By on October 12, 2010

I am the electron, the distant particle. Sometimes I know where I am, sometimes I know where I am going, but never do I know both. I look back and see where I was. This time I covered 1,600 miles in sixty-six hours, from Ohio to Indiana to Ontario and back, racing, partying, making videos, lulled to dullness by the long road, sneaking out with the morning light and never really sleeping. This is not On The Road: this is Two-Lane Blacktop. We cannot learn about ourselves; there is no “there” there. But we can learn about this Buick, this uneasy inheritor of a tarnished nobility.

I step from my Town Car into this 2011 LaCrosse. It has 261 miles on the odometer. First impressions: it feels insubstantial. As Michael Karesh noted in his review, it feels and looks smaller than it is. Hard to believe it’s bigger than a Malibu. The extra space is used for a swoopy interpretation of the only interior design idea GM has had in the past decade. CTS, LaCrosse, Cruze… it’s all the same sausage in different widths. Control efforts are trivial, the leather feels like plastic, the brakes are no more trustworthy than a Panther’s. At least the 3.6L V6 is strong in the current Japanese/German rev-it-up mode.

Down the road we go to Putnam Park, site of the last NASA Great Lakes enduro of the year. It’s a three-hour race, and I will be driving the second half of it in the “Pakistan Express” #787 Civic Si. At the green flag, I watch my co-driver, Brian Makse, take the lead in a sixteen-car field and hold it for an hour. Looks good, but there’s a problem. Our transponder has died. The crew chief, Sam Myers, radios Brian. Extend the lead, we need at least a lap to swap transponders. When Brian comes in, we have perhaps forty seconds to swap it. Sam and Rob Demorest, the first mechanic, make the swap in about ninety frantic seconds while the Civic wobbles over Sam’s head.

Brian’s back out. A Miata hits the wall hard a few laps later, scattering haybales and black-flagging the race for twenty minutes. Brian works to get back on the lead lap, and then it’s my turn. During the driver change, two critical things happen. The first thing is obvious: there’s a fuel spill, leading to my being called back for a five-minute pitlane penalty while the competition whizzes by lap after lap. The second thing isn’t quite as obvious at first: my earplugs didn’t seat.

On track the unmuffled Civic is painfully loud, In my confusion, I’m immediately passed by two competitors, dropping us to seventh place. I can’t think, can’t see, my laps are pathetic, I’m losing time. Now the car is starting to pop out of fourth gear every time there’s a cornering load. The view out the windshield looks fuzzy. I think about quitting and am looking for the radio button when my eyes fall on the Traqmate race computer strapped to the dashboard. Oh, what the hell.

I switch the Traqmate on and cycle it to “qualifying mode”. In this mode, it tells me in real time if I’m improving my lap time or screwing it up. My first lap is 1:26.0. Not good for Putnam in this class. My next one is 1:25.4. Then 1:25.1. I can’t hear anything now. My head is numb. I’m feeling for grip as the other cars start to come backwards at me. I’m holding the car in gear around some of the turns, one-handing it like a hero. Woo-hoo!

Sam knows he has to scream into the radio and it makes him laconic: “GOOD JOB YOU ARE FASTEST CAR ON TRACK.” Really? We’re in the “E3” class. There are Porsche 911s and American Iron cars out there. The Traqmate says 1:23.1. I later find out that Brian was in the high 1:22s on fresh tires, but for now all I know is that there’s no more. I run to the end, passing my way back up to fourth in the next sixty minutes, five feet at a time, making the small improvements and the tough passes, waving at a TTAC reader who is running a Porsche 944 in our class and who was really the most courteous guy on-track all day.

I cross the line, get out of the car, take a photo with Sam, who has put me in so many safe, well-prepared cars in the past few years. Although Sam looks like a bouncer in a rough bar, he’s actually a track-record-holding driver who gave up his race career to focus on his family. There are few men whom I respect more.

