Trackday Diaries: The Final Flurry After The First Flurries

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
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trackday diaries the final flurry after the first flurries

For the time being, we can still call it “Indian Summer.” Maybe not for much longer — my alma mater, Miami University, bent the knee to social-justice pressure on this issue a few years ago. We had been the Miami Redskins, but after a prolonged siege by the forces of manufactured outrage the university agreed to change us to the Miami Redhawks. It is worth noting that the Chief of the Miami Tribe in no way objected to the old logo or name; he thought it was used in a reasonable and dignified manner. But when faced between the choice of respecting the opinion of an actual Native American or listening to the incoherent babble of their own privileged white-girl hearts, Miami’s students of course chose the latter.

I kind of like the bird they chose — it looks angry, although to my mind it is not distinct enough from the Bowling Green Falcon, and that’s a shame because BG is an emphatically third-rate university and Miami is only second-rate. Angry is good. It’s easy to picture such a red hawk flying above the muted palette of the Ohio late fall forest, two-lane roads with orange and red leaves disconnected from stems by a killing morning frost then resurrected in impromptu whirling whorls set to spinning above the tarmac by the Vettes and ‘vertibles of all sorts, the lumbering Harleys and white-trash sportbikes and adventure-cuck bikes taking brief but permitted nonsense trips to nowhere. We can get these magical weekends every once in awhile, right at the end of the season, and this past Saturday was the perfect example — 76 degrees and a panoply parade of pleasure vehicles out for the last sorties of the year.

Now it’s 28 and I’m the only bike on the road to work this morning, flash-frozen on the freeway, every joint hurting and the tires chilled to a sort of bitter truce with the road surface, chittering at the hint of a lean.

It’s only stubbornness that drives me; that, and a desire to save $18 a day in downtown parking fees. Maybe I’m an idiot for insisting that I ride to work in the winter. Certainly I have a limit; as soon as there’s ice on the ground, it’s time to drive a proper snow-tire-shod car. I no longer leave that up to chance, or up to friends. I’ve had snows for both the Accord and Fiesta waiting and mounted for that moment.

My friends and co-workers don’t hesitate to share their opinion of my wintertime riding with me, and it’s never complimentary. We’ve never quite extirpated that self-flagellatory impulse from the American psyche, but in our Godless present it can only be accepted when it presents in certain palatable forms. If I told my co-workers that I’d signed up for a “tough mudder,” to run through steaming, bacteria-and-feces-laden muck in the cause of adding imaginary dignity to what would otherwise just be like the 5k races that I used to do most weekends before my knees signed off for good a decade ago, they’d certainly approve of that. But the idea of deliberately subjecting myself to a frozen 40 minutes, to get on the bike knowing that I am going to suffer — that upsets them. Without the secular god of Physical Fitness to bless this sacrifice, it starts to seem a little unsettling, more monastery than Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy. What if I am spending some of that time thinking about my sins in this world? Wouldn’t I basically be Osama bin Laden at that point, only in the service of the somewhat less acceptable religion of Christianity?

I should tell them that freezing your quadriceps to 28 degrees for half an hour has been proven to build dense muscle fiber. Then they would accept it, unquestioning. The next week, we’d see a line of motorcycles outside the office. Then we’d probably get CrossFit involved somehow. We could all post personal records. It would be great. We could do a “color run” together. There is no activity in 2016 that is entirely safe from the infantilizing influence of feminine consumer culture. Pretty soon the Marine Corps will have to put strings of light bulbs up in the barracks like they do in the Lumineers videos.

Yet for all my sullen kvetching, I must admit that it’s perfectly reasonable to not ride a motorcycle below, say, 50 degrees. Maybe even 60. What bothers me is this: This past Saturday, I saw dozens of motorcycles, hundreds of coupes, convertibles with the tops down, that sort of thing. Yet my commuting experience in July is often much like my commuting experience in January; I’m the only motorcycle on the freeway. When I take my Boxster and put the top down, I’m almost always the only person doing so.

