Worst Parking Space Ever

I was walking through the Golden Hobby parking lot recently when I passed this car parked in a spot near the building.  As I noticed the car’s ridiculously speckled status, I reflexively squinted skyward to make sure that I wasn’t about to be dive-bombed by a squadron of our flying feathered friends.  Fortunately, there wasn’t a bird in sight.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a functioning car in this condition.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an abandoned car in this kind of shape, with dozens and dozens of avian deposits marring its paint job.

I found myself wondering:  where could this poor driver have parked that would their car in such a state?  Kish and I park in the Golden Hobby lot from time to time and have never had this kind of problem, and I’m confident I’ve never seen other cars with a similar pattern of countless bird droppings in the lot.  I therefore conclude that the poor driver parked somewhere else, returned to find their car a very public testament to the gastrointestinal irresponsibility of the bird set, and then experienced the humiliation of driving to German Village without going to a car wash first.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t immediately go to a car wash to remove the droppings before they left permanent marks, but perhaps car washes aren’t “essential businesses” these days.

But the fact that the car came from somewhere else begs a highly significant question:  where could this person have parked their car that could leave it in such a state — and for how long?  Is there some kind of secret pigeon sanctuary somewhere in central Ohio?  Or do Columbus birds just have a deep and instinctive dislike of this particular brand of Chevrolet sedan?  Or could a flight of birds simply have wanted to engage in some long-range bombing practice and decided to use this unlucky vehicle as their intended target?

These may seem like minor issues with all of the big matters that are occupying our attention these days, but it’s the little things that are within our control that can really make a difference.    Wherever this person was parked, it is unquestionably the worst parking space ever, and I want to be sure that we never, ever park our nice, gleaming car there and return to find it in this kind of shape.

Car Colors

The other day I walked past this brightly painted car in a nearby parking lot.  I was struck by its color, which I thought made this 2020 Hyundai Kona look like a colossal insect, ready to skitter across the asphalt and disappear into the foliage.

Car manufacturers have come a long way since the days of Henry Ford — who supposedly said that car buyers “can have any color they want, so long as it is black.”  Now, the different makes and models always offer an interesting palette of color options to new car buyers, and usually the colors have very evocative names.  From a review of the Hyundai website, it looks like this particular hue is “lime twist,” and it is available only on certain Kona models.  Other options in the Kona rainbow include “chalk white,” “sonic silver,” “thunder gray,” “surf blue,” “sunset orange,” “pulse red,” and “ultra black.”  I guess you’d pick “lime twist” if you want to be reminded of the sultry tropics every time you get into your car, or perhaps because you work as an entomologist.  In any case, one obvious advantage of the color is that there’s not much chance that you’re going to struggle finding your car in a crowded parking lot.

I’ve always been leery about buying a brightly colored car.  I’ve always subscribed to the notion that yellows and oranges and reds are going to be magnets for police officers eager to hand out speeding tickets and are tough to keep clean, especially during the dreary, road salt-encrusted winter months.  The only new car I’ve ever bought with any kind of color was a 1988 Honda Accord that was “harvest gold,” which I figured wouldn’t show dirt too much.  Since then, I’ve stuck with basic black on every car I’ve purchased.  My brother-in-law in the car business thinks black is the most beautiful color for a car, so long as it is kept clean, and I tend to agree with him.  At this point, I’m not realty interested in attracting attention with my ride, whether from the highway patrol or otherwise.

Maybe Henry Ford was on to something.

 

Riding In A Jeep

This morning I can scratch another item off my bucket list, because I can now say that I’ve ridden in a classic, open Jeep.

The B.A. Jersey Girl brought her family’s vintage, early ’90s Jeep to the office yesterday, and we used it to ride over to Indian Oven for lunch. Riding in a classic Jeep is an interesting and pretty cool experience. With the low-slung doors and the open back end, you’re much more exposed to the world than you are in a car — even in a convertible. I’ve never been as motivated to buckle my seatbelt and anchor myself as I was when I first climbed into the Jeep yesterday afternoon.

