Inhuman Swill : Cars

Packing Kevin's painting
"What the hell are you doing?" the old man yelled into my window. "You can't park here! What's wrong with you?"

I had just backed very carefully into a space barely wide enough for the car. My friend Kevin was riding shotgun, my dog Ella in a nest in the back seat. Funny, I thought as the man angrily waved me back into the alley, we only missed our target by about twelve feet.

That was exactly one year ago this evening—Wednesday, June 26, 2013. It was the tail end of a 24-hour odyssey that already felt like a dream.

In reality, though, the odyssey went back much farther. For months, Laura and I had been planning a move from Chicago back to New York City. The company she worked for had offered her a job in its New York office, and in fact she was already spending much of her time there, transitioning into her new role. It fell to me to make all the arrangements for moving, to get everything packed, and to find us a new place to live.

Full entry

This past Sunday my father-in-law turned 71. He used to be (and quite possibly I will get this wrong) a Formula Four racer and has always had a thing for cars. In planning for this birthday, he found a Groupon for an exotic-car driving experience at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet. The country club is exactly what it sounds like—a place where, instead of golfing, members get to race their high-performance cars on one of the private tracks. And for a few weeks every year, an outfit called Imagine Lifestyles puts on events there where reg'lar folks like you or me can drive Lamborghinis or Ferraris or Maseratis or what have you.

It was supposed to be my father-in-law, my brother-in-law Tom, and me, but it so happened that my father-in-law was ill on Sunday so he offered his slot to Laura. (Our friend Barbara Lynn was in town from New York, so she tagged along with us to the track, too.) I was very nervous about driving, especially after the quick safety-training session we had to go through, which explained all the flags you might see around the track and how to use the orange and green cones to guide you through the execution of each curve.

Tom drove a Lamborghini Gallardo (I believe that was the make). Laura drove a Mercedes SLS with gull-wing doors. I drove a Ferrari F430. Four cars would go out at a time, led by a souped-up Mustang as the pace car. My Ferrari happened to be the first car after the pace car, and I was pretty worried about not keeping up and ruining the experience for the three drivers behind me. Fortunately, there was a coach in the passenger seat beside me, and though I lagged a little through the first lap, I managed to keep up pretty well through the next two. My knuckles were white, though.

There was a video camera mounted in every car, so we each got an SD card with our cockpit video on it after the "race" to take home. Here's mine, if you want to hop into the Ferrari with me for a little spin:

Full entry

Rabbit transit

| No Comments

Rabbits, I would like to sit you down and have a very serious discussion with you. I understand that the way you zigzag as you flee is an effective way to evade most predators, and has served you well for millions of years. But when your zigzag pattern is no wider than the car following you, it only causes problems in both sides.

So in the future, rabbits, when confronted by a car, please consider bending your course in a direction perpendicular to your original course of travel. Either that or next time I may just do my best to hasten the evolution of your species. And I'll feel badly about it.

Full entry

Boxed in

| No Comments

The truck that boxed me into the alley behind Tweet
One of Chicago's great selling points as a "livable" city is its alleys. Unlike New Yorkers, Chicagoans can stash their smelly garbage bins out back and keep them off the sidewalks. If they're lucky enough to have a garage, like we do, they don't even have to worry about parking on the streets, and if they do have to park on the streets they don't have a plethora of driveways to worry about avoiding. And best of all for me, walking Ella through our neighborhood's alleys inspired large chunks of the novel I'm working on.

But there's a darker side to alleys, too, which I was reminded of earlier this afternoon as I was driving over here to the Writers Workspace. As I turned into the alley that leads to the little parking lot behind the workspace, I found my way blocked by a huge garbage truck. That was no big deal in and of itself, just a little annoying, since I could circle the block and come into the alley from the other side. But there was a day a little over a year ago when I didn't have as pleasant an experience with trucks in an alley.

It was early on a sunny weekday afternoon, and I had gone to a favorite haunt called Tweet (no relation to Twitter) for a very late brunch. Tweet has a tiny lot out back off the alley where patrons can park for free, which is what I did. That block is pretty long, and as I drove in from the south end of the alley I could see a big moving truck way up at the north end plugging that exit. I wondered briefly if parking in the lot that day was a good idea, but I didn't want to try to turn the car around and hunt for street parking.