No time to chat: it’s time to drive to Toronto to shoot a video on the Infiniti M56 for another publication. 638 miles. My head thrums softly in the LaCrosse, my vision is fuzzy, the border guard asks me if I’ve been drinking. I don’t remember all of the trip but before I know it I’m putting on a tie, practicing my lines. I drive at seventy miles per hour eighteen inches behind the camera truck, covering the brake with my left foot, repeating the same loop for three hours as the camera moves. There’s no zoom in top-end cameras, apparently. We do “zooms” by coordinating our driving. Nerve-wracking.

Now I’m in line outside the Kool Haus in Toronto, standing in line for three hours, waiting for the Miike Snow concert. The woman with me is china-doll perfect, Eastern European, willfully alternative in style and outfit. “Are you okay?” she says.


“You haven’t heard anything I’ve said.” And I only hear the roar in my head, louder and louder, like the sea coming in.

One in the morning and Miike Snow is pounding bass in this converted warehouse. Everybody is in motion. I have earplugs in now, trying to let my head recover. My little friend is screaming, jumping. She was born the year I received my professional cycling license. Louder and louder, like the thunder blowing towards my home in the summer.

She has a friend. “You said it was an old man car,” the friend says.

“It is. It’s a Buick.”

“Buicks are fun.”


“Oh yeah, I used to have one, when I drove. But I only had my license for a year.” The bar is closing. I could be asleep in the hotel half an hour from now. China doll smile. “You’re coming back with us, right?”

“Of course.” There are paintings lining the room where she plays piano for us at three in the morning, banging through a dozen Amanda Palmer songs, a classically trained pianist taking her anger out on the instrument, splendid, beautiful, her left hand hitting the bass side harder and harder, louder and louder, like the inevitability of conquest and surrender.

And then it’s daylight and I am sneaking out, a massive canvas with me, she said hours ago I should take it, I will not wake her to confirm. She sleeps like a perfect china doll now, her friend curled up on another bed down the hall. There’s an inch to spare in the Buick’s back seat on either side of the painting.

Back to the hotel, shower, dress, say the lines, repeat the lines, watch the blocking. Five minutes of video takes three days, you know. The M56 is a Japanese Buick, the same but different. The interior and exterior are weirdly reminiscent of the LaCrosse. The radio tunes the same way. Turn up XM channel 80, remember the night that is not separated by sleep.

Then it’s the afternoon and I am crossing the border again. The guard looks at the painting in the back seat. “Why?” he asks.

“Why not?” I say, and he waves me towards Buffalo. Now it is dark and I am settled into the Buick, we are heading in the same direction. It’s fast enough, it’s economical enough, and if it isn’t desirable that’s okay, the Lexus ES isn’t desirable to anyone and it sells, sells, sells. In the gas station the attendant says, “Why are you wearing earplugs?” I put them in days ago. Maybe. That was somebody else. I take them out and the world rushes in.

I run from the counter, surrounded by the noise, stereo chatter, flushing toilets, people arguing, towards the Buick, open the door, jump in headfirst, slam it shut behind me. We are quiet on the American road. However briefly, I know where I am.

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21 Comments on “LaCrosse The Universe...”

  • avatar

    Hertz rental I see.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the natural environment for the Lacrosse. I suspect precious few new ones ever see the warmth of an owner’s garage… but instead the cold dampness of the airport rental center lot.

    • 0 avatar

      Called it at the DRB plate. Columbus licensee vehicle, if I’m correct. Also explains the lack of a barcode on the rear passenger-side door.