But once you get used to it, a Jeep is a fun ride on a warm, sunny day. While the B.A.J.G. deftly shifted and navigated through traffic, I had a bird’s eye view of the downtown Columbus lunch hour crowd — and vice versa. Everything seemed a lot more vivid and immediate without the tinted windows and car ceiling to separate interior from exterior. And people tend to give a Jeep more of a once-over than they do a normal car, because Jeeps look so different. I’m sure the passersby yesterday were surprised to see two lawyers, hair flapping in the breeze, where you might expect to see surfers or armed security forces instead.

Now that I’ve ridden in a Jeep, I suppose my next bucket list item has to be riding in a tank. I’d be willing to give it a try, but I’d be afraid I’d look as goofy and out of place as Michael Dukakis on his ill-fated photo op ride.  Then again, perhaps that already happened with yesterday’s Jeep adventure.

Demolition Derby Day

Yesterday was Demolition Derby Day at the Blue Hill Fair.  Having never been to a demolition derby before, we had to go — and we’re glad we did.

A few thoughts about demolition derbies.  First, they’re popular.  At the Blue Hill Fair, the demolition derby is one of the hottest events going.  We had to wait in a long line for our tickets, and 800 avid demolition buffs ultimately crammed the grandstands to watch already ramshackle cars bash into each other until the steam started spouting, parts were flying, hoods and axles were ripped from their vehicles, and the cars could move no more.  Second, they involve very robust warning signage at the entrances.  We were cautioned that the grandstands could be pelted with flying bits of metal, clods of dirt, and other debris that could cause serious injury and advised that we were accepting the risk by attending.  Of course, this warning deterred absolutely no one, and little kids were among the fans watching the carnage.  And third, a demolition derby seems like a classically American way to dispose of old cars.  Forget about Cash for Clunkers — demolition derbies combine the American taste for waste and violence and clearly are the best way to get rid of the rambling wrecks on the Great American Road.

If you’ve never been to a demolition derby, the rules are simple.  The cars — which have been thoughtfully stripped of all glass windows, headlights, taillights, radiators, and other parts that might go flying into the stands or slice the competitors to ribbons — start at opposite ends of a dirt track directly in front of the spectators that is bounded by concrete barriers.  After the crowd counts down, the vehicles then proceed to ram into each other, with rear-end collisions being the preferred method, until only one car is able to move.  The only rule is that the cars can’t target the driver’s side doors of the other cars in the derby.  The bloodlust quickly came out in the crowd (myself included) and we cheered lustily for the best collisions and the drivers who kept ramming even when their cars were beat to hell.  My favorite was the #17 car pictured below, which kept at it even after its wheels were bent and virtually every piece of metal on the frame had been ripped off or pounded into scrap.  Alas, gutty #17 was reduced to immobility by a huge hit and couldn’t finish, but when the derby was ended the driver received an ovation from the grateful crowd.  His vehicle was then towed or carted off the track, along with virtually every other participant in the derby.

I didn’t think I would like a demolition derby, but it was a riot.  What’s next?  I’m thinking giant tractor pulling contests and monster truck rallies.

State Pride Grillework

I saw this car in the parking lobby of the hobby shop down the block and thought it was pretty cool.  At first, I thought the Jeep Corporation had manufactured some Ohio-specific models and wondered how the company had managed to keep the center parts of the “Os” in place.  Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that the “Ohio” grille was the creation of the car’s owner, who strategically placed a few strips of black duct tape on parts of the standard Jeep grille — which features six vertical lines — to create a message that indisputably identifies the driver as a proud Buckeye.

Duct tape — is there anything it can’t do?

Faithful Steed

We’ve had our Acura SUV for a long time now.  I think it’s a 2011 model, and we bought it new.  We’ve carefully maintained it in conformity with the manufacturer’s instructions, have complied with all dealer notices of needed servicing, have gone through several sets of new tires, and have avoided any major mishaps or accidents aside from a few tiny side door dings.

It’s been a good, reliable car, one that we’ve driven across the country — to Maine and back, and down the east coast, and on a dog delivery trip to Texas, and on other long road trips.  It’s always gotten us to where we want to go, and we use it with confidence.  We’ve gotten attached to it, as people often do with cars.  We haven’t named it, but I’ve enjoyed driving it and how it handles, and I also like the fact that, when I approach the car from the front and see the grillwork, it always looks happy to see me.

