By on March 21, 2014

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“This life came so close to never happening” -David Benioff, The 25th Hour

A bit of fortuitous timing can make all the difference. Just missing a particular wave by even the briefest interval can radically alter a particular outcome.

(N.B. Unlike most Sunday Stories, this story is true. Names, dates and other details may have been modified.)

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“Swipe right or swipe left?”  My father is holding up my iPhone, screen towards me, a thumbnail photograph of a fairly attractive young woman is on screen. We’re sitting in the kitchen after dinner on a Friday night. My brother and I are showing him how to use “Tinder“, the latest online dating app, where users  can view photographs and a brief biography and either swipe right (yes) or left (no) on-screen. If both parties swipe right, then they are notified of a potential match. If there is a discordant selection between the two, nothing happens.

“Right!” comes the cry from my brother and I. My father breaks out into his characteristic cackle as we flick through several more. “Right! Right!” with a few “Lefts” thrown in, intonated with mock revulsion. He’s still howling. “This is great! I love this app!”. I want to tell him how Tinder is the most ruthless manifestation of r-selection, an entirely superficial appraisal of one’s value in the dating market, a place where I am consistently matched with the obese, the tattooed, the homely. My pseudo-intellectual train of angsty thought is interrupted by his display of a woman, pudgy, dressed in bargain basement clothes, clearly from a lower socioeconomic background.  This one is a slam dunk. “Left!” says my brother. I concur. My father swipes right and we break out into laughter yet again.

II.

2014-Acura-RDX-AWD-11

 

Despite my earlier meditation on Tinder, I’m at it again mere minutes later, as I wait for my father to bring my press car back. I’m driving a 2013 Acura RDX, a car so utterly anonymous that I struggle with how I’ll even write about it. “It’s a two row crossover. It’s nice” is about all I have so far.

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While he’s out taking it for a spin, I’m swiping right in a catatonic trance, hoping to be matched with somebody, anybody, with a BMI under 25 and no tattoos. Elizabeth is a year older than me, and resplendent in her main photo, coyly smiling while lounging poolside in a deck chair. Instead of the absurdly contrived faux-candid bikini shot so common to most profiles, she is wearing a white men’s button up shirt, demurely hiding most of her figure – except for a pair of slim, shapely legs. I hit the button to pull up more photos, and I like what I see – a big mane of wavy brown hair, grey eyes and that trademark smile. I swipe right.

“You have a match!”

Before I could even revel in my moment of triumph, I catch a glimpse of her bio.

“Location – Calgary, AB. Visiting for the weekend.”

We message anyways. She’s here visiting friend and family. Works in Oil & Gas. Went to a good school. “You’re cute,” I message her, trying to sound like the aloof, cocky archetype that so frequently brings success, “but you live in Calgary. Poor ROI for me.”

“Trying to throw around business terms to impress me?” she replies. “Noted.”

We meet that night, and she is just as attractive and charming as she was on Tinder. She tells me that I came so closing to blowing it all up with my attempt at arrogant humor. And then she returns to visit me in Toronto, twice.

III.

“When you’re here, I want you to drive my car. Driving is a blue job.”

Not long ago, it was my turn to visit her, and the anticipation gnawed away at both of us in the weeks leading up to it. We kept in touch via Skype and FaceTime, but the internet connection in my condo wasn’t always the most stable – for example, the garbling of the word “blue” made is sound like something else entirely. The term “blue job” connotes something undesirable, like pumping gas, or apparently, driving her car around while I stayed with her. Who was I to argue?

“What do you drive?” I asked

“I have an RDX. Is that a good car? I wanted a CR-V, but I also wanted leather. By the time you optioned it up, it was as much as a two-year old RDX, so I got one from Acura with a warranty. Certified, or whatever they call it.”

“That’s what I drove down to the bar on the night I met you.”

“I really like mine. It feels sporty. Is it a good car?”

One of the most dreaded questions a woman can ask. Almost as bad as “does this make me look fat”. How do you tell them their 2005 Cavalier is not a shining example of automotive engineering, and not risk getting kicked to the curb?

“Well, yeah, but the new one is a lot different. More of a mom car.”

