Friday, March 28, 2014

Andrew drives a modern rental car, and concludes we're all going to Hell.

For the first time in years, I spent a day in Scottsdale without a car. I couldn't take it. It's horrible. How do you people do this.

Anyhow, due to needing a new (BRASS, not PLASTIC) radiator, my MR2 has been out of commission. 

So since it's (probably crying) in CarLife Autocare’s mechanic bay, they gave me a paid-for leathery rental. Not just a little economy bucket, no they hooked it up. I could write a glowing review about CarLife, but that's a story for another day.

A young mechanic oil-change kid named Alex picked me up from home and drove me to an Enterprise car rental center. "It's all paid for, unless you want insurance. Take it easy, buddy!" and he left.

Paperwork signed, I'm given a quick tour of my rental car by an Enterprise salesman guy.

Now the car they're lending me is nothing special by today’s super luxury standards. It’s an upper middle class fully optioned Chevrolet Captiva SUV. Brand new. Black on black, with chrome and aluminum accents. It's a car I'd glance over and forget as I'm thumbing for Porsches in this month's Car & Driver.

As I sit in the Captiva's driver seat, the Enterprise employee rambles about something. Then he waves and shuts the driver door with a quiet fump.
And the outside world is instantly muted. Turned off.  Completely gone and separate from me now

I take a look around this freshly stitched interior. So this is what GMs engineers have been up to.

I’m cocooned in fifty airbags, glossy faux aluminum and wood grain accents. There’s like 10 air conditioners and screens all over and I don’t know what it all means. The car is just on all of a sudden, like it knows I’m there. One of the screens flash words and welcoming animations. Asking me what I want in life. It can provide it. Anything you want, driver.

I just want to, uh, drive home. Can you do that, Captiva?

The driver seat alone has more options than my entire MR2. I want to adjust it a bit, so I reach down for a grab handle to find nothing. Instead there’s a handful of smooth buttons on the side. I press a couple of them and make the seat position worse, then give up.

This thing has so many gadgets, I don't even know what Bluetooth is but there’s like 6 kinds of it in here. I never knew I needed air conditioned seats, or responsive interior and exterior lighting, satellite location, onboard HD diagnostics, and warning beeping things and cameras until now.

Every surface has little bits of safety-laden convenience hoping to coddle me in every thinkable way.

I don't understand all this fancy technology and computers and it makes me angry.

So I decide to try and drive it while ignoring the flatscreen thing in the center console. It was offering me food and music and news updates and where the nearest whatever I need is... but I'm scared of all these buttons, so I just leave it.

Cruising along, blasted with ice cold air from the swoopy dash, I can’t feel or hear a thing from the road. It all seems so far away from me. I’m not driving a car as much as just watching a movie through the windshield.

Floating in the vast chasm of headroom above me is an open glass moonroof of the future. It’s letting bright Phoenix sunlight spill all over the chrome automatic shifter, blinding me as a result. 

Squinting my eyes on the movie road ahead, I reach up and grab for a sliding shade to close it.
But there’s no such thing, really. Instead there are a dozen buttons to control the fore and aft degree and angle and temperate and mood lighting of the moonroof. Can’t I just close this stupid thing? 
I hit all the buttons a few times until something makes it close. Ah, good.

The ride is so smoothly muffled and massaged, I can’t tell if I’ve run over a deer or a road reflector. There’s zero feeling. No connection between me and the outside. Not that there needs to be. I wonder if I’m even needed in this car actually. I’m sure it could drive itself fine with or without me.

In my MR2, there are no driver aids. It’s just you and the wheel and this eager little engine and that’s it. You make it all happen. If you screw up even the slightest bit, it’s your fault. Sorry. Learn to drive better or get out, chump.

But in this new Captiva, in this new car, you could have a baboon dowsed in itching powder as the driver, and everything would be just fine. The computers would handle everything. No tires would screech, no fuel would be wasted, nobody would get hurt. Everything’s gonna be just fine. We’ll even get McDonald’s on the way.