But . . . it’s time.  The car has more than 150,000 miles on it, the air conditioning system is on the fritz — which would be a concern if spring and summer ever actually arrive in central Ohio, which admittedly seems unlikely at this point — and when we’ve driven new rental cars we’ve noticed that advances in car technology have left the poor old Acura in the dust.  Whether it’s rear-facing cameras, dashboard computers, or other high-tech gizmos they’re putting into vehicles these days, car companies have made some significant improvements in the last eight years, and we don’t have any of them.

So, it’s time.  Today, we’ll go car shopping for the first time in almost a decade, and take a look at what the auto manufacturers have to offer.  If we find something that strikes our fancy we may trade in Acura for a new model.  But before we do, I want to acknowledge and salute the faithful service of our faithful steed.

Red Jeep

On St John, you have three choices: stay at a place in Cruz Bay and stick in town during your visit, or use the taxi and bus service, or rent a car. We chose the latter option, and rented a bright red Jeep. As a result, we fit right in, because Jeeps probably make up more than half of the vehicles on the island.

Renting a car has pros and cons. On the con side, there’s lots of hairpin turns without fencing and straight uphill roads, and the occasional donkey or goat by the side of the road, so you have to watch it — especially at night. Plus, it’s the only territory under the U.S. flag where you drive in the left side of the road, which requires a lot of focus. All in all, it’s not exactly relaxing driving. But, it’s nice to have the freedom to go where you want when you want. If you like hiking and snorkeling and want to go to the out of the way places, as we did, a Jeep makes a lot of sense. We ended up glad we got it.

Why a Jeep, and why red? You need a car with power to be able to crawl straight uphill after one of those abrupt switchbacks. And I thought the red was just in line with the general theme of bright Caribbean colors — but I later learned there’s a safety reason, too. Other cars can see you through the green foliage, and if the approaching vehicle is a long truck that needs a lot of clearance on a turn, it can sound its horn before you’re trapped in the turn.

Plus, donkeys evidently like red.

Piloting The Boat

Dad was a car dealer.  He ran a Columbus Ford dealership from 1971 until he retired in the late ’80s.  As the manager of the dealership, he had the option of driving cars with dealer plates, the better to show the Columbus driving public some of the new options that were available in the showroom.  As a result, it was not unusual to see a different car in the driveway every night when Dad came home from work.

2f8b1531b9932fa2cad0abc8ca022eb6The good news:  that meant UJ, Cath and I got to try out some new cars when we started driving.  The bad news:  they were all ’70s-era Fords.  Ford produced some of the ugliest cars, from a design and paint job standpoint, in a decade that will be forever known as the low point for American style — whether you’re talking about automobiles, haircuts, or clothing.  Every American manufacturer lost their marbles and churned out products that had none of the sleek, appealing features of cars of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s, and Ford, too, produced models — like the Pinto, the Maverick, and especially the box-like Granada — that were the vehicular equivalent of the leisure suit.

For the most part, UJ, Cath and I stuck with the small cars that we’d take to high school, but from time to time we’d drive one of the big luxury cars that Dad would bring home.  During that time period, Ford had taken the Thunderbird — which started out as a cool, spiffy little roadster — and turned it into a huge, grossly overpowered monstrosity.  The 1975 Thunderbird had an enormous front with a hood that covered approximately one square acre, a half-vinyl top with tiny rear windows, a big hood ornament, and front seats that were wide enough to comfortably sleep a family of 6.

We called it “the boat,” because when you took it out on the street it was like trying to steer an ocean liner.  If you took a corner at a speed exceeding 5 m.p.h., you’d see that massive front end oh-so-slowly make the turn and you’d find yourself sliding all over that sprawling front seat.  You had to wear seat belts, a recent safety innovation, just to avoid being pitched out one of the windows.  Some cars could turn on a dime; “the boat” could probably manage to turn on a $100 bill.  In short, “handling” was not one of its top selling points — and in retrospect, I’m not sure exactly what the selling points actually might have been.

