Weekly Roundup: Without A Cause Edition

Wallace Stevens published his first and arguably greatest book of poetry, Harmonium, at the age of forty-four. Thirteen years later, he published “The Idea Of Order At Key West”. I do not know what future generations will make of Stevens or his work — as with Eliot and Pound, I suspect that the exhaustive demands that Stevens makes of the reader, his footnote-fancy-free requirements that one be both massively erudite and finely sensitive, will cause him to eventually disappear from a canon unable to properly encompass much more than the feelgood blatherings of Maya Angelou or Pablo Neruda. Stevens wrote for men like himself, men who were not immune to emotion but who had subjugated their passions to the work of creating the Western World. We will not see their like again and their cultural legacy will not fare well in the new pedagogical tradition that largely defines itself in terms of the negative space between tangible accomplishments.

Perhaps all that anybody will remember is that Stevens worked tirelessly in the insurance business for most of his adult life. By the time Harmonium was published, he had already put in seven years at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he would work well into his seventies. Never well-liked at his day job, Stevens was nevertheless efficient and successful. He was also sufficiently vigorous at the age of fifty-six to break his hand on Ernest Hemingway’s jaw in a rather odd dust-up that was apparently founded on mutual artistic contempt and in which Hemingway, like recent lime-green Huracan purchaser Conor McGregor, failed to capitalize on a considerable advantage in youth.

I think about Wallace Stevens quite a bit when I read today’s younger autowriters. Almost without exception, they would be better off working some kind of day job and thus having the freedom to be a bit choosier about both the assignments they accept and the quality of the work they turn out. I’ve had this discussion with a few of them and I’m always told that “nobody is hiring”. That’s ridiculous. McDonald’s is hiring. Home Depot is hiring. Your local car dealership is hiring salesmen and service writers. What they mean is that nobody wants to pay them $75,000 a year to perform some kind of vague white-collar work that requires no prior skills or experience. That’s a shame but I can’t help but point out that I faced an identical situation when I left school in 1994 with an English degree and an extremely patchy resume consisting mostly of missed opportunities.

There’s a lot to be said for flipping burgers nine hours a day and spending the rest of your waking hours becoming a better writer. It’s going to pay off much sooner than sitting around the house talking shit on Twitter and curating the pornography collection on your laptop. There’s something about repetitive, unpleasant labor that really stimulates creativity in people, assuming they have the knack for it in the first place. Oh well. I don’t expect anybody to take this advice. It’s too easy to stay plugged into social media and the Brownian motion of endless, pointless conversations.

Let’s see what I managed to get written this week while also working a “real job”. As the man said, let be be the finale of seem.

For R&T, I gave some guidance for surviving the modern freeway in a sports car and interviewed the fellows who set the Viper’s least-luminous track record.

At TTAC, I discussed the biological opposition to autonomous operation, made a suggestion for a budget ‘bahn buster, and made a Bible joke.

If you’re at your local bookstore, keep an eye out for the new issue of Road&Track with the Swiss hotel on the cover. More details on that once I get MY copy.

32 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Without A Cause Edition”

  1. Mark

    Your biological opposition to autonomous operation is a lot more well thought and articulate, even though mostly parallel to my “We’ll see if the first empty autonomous Google-Uber Camry in my rear-view can stop faster than a C5Z with race pads perspective.”


  2. Texn

    The new Rebel, in basic trim and not modified, is peaking my interest. A great 9-month commuter in Boise. I drive 4 miles to work, on 2 lanes with limited number of soccer moms likely to cross in front of me.

  3. viper32cm

    Speaking of poetry, Jack, have you ever read any Wendell Berry?

    I would think anyone who wants to be an auto writer would be well served by working as a car salesman or service writer. Interacting with real people with a wide range of educational backgrounds who generally don’t give a shit about you or actively hate you is a wonderfully formative experience, especially for the smart kids.

