By on March 19, 2013

The Seattle area traffic was light. A few hours earlier, at the peak of the Friday night rush hour, Interstate 405 had been bumper to bumper. Now, just after 7 PM, the road was crowded but moving freely. I had a killer commute, 40 miles each way, and I was thankful I had missed the worst of it. I spent a lot of time on the road and I understood how traffic ebbed and flowed in that same intuitive way that way someone who works on a river understands how a ripple on the otherwise smooth surface betrays the roiling currents in the depths below. On a Friday night like this, for example, I knew I was behind the great outward rush from the urban centers and into suburbs and just ahead of the second, smaller rush of people from the suburbs heading back into the city for an evening of food, fun and friends. To the west, the sun was sinking slowly into the Pacific while on the Earth, in the growing drakness, the hunt was on…

It was a good time to be out and about, the night was young and full of untapped excitement. I knew anything could happen as I headed south out of Kirkland, through the city of Bellevue and made the gentle ascent through the tunnel and up towards the I-90 interchange just south of the city. Once past the interchange, I had a good view of Lake Washington and the exclusive properties on Mercer Island on my right, and I began to slowly work my way down the hill towards Renton, still some miles to the south.

With Bellevue and the last big freeway interchange behind me, traffic was moving faster and spreading out. I was in the fast lane and my little red Dodge Shadow was running effortlessly along in 5th gear at just above the posted limit when a motion in my rearview mirror caught my eye. I read the scene with a practiced eye: A big Jaguar sedan weaving quickly through the already fast-moving traffic, overtaking car after car, its dark shape slipping stealthily up behind me. The driver was obviously having fun among the other, lesser cars and as he pulled alongside I glanced over to size him up.

He was a handsome man in his early thirties, clear-eyed, perfect hair and with jaw carved out of pure granite set with, I was certain, perfect, white teeth. Beside him sat a woman of equal beauty perhaps a year or two younger while another equally handsome couple occupied the back seats. They were all well dressed, both men in expensive looking suits and the women in fancy dresses with carefully coiffed hair. The car itself was a black XJ sedan and it showed a 6 liter emblem on its back. It was a big, powerful and classy car, the perfect choice for the perfect man with the perfect life.

I pulled the Shadow out of 5th gear, stuffed the shifter straight into 3rd and zapped the throttle. The little engine roared in instant anger and the boost gauge swung hard right burying itself against the pin. The Shadow leaped forward, slamming me into the seat, and in a split second I was back alongside the big sedan. Surprised, the handsome, perfect man behind the wheel of the Jag glanced over at me and then tossed back his head and smiled as he said something to the others in the car. The lovely woman in the passenger seat tittered airily as she brought her hand up to her lips. I had seen enough, I mashed the gas.

The Shadow jumped forward and opened a lead of about two car lengths as its 2.2 liter 4 cylinder raced towards the red line. I quick shifted into fourth and pegged the throttle again as the Jag shot forward and made up the gap while my boost momentarily dropped with my RPMs. The road wound out in front of us, the two lanes of the interstate twisting as they made their way past the Coal Creek Parkway and down towards the May Creek exit at the bottom of the hill. We stayed there, stuck to one another, door handle to door handle as our speed climbed quickly into triple digits. Onward we went, the little 2.2 liter engine in my Shadow revving hard as I pushed the car for all it was worth. Red line came, then passed as I held it in 4th gear knowing that 5th was a big jump that would drop my revs too much and mean my defeat.

The big Jaguar and my little Shadow were still neck and neck as we hit the bottom of the hill, ran across a brief flat and then began to work our way up the long, steep slope of the Kennydale hill. Beyond the hill lay the city of Renton and its infamous S curves and already I could see traffic slowing as the typical back up on the approach to the city was beginning to build. There was still time to make my competitor stand down, I thought, but with the little car firmly in the red zone I knew it was past time to shift up or blow up. There was no choice and as I made the switch the Jaguar slipped smoothly away from me and up the hill.

I let off the gas and, thanks to the steep slope, my little car began to slow quickly. Traffic was still open enough for me to weave and dodge my way through at a decent clip as I continued to burn off speed without using my brakes while the big Jag had an easier time coasting back down to legal speeds in the car pool lane. We crested the hill and, as we made our way down towards the S curves, I could see a river of ruby-red brake lights growing ever nearer. Traffic slowed to a crawl and then ground to a halt. At the Renton city limits the carpool lane ended and the Jaguar was forced back into the crowded lanes. As luck would have it, we found ourselves stopped next to one another.