I thought of “the boat” when I ran across a news article about people who rave about American autos of the ’70s.  It’s an example of nostalgia overwhelming reality.  Me?  I’ve got no desire to return to those days of vinyl and velour and gas-guzzling enormity.  I’ll take the sensible, maneuverable cars of the current era any day.

Under Lock And Key

Do you ever leave your house unlocked, even for only a few minutes?  How about your car?

I never do.  In fact — and you can call me obsessive-compulsive if you want — I make sure I always lock our house with the deadbolt and not just the automatic lock, and I try the door handle after I’m done to be certain.  I also hit the locking button on our car key and hear the little chirp twice and then pull on the door handle to make absolutely sure the lock is engaged.  I have keys in hand before I do either of these things to make sure that I’m not locking myself out, too.  These are habits I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

187098I mention this because of this article I ran across about crime statistics in one upper middle class midwestern suburb in a recent month.  All of the 25 cases of automobile theft in that month involved unlocked cars, and half of the house thefts involved unlocked homes.  That’s mind-boggling to me.  And the house break-in data is skewed, because of some unique circumstances — typically, according to the article, an astonishing 80 percent of such thefts involve unlocked cars and houses.  Why would so many people leave their cars and houses unlocked?  Are they worried about locking themselves out?  Do they think they would be inconvenienced by the few seconds it takes to fish a key out of pants pockets or purses and unlocking their car or house?  Do they think they’re going to be gone for only a few minutes and there’s no risk?  Or are they just trusting souls who are convinced their neighborhoods are totally safe at all times?

According to the article, too, the identity of the criminals has shifted.  Before, teenagers looking for a little pocket money were often the perpetrators of such petty theft; now it’s inevitably adult opiate addicts who are looking for money that will allow them to get a quick fix.  Check out the chilling video surveillance footage accompanying the article, of the guy quickly checking the doors on cars.  According to the article, the thieves try to minimize their risk — in cars, they’ll look for an unlocked car and when they find one they’ll steal loose change and whatever appears to be valuable and be out in a few seconds, and in houses they’ll head directly to the bedroom, steal any visible small electronics they see, take any jewelry and money from the bedroom, and get out of the house in a few minutes — so being away from your unlocked house or car for only a few minutes isn’t going to provide any protection.  And the article notes that having a dog isn’t a sure-fire thief deterrent, either.

Why take a needless risk?  As the title of the article states:  Lock your damn doors!  (And make sure your kids do, too!)

The Demise Of The Internal Combustion Engine Is (Probably) Greatly Exaggerated

Volvo has announced that it plans to phase out production of automobiles powered by the internal combustion engine.  After 2019, all Volvo car models will be either fully electric or hybrids, and the company has set a goal of selling one million electric or hybrid cars by 2025.

This week, too, Tesla begins production of its electric-powered family car.  And, as the article linked above notes, all of the major car companies are looking ahead to the point where people are routinely buying electric vehicles, and to the “tipping point” at which some electric vehicles are actually cheaper than their conventionally powered competitors.

cq5dam-web-768-768Are we witnessing the end of the internal combustion engine — the hardy invention that, in some form or another, has powered personal transportation in America, and the world, for more than 100 years?

Not so fast!

There’s no doubt that electric cars, and especially hybrids, are gaining in popularity, but I think we’re still a long way off from the day when quietly purring electric vehicles dominate American streets.  For one thing, we don’t seem to have the infrastructure to support substantial use of electric cars, especially for long-distance trips — I haven’t noticed charging stations opening up on busy intersections to compete with those ever-present gas stations, at least not yet — and as the article notes, electric cars remain an expensive proposition.  And there’s also the fact that a substantial sliver of the American population, typically male, really likes the power and sound and thrumming feel of cars powered by internal combustion engines.  “Performance” cars seem to be extremely popular these days, as do grossly oversized and overpowered pickup trucks, and we’re still getting the annual stories about how cheap, or how expensive, gasoline is on the Fourth of July.  Those reports suggest that while we definitely seem to be inching toward a world of more electric-powered vehicles, we shouldn’t be shoveling dirt on the internal combustion engine just yet.