I was chuckling to myself about this, when it hit me.

This is what cars are like now. This is what people want.
I’m the weirdo, here. Not them.

I look around at the Scottsdale traffic whizzing by. Many of the cars are far nicer than this Captiva. I steal a glimpse from each driver as they pass. Every driver in their own suede-covered protective tech bubble vacation. They don’t care about anything outside of themselves. Their car makes sure of it.

The modern car can answer their every want and need, with silent obedience. The car makes them feel important, exclusive, and special. No rude boss, no screaming kids, debt, disrespect, stress or noise to worry about.

This is the future. Highways filled with millions of tiny escapes.

…I really miss my MR2. I miss my notchy 5 speed, and two working speakers. I miss my little early 90s Toyota world. Where things made sense.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Policeman at Scottsdale Pavillions Car Show

I’m peacefully admiring a 1968 Jaguar XKE. For some reason, no one else is. Do they not realize what this car is?

No matter. I’ve been wanting some alone time with a quality classic like this. And this one is all business- just beautiful.

My face is inches away from the front left wheel (checking the spokes for specks of dirt and finding none) when I hear a voice behind me.

“What a car! It looks great!”

I straighten up, and face the voice. It’s a policeman.

Now a few years ago I would have instantly turned a sweaty, nervous pale color. But not anymore.

“Oh it certainly is,” I smile. I quickly think of reasons he could have picked me out to approach in particular.  I must feel him out, play this right.

“Well what, uh. What is it?” he asks, rubbing his chin, eyeing the car.

“It’s a ’68 E-type, Jaguar. You’ll see examples like this every year at the Barrett Jackson auctions going for new-house type money. My dad had a white one when I was a baby.”

He nods at the Jaguar. We both do for a moment. He appears to think I’m this car’s owner, letting his guard down completely.

Do I really come off as that… mature?

“Wow well it sure is pretty. My wife, she knows all about cars and stuff. It’s her thing. I bet she’d be all freaked out over this one. I don’t know cars very well. But you know I figure I’ll get a muscle car or somethin’ pretty soon. Retirement’s gonna happen soon.”

"Well a good number of these are for sale?" I gesture to the lot of '60s Camaros and Mustangs.

He grins some good teeth. Certainly doesn’t look retirement age. I’d say upper 30s to early 40s. Short cropped sandy hair. His skin is nicely reddened by a long day under the sun. His gear makes him look bulky, but underneath, I know he’s my height and weight. Normally cops act large and in charge, but not this one.

From his relaxed, friendly demeanor, he seems much happier just blending in like anyone else.

“So what brings you here?” I ask.

“Well they called in and said they needed me at the McDonald’s. And I was like, heck yeah.” He taps the little radio on his shoulder. It chirps garbled words and numbers which he pays no mind.

“I was workin' the baseball game this mornin'. They pay good for that one too. I mean it’s been a long day, but workin' the McDonald’s is my favorite gig man.”

He tells me about the owner of this particular McDonald’s. The one that hosts this weekly car show, arguably the most popular and longest-running car show in Arizona. He knows the owner very well, and has for years. 

Mr. Policeman tells me his name, which is John. Officer John's handshake is just like mine in grip, though his fingers are shorter and thicker.

We’re discussing which restaurant chain he should start getting into after retiring from police work, when his pants ring.

He takes out a smartphone from his pocket, slides his thumb across it, “Oh it’s the wife, hang on. Hey honey. Yeah I’m here…. What? Oh I don’t know what that is… sure, sure, I’ll come look at it. Just gimme a sec. Okay. Love you too. Yes. Okay.”

He thumbs the phone off and puts it back in his pocket, a little embarrassed.

“She’s here. Says there’s some Buick here and she’s all excited.”

“It’s probably the GNX,” I offer. He doesn’t know what a GNX is, he smiles and shrugs bashfully.

