Transportation Department

For some, cars were mere transportation appliances–devices to transport people and cargo from one point to another.

These are the folks that sat on car hoods. Piled groceries on their car’s hood or trunk. Their steel-bodied pack mules sported faded paint, unrepaired scratches, dents, and dings.

Cars at the end of their planned obsolescence, purchased on the cheap.  Picasso would be proud of mismatched doors, temporarily bracketed headlights after minor parking lot accidents.  Just enough to keep on the right side of the law.

Sometimes due to financial constraints, there wasn’t a choice.  During my teens and early adulthood, I drove some very flawed automobiles.  Now, that I have a choice, I no longer choose to do so.

What I do understand, is it doesn’t bother the person driving the old clunker, already covered with dents, when another dent occurs, as much as it would the person with a newer car.

It may be a sickness, but automobiles for some of us, are part of our egos.  We spend hours keeping The Silver Flash or Old Betsey shined and polished.

The wealthy individual that recently wrecked his new 288,000 Ferrari, shortly after purchase–I’ll never understand.

Old clunker, or shiny new “Chromemobile?”  What’s your pleasure?  Did you have an interesting hand-me-down first car?

 

SAYING GOODBYE

 

I-80 in fall

Somewhere past mile marker 61 on a pleasant, mid-winter afternoon, a minivan edged closer to the left lane of a busy rural interstate highway.  The sun was low in the western sky.

Tom was warm and comfortable, with the cruise control set at seventy miles per hour.  Every muscle in Tom’s body jerked to attention as they crossed the rumble strip.

A stab on the brake pedal and a jerk of the wheel, set laws of inertia into motion.  The minivan twisted and turned in the grassy median like an ornament suspended from a wind chime.

“Honey, you’re off the road!” Betty screamed.

“I must have fallen asleep; hold on tight!”

”Turn around and go straight–you useless piece of junk!” Tom commanded.  His voice wavered in rhythm with the bumps.

Please God, get me out of this mess, Tom prayed.  I could use some help. Don’t let Frederick grow up without a mother and father.  If you have to–take me.

“Hold on to Mommy.  Daddy’s taking us on a wild ride,”  Betty tried her best to make it a game.  Frederick’s stuffed animals and story books bounced off onto the floor.

Betty wanted to scream; instead, she said, “Look, elephant’s jumping all over the place.  Isn’t that funny?”  Frederick lay across the rear fold-down seat shielded by his mother’s body.

Betty felt guilty–neither of them had seat belts on.  If only Frederick survived, could her parents handle raising a three-year-old?

Tom had the worst hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach–part fear, part guilt.  Maybe it was already too late?  …One mistake, too many?  

There was only one solution–steer out of trouble.  Brakes were useless.  Tom eased off the accelerator–the car slowed.  

So many “if’s”–If the back-end didn’t spin around too far?  If the car didn’t hit something and roll over?  If they didn’t head into oncoming traffic?

“Honey, I love you,” Tom said.  “Knowing you has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  I want you to know that–in case we don’t make it.”

Motion changed to stillness–stillness without regret.  Tom, for the first time in his life, said goodbye like he meant it.

 

 

   ;

     

 

Pushing Cargo

pushing cargo

Sun dipped below
The horizon
Tugboat light
Guided the way
Night shift started

Horn blared
Diesel engine
Heartbeat throbbed
Huge propellers
Churned the water
Into foamy froth

Heavy, blunt
Fronted barges
Firmly lashed
By burly deck hands
Gave in, to brute force

Cargo slowly
Moved down
The heavily travelled
Intercoastal waterway
As, the show went on

Automotive Madness

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)Not since the dawn of the automotive age has there been such a scramble.  It’s the race for mileage and low emissions.  It’s hard for an old “gearhead,” like me, to keep up.  Recently, the “Tesla S” received Motor Trend magazines prestigious 2013 Car of the Year” award.  “Tesla S” is an electric car, propelled by a series of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.  Bottom line priced, out the door, for around one-hundred grand.  Road tested, it performed with the best of the best.  My mind continues to be boggled.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and Space X, is the brainchild behind the “Tesla S.”  His Space X Corporation’s remotely controlled space vehicle, made history on another front, by successfully linking to the International Space Station.  These monumental achievements are to be congratulated.  With regard to the “Tesla S,” what happens when the cheering subsides?  Will there be a nationwide rush to the nearest Tesla dealership?

What significance is the Tesla S to the ordinary automotive consumer?  For point “A” to point “B” people not much.  Where does it stand historically compared to automotive giants, Henry Ford and Ferdinand Porsche?  It’s a limited production vehicle, without an established history.  Henry Ford’s lifetime goal was to produce quality, affordable, mass-produced vehicles for the common man.  Ferdinand Porsche, In Hitler’s Germany, produced a car for the common people–the Volkswagen.  History repeats itself–Ferdinand Porsche produced a hybrid vehicle in 1901.  The Tesla is leaps and bounds above everything else technologically.  What good is “Gee-Whiz” unaffordable technology?

Some changes have to happen, before John and Martha from down the block, trade in their old clunker for a shiny new Tesla.  It’s too expensive–priced with upper echelon luxury cars.  Before loading up the kids for a vacation trip to Disney World, there would have to be an adequate number of recharging stations along the way.  Tesla cars are priced according to the range of their battery packs.  With a two-hundred eighty-five mile battery pack, recharging time is about an hour.  Presently, Tesla is not practical for ordinary consumers.  Perhaps, slightly more relevant than the Bugatti Veyron.  Will Elon Musk and his upstart Tesla Motors achieve long-term success in the automotive industry?  Betting against him would be sheer madness.  Stranger things have happened.  History will be the final judge.

