upon a time they/we had a second chance vest, sidearm, reload/extra mag, one or two pairs of cuffs, a few pens, a report pad and a brick of a Motorola. Now it’s half the load out of a combat paratrooper. Put a 25 pound barbell plate in your backpack and do chair squats 20 or 30 times a day. Plus LEOs like to see over their hood past the minivans, trucks, suvs, and Klockau cross-combovers

    Reply
    • ScottS

      You are absolutely correct. That was another common complaint of the Taurus was the difficulty of ingress and egress with a full compliment of gear.

      Reply
  23. -Nate

    *Very* good comments rolling in .

    Life is to be enjoyed, not endured .

    That being said I’ve managed to have serious fun and travel on a pittance whilst raising a family and so far the retirement thing is doing okay….

    As far as having a child who’s a ‘loser’ ~ all you can do is teach them the best you know and let them loose : after that don’t enable them in any bad behaviour .

    My knees kept me from putting my foot to far up Jr’s bum .

    -Nate

    Reply
  24. Carmine

    That Lexus LS is just an awful looking thing…..and that shot of the engine compartment?….it could have come from a KIA Rio, I know the owners of these things never raise the hood, but damn thats some cost cutting….and yeah, I also always thought these had a pillar or 2 too many……

    Reply
    • Gary

      It could have come from a KIA Rio… but it definitely came from a Genesis G70. Someone on Hagerty made a mistake (or a joke that went over my head).

      Reply
      • John C.

        Jack does seem to have Genesis front and center in his mind when he reviews the other guy’s offerings. After reading Jacks account a few months ago on the new S class, I almost went back through to count the number of G90 references while ignoring the A8 or 7 series BMW. Mercedes had obviously flown the writers out since C/D had a review covering the same drive, he obviously has the right to say his opinions, but not to use the event to flog the other stuff. That is definitely a Genesis engine bay in the Lexus article. Wonder what the Lexus engine looks like?

        On the Lexus, I have always complained that Japan just copies and never does it’s own thing with cars. That is bad because it just means the endeavor is all about export revenue. This car sees them do their own thing, and one can see why the success level in export markets approximates Nissan’s 70s Cedics and Gloria.

        Reply
        • Jack Baruth Post author

          If you had a chance to drive all the current big sedans, you’d understand why I don’t bother discussing the A8 and 7 Series, both of which trail the S-Class in every category but cost far more than a G90 or LS500.

          perhaps I should discuss the Nissan Titan at length the next time I drive a new F150… actually I won’t because nobody cares how something compares to the #6 entry in a segment.

          Reply
          • gtem

            How IS the 2nd gen Titan? Seems perfectly decent on paper, and when I was eyeballing trucks last spring/summer back before prices exploded, they seemed like a pretty good value ($35kish for an SV 4wd Crewcab locally). Never did get around to actually test driving one though.

          • -Nate

            “actually I won’t because nobody cares how something compares to the #6 entry in a segment.”

            Disagree very strongly .

            I know most here are GearHeads but knowledge is priceless and should always be shared as widely and freely as possible .

            No, I doubt I’ll ever be cross shopping new pickup trucks but knowing what what is always interesting to me .

            The and / grasshopper parable is good too, I see minds here turning as folks consider it .

            GREED IS BAD, NOT GOOD .

            -Nate

      • Jack Baruth Post author

        It was a layout issue; we tested a Genesis G70 at the same time, and if you’re looking through the LCD screen of a camera there isn’t much to choose between both plastic-slathered setups.

        Reply
        • Carmine

          The GDI on the engine should have been a giveaway…..I remember Lexus used to cover the entire engine a few years ago.

          Reply
  25. 94 metro

    I read Jack’s work so avidly because it runs counter to most of the media and opinions I see elsewhere, especially in this deep blue corner of the pacific northwest. This essay is another example of a refreshing contrarian viewpoint, it’s basically the anti-Mr. Money Mustache perspective.

    That said it’s a bit of a false dichotomy. You don’t have to choose between a hairshirt existence until 65 or hedonism. A little ant-like behavior can go a long way, especially early in life so the power of compound interest works for you rather than against you.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      It’s beyond my ability to keep up, and 80 minutes from a decent airport.

      I *am* home shopping, but it won’t be anything this fancy.

      Reply
  26. Crancast

    2011 Ford Flex EcoBoost, Silver w/White Roof.

    For all the reasons noted, 20 years from now I will miss that one the most beyond the more sporting vehicles we have had. But I do not miss it now, too soon. Three major engines failures with deep black billowing smoke and a flatbed ride all within the first 80k miles, and it was banished (along with Ford from our purchasing choices until two months ago). Those early EcoBoost models are merely very expensive parts donors. The ‘fun’ versions, and it is fun to shock a snooty X5 driver, were the exact opposite of your piece. And those fun versions were the real reason to pick the Flex and MKT over a minivan or three row SUV.

    +1 for a middle ground. There is something to be said for teaching the younger generations some restraint and fiscal responsibility in the must have it all NOW, even greater spend beyond your means times we live in.

