I used to be the guy that drives sports cars. I favored speed over anything else. I was good at avoiding traffic police (or as we called them, “Imperial Entanglements”) and I had the skills to talk my way out of a ticket on those unusual occasions where I did get pulled over (“These are not the droids you seek. Move along”).
I drove fast, and I looked good doing it. Or at least so I imagined, in that small part of my brain that contains my limited self-awareness.
When I was young and broke, I drove fast in bad cars, whatever cheap cars we could afford. I once bought a car for $25 and drove it for over a year. It was a terrible car (well, duh, $25) with a radiator so leaky that I had to carry two gallons of water each day when I went to work. One that I used to fill the radiator before leaving, another to fill it again on the way home. But I was raising a family of five on $18,000 a year and $25 was cheaper even than bus fare.
Regardless of its terribleness, I drove it fast. I drove them all fast.
Then one day I figured out how to get better jobs (hint: learn to code). Suddenly, my cars didn’t have to all be so awful. Suddenly I could afford sports cars! Not real sports cars, not right away, but cars that were designed to go as fast as they looked.
I was playing a game with my kids called Need for Speed. The game allowed you to buy cars and then upgrade them. There was one car that could be upgraded more than any other, to a ridiculous 900-something horsepower. Only one. The Mitsubishi 3000-GT VR4.
A video game may be a stupid reason to buy a car. But then I have never claimed to be a wise man. Besides, just look at it:
Oh did I look good driving that baby. It was not practical in any way – there was a back seat, purely cosmetic, no one with legs could ever use it.
It was not all about the looks, of course, but also the speed. This one was fast. You could hear the twin turbos spin up when you hit the accelerator. It was bigger and heavier than it looked but had so much power! This was the first car I ever had that went faster than I was willing to drive. I ran it up to 140 a few times, enough to realize that was my limit. At 140 things were happening faster than I was confident that I could handle. Except in this car, I was going 140 and was still in fifth gear. The car had six gears.
A whole entire gear, remaining, even at 140. This was a fast car.
But that was then. Now I live in the South, and say what you will about the place, I don’t think anyone will say it is not thoroughly-policed. There are endless chains of small towns every which way you want to drive, and every one of them has a hungry police force that seems to need you to stoke city revenues. They pull you over for everything. A couple of times, I have been pulled over for nothing at all, guilty only of driving by an officer that (apparently) needed to get to quota however he could.
And no policeman down here issues warnings. Ever. If they pull you over they are writing you up, even if they have to invent a reason. It is really quite sad, a different version of America than I would have thought existed. Nonetheless, exist it does, and after about a dozen very expensive tickets in just two or three years, I learned.
Now I drive a sedan. Not a sports sedan either, just a sedan, the kind of car I used to mock as being a “salesman’s car”. But it is comfortable, and spacious, and well-appointed, easy to enter and egress. And it is great on road trips. I like my car.
But it does not go fast. In fact, it barely has any engine at all, a tiny little 2.0-liter. But this is a hybrid. It gets power from batteries as well as that tiny engine. Not enough to go fast, no. But enough to get unbelievable mileage.
I have sublimated my need for speed. Now, instead of going fast, I want to go far. For as little gas as possible.
My car comes with all kinds of controls that encourage one to drive efficiently. I can tell exactly what mileage I am getting in a variety of ways, cumulatively as well as instantaneously. Best, it has a weird built-in display that is an animation of a branch. When you drive efficiently, the branch grows leaves. When you mash the gas pedal, the leaves blow away.
I think it is as close to being a haiku as one can ever expect from a car dashboard control.
I am writing this today because I just hit a new, all-time high on the Miles Per Gallon game:
47.4! Not bad, huh? In a full-size sedan with an honest-to-god back seat and the ability to carry five people. Plus their luggage.
Maddy is never going to go 140 MPH. Maddy is never going to make teenage boys give me the thumbs up at a red light. But so what? Maddy will take me 450 miles or more on a single (tiny) tank of (not very much) gas. And reward me with leaves when I do it right.
Maddy is just a different kind of car. A different kind of enjoyment.
Who needs to go fast?
🙂 😀 🙂