By on June 26, 2011

Man, I wish I’d thought of that “Godwin’s Law” thing before Godwin did. The closest I’d come was “Baruth’s Law”, which in its early form stated “Any museum which showcases the infinitely desirable, super-cool Messerschmitt 262 will eventually be forced to include an exhibit on the Holocaust, just to keep impressionable pre-teen boys from pretending to be Luftwaffe pilots during recess.” Here’s a newer version of “Baruth’s Law”: As the length of a discussion concerning automobiles and fuel availability increases, the possibility of some Manhattanite or Portland-dweller making an absolutely uniform, uninformed, completely ridiculous statement regarding mass transit approaches 1.

I know. No zing. I don’t know any other way to put it, however. Mass transit is wonderful, as long as the mass of people involved is dense enough. The response to the preceding statement is always something along the lines of, “Well, then, people should move out of flyover country.” This is one of those bits of advice which works for individuals but would cause bloody chaos if everybody decided to follow it at once. Perhaps, in the distant future, we will all dwell in fabulous Fullerdome arcologies while machines toil to grow our food in the blasted wilderness outside.

In the present, however, the immortal words of Young MC still hold sway for most of America: “Got no money/and you got no car/then you got no woman/and there you are.” Which doesn’t perfectly explain why, twelve hours after my car died in Franklin, Tennessee, I woke up in the frilly bed of a sixteen-year-old teenaged girl.

OH, COME ON! You fell for that? You clicked “More”? Sheesh. I bet you signed up for AutoWeek Fantasy Camp, too. You gullible reader. I treasure you. I really do. We need you to click on that “More” so we can show you more ads for the Prius. Thank you. Yes, I did end up sleeping in a little girl’s bed, but the little girl was nowhere around. Let’s back up.

I was in the middle of what was supposed to be a fantastic trip. In the space of twenty-four hours, I would visit some of the most musically important places in America. From Columbus, I would hit Nashville, then Memphis, then Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the bluesman Robert Johnson is reputed to have sold his soul to the devil. Approach the crossroads at midnight, the story went, and the devil will appear to “trade fours” or “cut heads” with you. I had my favorite all-American blues axe — a G&L USA S-500 Deluxe with a curly blond maple top — and I was ready to make it happen.

Only one problem: 423 miles into the trip, my water pump called it quits, stalling me by the side of the road south of Nashville. It was Saturday evening. Nobody was going to fix this car tonight, and since Sunday was the next day, nobody was going to fix it tomorrow, either. I had it towed to a Firestone shop and started considering my options.

Not surprisingly, mass transit was not among them. The buses don’t appear to run in Franklin, there’s no subway, and the only trains that pass through are carrying coal. Luckily, however, the hairdresser Mafia works everywhere; a friend of Vodka McBigbra’s lived just two miles from my car’s final resting place. I’d met this girl before. She was a fabulous, intense, slightly terrifying dark-haired beauty in her late twenties. When V. McB is agitated, her strict Mormon upbringing tends to show through. Rather than tell you what she said, I will simply quote the Bible verses from which her speech to me appeared to draw:

Vodka: Genesis 2:16-17.*

Me: Copy that.

Vodka Psalms 11:6.**

Me: I wasn’t even gonna. I just need a place to sleep.

Vodka Revelations 2:5. ***

Me: No, I get the idea. I really do.

Of course, Vodka’s friend, whom we shall call Drama McHourglass, had plans for us. She’d recently become quite infatuated with an oil-rig worker on furlough and insisted that we attend a party that his apparently rather wealthy family was holding in the VIP room of a Nashville club. As the tame race car driver among her group of friends, I was asked to drive a Nineties LeSabre the thirty or so miles to said club. When you have no automobile of your own, you are dependent on the kindness of strangers. Off we went.

The club didn’t have Ketel One, so I sipped a flock of grey geese and talked to a variety of gorgeous Southern women while D. McH made a variety of increasingly insane pronouncements to the assembled crowd. At two AM I’d had enough. “How much longer?” I asked.

