I’m not a reporter. I don’t even pretend to be one. What I do is tell stories and sometimes, if I am fortunate, they resonate with people. So when guy name Joe here in Buffalo contacted me and offered me a ride in his 1995 Lotus Esprit I was torn. Naturally, I wanted a ride, who wouldn’t? Still, I had to tell him up-front that I didn’t know if that a ride would generate a story good enough for the illustrious readership here at TTAC. Luckily for me, he invited me over anyhow and I got my ride, but in the end it turns out I was right. A ride, no matter how exhilarating, really wasn’t enough for me to create an entire story. That’s fortunate though, because Joe’s story about his almost lifelong connection to this one specific car is better than anything I could have invented.
The best science fiction tells human stories set against a backdrop of strange worlds or futuristic cities. Because pacing and plot are more important than lengthy, accurate descriptions of the technology at work in those worlds, most sci-fi writers don’t spend a lot of time on the various machines their protagonists use. We might know that our hero traveled in a shiny aluminum air car, but the details generally are left to our imagination.
Fortunately for those of us who want a real peek into the future, film is a visual medium. The best directors know that set and prop design are critical to the tone of a movie and that machines can be as important as the action. They pay a lot of attention to getting just the right look and, even though we may not get to open the hood on that futuristic air car, we definitely get to see it at work, get a feel for its lines and even some idea of how it handles. If they do their job right, we might even believe these vehicle could be real.
The following are, in this author’s opinion, some of sci-fi’s finest.
The salesman must have thought I was nuts. I could hear the incredulous tone in his voice, “Some guy calling from Okinawa wants to buy a used car that we put on Craigslist? When does he want to come and look at it? He doesn’t? How’s he going to pick it up? He isn’t?” Fortunately for the both of us, money talks.
Nobody likes to think about the passing of a parent. When it happens it leaves you with a lot of different feelings, sadness, emptiness, loneliness and even, if your parent has been effected by a long illness or a prolonged decline, an unexpected sense of relief and completion. The grieving process is different for everyone, the legal process isn’t. Within a few days of your parent’s passing, the division of assets, property and cherished mementos begins to grind relentlessly forward. If your family gets along well, who gets what is generally handled gracefully and your relationships are actually strengthened by the process. So it was with my family and, since I was the only “car guy” among my brothers and sisters, it was a foregone conclusion that I would get my father’s Oldsmobile.
The Lake Michigan Car Ferry website is reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency and the operators of the Lake Michigan car ferry, the SS Badger, which runs between Ludington MI and Manitowoc, WI, have reached and agreement that will allow the historic steamship to continue operating. The Badger is one of the last coal fired vessels operating commercially on the great lakes and its continued operation means millions of trade and tourist dollars for the region it serves. During the summer months, the 6650 ton vessel makes two round trip crossings per day and can carry 600 passengers and up to 180 automobiles.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I love cars and like a lot of people I spend a lot of time thinking about the ones I might like to own. My daydreams live in an odd place, they don’t run towards the higher plane of pure fantasy where the Ferrari and Lamborghini live, and, despite the fact I expect to be buying a new minivan or SUV in the next couple of years, they don’t run to the purely practical, either. No, my fantasies live in that middle place. A place where the cars are interesting and, as unlikely as a purchase may be, still attainable.
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, the hunt was on… Read More >
The container yard stretched out into the distance as far as the eye could see. Next to the ship, three giant cranes worked at a feverish pace, plucking the 40 foot long containers from their racks, lifting them high into the air and depositing them onto one of an endless stream of flat-bed trucks below at a rate of around one every minute. The loaded trucks raced their engines and sped off into the yard where they were met by other machines, immense forklifts, that removed the containers and piled them in stacks six or seven units high. The stacks, numbering in the tens of thousands, merged with one another to form great flat topped mesas of multicolored steel cut by valleys of cement and the industrial landscape rivaled anything that nature could create with stone and water. It was a scene I had looked upon many times and it could have been a container port anywhere in the world. Only the stench of told me it was Kaohsiung Taiwan.
Total silence is not the kind of thing you expect in Japan. Given the fact that there are almost 130 million people crammed into a country roughly the size of the State of California, only 20% of which is actually habitable, the din of human activity follows you wherever you go. It is an incredibly urban environment, filled with people, heat and activity. Yet when I turned off the engine and stepped out onto the empty road and into the cool stillness of the summer night, I felt like I was the only person in the world.
The 1991 GMC Jimmy was a throwback to a better time. The design, originally introduced in the 1973 model year, was all truck and its square, upright design spoke volumes about American strength and power. Over the years, the design gradually evolved and towards the end of its product run even gained small touches of luxury. Don’t be misled by the soft velour seats and carpeted floors, though, under the skin the truck was still all business. It was a serious rig for serious men and it required a seriously big wallet to fill its seriously big fuel tank. I didn’t know it then, but I was in serious trouble the minute it hit the driveway.
My buddy John is one of the smartest guys I know and over the many years we have been friends John has always been a step or two ahead of most people, myself included. In 1988, when I was selling spark plugs and oil for just a scratch over minimum wage, John who is just a few months older than I, was writing computer programs and maintaining the data systems for a fairly large shipping company. He has always been a responsible, hardworking man but, to be honest, he is also a bit of a computer nerd. Read More >
The forest green 1969 Nova sat unwashed and unloved at the side of the modest house. I studied it from the side of the road with the eye of an experienced hunter and I recognized the signs. Shunted off to the side while two more modern cars sat in the driveway, it was obvious that the old Nova had already passed that threshold of usefulness and begun the descent into eventual abandonment. The grass beneath the car, just a cutting or two taller than the rest of the yard, told me how recently that had been – just a few weeks. There was a chance then, that the car had not sat long enough to totally degrade. Perhaps, I thought, there was still some value to be had.
The engine quit with a sudden un-dramatic snap, and the little Golf TDI began to slough off speed. Reflexively, I bumped the gearshift lever into neutral, flicked on my signal and began moving towards the left edge of the expressway. My exit was less than a mile away and, rather than stop alongside the highway, I used my momentum to coast up the off-ramp and over the small knoll that stood between the expressway and the toll plaza. I stopped there, on the back side of the hill where the road widened on the approach to the toll booths, to avoid blocking traffic and dug out my cell phone to call for a tow truck. I didn’t know it then, but it was the last time that I would ever sit behind the wheel of the little car, never mind the fact that it would follow me again around half of the globe. Read More >
Wherever I am in the world I will always be a typical American man. Despite a lot of the stereotypes that spring to mind when I say that, I learned a long time ago that it isn’t a bad thing. I was raised right and I have solid values. When seats are limited I will stand so my elders can sit. I always hold the door open for ladies, and I keep plugging away no matter how hopeless the situation might seem. There are a few things here and there that can cause problems once in a while, too. For example, I won’t be deliberately insulted, I need my personal space and, of course, I feel like I am loser if I don’t have my own set of wheels.
It was 1984. Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and the Scorpions were on the radio stations I listened to, while Prince, Wham, and some guy named Michael Jackson were on the stations I avoided. I was a young punk and I ran with a fast crowd. Whatever, I was into fast.