    Also, glad to hear DG made it home safely. I daily a 1995 Honda Civic DX hatchback in Atlanta, and I’ve definitely noticed some of the things you mention in your article. It’s kind of funny how in the past twenty or so years we’ve gone from cars of the Civic’s size being very common and presumably quite visible to practically invisible.

    • Nick D

      I work in a county with 2% unemployment that is 40 minutes from a total population of 600k people. We will pay commuting bonuses, longevity bonuses, etc, yet a few of my younger truly millennial friends (I’m an xennial damnit) will gladly be an uber driver and make an effective negative wage waiting for that advertising job to open up.

        • Nick D

          Warsaw Indiana – main selling point: 30 minutes from Sweetwater. Hub of the orthopedic industry. You’d get a priority parking pass as a loyal customer!

          • One Leg at a Time

            Hear! Hear!

            Indiana ,and many area of the midwest, are rife with semi- to high-skill manufacturing (tool & die / plant maintenance / automation) jobs that we simply cannot fill.

            Mechanics (or morally flexible people with a non-standard definition of “experience”) are able to pick and choose whatever combination of wage and location fits their needs. The same goes for Managers with work experience in any facet of manufacturing or engineering.

            The other issue is that most people in their 20’s either want to live in a big, interesting city; or within 20 miles of the place where they were born.

          • Nick D

            One Leg, you are absolutely right. A state of undeclared war exists between all of these companies seeking skilled labor. If you know how to run a lathe, you shouldn’t have too much trouble breaking 100k/year if you play your cards right.

            The way to sell this would be to advertise a effective $200k salary if you lived in SF.

            It’s not too bad here. Two hours from Chicago, two from Indy, and FW is a solid city to raise a family.

            There’s also the minor added benefit of being able to accumulate wealth because of a silly low cost of living.

          • rwb

            Would you hire a morally flexible person with a non-standard definition of “experience” if they learned quickly?

            Asking for a friend.

  4. Joe

    In the article in R@T, with regards to drive like they are trying to kill you, totally agree, the stupid shit I did on a motorcycle and didn’t get killed is pure luck, I am older now and ride like they don’t see me, a much safer proposition! why are the nc cars not as liked as the two earlier generations!, this nc I bought the spousal unit is a blast, said from someone who owns a c5, this NCOs handles much lighter and tighter than my c5, no comparison in power, but just as much fun!

  5. arbuckle

    You are probably the only autowriter that actually cares about writing as a craft.

    35% are just happy being permanent shills in exchange for press cars, vacations, and swag.

    30% want to be entertainers. Their dream is to be the next Jimmy Fallon or Jeremy Clarkson.

    30% want to use their writing as a launching pad for a job as the marketing executive at Volvo or Elizabeth Warren’s campaign manager.

    5% are writing to gain some level of authority or credibility to push an agenda or particular argument.

  6. -Nate

    Agreed about the jobs Jack ~ if more Americans had ever been hungry they’d grab whatever job was available and be thinking about how to get further ahead whilst trying to pay the damn bills .

    My Gen. X Daughter In Law is disgusted with Millennials and she’s not much older but has a good work ethic .

    *SO* right about the Miata and Motocycles ! I’ve had so many near misses caused by others it’s a wonder I’m still alive .

    RIDE SCARED – it’s a good way to stay alive ! .

    I prefer to ride at odd times of the day or far off in the middle of nowhere to increase my safety .

    Lastly, the photo of the wrecked red Miata appears to have slid sideways into a post or bollard….


  7. Noman

    Philip Larkin (deceased), poet and librarian.

    Remember what Anthony Burgess wrote, that these works from the past, so outdated and obsolete, have a rare power on those who encounter them, in the future, for the first time: Beethoven’s Fifth!

  8. Scotten

    Got my R&T and it appears Jack heavy…. good!

    Just read the Camry Hybrid “review” at TTAC …. bad! Verticalscope is doing its best to drive away the few remaining old timers.