“Three hours, tops,” she replied. “You’re the designated driver, you have to stay.” Wait, I’m the designated driver? Oh, yes. I was holding the keys. I made a quick sobriety assessment of the party, handed the keys over to the winner, and walked out to catch a cab. Cabs are the unsung heroes of mass transit in major cities, buttoning-up all the gaps that the glamorous monorails and whatnot can’t cover. My driver was Turkish, the cab was a 155,000-mile 2006 Kia Optima, and the ride back to Drama’s house was sixty-five bucks. Think about that. We’d spent perhaps $5 in gas to cover the trip one way and $65 to return. And yet… I was in this fix to begin with because my ultra-reliable personal freedom machine (not, I hasten to assure you, a Panther of any type) had chucked a $350 water pump.

I woke up the next day in the bed of Drama’s absent teenaged sister, clutching my G&L like a teddy bear and nursing a reasonable headache. The house seemed to be empty. Nobody had ever come back. It was noon. I was hungry.

Technology helps us bridge the gaps that increasing travel costs create. My son appeared on Skype, holding a magnetic letter “S” in his hand.

“Zizz,” he said.

“Ess,” I replied.

“Zizz. No. Zizz,” he corrected me. His expression said it all. The old man’s gone crazy, he thinks a zizz is an ess. Can’t wait till I move out of this place and start my own band.

Google Maps told me that I was 1.6 miles away from a Waffle House. It was pouring rain outside. I fired up Facebook and complained about being abandoned by my friends, tactfully failing to mention that I had abandoned them the night before. I received a text from Drama, who had spent the evening in what I presume was a deep-drilling adventure with Oil Rig Man.

pls feel free to take my car

This did not suit my growing sense of self-pity, so I elected to pretend that she had instead texted me

ur tauntaun will freeze b4 u reach the 1st marker

“Then I’ll see you in hell,” I grumbled, and went into her room to steal an umbrella. Using my phone, I began Google chatting with a friend of mine who lives in a major city. Maybe not a friend. This thing happened, you see. Didn’t go well. She thinks I ruined her life. Her husband thinks I ruined her life. I think Catch-22 is the greatest postwar American comedic novel. Only one of us is correct.

“I have to walk 1.6 miles to a waffle house,” I moaned, “and it’s raining.”

“I’ve already walked over a mile today,” she replied, “and you could stand to miss a meal.” She doesn’t understand. Where she lives, they have trains in the sky and a giant polished “bean” to ensnare idiots who like to look at their own distorted reflections. That’s all you see in a city — distorted reflections of yourself. People are opaque to each other. She hates me, or she just hates what she wanted from me. She’d thought I was taking her somewhere else, somewhere she wanted to be, but I turned out to be no more reliable than an old water pump, stranding her on the road away from her old life and forcing her to take an expensive cab back home. I wished for her to appear and stand next to me under the Tennessee sky, and when she did not appear, I headed up the long driveway and onto the blacktop.

Walking down a rural road serves up a full-frontal view of just how car-centric the world is. Trees and shrubs are only cut back far enough for trucks to pass, not far enough to walk out of the way of oncoming traffic. A few drivers honked at me. How dare I walk down a narrow two-lane? My shoes, “Tivoli” fisherman’s sandals from Allen-Edmonds, became soggy within a few hundred yards. There was mud on my feet.

Twenty minutes later, I saw a shortcut: climb up the landscaped two-story hill behind the Home Depot, hop a fence behind the Super 8, cross a sewer to Waffle House. It worked, cutting perhaps two-tenths of a mile off my walk. You don’t think about that kind of thing behind the wheel. Time, not distance, is what matters. On foot, in the middle of nowhere, distance and time are connected by an iron band.

The meal at Waffle House was served hot, by friendly people, and cost half as much as a single shot of Ketel One in Greenwich Village. There’s something to be said for flyover country, you know. D. McH and I texted back and forth. She was with Oil Rig’s family, doing something fabulous and riding the emotional wave from last night’s conquest and/or submission. I begged her to come back in time to drive me to the airport for my flight home. Airport shuttles don’t travel thirty miles each way, and I feared the Turk in the Optima might not find his way back to the house in a reasonable time. My flight was scheduled for 8:55. I figured I need to leave by seven, and told her I needed to leave by five. Irony: in six hours I could drive back home. This trip would be time-neutral for me no matter how I took it, but with no car, I was a beggar, a second-class citizen, doomed to take a charity ride to an airport and board a flying Greyhound with the sleeveless-shirt crowd.

i will absolutly be there by 5 she replied, but I just love his family. The second part, I realized, neutralized any promise made by the first, and while I Googled “nashville taxi”, it occurred to me that cars may break, trains may stop, and planes may delay, but in the end the most unreliable part of anyone’s life is always someone else’s heart.

