Cars And Me

I do lots of driving. Part of that is living in Wyoming; if one wants to do any real shopping, or maintain past professional and social contacts, one must travel. Even when I decide to fly somewhere, the closest decent airport is 120 miles away; if I want to use my 58,000 Frontier reward miles I would first have to drive 450 miles to Denver, the closest Frontier venue other than Jackson Hole, 215 miles over winterized mountain passes. And, as I’m fairly social, motoring assumes a major part of my life.

My first memories of any kind of relationship with cars were from WWII years, when as a toddler and later as a primary grades kid, we had a 1935 Hudson Terraplane sedan, an ugly brown exterior highlighted by an equally ugly beige interior, the door panel materials in major tatters exposing the inner mechanisms of the windows and door locks. I have vague memories of a trip to Florida in that car, when I was 3, and a bit later for a few days in the steamy summer in the Missouri Ozarks.

When the war was over, cars were in big demand, so my dad sold it for $300 and sentenced all of us to using public transportation for the next 8 years. This was not a problem in Kansas City, as a well-developed streetcar and bus system provided for whatever needs those of us in lower middle class neighborhoods required, and some of the consequences of those experiences still surface occasionally in apparently unrelated formats. For example, when at age 12 I was riding downtown in one of the streetcars and looking out the window, I saw my first Jaguar, a 1948 canary yellow XK120 convertible, and immediately fell in love. That amour periodically emerged; I bought a 1964 XKE British racing green coupe at the factory in Coventry, England, on my way home from my Peace Corps service in 1963. I only had the car for a couple of months, having accepted an offer to begin graduate work at Columbia University in NYC, and I couldn’t afford to keep my treasure.

Sometime in the mid 80’s, I bought another XKE, one that its owner had set aside from which to glean parts for another example he owned, but had abandoned. Although the body and engine were still mounted together, many of the other parts were in assorted cardboard boxes spread throughout his barn; the exhaust ports on the engine had to be cleaned of the dog kibbles that pack rats had stuffed inside, for storage. My confidence that I could put this together flew in the face of my earlier difficulties with erector sets, and subsequently waned to the extent that I put the whole thing up for sale after three years of contemplation. That was in 1987. (The buyer actually got the thing together and running, in 2008!).

In the early 90’s, a friend in our small town had moved back from his CEO activities throughout the US and Europe, and decided to sell his 1976 XJ6 sedan which he had purchased new, and nursed through the following 15 years. It was an ugly mustard color, but had a great little shelf on the middle of the fascia upon which I placed a jar of Grey Poupon Mustard in case a Rolls or Bentley ever pulled alongside and asked if I had some. The other highlight from this car was that it was the first one that I had driven that hit an antelope.

If you know a bit about Jaguars, you know that they’re always “in the shop”, and this one was no different. But I was fortunate in that, in the town where I was then working, I met a mechanic originally from Jamaica, and who had been a Certified Jaguar mechanic there. That was a friendship I continually cultivated, and treasured. I had the car for two or three years, then decided that my “jaguar itch” had been scratched, and sold it.

So that brings us to the present. Last month, The Itch resurfaced. I couldn’t resist the 2003 X-Type maroon sedan beckoning me from the local used car lot. Given our winter setting, I justified the purchase by pointing out to myself that the “X” in this vehicle’s designation represents All Wheel Drive, certainly an attractive characteristic locally. I ignored the fact that all of the cars on the lot have been purchased at the Billings Auction, and generally are very high mileage vehicles accompanied by a variety of issues. But I’ve already lined up a mechanic who likes to work on Jaguars, no doubt between visits to his therapist. And the computer scan yielded NO ERROR CODES!

I attribute my fascination with cars to a generalization that when one doesn’t have something, growing up, that it becomes a major priority once one has the resources to obtain it. We did not have a car from 1948-1954, when my dad was forced to buy an old Chevy in order for us to drive to Canada and visit his nun sister, supposedly dying of cancer (she lived another 25 years!). We finally got a TV set, also in 1954, when my mom bought a floor sample at Macy’s where she worked as a sales clerk. Those are two examples of things which we did not have, while “everyone else” did. So they became something I just had to have, and as is usually the case, I’ve overdone it just as I used to eat five hamburgers at one sitting, when I had the chance. I presently have four TV’s, four laptop computers of various ages and sizes, one tablet, and four vehicles.

Four vehicles? Yes, I have yielded on other occasions—in fact, I’ve sometime been described as The King of Impulse Buyers. There’s the Jag, which I consider to be A Toy and not to be used to satisfy my usual travel needs. For out of town and distance driving, there’s my 2011 Hyndai Sonata Turbo, an excellent car that gets up to 39 mpg. And for most of what I do around our small town (population 3000, it only takes 5 minutes to drive all the way across), a 1999 Chrysler Town and Country AWD van, proudly carrying its 192,000 miles happily through all the snow and mud which we will be facing for the next three months. I bought this van almost three years ago, at that same place where I was found by the Jaguar, and which has proved to be the BEST ALL-AROUND car I’ve had, from among the 60 or so throughout my life.