    Reply
  27. tmkreutzer

    I’d argue that neither of the men in this story were “ants.” Both were grasshoppers that consumed their resources as fast as they could get them. One’s excesses were simply flashier than the other’s and it makes me wonder if there might not be something racist in the way we regard one man building an extravagant home as somehow superior to the other man eating great food, buying fast cars and wearing flashy suits.

    I am decidedly an ant. Dead is dead and I can’t take it with me, but I have others who depend upon me and whatever I have been able to gather will eventually go to them.

    The funny thing is, as I read this the [Muppets’ version of the Ant and the Grasshopper](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJAYsKjJtM4) sprang suddenly to mind. Enjoy.

    Reply
  28. VTNoah

    My dad (stepdad whom I call dad) passed away last month of bone cancer. He was very much a Rick in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Traveling all over Europe and Asia making money in unscrupulous ways. It caught up to him and he came to the US penniless in 88 to live with my mom and us three kids. They ran a small business for about 15 years which ended up bankrupting them again. When he died, he lived in low income housing surviving off of his social security and whatever us three kids could give him. The last conversation we had he told me “You know, we did pretty good”. Even though he didn’t have anything materially, he had three kids who were still devoted to him. He passed away with the three of us at his bedside. Not sure how this relates but your story made me reflect on his life and his effect on mine deeply. He wasn’t our father but he became it when no one else would.

    Reply
  29. -Nate

    Being out from under the debt load simple takes the desire to do so .

    I’m well pleased t see some here grasp this simple concept .

    Once your monthly nut is covered live gets far more enjoyable .

    Those who enjoy fixing their own snowblower or whatever have a serious leg up because they’re not bound by what others think .

    -Nate

    Reply
  30. Ice Age

    This brings to mind a thought experiment.

    Let’s say that before you were born, God gave you a choice of two paths you could walk in your life.

    The first is where you’re 17 and the day after you graduate high school, you’re given a job making $100,000 a year. You can have this job as long as you want, and you can never be fired from it (though you can quit if you like), but you’ll always be paid exactly $100,000 a year for it. Let’s say you work this job for a nice, even 50 years. That $5 million in straight compensation, not counting benefits. Not bad.

    The second is where you’re flat broke until age 47, when you negotiate a manufacturing license for an invention you’ve been working on for decades. This product is wildly in demand and successful and the manufacturer will now pay you royalties amounting to $100 MILLION a year for the rest of your life. You have, for your purposes, all the money in the world.

    Which path do you choose?

    Keeping in mind that money has the dimension of time, I believe that a hundred thousand dollars a year when you’re 20 is more REAL money than a hundred million a year when you’re 50.

    When you’re 20, you have things you won’t when your 50. You have your looks. You heal fast. You have energy. Staying up for two days straight is no big deal. You can eat whatever you want. You aren’t bitter or cynical. You’re open to new things. You aren’t set in your ways. When you’re 20, you can go out, find someone to marry, start a family, fix up an old house. You can learn to ride a motorcycle properly, and then buy a nice one. You can have all kinds of fun because you’re still convinced that “consequences” are things that happen to other people.

    All the things you can’t do when you’re 50.

    However, a hundred million a year has obvious advantages, even if it shows up late. You can now be honest with people. You’ll NEVER need to work for anyone else ever again, even in the capacity of your own business. You’ll be able to make up for some of that lost time. You can travel in style. You can buy any car you want, any house you want, any gun you want.

    So which path would you choose?

    Memories in the today you actually have or Fuck You Money in the inevitable tomorrow?

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      “Keeping in mind that money has the dimension of time, I believe that a hundred thousand dollars a year when you’re 20 is more REAL money than a hundred million a year when you’re 50.”

      This is the truest thing. I was making close to 100k a year at 30 and I felt wealthier than I do now at a multiple of that.

      And that’s why I’m planning on selling my 993 and forcing my son to travel and have fun rather than just drive a 993 to a regular life.

      Reply
  31. Guns and Coffee

    It is a tricky strategy to find a mate that is a little more ant if you are a little more grasshopper, and vice versa. It does have a benefit of balancing out a life with fun and preparing for a future. It is not without conflict or for the faint of heart, like I said, tricky.

    Its an old bumper sticker, but my inner grasshopper likes it: “I spent most of my money on women and beer. The rest I just wasted.” Worked right till I met my wife anyhow.

    Reply
    • -Nate

      @ Guns & Coffee ;

      1st : good choices ! .

      At this point I like my coffee more than guns but they’re important too .

      Since you eventually met your wife I’d say that beer & women money wasn’t wasted : by trying out as many as possible you were able to recognize the right one when she came along =8-) .

      This is a lesson I try hard to hammer into my foster boys : date ’em _ALL_ , BANG THE DRUM so you don’t make a lifetime mistake .

      My son still hates his mother, I don’t, I’m just ever so glad she’s gone .

      -Nate

      Reply

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