I notice eager onlookers now. From a distance, they think I’m in trouble with this cop. Like something's about to go down.

I imagine getting into the E-type, yelling something about you’ll never catch me copper and skidding away.

“So how long you been working this gig, John?” I ask.

“Years, man. They pay forty bucks an hour for this. Sometimes fifty. So I get to look at some cars, the wife’s happy, and then I get to catch a few kids bein’ crazy later on. It’s the best!”

“Crazy kids, hmm?” I say, thumbing to a burnout in the distance.

“Yeah, that kinda crap. I mean come on dude, we got a great thing here. Why ya gotta do stuff like that,” his brow furrows for a moment.

Even with his gun, and his furrowed brow, he still looks miles from intimidating.

“Little while back there were at least a dozen of us workin' this, I’d guess. This week is pretty mellow though,” he says, nodding at the scene around us as he spoke.

He tells me about the ‘riff raff’ that show up later on. And how it doesn’t completely stop until after midnight sometimes.

"It's like every week there's a new batch of morons. Excuse my French," he shakes his head, hands on hips like a disappointed mother.

"You wouldn't believe sometimes, though. You get these kids with daddy's money out here. They don't care about anything, they never earned a cent of it.”

"So they don't care about crashing it, either," I respond. John nods.

"In Phoenix, you know it's just like little old Civics and Altimas with silly wings. But at least they bought it with their own money. They're less likely to do something crazy, because they're worried about hurting their car. These kids out here though, are spoiled. I mean you get a 16 year old kid with a brand new 500hp mustang and it's big trouble."

“You need to get in their head, John. Don’t just ticket them. They won’t learn."

"Whadya mean?"

"You gotta tell them they’re an embarrassment to the scene when they act like that. And that real car guys find their public-road burnouts and crap irritating. Like, prove it at the track, son.

He laughs. “Good idea, think I’ll try that!"

After a bit more chit chat about ‘kids these days’ John’s pants ring again.

“Well Andrew. I should probably get goin'. The wife, you know how they get and stuff.”

I smile and shake his little hand again. Then we part ways.

I hear a slight groan of disappointment around us. No, I’m not a criminal, people.
 If anything, I look like an undercover, just chumming with a coworker. I felt kinda cool about that.

An hour later, I’m moving through the crowd towards my car to leave.
“Hey it’s Andrew again!” Officer John beams. Like I’m the only friend he’s got here.

I smile and wave to him, to some surrounding confusion, get in my car and drive off.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Feel Sorry for the Porsche Owner

It’s them.
The two Porsche Cayman guys. They roll in together. The younger one looks like the rockstar type, in his 30s. Nick. Tattoos up to his neck, but well dressed. The other a forgettable middle aged white guy named Dave.

TechArt Porsche Cayman

The rockstar’s  Cayman is like something from a videogame. It’s glossy black, with a custom TechArt widebody, housing deep dish wheels that seem to devour the road. The other guy, Dave, his is a base model Cayman. Looking like an eager little brother by comparison.

They drive in, park in the middle of the show, get out and talk only to themselves. They’re not even interested in the other cars. They never leave their spot, standing in front of their two prized Porsche Caymans.

I’ve already made my rounds, talking to the regulars, inquiring about their current projects and plans, hearing their stories, shaking hands and moving on.

The Scottsdale Pavillions car show is in its prime right now, throbbing at its finest hour.  The air is cool, but not cold. The cars are packed tightly together as far as the eye can see, with the crowd moving through like waves. There’s some good cars, some rare ones, some beat up ones, some with hidden potential, and some I feel sorry for.

Every 20 minutes police blips can be heard in the distance then cheers from the crowd as showoffs get ticketed just down the road.

“So how’s she been, Dave?” I thumb to his plain Cayman.

He scoffs, like he tasted something bitter. “Still guzzling oil.”

The 2 year old Porsche glistens innocently.

“Hasn’t blown up yet?” I ask, with a smile.

“Ha! Don’t jinx me. These engines are absolute crap.”