The Midwest buys a lot of bikes, a lot of convertibles and a lot of sports cars. But you never see them. You can drive through the neighborhoods around my house and see anything from an old 911SC to a brand-new Z06, all of them used for the same purpose: impromptu garage shelving. They sit thick with dust and neglect, or buried beneath car covers. While the fellows who own them are sitting alone in their Grand Cherokees or X5s, stacked with five other fellow-travelers in the line for Starbucks.

I am not ignorant of how this happens. My father once told me that “you make your habits, then your habits make you.” He was just trying to explain to me why I shouldn’t sleep until 11 on the days I didn’t work, but there was a larger message behind it. If you make a religious habit out of exercise or helping the homeless or knocking out 5,000 words a week, you will have inertia on your side. You will keep going until you are stopped. This is how successful people become successful. As my favorite blogger, “The Last Psychiatrist,” once said: If you want to know what you are training yourself to become, look at your watch. See what you do with your time.

So the motorcycle and sports-car owners of the Midwest spend all winter training themselves to drive an SUV. Then they realize that spring has come and it’s time to drive the Porsche or ride the Ninja. They make a plan to do it. But something gets in the way. And before you know it, we’re looking at June or July. It gets hot here. Uncomfortable. No reason to fire up the Vette right now. Wait until fall. Then it’s October. No sense getting all that stuff off the car just to drive it for a month.

Then that one weekend arrives, the 70-degree gift. Everybody panics. Swap out the battery, wipe off the cobwebs, inflate the tires. Get out there and drive, ride, enjoy yourself, compress the whole year’s worth of driving days into a single weekend. Then pack away for the winter and start training yourself to be an SUV driver again.

On those fateful Saturdays, I can allow myself to feel something other than alone. I am in the kinship of car people, bike fanatics, a whole world of people for whom wheeled transport applies to the soul as well as the body. Then I wake up the next day and it’s as if that holiday never happened.

We can try to convince ourselves that automotive enthusiasm has a future in the electric, autonomous future of the car. And there are moments where it feels like that might indeed happen. But it’s only that Indian summer, you see. The future is anonymous, anodyne, androgynous. Modular. Agile bench seat depersonalized. I see it coming but I have no plans to go quietly. You’ll continue to see me on the road. I hope to see you out there as well. Wheel up, rev limiter, top down, full throttle, in that summer state of mind.

[Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • VoGo VoGo on Nov 23, 2016

    So I have a choice today. I can either spend a few hours doing battle with a bunch of racists who don't have the balls to admit they are racists, or I can spend time with my kids going t...

    • Whittaker Whittaker on Nov 23, 2016

      I'm driving a halo car Down on Redneck Avenue Each night I threaten to leave But I never do

  • Zykotec Zykotec on Nov 23, 2016

    Dad updated his Instagram today with pictures of the studded tires on his R1150GS. Now he's ready for the winter. (above the arctic circle) he hasn't owned a car since '94, but he has three bikes (two GS's and one RT) and a sailboat. He does own a tiny RV to function as a base in the summer when he tours the various mountians and dirtroads of the EU. He did like cars when he was younger but a car can apparently never give you that same 'true' experience. Although I do agree, I also hate wearing heavy motorcycle clothing and a helmet just to go for a drive, so I still dream of a roadster. Preferably a model A with an angry smallblock but i guess a super 7 style car or even a 356 replica on a beetle chassis will do.

  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.
  • Marky S. I own the same C.C. XSE Hybrid AWD as in this article, but in Barcelona Red with the black roof. I love my car for its size, packaging, and the fact that it offers both AWD and Hybrid technology together. Visibility is impressive, as is its small turning circle. I consider the C.C. more of a "station wagon" by proportion, rather than an “SUV.” It is fun to drive, with zippy response and perky pick-up. It is a pleasant car to drive and ride in. It is not trying to be a “Butch Off-Roader”, or a cosseting “Luxury Cruiser.” Those are not its goals or purpose. The Corolla Cross XSE Hybrid AWD is a wonderful All-Purpose Car (O.K. – “SUV” if you must hear me say it!) with a combination of all the features it has at a reasonable price.
  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.