“That’s ok. The turbo is really bad on gas. I think I’d like an MDX when it’s time to upgrade. But not for a while – I want to drive my car into the ground.”

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Having never been to the Rockies, Elizabeth and I decided to take a weekend trip to Banff and Lake Louise, a couple of hours north of Calgary. Both sites are some of the most popular tourist destinations within Canada, attracting visitors from around the world who are looking to take in the majesty of pristine Canadian wilderness. I was ashamed that I had been to all points in Canada except Alberta.

Elizabeth’s car is about 5 years old and has barely 30,000 miles on it. Aside from a small scrape on the rear bumper, it might as well be brand new. Elizabeth doesn’t know a lot about the RDX, just that is has a turbo and takes premium gas. I don’t think many consumers or enthusiasts understood it either. When it launched in 2006, it had the first turbocharged engine that Honda had ever brought to the North American market, a 2.3L 4-cylinder engine that put out 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

Mated to a 5-speed automatic, this motor was never used on any other product in the Honda or Acura lineup, even though it’s possible to think of countless applications where it would have been appropriate. Putting that power to the ground was a trick torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system dubbed SH-AWD. At the time, SH-AWD was novel for being able to send as much as 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels and distribute torque laterally between the rear wheels. Inside, heated seats, XM Radio, navigation and an ELS sound system added up to a pretty generous equipment list for the time.

But it all added up on the scales, with the RDX weighing a hair under 4,000 pounds despite being the size of a Honda CR-V. The difference between Elizabeth’s first-generation example and the new one is a great contrast in how quickly the automobile has changed in the few short years that separate the pre and post recession environment.

The road to Banff is a fairly smooth and straight, but it gave me a chance to sample what the first-gen RDX was made of. As the air thinned out and the grades got steeper, the turbo engine kept chugging away, and with careful throttle application, it was possible to stay out of the boost enough to maintain a decent 23 mpg (on winter tires and in unfavorable terrain, cruising at a steady 80 mph). The hydraulic steering is a bit light but transmits a fair amount of feedback, while the chassis is keen to tackle curves with enthusiasm. The only conditions that unsettled the RDX were the harsh cross winds in the low-lying areas approaching Banff, which blew the Acura around as if it were a Fiat 500.

The new RDX feels lifeless by comparison, with numb steering, and well-appointed, well-finished but anonymous cabin. It’s 3.5L V6 gets the job done, but is rather unremarkable in operation, and still requires premium fuel. Fuel economy is up, thanks to a conventional, less-complex AWD system and the V6 engine. Ironically, this is the kind of car that you’d expect to have existed prior to the wave of engine downsizing and technology bloat that flooded the post-recession market.

Instead, it’s Elizabeth’s 2009 model that, on paper, seems more modern, with the turbo engine, the torque vectoring all-wheel drive and the sophisticated technology. In many ways, it was the analogue of the current Ford Escape, but launched five years too soon. In 2006, the market wasn’t willing to accept poor fuel economy in exchange for sophisticated mechanicals and an engaging driving experience.

IV.

When we left Calgary, the temperature was close to 40 degrees and the sun was shining. Two hours later, we were standing on the now-frozen Lake Louise, with overcast skies, blowing snow and temperatures back into the high twenties. In my naivety, I imagined that I’d be able to enjoy the magnificent views of the lake, so common in Canadian iconography. Instead, I found cross-country skiers, families building forts and snow men, Japanese tourists posing for pictures and snapping away with telephoto lenses.

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Elizabeth and I wandered hand in hand along the frozen lake and the grounds of the Fairmont hotel, pausing to watch a pond hockey tournament on the lake. I tried my best to shut my brain off, to purge thoughts of cars, TTAC, the auto industry, and I was mostly successful.

But I was left with a nagging notion about timing, about how with the RDX, Acura had been too far ahead of the market and suffered for it, while Ford had launched a similar crossover at just the right time and enjoyed massive sales. I thought about how the new RDX, launched in the midst of a recovering luxury market,rapidly outsold the old car. It was a safe, affordable choice, dull, charmless but competent.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked me. This was a common question. I have a bad habit of staring off into space, getting lost in my own head, of not being present. “I want to know everything that goes on in your head,” was something she said to me time and again. “No you don’t. It’s a mess,” was my constant reply.