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S (Photo credit: kenjonbro)

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“Discount Dan” (Thanks For Stopping)

If a joke needs explanation, it’s a failure.  For this reason, I’m somewhat hesitant to issue a follow-up to my last post.  Maybe I could dismiss my response as OCD?  Whatever happens, here are my thoughts.

If something doesn’t capture attention in the first few seconds, we turn away.  Everybody does it.  If that’s what it takes, picture me as “Discount Dan,” gray-haired, chubby superhero, dressed in red, white, blue spandex and cape jumping off a “tall building” screaming to the camera.  “Discount Dan, fighting for the American way, slaying evil high prices.” “Just off the turnpike at exit 32.” “Lowest prices in the tri-state area!” “Nobody beats Discount Dan, I guarantee it!”

Meanwhile, think for a moment about your weird “Uncle Larry” or someone like him.  You know, the guy that drove a Mercedes 240-D, (diesel car), that clattered and smoked–sounded like a bucket of marbles.  He always bragged about how far he could go on a tank of fuel.  Most people dismissed him as just another flake.  Uncle Larry’s old 1981 240-D, (300-D, or whatever), has its fifth or sixth owner and is still faithfully transporting someone, somewhere.

My point goes beyond bashing Prius and hybrid owners–which was not my intention.  High fuel costs affect everyone–that’s a given.  Budgets are strained to the breaking point.  I’m suggesting we think about the future–long-term solutions to high fuel prices, clearer national energy policies, availability of more economical modes of personal transportation.   To cope with ever-increasing fuel expenses, all options should be on the table–including best-practice of others.

Finally, enviromental responsibility is something I take seriously.  We’re recycled into the ground when we die.  I know, that’s a negative example–one “Discount Dan” would never use.  When the grim reaper comes calling, and our personal vehicles go to the car crusher, how much is recyclable?  It’s something to think about on every drive past the local landfill.  I’m done, my cape needs to be put in the wash.  I’m about to choke from the smell of stale cigar smoke.

AUTOMOTIVE REALISM (FREE THE AMERICAN MOTORIST)

Moter vehicle fuel economyI’m an automotive realist–former automotive enthusiast.  Fuel prices continue to climb.    There’s little the average consumer can do about it.  The most important thing, is to be informed, and make wise car buying decisions.  Federally mandated mileage standards help–although it seems we can’t make up our minds how far we want to go.  We’ve gone from crises to crises, and yet, there are no long-term solutions.  The latest shortages, in the  northeast, due to Hurricane Sandy.

It goes back to President Nixon‘s fifty-five miles per hour national speed limit, which conserved fuel, but did nothing to make cars more efficient.  We smugly drive our hybrids, content, that somehow we are saving the planet from destruction.  Meanwhile, I wonder what will happen when these vehicles go to salvage.  Are lithium-ion battery packs recyclable?  Achieving forty and fifty miles per gallon in highway driving is now reality.  That’s a step in the right direction.  Will that be good enough in the future?  There are electric cars–like the Nissan Leaf.  Are these the best, environmentally responsible, choices?

Taken from the current issue of “Car & Driver” magazine, a four-year wish list:  Pick a fuel-economy standard and stick with it.  Allow carmakers the time to reconcile the two.  That whole “54.5 by 2025, but we’ll take another look at it in 2018” thing?  Not helping.  It’s just creating more 5,000 pound, $60,000 hybrids. 

Admit that nearly half the energy powering EV’s comes from coal.

Consider lowering the tax on diesel: With their abundant low-down torque and state-spanning range, diesel-engineered vehicles suit how we Americans drive.  Because of diesel’s more efficient combustion and a 15-percent energy-density advantage over gasoline, diesel-powered cars go 30 percent farther on a gallon and emit roughly 25 percent less CO2.  Evaluate lowering the federal excise tax on the stuff from 24.4 cents per gallon to 18.4 per gallon, which is the same amount levied on gasoline.     

Why is diesel fuel taxed at a higher rate, in this country, than gasoline?  In Europe, diesel is priced about the same as gasoline.  Diesel automobiles offer superior mileage and aren’t considered a viable option in this country.  The US market share is a mere three percent.  In Europe, where fuel prices are traditionally higher, diesel automobiles account for about sixty percent of the market.

Diesels, the redheaded stepchildren of the automotive world.  …Dirty, smelly, noisy, slow-moving.  Not worth the additional investment?  Modern clean diesels are a far cry from your father’s Oldsmobile.  Maybe some have bad memories of unreliable GM diesel V6’s and V8’s in the eighties.  American tourists are pleasantly surprised by their rented European diesel versions of Ford Fiestas and Ford Transit Connects.  Ford and General Motors offer diesel cars in Europe that aren’t available here.  It’s a marketing decision.  Auto manufacturers still aren’t convinced the American public is ready to embrace diesel technology.

But, this isn’t Europe, this is America, land of the “Red, White, and Blue.”  We should be thankful for “lower” fuel prices.  What about freedom of choice?  Our choices are limited to offerings from Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.  Comparing, gas vs. diesel, there’s more cost difference at the luxury end of the market.  Volkswagen offerings are more comparably priced–for example, the Jetta.  In my opinion, modern diesel automobiles yield mileage figures comparable to and beyond hybrids.  High fuel prices drag down our economic recovery.  Why not follow the lead of European counterparts in fuel conservation?  Allow motorists more choices.  It couldn’t hurt, and could only help.