* * *

* “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

** “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: [this shall be] the portion of their cup.”

*** “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

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32 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Carless In Nashville....”


  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I don’t really know if I’m ment to believe a word of what you write, but I’m not sure it matters either, I love the stories. You (or whoever the person in your anecdotes is) always makes me think of Clive Cusslers character ‘Dirk Pitt’.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Hearts are the most reliable, Jack, the most reliable. They may also be the most vulnerable and are not easily fixed when broken, but that’s a different matter.

    Your writing is getting more and more adventurous. This is good. Of course, like most such things, adventure is risky and prone to fail more often than it succeeds. But as the old saying goes, a faint heart never won the heart of a fair lady…

  • avatar
    Neb

    I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m totally with you on the Messerschmitt 262/ Baruth’s Law thing. On the other hand, I’ve seen people who do say “if only WW2 continued into 1946!” Which seems to be a dumb statement, no matter how cool German planes (or tanks, as it was in this case,) were.

    Being without a car, especially when there are zero alternates, does indeed suck. Try walking to the local franchise ghetto instead of driving, and your air conditioned shopping experience will be leavened with a trek through a shadeless wilderness of curbs, fences, and hot asphalt.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      “On the other hand, I’ve seen people who do say ‘if only WW2 continued into 1946!’”

      Forget that… We should still be a British colony!

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      I also had an unhealthy obsession with German WWII planes and other zany inventions. The Japanese had a couple of cool “1946″ planes in the works too.

      Anyway, I live in a place where mass transit works. I understand that it doesn’t work in other places. I get tired of hearing comments about how it can’t possibly work anywhere in the US. It can! Plenty of cities have downtowns, not just NYC, Boston, and SF.

      • 0 avatar
        Neb

        A personal favorite of mine is the I-400: the world’s first strategic submarine, which the Japanese developed entirely in secret. The allies found out about ‘em after V-J day, when two submarines the size of Destroyers surrendered.

        The only place mass transit doesn’t work is rural areas, where cars are the only real option besides bikes. I was unaware that people were claiming America’s manifest destiny made mass transit a non-starter; that’s pretty stupid.

  • avatar
    CC_Stadt

    “I woke up in the frilly bed of a sixteen-year-old teenaged girl.”

    Nice story! But I would have been even more impressed if the fictional sixteen-year-old girl had somehow managed NOT to be teenaged. I clicked on “More” to find out whether there was something other than semantic frills to the above sentence.

    I’m totally with you (metaphorically speaking) about the walking experience and the perspective it confers. Done it many times, hardly ever to the delight of drivers.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Man, being carless sure is suck! Many American cities and especially their suburbs are just made for cars, even places which you always think were near suddenly becomes so far away to be nearly unreachable. Though I never did end up in the bed of a 16 years-old girl… Probably few of us did, which is why we all clicked on ‘more’. Yeah, we’re kind of gullible that way…

  • avatar
    Doc

    I’ll admit it Jack. The line before the jump hooked me good. I could not resist.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I assume ‘uniformed’ should be ‘uninformed.’

    Does Mr. Baruth really wear sandals, or was that a joke?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      That’s what happens when you use a Droid to type in an article at the airport. I’ve changed it to “uniform, uninformed” to acknowledge your edit :)

      Yes, I wear sandals. I bought six pairs of these many years ago when they were being discontinued. Each pair lasts about two and a half years. The soles wear through before the uppers show much damage.

      http://www.shoe-store.net/allen-edmonds-tivoli-mens

      See proof here

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/trio-of-ttac-hacks-lowers-tone-of-lemons-race/

  • avatar

    “As the length of a discussion concerning automobiles and fuel availability increases, the possibility of some [self-righteous, irono-stache-sporting, hipster d****ebag] Manhattanite [,Williamsburg Brooklyinite,] or Portland-dweller making an absolutely uniformed, completely ridiculous statement regarding mass transit [and insulting the intelligence of everyone else in the country not from their own city, LA or NYC, while simultaneously being a case-study in the Dunning-Kruger Effect themselves,] approaches 100%.”

    -There, I fixed it.

  • avatar

    You can’t change your own water pump? Wake me up again when Mulilee posts again.

    • 0 avatar

      Tools, man tools. Sometimes situations force you to rely on others to do what you might normally do yourself. I’m just wondering when water pumps got to be $350.