I snapped out of it, stopped thinking about sales volume, scale, emissions regulations and everything else that normally occupies my mind. I thought about Elizabeth, and how fortunate – in the most literal sense of the word – I was to be with her in this setting, with the snow softly blowing, the natural wonders of the wilderness obscured in a soft focus of hazy fog. I thought about my silly pickup line and how for the first time in my life, I didn’t need to put on any kind of persona or hide who I really was. I was with someone who liked me for my vulnerabilities, my anxieties over the future, my job and my family, who forgave me for my mistakes, who asked for nothing more than communication and some company while she watched the kind of reality TV I normally disdained. And in return, she gave me everything.

I thought about timing, and how it all came so close to never happening.

But what I told her was “nothing.”

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50 Comments on “Timing Is Everything...”


  • avatar
    vb9594

    Whoa. Just whoa. You opened your article with one of my favorite closing quotes of all time. Benioff is a genius. The last three pages of “The 25th Hour” are magnificent.

    If you haven’t read “City of Thieves,” stop what you’re doing and read it now. It has my favorite opening line of all time: “My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen.”

    Carry on.

  • avatar
    segfault

    “It’s a three row crossover. It’s nice”

    Maybe it was really unmemorable, but I thought both the current and previous gen RDX were two-row crossovers.

  • avatar
    chevron

    “When it launched in 2006, it had the first turbocharged engine that Honda had ever brought to the North American market, a 2.3L 240 horsepower 4-cylinder engine that put out 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. ”

    As 240 horsepower engines tend to do. Say, have I told you how much power this turbocharged engine has?

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I think it has 240 HP ;) This engine should have gone into the Accord Coupe, or the Civic Si, or the TSX or basically anything but an CUV. Never understood Honda’s idea here.

      Understand the timing thing too… pure luck put my future wife on the bus moments after me, both of us looking for seat on a 4 ride to Disney. And the rest (as they say) is history.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Ooh! This was a good one DK! Let us hope — by the use of the photographs — that the relationship is continuing.

    Regarding the car, while I have never driven the 2d gen RDX, I almost bought a first-gen. Quite frankly, I found the turbocharged engine rather crude, reminding me of earlier efforts to turbocharge engines in the late 80s by a number of European manufacturers, such as Volvo, Saab and Peugeot(!). I had a Volvo turbo that I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco. North of the Golden Gate there are some fairly long, moderately steep uphill grades. On cruise control at 65, the Volvo would bog down until speed fell to about 60, then the CC would apply throttle and the boost would come on speeding the car back up to 65. But the CC’s effort to maintain a steady speed on the grade just wouldn’t work; it cycled on and off boost, alternately surging and bogging. Analogously, in the Honda, a gentle launch seemed to be near impossible. Off boost, the small displacement engine struggled to get the heavy vehicle moving. Apply a little more throttle and — whee! — you’re into the boost, but about to climb into the hatch of the car in front of you because your delta vee is higher than you planned or wanted. And the fuel economy was pretty atrocious. Other than that, I liked the car . . . but the “untamed” nature of the engine and the atrocious fuel economy kept me away. After all, I owned a 2002 Saab 9-5 Aero turbo with a little more HP (250) that didn’t exhibit any of that kind of behavior, was quicker than the RDX and got 28-30 mpg at 80, not 23. It also held as much stuff/people.

    Admittedly, it lacks Honda’s reliability and doesn’t have the trick AWD system.

    So, I kept my impractical sports car, which I still own and love.

    • 0 avatar
      Turbo-4

      Not to brag but today’s turbo-4’s are putting out more output with smaller displacement and better fuel economy. But the sizes have shrunk compared to the 9-5, especially the SportCombi, and external visibility is much less. Today’s 6-speed automatic has much leverage over your old 4-speed. But as we know turbo torque rules the day with acceleration that can sneak up on you it is so turbine like.

