Hooray! We’re going to Jalopyrama #11 on Saturday. Nothing but 1962 and earlier American hot rods, customs, and race cars. I will be bringing a good camera and a big memory card. We’re also meeting the Morrises there to hand off their iMac and maybe see the sights in Annapolis.
My home laptop is now running Yosemite, and seems to be pretty happy. I like a lot of the new features they’ve baked into things, although I won’t be able to take advantage of a lot of the phone -> computer functionality until I upgrade my iPhone (dialing and making calls on my laptop, Continuity with my files, or tethering). Most likely I’ll wait until 2015 for a new phone, as the holidays and some home renovation projects demand my extra cash. Or maybe they’ll have a good update to iOS 8.1 that makes my old 4s happy.
Also, I used a feature of Mail.app I never knew existed until last week: Preferences -> Junk Mail ->Reset. I’ve been getting more and more spam mail over the last two years, to the point where 95% of my inbox was junk (at a rate of about 150 messages a day). Each evening I’d waste 5 minutes of my life weeding through spam mail and moving it to the junk folder. Having reset the filter I’m seeing 3-5 junk messages make it through and another 2-3 valid ones get marked as spam, but that’s a much better average than before.
Here on the East Coast, classic cars are hard to find. So when there’s an opportunity to see a bunch of them in one place at one time, I jump on it. I took Peer Pressure up to a Cars & Coffee meet on Saturday in Hunt Valley, where we were undoubtedly one of the ugliest vehicles in attendance. I parked next to a Volvo Amazon, a perfect teal blue Mustang, and a few spaces away from a Cobra replica. There were Ferarris, a McLaren, a Pantera, and several more Cobras. There were also two Shelbys, a gaggle of stanced BMWs, and a group of Corvettes. Mixed in among the group, there were oddballs: an early ’50’s Chevrolet, a Buick woody wagon once owned by Roy Rogers, several British sportscars, and a gorgeous stock Chevy pickup. I met up with a couple of Scout friends and we had a total of three in attendance, but I was the only one with the stones to park amongst the other cars.
I stopped over to look at a pair of gorgeous early 60’s Thunderbirds and immediately noticed an 8-track player in one. Leaning closer, I laughed and mentioned my appreciation for the owner’s selection. He was pleasantly surprised and pulled out another Sergio Mendes cartridge, as well as Mancini’s greatest hits and some Tijuana Brass from the console.
“Al, at the wheel, his face purposeful, his whole body listening to the car, his restless eyes jumping from the road to the instrument panel. Al was one with his engine, every nerve listening for weaknesses, for the thumps or squeals, hums and chattering that indicate a change that may cause a breakdown. He had become the soul of the car. ”
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Driving an antique car is often an act of faith. Unless one is an ASE certified mechanic, every mile put on a historic vehicle is a leap into the unknown, carrying one further away from help and closer to an expensive problem. It forces one to become intimately familiar with all of the complicated moving parts that make things work, if for no other reason than to be able to tell a mechanic what to look at first.
Peer Pressure has spent the majority of the winter slumbering like a bear in her cave, waiting out fierce December winds and wet March snows. Winters are always hard when starting carbureted engines. I don’t have a trickle charger yet, which means I’ve got about five good tries in the battery before I have to bust out jumper cables. Usually I pour a little gas in the carburetor to get the fuel system moving, and that does the trick. Whenever the roads are dry and salt-free, I let her idle in the driveway for ten minutes, then get her out for a trip around the block to spin the tires and get fluids moving through everything. Then she goes right back in the garage.
Meanwhile, I’ve been driving modern, fuel injected vehicles which start instantly and glide over the road at lightning speeds. They have clean carpeting, clear glass, warm heat, and soundproofing. I’m removed from all of the smelly mechanical bits that make things work; modern cars have been engineered to make me forget there’s even an engine attached to the vehicle: This vehicle is powered by unicorn farts. They are appliances, and we take their very existence for granted. And we become ignorant of the clanking, whirring, gnashing machinery that makes it all possible.
When spring comes, I pull the Scout out onto the road, wind up the engine on longer trips and listen intently to multiple different noises. That tapping–are those lifters starving for oil? I gauge the familiar droning of Mud Terrains on pavement. I parse squeaks from the rear of the chassis. Is the exhaust sounding a newer, deeper note this year?
Other cues I pick up from the vibrations through my feet and hands. How does the clutch feel? Is that wobble a flat spot in the tire, or is that just an oscillation at speed? Is the engine straining above 50mph? The brakes are wearing unevenly. Does the shift point feel different this year? It feels like the steering is wandering more today.
All of these reactions change my relationship with the road. Every trip I take in the Scout at the beginning of the year is carefully considered. Do I have enough gas to make it there and back? Do I have a backup plan if I break down? What’s the number for towing and recovery? All of these questions make me appreciate the ride a lot more; I’m in tune with the machine and the road, instead of just gliding over it, there and back.
I bought my first Scout used, 20 years after it was built, and drove it 75+ miles home the same day, on faith that the seller was honest (he was) and the truck was in good shape (it was). One month later I drove it 2 miles down an empty beach at Assateague, an empty corner of the earth where AAA does not make house calls. It got me home. Ten years later I put even more faith in an older truck bought at auction with absolutely no provenance, using the 5-50-100 rule to shake out the kinks (500 miles is a long trip on those tires), and it’s run strongly ever since. I’ve had my issues, and it’s given me problems, but most of those were due to my own stupidity, and I’ve been able to make it home without calling in a tow truck.
I don’t know if Steinbeck had it right or not. Rarely do I feel like I’m the soul of the machine; more often I feel like my truck helps me rediscover my sense of adventure. Will I make it there and back? Maybe not, but it’ll sure be an interesting story.