The handsome man’s perfect composure was wrecked and he sat there glaring out the windshield, both hands gripping the big car’s wheel so tightly the knuckles were white. A vein on his temple pounded, and the muscles of his magnificent, granite jaw bulged and pulsed as his perfect white teeth ground away at one another. The vision of loveliness in the passenger seat sat stiffly beside the man, arms crossed and her face turned away from him as she stared out the passenger window. The couple in the back seat were a different story altogether. They woman was smiling and laughing with real knee-slapping gusto while her man sat looking at me and my little turbo, the awe plain on his face as he tried to understand just what the hell happened.

Technically, I knew, I had lost the race when I the big Jag had finally used its superior muscle to pull away on the Kennydale hill, but he didn’t know that. To the perfect man, with the perfect girl and the perfect friends in the big, beautiful Jaguar I was the winner. Perfect or not, sometimes thats just how it goes.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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34 Comments on “Youthful Exuberance: Big Cat Hunting...”


  • avatar
    mike978

    You certainly seem to have lived a full life with all these stories. Do you have many more?
    I can certainly believe your bio : “He also enjoys writing and public speaking where his favorite subject is himself”.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    As usual ;

    *very* well said Thomas .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Reminds me of the time I lived in downtown Cleveland and commuted to the Ford plant by the airport every day, through that awful speed trap known as Linndale, Ohio. Linndale, a town with 34 houses, collects over $800,000 per year in traffic fines from the 100 yards of I-71 that runs through the village. They have a near constant presence on I-71.

    One dreary, frigid morning, I was headed to work early. A young dweeb in a BMW M3 with Pennsylvania plates cut me off when I was making a lane change to continue south on I-71. The M3 dweeb kept driving like a moron, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting others off, changing lanes without signalling, etc. I stayed in the left lane, sipped my coffee and wasn’t concerned with him. M3 man got hung up in some slower moving semi traffic, leading him to cut me off again and I spilled my coffee slamming on the brakes to avoid a collision.

    Now it was on. The M3 was in front of me, and he was behind a van going about 65 mph. Traffic opened as we approached Linndale and I quickly cut right to pass the van, hoping the dweeb would follow and pass me on the right. He did, and when he started passing me I floored it and gave him the finger to urge him forward. Obviously, he left me for dead and I quickly slowed down to the 55 mph speed limit as I got within striking distance of Linndale, saying a silent prayer that the Linndale cop would be working this morning.

    Dweeb, unaware of Linndale’s constant police presence, kept accelerating. He had to be going 90+ when he rounded the curve and saw the Linndale cruiser parked under the bridge on the shoulder. I wish I could have seen his face when he realized the crap just hit the fan.

    By the time I made it into Linndale’s jurisdiction, I saw the pulsing red and blue strobes of Linndale’s finest joining traffic to intercept the M3. When I passed them, I got a nice one finger salute from the M3 driver. It made my day.

  • avatar
    gsf12man

    I like your stories… but whatever that Jaguar was, it wasn’t a 6.0 V8! XJ6 perhaps?

    • 0 avatar

      I could have sworn it had a 6.0 on the back…

      • 0 avatar
        Acubra

        Then V12 it should have beem. And if you kept racing long enough the fat cat would have to quit and refill. Those V12 drank Premium like there was no tomorrow.
        Funnily enough, owners could prolly recoup the costs through its superior reliability compared to lesser sixes.

        • 0 avatar

          The Jaguar XJ engine, the inline six that powered Jaguars for at least four decades, was probably the most reliable part of those cars. The electricals and the fuel injection are another thing, but mechanically the DOHC Jaguar 3.8/4.2 liter inline six was very sound.

          I’ve had an XJ with the six and one of my fantasy builds is a Locost Se7en using a XJS V12 as a donor car so I’ve read a bit about the V12 and I don’t recall anyone citing its superior reliability compared to the I-6.

          • 0 avatar
            Robert Gordon

            “DOHC Jaguar 3.8/4.2 liter inline six was very sound.”

            You’re obviously not very familiar with the engine then. The XK engine was extremely fragile compared to the V12 and the AJ6. It was exceptionally weak in 2.8 and 4.2 guises – in the latter the head stud ran through the water gallery and would corrode and fail catastrophically without warning – I had this happen to me in my XJ Sovereign.

        • 0 avatar
          Ben

          I’ve seen 4.7mpg in an enthusiastically driven V12 XJS with a 998cc Austin Mini managing to keep up with it in traffic. The owner used to call it the Exxon XJS.

          • 0 avatar
            Robert Gordon

            An Austin Mini is one of the finest point to point cars ever conceived, I hardly think its ability to keep up with an XJS proves anything.

