Sometime in the predawn hours of a day in early August 1974, my father loaded his wife and five children into his recently purchased Chevrolet ¾ ton pickup truck, the adults isolated safely in the cab while we kids were locked like monkeys in a cage under a canopy in the back, and left Snohomish, WA for Horton, KS. It was a trip we made several times during my childhood and I have vivid memories of waking up in the predawn hours when the air was still cold and first rays of the sun were just beginning to paint the sky in the East. In the decades since, my road trips have always begun that same way and so now, having just completed their first big road trip from Buffalo, NY to Washington D.C. my children will share those memories as well. Read More >
Category: Future Writers
In January 2010 a Swiss court handed down a $290,000 fine on a traffic violation. To be sure , the violation in question was a big one and involved speeds approaching 180mph. Police say that, once they rolled in behind the speeding car, it took it nearly a half mile to come to a complete stop. Apparently the driver had avoided earlier detection by radar controlled cameras because his speed was so high that it exceeded the cameras’ ability to measure the car’s velocity. Despite the severity of the offense, it was not the car’s speed that caused the severity of the fine, it was the driver’s income. That’s an idea I think I could get behind. Read More >
As I paused in the driveway and waited for the garage door to open, I felt an unexpected presence by my side. Unbeknownst to me, my six year old son had slipped the confines of his booster seat in the rearmost row and made his way forward past his sisters with surprising stealth. Now he stood between my wife and I as we prepared to travel the last few feet of our journey. Read More >
Chrysler’s recent decision to snub a recent NHTSA recall request is big news. I need not restate the facts of the story, if you are a “car guy” and haven’t heard the sordid details, or noticed the dramatic photos of burned out Jeep Grand Cherokees and Liberties posted all over the internet in the past few days, you must live under a rock. With 2.7 million vehicles involved the costs of conducting such a recall would be staggering but, ultimately, inaction may cost the company even more money if consumers lose confidence in the brand. Read More >
The empty space in my driveway mocks me. The 300 is gone and I know it is not coming back. I have accepted that and I really believe in my heart-of-hearts that the car has gone to someone who will give it the use it actually deserves. But the sun still shines and the money in my pocket burns like fire against my thigh. I dare not ask my wife to allow me to buy another toy, she’s small but feisty, but never the less I still find myself on Craigslist considering all the possibilities. Help me, oh best and brightest, help me to exorcise this demon before I do something rash.
She done me wrong. I was beside myself with grief, anger and stress. Things had been going so well when, suddenly, a former lover waltzed back into her life and caused her to leave me in the lurch. Part of me wanted to win her back, to show her I was better than him. The other, darker part of me wanted to find that guy and kick his ass. It was a terrible time, and to make matters even worse, by faithful Dodge Shadow wasn’t running right.
The black Nissan 200SX Turbo was only a few years old but it had been solidly thrashed over the years. It had obviously been an expensive, well optioned little car when it was new, but the people into which its well being had been entrusted had obviously not respected that fact. Now it slumped on its sagging suspension, any number of small dents defacing its once gracefully straight bodylines and its once beautiful aluminum wheels, now torn by contact innumerable curbs, were shod with cheap, mismatched tires. This car was supposed to be fast?
At just 10:30 AM the sun was already near its full zenith and it beat down upon the city of Osaka with an intense, angry glare. Waves of heat shimmered up from the pavement and superheated the air which blew around in tepid, weak breezes that offered little respite. Perhaps later, the column of heat created by the great city’s many square miles of pavement would spark a sudden thunderstorm as it rose high into the stratosphere and the resultant rain would bring relief as it cascaded down and turned the streets into raging torrents. For now, however, there was only the glare of the sun, the stifling heat and, for me, the thought that riding an 1100 cc air cooled sport bike in a full set of leathers was a choice I should have avoided making.
Years ago, I was paid to help a neighbor clean out his garage. It was an old, ramshackle building with a dirt floor and over the years it had been filled with an amazing amount of crap. At the very back, under a canvas tarp, I found a long neglected late 60s Honda CB750 in fairly rough condition. When I asked about it, my neighbor told me how, as a younger man, he had purchased the bike new and travelled the highways and byways of the American West for many years before finally coming home a settling down to start a family. To him, it was an icon of his youth and a time of freedom. To my young eyes, however, it was just a neglected old bike covered in dirt and cobwebs, found forgotten, alone and unloved and condemned to spend its remaining years as a lifeless touchstone of another time. It struck me as a particularly sad end to a life of service and I decided then that no vehicle of mine would ever languish its remaining life away in a barn or under a cover.
In the early 1980s, as the economy continued to slump and gas prices soared, American car makers were desperate for a way forward. The good old days were gone forever. Under pressure from the Japanese, whose small cars had gone from rolling jokes to serious, high quality competition in little more than a decade, the big three knew they needed to make a radical departure from their traditional approach before it was too late. Although some of the more stodgy cars would soldier on and continue to sell to members of the Greatest Generation well past their expiration dates, for the rest of us the future was a smaller, lighter and more efficient. The winds of change were blowing and even the Ford Mustang felt the chill.
Yesterday, the astute Derek Kreindler added to his already excellent body of work on TTAC another installment of his “Generation Why” series in which he explored Land Rover’s resistance to the current trend of marketing lower cost vehicles to young people. In the body of the article a couple of sentences in particular jumped out at me –
As mother’s day approaches I think now about my own mother on the other side of the continent and about the journey her life has been. Born in the mid 1930s and raised in poverty, she was dumped into an orphanage by her father after her mother’s sudden death from breast cancer in the late ’40s. It has never been discussed in detail, but I know that she and her younger sister were rescued by their older sister, my aunt Evelyn, herself just a recently married teenager, and raised as one of her own. At barely 18 years of age, my mother married my father, had the first of her five children and worked hard to build a home for herself and her family. The amazing part of this is that she was able to do it all without ever driving.
In some ways my initial move across the Pacific was a lot easier than my return. I was at the end of my personal rope when I went to Japan in 1999 and, even though I was stepping into a dead end job, there was nowhere to go but up. Coming home was quite the reverse. Of course I had a job offer, but I had learned the hard way about birds in the hand versus the two in the bush and, truth is, I was scared. I had carved out a nice little life for myself in Japan. I had friends, a decent place to live and, for a change, money in my pocket. I had even purchased a car and a motorcycle, but now it was time to sell out and move on.
At around 2:00 PM on the afternoon of October 6, 1973, more than 200 Soviet built Egyptian aircraft began to assault Israeli air bases and missile emplacements north of the Suez canal and the established line of defense, known as the Bar Lev Line. During the night that followed, Egyptian combat engineers crossed the canal in small boats and used gasoline powered pumps to throw streams of high pressure water against the massive sand wall the Israeli forces had erected at the water’s edge following their 1967 conquest of the Sinai. The water eroded the wall with amazing efficiency and by the next day more than 50,000 Egyptian troops and 400 tanks had made their way across the Suez, through the remains of the Bar Lev line and out onto the Sinai desert where they forced the Israeli military back in disarray. The offensive, known as Operation Badr was the opening of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and it makes interesting reading. The conflict had lasting effects in region and some say that it helped to set the stage for the Camp David Accords and eventually led to the peace treaty that President Carter helped negotiate between Egypt and Israel. The war also had effects closer to home and, thanks in part to the Arab Oil Embargo that was a direct result of America’s support of Israel during the conflict, it led to a new, fuel efficient car appearing in my family’s driveway.
Author’s note: In order to protect the identity of the victims in this case, some names and details have been omitted or changed.
There are a million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.