Keyless

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and many of my travels have required me to rent a car.  Through the rentals, I’ve been introduced to the wonders of keyless automobiles — at least, keyless in the sense of the old-fashioned, cut metal, keychain jangling in your pocket, keymaker and locksmith keys that I associate with cars.

img_3660We bought our Acura just before the keyless revolution really took hold.  It’s got a kind of awkward interim technology, bridging the gap between metal keys and totally electronic unlocking.  There’s a plastic part of the key with buttons that open and lock the doors and the rear gate, but there’s also a little button that you push to make a metal key flip out, and the car’s ignition requires the insertion of that metal key.  It’s as if the designer recognized the simplicity of electronic access, couldn’t quite bring himself to go the Full No-Metal Monty.

When you’ve been using metal car keys all your life, the electronic gizmos take some getting used to.  When I get into a rental car, habit compels me to look for the key in the ignition switch — but of course there is no ignition switch, just a button.  The “key” is a plastic device sitting in the cupholder.  You don’t need to touch it, or do anything with it; it’s very electronic presence is so powerful it allows you to start the car by stepping on the brake and pushing that button.  Because you don’t use the key to turn the car on or off, I always wonder how many people inadvertently leave the key in the car when they’ve completed their journey.  I don’t, because I’m anal about locking any car I use even if it’s totally empty, but I’m guessing that forgotten keys, and perhaps also stolen cars because the keys have been left in them, are a lot more common now than they were before.

I don’t mind the electronic keys, really; we’re living in an increasingly electronic age and you’ve just got to be ready for the next technological leap forward.  But while pushing a button and hearing the engine start is perfectly fine, in my view it doesn’t really compare with the tactile sensation of sliding that key into the ignition switch, feeling the rasp of metal on metal, and turning the key to hear the throaty thrum of the engine.

Weird Car Commercials

If you’ve watched any sports broadcast on TV recently, you’ve undoubtedly noticed two specific commercials that stand apart from the ever-present erectile dysfunction and an-unpronounceable-drug-for-every-condition ads.

matthewIn one of the commercials, Matthew McConaughey gets spruced up, puts on an expensive suit on a dark night, smiles a slight, enigmatic smile, and then falls backward into a pristine pool.  In the other, a prissy, entitled Brit talks about how some people are always able to dodge all of the rules — hey buddy, in this American presidential campaign that hits a little too close to home! — and then visits wheelchair-bound Steven Hawking in his underground Bond villain lair where they talk about the laws of gravity, time, and space.

Curiously, these are car commercials.  McConaughey is peddling Lincoln, and Hawking and his above-of-all friend are hawking (pun intended) Jaguars (which I’d always thought was pronounced Jag-warr, but I now learn from the commercial is pronounced, with an affected British accent, Jag-u-are).  In contrast, say, to the commercials that purportedly astonish slack-jawed “real people” with the sheer number of awards Chevrolet has won in the last two years, the Lincoln and Jaguar ads don’t really tell you anything about the advertised vehicles or even show them very much.  The Lincoln and Jaguar ads are lifestyle ads — the kind that try to convince the credulous that if they just buy the product they’ll get the advertised lifestyle, too.

Okay, I get it.  But I’ve still got a question:  how many people out there really want to be like McConaughey or the Brit who trades witticisms with Hawking in his futuristic bunker?  I guess Lincoln and Jaguar aren’t looking to sell cars to women, for example.  And I doubt that the lifestyles depicted appeal to a huge chunk of the American male population, either.  I, for one, have never aspired to fall backward into a pool while zen-like music plays.  And as much as I admire Steven Hawking’s colossal intellect, I don’t exactly associate him with cars.

Give me the car commercials that feature brightly painted roadsters rolling down a winding, open road on a bright sunny day, whisking through freshly fallen leaves as they round a curve.  Leave the enigmatic smiles and the falling into pools to the erectile dysfunction crowd, will you?