    • Ronnie Schreiber

      I’m more optimistic about TTAC than I’ve been in a while. That view may be biased by the fact that our new editor seems to like my stuff, so I’m contributing much more than I have recently.

      Previous management evaluated prospective content by what kind of traffic the topic had generated in the past. When McLaren loaned me cars I got resistance on running the reviews. Yeah, I know articles about crossovers and Camrys get more traffic than those about supercars. An editor or publisher can’t ignore traffic, but tailoring content to what has already gotten traffic or not doesn’t allow for much magic or serendipity to happen. The most popular post on TTAC in years was a snarky thing I did about a stupid expensive Porsche soundbar that incorporated a 911 muffler. The kind of thing someone would have in their office to remind themselves and others that they own a Porsche. When I found out not long afterwards, that there was a Lamborghini branded soundbar that was even more ridiculously costly, my feeling was been there, done that, so I didn’t write about it.

  9. Panzer

    Agree with the repetitive, boring labour bit. I’m not creative enough to become a good writer for instance, but spending the last 13 months getting up at 4:30AM every morning to go work in a supermarket has definitely got me chompin’ at the bit to get into Uber and make 70% more after tax than what i’m making now.

    • Panzer

      Also wanted to leave this here: What happens when even the biggest Youtuber who happens to be a liberal Swede is calling it like it is..

  10. Patrick King

    Hi Jack.

    I greatly enjoyed your R&T article on Nürburgring driving schools of the present day and wanted to share my experience with organized instruction there in 1978.

    The event was sponsored by the BMWCCA and included three days of instruction by genuine ‘Ring Rats, including a gent named Hans, who wore a black beret and drove a white, Alpina-equipped 1970 BMW 1600 Bauer Cabriolet (the early one without the “roll hoop”). His only English was, “Come on boise! We have not time!” as he’d run back to the Cabby and take off with us in hot pursuit.

    Starting with a two-day sightseeing bus trip from Frankfurt, which included stops at a toy factory in Heidelberg and the medieval crime museum in Rothenburg, the group eventually found its way to BMW headquarters in Munich. After quick tours of the museum and factory, each participant was assigned a factory-fresh 518 (E12, 1.8 carbureted four), in either red, white or blue, and told to make for the Eifel mountains. Funny, even back then some of the “enthusiast” American drivers in our convoy demonstrated poor lane discipline once we hit the road, failing to yield the passing lane to faster traffic, for which we were later scolded by our German tour guide (not me though, honest!). Once in the vicinity of Nürburg, club members were housed in small hotels in surrounding towns, both outside and inside the track.

    The evening before the first day of instruction my then-girlfriend encouraged me to take a sight-unseen lap of the ‘Ring for five bucks, or whatever it cost back then. Everything went reasonably well until I crested a hill at a good clip, fully confident that the road would go left on the other side, which it most certainly did not! Lots of flying elbows!

    Three days of training included calisthenics, running, classroom work and plenty of track time. We’d practice one series of corners, then move on to the next, then graduate to lead-follow laps over the entire course. Finally, we were let loose to see what we’d remembered. In my case, not a lot. Still, that red 518 topped out at 140 mph on the main straight, 20 more than my US-spec ’73 2002 back home. Such were the varying emissions regulations from the US to Germany at the time.

    And the cost for all five days? Three hundred bucks ($1,166.34 in today’s money, says the Google machine), plus airfare. The next year the ‘CCA doubled the price.

    Fun times.

    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Brilliant story! Thank you for sharing. I doubt very many people have any idea of what was happening back then… I certainly do not.

  11. Patrick King

    Thanks Jack.

    Two other differences between then and now: no graffiti on the pavement in 1978 (kids these days!) and since the current F1 track didn’t exist we ran the entire course, multiple laps at a time. From what I can tell from the Google satellite images that’s no longer possible. True?


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