      • 0 avatar
        Bryce

        Water pumps nowadays are internal driven off the cambelt and an absolute nightmare to access never mind change out on the old dungers the pump hung out the front driven by the fanbelt those days are long gone so is the easy roadside repair to them

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Some are, but many aren’t. It’s definitely something to consider when purchasing a car, since a vehicle will typically need a replacement pump at some point in its life. The water pump on the Mazda3 is drivebelt-driven and easy to access.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    A great story and if half of these stories you tell are true, then you’ve lived a VERY interesting life! :-)

    That said, I can see where being careless in a community with poor transit options can suck, especially if everything is so spread out. Fortunately, Seattle is one that has very good and getting even better transit options as we gain light rail etc along with our buses and for that I’m lucky as I can commute by bus to work most days to save on gas…

    And it’s a fairly walkable city too which helps, heaved and cracked sidewalks and hills not withstanding.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Jack,

    This post pushed more than a few of my buttons.

    I’m a Manhattanite who used to live in Columbus who owns a G&L ASAT Classic and who happens to love all kinds of aircraft, the ME-262 Swallow included (Jumo axial-flow engine MTBF 10 hours). While I’m against mandatory holocaust references in every context, I do believe that, particularly in a museum, context matters.

    I’m also on holiday in Sweden driving a rented Golf (quite a change from my Northstar-powered STS). We spent the weekend in the country about 100km northeast of Stockholm. A couple of things really stuck out:

    There are bus stops everywhere (and I do mean _everywhere_). Furthermore, there are buses and people using them.

    On multi-lane highways, when two lanes squeeze down to one, drivers are almost uniformly in the right lane, working together to ease traffic flow. There is the occasional “goody, a free pass to the front” types, but they are few and far between.

    The country roads are in fantastic shape, smooth and pothole-free. There are signs of repairs but, somehow, the Swedish road crews actually know how to patch roads so that you don’t even feel them.

    I’ve seen a surprising number of American pickups including a lifted crew-cab RAM. I almost got run off the road by an Avalanche.

    The Golf is multi-fuel. The very sweet young woman at the rental counter told me (translated from the Swedish) “If you are going to drive a long way yourself, fill up with gas. When you return the car, fill up with E85 because it’s cheaper”. This explains the awful fuel mileage (9.0 liters/100km) reported by the trip computer. I did put about 3 gallons of gas in the tank before the country trip, so I suspect all that ethanol in there from prior renters is to blame. E85 is about 45% cheaper than gas. I haven’t done the math, but it might be the less expensive way to go. BTW, the Golf is a nice car, very sweet on back roads. On the motorway, however, the car feels tapped out at 120km/h in a way that the STS does not.

    Upon arrival, I couldn’t find the hotel. My forty year old memories were insufficient to the task. So I stopped for directions and had a wonderful ten-minute conversation with a couple buying bread to feed to the ducks. The woman’s father, it turns out, knew many of the same people that my parents did. My Swedish is better than I thought as we only lapsed into Engish for the benefit of my son who, sadly, doesn’t speak the language.

    The Golf will spend the next few days in the garage until I have to drive through Stockholm to get back to the airport. That means a congestion charge of about $10. In the meantime, we have Stockholm passes which give us free admission to museums and free unlimited use of public transit.

    Driving at midnight on country roads here is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. It’s not really dark, you could drive without headlights. The mist hangs over the fields between the pine and birch woods, the clouds paint fantastic, deep-dusk-illuminated shapes across the skies and the retinal reflections are from a fox investigating something in the middle of the road.

    The drive back into Stockholm was a blast. We were following our friend Morgan who is a bit of a leadfoot. Traffic circles, quick left-right transitions, a tunnel that reminded me of Monaco and the sudden appearance, on the other side, of central Stockholm with it’s famous Parliament building is one that had us all saying “can we do that AGAIN?”.

    All in all, a fabulous experience so far.

  • avatar
    George B

    A friend of mine convinced me that renting a car for a long road trip is the way to go. If it breaks, then the rental company provides a replacement and deals with the repairs. The main problem is the barely acceptable car you reserve is not what is available when you go to pick up your car. Not sure if this is an upsell game or not.

    Recently had to go without driving for two weeks following neck surgery. Having to ask for help every time I needed to go somewhere was more painful than the surgery itself.

