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.

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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!)