      Of course with smaller sizes you have better performance numbers as my Encore AWD has one of the best MotorTrend figure-eight times for CUV with AWD, even beating the laminated CX-5, and braking that beats the BMW X1 to a stop. Load up a Trifecta Tune and you’ll have enough power to hold off the neighbor’s V8 truck if need be. :)

  • avatar
    leshnah

    Nice story. Hits close to gome too.
    I believe this is one of the aspects of TTAC that sets it apart form other car related websites. For nice pictures and numbers, but meaningless words: Autoblog. General silliness: Jalopnik. True insight, analysis and talent: TTAC.
    Keep up the good work, Derek!

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Aww.. sweet story but I like how she called you out right off the bat. Nice.. she is keeping you honest.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s why I like her

      • 0 avatar
        Monty

        Nicely done, Derek. Both the girl and the story.

        Similarities to me – Canadian, loves all things automobile, met a girl named Elizabeth (mine prefers to be addressed by the truncated version, however), got called out for being a smartass during our first conversation, and have visited Banff, Lake Louise and stayed at the Fairmont.

        Where this could lead – 33 years later I still get rebuked for being a smartass by the best friend I’ve ever had.

        If you determine she’s worth a serious relationship please heed my advice. Make an investment of effort into your relationship; the effort spent earns a great ROI.

      • 0 avatar
        kuman

        Lucky guy.

        Seems like the two of u would make a nice couple from the pics.

        Canadians are some of the most direct and honest people i have ever been with, and they welcomes with honest reply as well.

        A quality that is getting increasingly rare, hence makes you stands
        out.

        wishing the best for u two.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Nice article Derek ;

    As a dedicated Father and GearHead I know it’s tricky to find the right Woman out there .

    My Son always comes first , even before my Motocycle .

    I too have found a nice Lady whom my son approves of and she supports my obsession with old cars I drag home instead of stray pets…

    Best of luck in your new aventures .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Good for you. Seems you’ve hit a home run in the most nebulous area of human endeavor. I was lucky enough to hit one out of the park in Calgary, too. I was promoted and transferred solely on my ability to work in Canada, and for that was also given a 100% raise. I thanked my accident of birth almost every night on Electric Avenue. While searching my Mom’s apartment for a hangover cure, this little cutie and her Mother came to see the apartment for rent. When they left, her Mom said – “that man is smitten with you”. Almost 30 years later I count my lucky stars Mom decided to buy that building and that Chrysler Credit had a critical need. Sometimes timing is indeed, everything.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Never could do the online dating thing.

    Tried it, too. Match.com. This would have been circa 2006 and ’07.

    Too many strange women. I dunno, but I was always matched up with women that (as the author had mentioned) were either tatooed up, were a little too- uhhh- “large framed” for my tastes, or had extremely LOW self-esteem.

    I’ve been married since December of 2007, and I haven’t looked back. So, congrats for A.) using a “widget” as a means of forming a relationship and B.) actually meeting someone seemingly normal through such.

    As far as the RDX goes, I always liked the RDX with the 2.3L turbo. I’d also imagined it to be a fun car, but not so much “crude” as other posters put it (after all, it is an Acura, and the Honda’s I’ve driven have always been VERY well-mannered behind the wheel). However, I’ve never driven the thing, so I’ll have to accept that assessment until someone can convince me differently.

    Not to mention, they were well enough appointed, and (in my humble opinion) the grill on these older ones tend to look more appealing- rather, more tolerable- than the more updated versions.

    As a side note, those CR-V steelies look right at home on the RDX. Perfect choice for winter-time specials.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  • avatar

    Good luck with the woman. She sounds and looks nice, and smart. Now that she’s met you, she’ll probably learn cars quickly.

    And good luck to your father!

  • avatar
    brettc

    Nice job with the find on Tinder. I’ve always wondered what the point of the Acura xUV models was/is, but I guess there is a target market of some sort for them.

    I’m a bit confused as to why you referenced miles and Fahrenheit even though you’re Canadian and were in Alberta. As you know, metric is the proper way to measure things.

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    Derek, next time you’re out west, TTAC beer night. I know there are a few of us in/near Cowtown.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I’ll be out there the next time the Red Wings play the Flames in Calgary. I’m guessing it won’t be for the Stanley Cup Finals though :(.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Ha, if we had to wait for the Flames to make the Cup finals to have a TTAC get together…we will all die having never met.