After a leisurely meal while I got some work done on my laptop, I headed out back to leave. I backed the car out and was heading north up the alley before I realized that the moving truck was still there. Oh well. South, then.

Full entry

My loose screw

| No Comments

Changing Spaces
It's been almost three weeks since we moved into our new apartment, but I remember it like it was ... well, twenty days ago.

Things were going great. Three strong men had made short work of our boxes, which were now stacked neatly in the truck. Laura and her mother were ready to follow the truck to the new place in her mother's car and oversee the start of the unloading. The dog and I were going to stick around for a bit to tie up some loose ends, then join up with everyone else at the new place.

Good thing I slipped behind the wheel of our car to take the prime parking space my mother-in-law was about vacate. When I turned the key, nothing happened. Not a click.

I should have known this was coming. For a week or so, the car had been taking longer and longer to turn over, the starter motor hacking like a heavy smoker. This time the battery was obviously completely dead. My mother-in-law had no jumper cables, and neither did the movers. But at least I hadn't discovered this with Ella on my hands after everyone else had left.

Full entry

Getting the boot

| No Comments

Laura and I bought a 2000 Honda Accord LX early this afternoon. Less than three hours later, there was a boot on the left front tire.


Full entry

Bus-ted! (or, Do not drill the bus!)

| 1 Comment

Do not drill the bus
Laura and I have started seeing a personal trainer—and boy are my arms tired! (Bah-dum!)

Of the many factors prodding us toward car ownership, this is the one that finally pushed us over the edge. It's an hour each way on the bus, with at least one transfer, to travel the mere 3.4 miles to Payne Management.

Our bus yesterday, once it deigned to arrive, we dubbed The Prop Bus. I didn't seem possible that it was a real bus. I was sitting in a seat adjacent to the railing around the rear door, and when I leaned against it the railing gave way. The streets announcements were more than half a mile out of sync with our real location. And at every stop, the bus driver got out of her seat to wrestle the fare box, which was not securely bolted to the floor, back into its proper spot. I'm surprised this bus didn't let us off on the shores of the River Styx.

Our buses back home were better, but it's no fun spending fifteen or twenty minutes awaiting your transfer unprotected from the subzero wind and bathed in the aromas from a nearby Popeye's Chicken. I said to Laura, "That smells like the Promised Land, the Celestial Kingdom, Paradise, Nirvana, and 72 virgins all rolled up together and deep-fried."

Full entry

Chicago has defeated us

| No Comments

No, not in the sense that we're running back to New York City with our tails between our legs. But we are going to become car owners for the first time in 13 and 15 years, respectively. It stings.

Full entry

If you visit Chicago by car, please note that it is illegal to fail to display a front license plate. If you drive a car like the one we occasionally borrow from the in-laws, souped up with a special turbo grille in front that doesn't allow for a license plate, you just might get a $50 ticket.

We did.

Full entry

One right up the tailpipe

| No Comments

After the various indignities of the day and long night, some of which were heaped upon me by others, some of which I heaped upon myself, I was finally on my way home from work last night at 2:15 am when the cab I was riding in stopped in the congestion that develops there after the east end of the Queensborough Bridge and was promptly rear-ended by another cab.

The speeds were low and the damage to the back bumper was negligible, but from my point of view it was like someone had slammed a refrigerator into my back. I got out of the cab and checked myself out, but I seemed to be okay. Nothing obviously injured. The cab drivers didn't fight or anything, but mine gave the other a stern lecture about tailgating. Both were very concerned about how I was.

I wrote down both medallion numbers just in case.

As we continued home, my cab driver complained of some neck pain. My back hurt, and my teeth ached, and my upper arm hurt a little, but it was difficult to sort out injury from shock and nerves. At home, Laura prescribed Advil and scotch. Mmm, Talisker. It helped me sleep, but of course it has not made waking up so easy this morning.

Full entry

Featured Book

William Shunn

About This Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Cars category.

Carpentry is the previous category.

Cast a Cold Eye is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.