Those readers who have arthritis or back problems will understand how difficult it is to get up out of most automobiles, built so low to the ground, and pickup trucks often require one to have more climbing skills than the two guys who recently conquered El Capitan, to ascend into the cab. This van is the perfect height for sliding in and out of the seat; once in, the heated seats provide a soothing relief to some of those aches and pains. Visibility out those large windows is great; cargo space is equal to that of a pickup truck, when some of the seats are removed and stored. The All Wheel Drive has taken me easily through snow deeper than a foot or so. Its only negative is the paltry 20 mpg on the highway.

But that’s only three vehicles—what about the fourth? Well, for several years I had this vision of going from one Habitat For Humanity building site to another, meeting new friends and helping with the construction projects. I thought a small motor home would be the best option for this kind of Odyssey, so I spent quite a bit of effort seeking “the perfect sleeper”. I finally found what appeared to be just what I wanted, a 24’ Coachmen that sleeps four adults, has a full-height shower, kitchen, and is in excellent condition. It’s now up for sale. You see, I hadn’t considered the difficulty of driving such a vehicle in our Wyoming winds; the first time I was confronted with winds from the side the RV tried to seek a new location into the lane coming from the other direction. It scared the heck out of me, and I quickly realized that I was ill-equipped physically and mentally to maintain safe control. So, it’s for sale. And I must admit, the 8-10 mpg played a bit into my decision. It would be great for a family to drive to somewhere for the weekend and “camp”, but not to drive 400 miles a day on a trip. And that’s generally what I do.

For those curious about those “60 or so” vehicles, they would include five VW’s, 5 Datsun/Nissans, 4 Jags, 3 Fiats, 1 Hillman Minx (what the hell is that?) 1 MGB, 2 Mercedes, 3 Buicks, 2 Cadillacs, 3 Olds, 3 Chryslers, 1 BMW, 1 Audi, 2 Fords, 1 Toyota, 1 Lincoln, and a host of pickup trucks—International, Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Datsun. This is not everything, but close. I like cars.

So what do I do with these toys? Well, for one I do a lot of long distance travel, usually alone, and that gives me lots of time to think and reflect. In the last 7 weeks, I’ve driven twice from Wyoming to Texas and back; and once to Casper to fly out to North Carolina and return. In March, I will be driving to Phoenix where I will be working as a volunteer at the LPGA Founders Cup golf tournament; in May I go to Charlotte and work for the third year at the Wells Fargo Championship PGA tournament. Usually, I don’t go directly to these places but stop to visit friends in Kansas City, Albuquerque, Prescott, Sedona, Cheyenne, Pueblo, Ft. Collins, Wichita, and my son and his family in the Dallas area.

This spring, I may take a look at places that are usually warm in the winter, where I could spend my winters basking in the sun and playing a bit of golf. The snow last month was so deep that I could not get my two cars out of the garage into the alley, none of the areas having been plowed of the 20” of snow. I was forced to take my van to Texas which, although the most comfortable for travel of any cars I’ve had, still had the MPG issue. Also, the alternator failed in western Kansas, and I had to spend an extra day and expense on the way home, At the same time, the AWD came in handy during the first day of the trip, our Wyoming roads suffering from weather conditions.

The thoughts I have on these long episodes of reverie range from reactions to something I hear on the radio, to pondering about what folks “really mean” in some of their comments. For instance, I get a lot of “you look great!! from people whom I haven’t seen for a while—Are they expressing mild surprise that, at my age, I’m still vertical, or do I really look great? I must admit that I’ve adopted a lot more black turtle neck shirts to wear with slim jeans and a vest, but looking back my efforts to appear Cool usually didn’t help. Even when I had that XKE and I was only 25.

I get weird ideas about things—Here’s a couple. Usually when we have drought in one part of the country we have flooding elsewhere. Why not put a series of large piping under the interstate medians, with periodic pumping stations, and be able to move water back and forth across the country to where it is needed and to reduce damage at the source? Build storage reservoirs to keep it for those times when it’s not needed immediately.

I understand that once below a couple of feet from the surface, the average ground temperature is around 58 degrees. Why not draw surface air down to a chamber or array of piping at that level where it will cool, and using an inexpensive fan bring it into the house instead of expensive air conditioning.

In golf, I have a concern about fairway divots. The rules require the player to hit the ball from the divot, not allowing a free drop. But the course is not the same for this player as it was for the person who made the divot, somewhere up ahead. But the rules allow fixing ball marks on the green, or removal from ground under construction or from burrowing animals, and casual water. The rule should allow a free drop within some small distance from the edge of the divot, no closer to the hole.

In pro football, an interference penalty places the ball at the point where the offense occurred. This assumes the receiver would have certainly caught the ball had interference not taken place. That’s questionable. I think the NFL should adopt the college rule, which is a 15 yard penalty. And while they’re at it, they might consider the college stopping the clock momentarily after a first down.

In basketball, start calling “palming the ball”. The rule says the hand cannot be lower on the ball than halfway down, yet players are being allowed to effectively “scoop” the ball when changing direction, giving them a huge advantage over the defensive player.

You see, at times I get a bit wacky. But it keeps me from contemplating irrational national and international events intruding on my complacency, and from recognizing with increasing skepticism that this new era will see the decline of racism and man’s inhumanity to man.

Always Be Happy   To Our Youth

One Response to “Cars And Me”

  1. Alan Sheinker Says:

    Thanks for the muse. They are always refreshing to read. I look forward to the next read.


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