      I’ve driven a few (all of them have been Columbus licensee cars that made it over here, all with DRB plates, as well). Haven’t liked them. Yet to try the 3.6; however, the absurdly smooth-yet-weak 3.0 (like a techy Panther engine) was the least of its problems. The interior has quality, it’s just not in the right places. The exterior has style, it just doesn’t amount to an attractive whole (the car’s too high/narrow/long to look good, even with the 19″ wheels which still seem laughably narrow). I used to be able to fall in love with GM products, despite their flaws. Their newer stuff (LaCrosse, CTS, SRX, Malibu) seem to be a 2D rendering of a good vehicle on paper, even in real life. Nothing connects correctly. I’ve been jazzed about some pretty flawed cars – Town Cars, Auroras, Intrigues, Regal GSs, Eighty Eight LSSs, Mitsubishi Galants – and yet despite their theoretical perfection (however, I still feel GM’s interiors are crap, see the Aura, Vue, Traverse, Enclave, SRX, LaCrosse, Malibu) GM’s newest and best alienates me completely. I wouldn’t touch them.

      The Avalon, now that turns me on…

      I’m odd.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    There’s some kind of bug in WordPress that closes comments when you make too many revisions. I’ve been asleep since I clicked “Publish” and didn’t realize comments were closed. Thanks to Michael Karesh for pointing it out. :)

  • avatar

    I take it Miss “Buicks are fun” had a GNX?

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Farmer Brown froze in his tracks; the cows stared wide-eyed back at him. Somewhere, off in the distance, a Buick was driven.

  • avatar

    It was a pleasure meeting you Jack.  We finished 8th in class and 11th overall in E3 (Zen Speed).  I did a summary of our weekend including running the fun races on Sunday which i put in my own blog.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Great to meet you… much respect for you guys on and off-track. Here are the results:
      We finished three laps down… without the five minute we would have won the entire race, regardless of class. Tough to see the win go to a car/driver combo that wasn’t as fast as I was.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Indeed. They were slow enough to (presumably) not spill gasoline in the pits. Haste makes waste.

  • avatar

    Did you mean to write this piece in a prose style that mimicked your state of mind at the time?

    • 0 avatar

      He writes better and better every day. If that is possible.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually found it very effective.  I could feel the way he was thinking as a result of the discomobulated prose.  That’s why I asked if it was deliberate, that and because he picked the style after the brain-scrambling.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      There’s a little bit of Method acting involved here. Yes, I wrote it to simulate how I was feeling/thinking at the time, but I also wrote it after returning home from the trip and before going to sleep.
      When I woke up at 2:30 today I was annoyed with myself for running to 1100 words. It seemed like 800 to me at the time, I swear, Officer!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I’m actually concerned about his health.  I was trying to figure out if he had a migraine, a hangover, or mini-strokes.  I would have liked to hear a little more about the Buick.

  • avatar

    Climb in and close the door on a proper Lexus or Cadillac – I feel like I’m wandering the planet with ear plugs.  Does driving a Buick LaCrosse make you feel this way as well?

  • avatar

    Good lord JB, you’re gonna kill yourself!  Take some time off – if you can.

  • avatar

    The LaCrosse is a superb car.  It gushes style inside and out, materials are absolutely top notch, and it’s selling like hot cakes.
    But the best thing about it, is that GM knows exactly where Buick falls in the pecking order of the market.  They have priced the car perfectly.  Lincoln, another ‘near luxury’ brand hasn’t a clue as to what they are doing…hence the 50K rebadged Taurus.
    GM absolutely nailed this car and the Regal.

  • avatar

    My god does that look like my brother’s apartment complex in Gahanna! It’d be funny if you lived in the same place.

    I drove the new LaCrosse a few times when I worked for a rental car agency. It’s a smooth operator, but those sight lines are a deal breaker for me.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    The only thing that could have made this story better is if China Doll’s friend is in fact a girl and the two of them were sleeping in the same bed when Jack left them. LOL!

  • avatar

    Very good lap times!
    NO MENTION of the FLAT OUT UNACCEPTABLE sightlines of the LaCrosse. Thick pillars + swept windshield+ swept mirrors = pedestrian striking machine. Great car otherwise (NEVER ACCEPT ONE EVEN AS A RENTAL)

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