Running On Empty

Kish calls me the Uptight Traveler.  That means getting to the airport more than an hour before the departure time of any flight, making sure that we’ve got hotel reservations lined up rather than winging it when we’re on the road, and a host of other rules of thumb designed to avoid the last-minute activity that often can mess up your travel plans.

gas_gauge_emptyIt also means that, when driving, I pay careful attention to the fuel gauge.  When the needle moves below a quarter of a tank, I start to look for the nearest self-serve station.  And if I get in the car after someone else has been driving it and the fuel light comes on, it pretty much makes me break out in hives.

In more than 40 years of driving, I’ve never run out of gas.  I’m proud of that record, because I think running out of gas is one of the most avoidable self-inflicted wounds Americans can experience in our car-saturated culture.  I can’t imagine how I would be kicking myself if the engine stopped and I had to coast to the berm on a highway because I was trying to go one exit more after the light showed I was running on empty.

Other people, however, are different.  The devil-may-care sort think it’s fun and exciting to flirt with roadway disaster and tempt the sadistic highway gods that might throw a traffic jam in their path when the fuel gauge shows empty.  These fate-tempting risk-takers pooh-pooh the legitimate concerns of anyone who reacts to things like fuel gauges — even though that’s exactly why fuel gauges were created in the first place.

To those preening daredevils, I offer this handy chart from Road & Track that tells you, for the 50 most popular cars sold in America, how much gas is left in the tank when the fuel light comes on.  And I ask:  would you rather roll safely into a gas station to fill up with a reasonable amount of gas still in the tank, or run the risk that you might soon be trudging down a highway berm, gas can in hand, or leaning against your car calling the nearest towing service so you can be gouged for the price of a rescue run?

Hot Pursuit


Walking home tonight, I passed the Ohio Statehouse . . . and this sweet ride.  Two Ohio Highway Patrol officers were checking it out, so I asked if it was a new prototype.  No, they said — it’s the spoils of taking down a drug dealer.  He was driving this souped-up Camaro and carrying drugs when he was stopped and arrested and the car was seized as part of the process.  The OHP decided to turn it into a patrol car and use it for marketing purposes, and tonight it is going to be the subject of a photo shoot.

In Ohio, at least, patrol cars have gotten progressively cooler over the years and have come a long way from the boxy Sheriff Buford T. Passer rigs with the red light on top.  This beauty takes OHP coolness to new heights.

400,000+

Sometime in the last day or so the WordPress stats page advised us that the Webner House blog hit one of those even-number milestones that human beings tend to find worthy of note.  We’ve now passed more than 400,000 individual views of this humble little blog in our remote corner of the internet.

That’s not a big number when you consider Webner House has been chugging along on a pretty much daily basis for more than 7 years, with precisely 6,442 rants, screeds, sad announcements, photos, Penny Chronicles, bad poems, clumsy attempts at humor, and other posts during that time period — 6,443, as soon as I hit “publish” on this self-congratulatory bit of tripe.

400,000 views over a period spanning almost the entire Obama presidency is a paltry number by internet standards.  The Drudge Report and MSN, for example, get 1 billion hits in a single month.  At our current pace, we would reach one billion hits in a little over 18,125 years.  It’s a worthy goal.

400000-miles-1When I saw we hit 400,000 views, I searched Google for photos representing 400,000.  There are a lot of pictures of odometers hitting 400,000, and when I thought about it I realized that our family blog is a lot like an old, dependable car.  Vehicles that make it to 400,000 miles aren’t the flashy, expensive cars that men buy when they’re experiencing mid-life crises.  No, vehicles that make it to 400,000 miles are the basic, everyday sources of family or work transportation that have suffered some battle scars during their years of service.  They are the battered pick-up truck, or the dented station wagon with the scratch on the side, or the Honda Accord that still has a faint but familiar sour smell after one of your kids spilled milk in the back seat years ago on a hot summer day and didn’t tell you until you got back into the car and the spoiled smell made you want to gag, but you really liked the reliability of the car so much that you scrubbed the back seat and aired it out and used air freshener and took it to the car wash for a shampoo and couldn’t quite completely eliminate the smell, but decided you were willing to live with it.

This blog is kind of like that car for me.