        Even the Jets would get us together sooner.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          The Wings-Pens game last night was the best regular season hockey game I’ve been to in a long time. I’ve never seen an overtime buzzer beater in hockey before.

          Last time I was in Alberta, I went to a Flames-Oilers game at Rexall Place. Someone loaned me a Mike Vernon Flames jersey. That was probably the best time I’ve ever had at a hockey game. I wish I could go to Alberta every year just for hockey games.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Go watch the Jets play. MTS Center has a pretty unique energy, with hockey being withheld from the ‘Peg for so long, combined with a relatively small rink.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I’ve never been to Winnipeg. Next season, I’ll look for an affordable flight out there. I dig the Jets jerseys too.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking about emailing you last time but frankly, I wanted to spend as much time with the lady as possible. I’ll be back soon though. We can set something up. Would be nice to meet you guys. When does the Verano get in?

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Haha, of course there is no need to justify that use of your time. Whenever you have a longer trip though, definitely arrange something.

        I talked to the salesman today, he said its built and somewhere in Ohio, and he estimates 3 weeks. Which puts them on the higher side of their “2-3 months” estimate.

        Funny, the reason I called was to ask him to ensure no dealership stickers are applied to the car.

  • avatar
    86er

    Western girls are the best girls.

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    A state of grace. Great Luck and the insight to recognize it.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Nice story. It’s good to read about a healthy relationship on TTAC once in a while. Never could even bring myself to try internet dating… I met my wife at a New Year’s party organized by a mutual friend.

    I’m still kicking myself for not at least test driving a used RDX of this generation when I bought our new Forester (which my wife usually uses). It’s got similar strengths to the Fozzy, and one similar weakness (MPG). The prices of a new Fozzy XT and a slightly used RDX are comparable. The tradeoff is refinement and agility (RDX) versus cavernous interior room and utility (Fozzy).

  • avatar
    Tifighter

    Nice story.

    We are up to 67k on our 08 RDX SH-AWD. Yeah, its rough around the edges as a premium CUV, but it really works if you think of it as Honda’s version of a loaded WRX. Featuring generous turbo lag, decent seats, a too-firm ride but ridiculous cornering speeds (for what it is), total reliability (so far), a good stock stereo, terrible mileage and complete winter superiority by way of a heavy curb weight and [in my case] Nokian WR’s.

    Thanks to the lack of awareness early, it actually cost me less than a loaded CRV. Not sure what I’ll replace it with.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Wait…I missed something.
    Most of the reviews I read on the earlier RDX were complaining about the turbo and how noisy and thirsty and even demanding premium.
    So they come out with a really solid car and engine…and make sure to keep it one of the better inside jobs, including great rear seat and cargo area….and it gets hit on?

    Please…these reveiws go everywhere and then nowhere.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Reg; _ “these reveiws go everywhere and then nowhere.”

    It is all ‘opinion’, even yours would be subjective and wouldn’t be on solid, irrefutable ground.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Nope! Not foolin… You seemed to be unclear about on subject, so was helping to clear the fog.

    The point is, ten reviewers, will have varying opinions, you included, and those original opinions can change if additional experienced info is obtained.

    Or, more to your original point/query, are mutable for whatever reason. We’re dealing with humans, after all.

    Cheers

  • avatar

    Hey Derek!

    In this piece you display all the attributes that make me think you’re going to do just fine. Sensitivity and courage come easily to mind. It doesn’t hurt either that it was all very well put together and reads easily and with a talent for keeping reader interest.

    All in all, it encapsulates pretty well why I think you’ll do just fine.

    Congratulations and hope everything works out just fine!

  • avatar
    mypoint02

    Great story, Derek. And congrats on the lady. Hope it goes well for you!

  • avatar
    SloppyJoe2

    Nice couple. Jealous.

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    Great article, I really enjoyed it. Timing is indeed everything. And what is it with “what are you thinking about?” Always wondered about the root of that question.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    “what are you thinking about?”

    ‘ re shimming the cluster gear in the tranny of my (45 year old) truck Honey , why ? ‘ would be a typical answer from me , I’m very lucky in that she doesn’t seem to mind .

    -Nate


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