  • avatar
    Tommy Boy

    >>”I woke up in the frilly bed of a sixteen-year-old teenaged girl.”

    Why is it that the image of the “SAAB girl” from a post a few days ago immediately popped into my head? ;-)

  • avatar

    She thinks I ruined her life. Her husband thinks I ruined her life. I think Catch-22 is the greatest postwar American comedic novel. Only one of us is correct.

    See, if you lived in Portland and didn’t own a car, you’d spend less time ruining peoples lives and more time reading Gravity’s Rainbow on the bus. Win-win.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Love your writing, Amigo. I only clicked on more to see how Jack was going to bring this all around to a tidy and point-ful conclusion. Well done. Now I’m only left wondering what vehicle stranded you.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      All will be revealed in our thrilling conclusion next week, where our anti-hero flies back to Nashville to continue his journey. Will D. McH pick him up from the airport on time? Will the devil appear at the crossroads? Will his high-school girlfriend, who also lives in Nashville, make time for lunch? How many water pumps can an automobile of this vintage eat?

      I am looking forward to the conclusion as well, since it hasn’t happened yet. All I can say is that the car I’m driving is more interesting than any press car anybody else has had this year.

      • 0 avatar
        cfclark

        If you’re going back to Franklin, stop by Barbara’s Home Cooking. Look it up. (Or Swett’s. Nashville is the home of the meat-and-three, and you should take advantage. Waffle House is a Georgia thing, actually.)

  • avatar
    GeeDashOff

    “Walking down a rural road serves up a full-frontal view of just how car-centric the world is.”

    I really hate the no sidewalk thing on rural/suburban roads. I’ve almost been hit by cars too many times to count walking around out here in the burbs. I appreciate that not too many people walk in a lot of areas, but they really couldn’t squeeze a sidewalk on at least one side of the street? Really goes to show the $$$ priority in most parts of the country, spend all this time and effort building roads for cars and let pedestrians go F themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      That’s a good illustration of the ‘automobiled’ way our society has been designed. It’s almost as if walking was considered some kind of unfortunate, regrettable, superfluous activity that people only do when they can’t drive.

      • 0 avatar
        Slow_Joe_Crow

        In some suburbs sidewalks are considered downmarket. In Scarsdale NY where I grew up there was a legendary town club meeting where a newcomer’s suggestion that the village put in sidewalks was mt by the scathing retort “they have sidewalks in the Bronx”. Beaverton Oregon, where I currently live is actually workable without a car, although my 15 mile commute would take twice as long by light rail and bus/bike as it does by car.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    A few things come to mind:

    - The S-500 Deluxe is bad ass. The combination of wood, scale length and single coil pickups makes notes pop with clarity. If you’re playing the kind of music where you’ll likely bend a single note for more than four bars at some point, it’s perfect.

    - I’m trying to find an argument for a better post-war comic novel than Catch 22, but I’m not sure I can find one. Bellow’s Herzog isn’t nearly as comic nor biting, but it also doesn’t become bitter in the way the Catch 22–or any extended satire–does. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is much funnier, as its satire is more absurd and good natured than Heller’s, but it doesn’t have the weight nor examination of the human psyche caught in something massively inhuman. There’s Gravity’s Rainbow, but I’m not much of a fan of that style of postmodernism.

    -Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t expect the teenage girl to be around when I clicked the jump. Maybe it’s also because, back in my musician days (not on guitar, I picked that up much later), I woke up in a few friends of friends’ extra rooms, and at least one was frilly (and the girl nowhere around). OK. I’m probably naive.

    -I take it we’ll find out more about this car? And would it be uncouth to ask if we’ll find out more about the car that caught fire on a track a bit ago? (Was that one a V-6 Mustang?)

    - If you’re going to a Waffle House, Tennessee is the perfect place.

    Finally, great story.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    No, I don’t think lack of sidewalks in rural areas is because of all the evil cars.

    It’s because sidewalks are bloody expensive (both to install and maintain), and rural roads don’t have foot traffic density – and budgets are, oddly, somewhat strained already (with spending Someone Else’s Money to buy other votes in other ways).

    (It’s not like they had sidewalks in the days when cars were rare, either – you had to worry about some douchebag on horseback or with a wagon running you off the road, then, just as you do a car now.)

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      I agree that full fledged sidewalks are too expensive for most rural roads (though a walkable shoulder would be nice). I was actually thinking more of suburbs and new subdivisions more than anything else.


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