The three of us chat about upgrades and parts to make these Caymans fly. Rockstar Nick is in all his glory, while Dave worships every word like a hungry pupil.

“Evolution has made a kit for this that makes 600 wheel horsepower on 5 pounds of boost. 91 pump gas too,” he says.

Dave nods in agreement (with everything Nick says). I scratch my chin at his fiction.

While we chat, passersby glance at the Caymans but don’t seem interested or impressed.

A finger taps my shoulder. I stop my conversation and turn around.

“Yo dawg. You seen a 911?”

I point to one down the aisle.

“Tanks.” And he walks off with his girlfriend, who looks uncomfortable.

Nick and Dave are visibly displeased, with hands on hips.

“Tanks.” Dave grumbles.

“I know. It’s okay guys,” I offer.

“Fuckin whatever. He thinks I can’t afford a 911? What, that I wouldn’t have bought one if I could have?” Nick’s feelings are clearly hurt now.

“It’s okay, man. It’s okay. That guy, forget him. He doesn’t know any better,” I whisper, trying to calm him.

“He doesn’t get it! My car is midengine okay? MIDENGINE. It’s way fuckin better. Stupid 911 is nothing compared to my Cayman!” Nick’s hands are flying all over.

Dave looks at the ground.

“Awright Nick. Dude it’s cool. Porsche blatantly detuned the Cayman so it wouldn’t be faster than their flagship 911. People know that.  The Cayman, with a few tweaks, is a monster that deserves respect,” I sooth.

“That’s—that’s right!”  Nick’s face is intense, his entire body then proclaims “I’ll get that turbo kit and then they’ll see! They’ll all see!”

Dave’s eyes trade between his regular Cayman, and Nick’s glossy super Cayman. Both of these cars are ultra cool in the real world.

 But it’s all relative. Neither of these men have quenchable thirst. Even with a $100,000 car, it’s the same rat race. An endless pursuit of validation and unquestionable admiration.

Nick and Dave only see what’s faster than them. In this car show, it’s easy to feel like your car- your pride and joy- isn’t good enough.

Nick and Dave are enslaved by that. They don’t remember the hundreds of approving glances, photos and compliments… they only remember the occasional “oh but it’s not a 911.” That little jab at their ego, that tiny moment of being brushed off.

It drives them crazy, festering in their mind. When there’s a little ding on an otherwise perfect paint job, that one ding is all they see.

I notice another MR2 roll through, my heart swells.

“My club is really gaining steam,” I say.


“Yeah an MR2 club,” I smile.

“What year?” Nick leans in.

“Mine’s a 93.”

Nick’s face opens up into a big smile. His eyes shine bright. “I used to have one of those! Holy shit that was such a fun car. Little two liter turbo in it was like a secret weapon!”

His super Cayman dims in jealousy.

Dave is lost. Not sure what an MR2 is.

“You know, you could sell your Cayman and buy a perfect turbo MR2 for your wife and each of the kids,” I chuckle.

“Oh… oh I don’t have a wife and kids,” Nick says to the Cayman.

“…Yeah… yeah me neither,” Dave says quietly, more to himself than to me.

They're both silent. Suddenly very far away.

The air hangs heavily. Their flashy cars mean nothing now. And not because they’re not fast or cool enough.

Because these men are getting old, and the reality of being alone just hit them. Under their thin veil of flashy sportscar prowess lies a quiet desire for love. That’s all it is. Someone love me, please.

"Hey you guys wanna grab some food?" I'm desperate to change the mood.

"Oh I... I think you know it's getting late so," Dave says to his feet.

"Yeah I should, I should probably... get home..." Nick fades.

What have I done.

Nick and Dave slump into their super Porsches, people gather around to watch them, but the drivers are miles away in their minds. Their titanium exhausts rumble loud enough to drown out their sniffling. Sad and alone in their leather bucket seats, shielded by their exclusive limo tint facade, they disappear.