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like my memory is going haywire – It’s a sad day when I have to start checking my memory against Google. It won’t be long until I start rambling incoherently like Grandpa Simspson…

    • 0 avatar
      thats one fast cat

      having owned several Jaaaags with both straight 6 and V12s, I would have to believe it was the six — the 12′s certainly wouldn’t have been hanging with you in the curves since they are a bit overweight in the front.
      Come to think of it, I’m not sure the 6 would have been hanging with you on the straights.

      Maybe a 350SBC?

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Agreed, either the Author is a very bad driver or the Jag driver has balls of steel if he’s keeping up in the tight bends – although for a big car they do handle very well.

        • 0 avatar

          Nothing in the story says anything about “tight” bends in the area in which we were racing…

          • 0 avatar
            Robert Gordon

            Yes I see that now from Google maps. I was actually just trying to glean some kind of a point to the story apart from self aggrandisement and thinly veiled man-love. All I am seeing now is ‘Fast car smokes slower one on a freeway’.

          • 0 avatar

            You are thinking about this far too hard, Robert. It’s supposed to be a simple silly story about something I did when I was young that, hopefully, elicits similar memories from others and starts a conversation.

            Fast car smokes slower one on the freeway? I wouldn’t say that he smoked me, he had almost three times the engine under the hood but he couldn’t get away. To me, the narrative is guy in cheap, hotted up economy car stands toe to toe with a car renowned for luxury and performance.

  • avatar
    tim850csi

    I understood how traffic ebbed and flowed in that same intuitive way that way someone who works on a river understands how a ripple on the otherwise smooth surface betrays the roiling currents in the depths below.

    And this is why I read this site on a daily basis. It’s the writing. Great job Thomas, keep it up!

  • avatar
    nikita

    7PM on a Friday, on the other 405, in LA and OC, it would still be gridlock nearly its entire length, Van Nuys to Irvine.

    Nice story, thanks for writing it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Another great article, Thomas.

    So you took a K-car (turbo notwithstanding) against a newish Jag back in the day. Love it.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Turbocharged cars are full of surprises, eh?

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Nicely written, but was it wrong of me to expect the story to end with the Jag in a cloud of smoke?

  • avatar
    PorkerDr

    What an idiot. So there you are cruising in your awesome car with a chip on your shoulder in the left lane blocking traffic probably texting. When someone in a nicer car minding his own business trying to get from A to B has the nerve to try and over take you. Your reaction is then to try and prevent that car from overtaking you.

    What an idiot. You fall into the same category as Hondas with coffee can mufflers scraping the ground and white vans.

    • 0 avatar
      BeyondBelief

      Therapy could help you overcome your white van trauma.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Texting in the left lane? Did you even read the article? What year do you think this was?

      • 0 avatar
        PorkerDr

        I know the time period, same category in my opinion though. The author is the exact person that will cruise along at 65 in the left lane with nobody in front and a stack of traffic behind. When someone tries to go by on the right they will speed up to prevent them going by. Then boast on line how they beat such and such car in a race.

        If you want to race go autocrossing or if you can afford to walk away from your car go to the track.

        Drive a nice car and you will quickly learn to hate tarted up Hondas and white vans. Hondas will try and race you and do stupid things that get people killed. White vans will go out of their way to cut you off or get as close as possible to you. Funny thing is usually the white vans have contract business phone numbers on them. Obviously not all Honda’s and white vans behave like that but enough to get your attention.

        • 0 avatar
          Mud

          The internet is full of I-really-showed-that-guy-in-the-car-nicer-than-mine stories. Add this one to that scrap pile.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            ” The internet is full of I-really-showed-that-guy-in-the-car-nicer-than-mine stories. Add this one to that scrap pile.”

            It is also full of trolls who stop and read a well written thing then ignore the header that clearly explains it’s just a kid story but them complains like a petulant 12 year old anyway because they are not real Car Folks .

            -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “So there you are cruising in your awesome car with a chip on your shoulder in the left lane blocking traffic probably texting.”

      I think one of us may have a reading comprehension problem, because I can’t find anything to indicate that he was blocking the left lane in any way.

      He was just having fun. He wasn’t interfering with the progress of the Jag driver, who could have continued on at a consistent speed. But apparently that guy wanted in on the fun too.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    “A few hours earlier, at the peak of the Friday night rush hour, Interstate 405 had been bumper to bumper. Now, just after 7 PM, the road was crowded but moving freely.”

    I live on the Eastside. Things have changed from when this was written – I-405 is stop and go until well past 8 pm on any given weeknight. Throw rain and an accident or two into the mix, and matters get worse.


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