Driving

Memorial Day Weekend Road Rules.

It’s the start of the Memorial Day weekend which is statistically one of the busiest driving periods of the year. It is also one of the deadliest, with the Fourth of July toping it out. I just spent 30 minutes on I-35 traveling across the Kansas City metro area, and I can attest that traffic is up. It looks like a large number of people decided to get their travel started early, and with it comes a big old load of stupid.

The chart below was found after doing a Google search for “Left Lane Decision Tree”. It is a simple straight forward way to determine if you should be driving in the left lane. If you don’t like bad language overt your eyes at the bottom and replace the blue phrase with “Please move to the right”. The Bottom line is this, tooling in the left lane is simply wrong. If you think you are safer, you probably aren’t. If the center lanes and right lane make you uncomfortable, maybe you should stay off the freeway and use surface streets.

The highway system was designed with a specific set of rules to make traffic flow safer, faster, and smoother. Being a left lane lolly gagger just goofs it up. Oh and while your at it, put your cell phone down and try doing something equally as rewarding as texting and driving. Have a conversation with the people in the car with you.

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Getting 30 Plus.

OK, I’ll admit it… I’m a lead foot. I like to drive fast, I have a fun car with a lot of pick up, and I tend to take advantage of it. It’s hard not to mash the gas pedal down and rack my way through all six gears getting the car up to speed. I like pushing it through winding roads, and I like snaking through busy traffic on the freeway leaving all the left-lane lollygaggers in my wake.

Lately though, as the price of gasoline has edged toward 4 bucks a gallon, (and inspired by Kristy’s Honda Insight 45 plus to the gallon) I have been trying to drive a little bit gentler.

The result of my new driving style has been an increase in fuel economy from about 24.5 mpg to 30 mpg. I know it’s not great, but it is better, and I’d probably get better than that if I drove the freeway to work. Red lights kill you and Kansas City’s lights are all out of sync. Hit one green light, you might hit another but don’t count on it. The best part is, that my gentle driving style during the week means more gas in my tank on Saturday and Sunday. All of this translates to a few hours of fun driving without feeling guilty. Yes that’s right I do not feel guilty about having fun driving my car just for the sake of driving it. And I don’t feel guilty about putting the top down and stomping on the gas.

Even after today’s run about town, I am still getting 30 mpg, and if I push it I might be able to get it close to MINI’s projected mpg of 35, although I know you never get what the EPA says you will. None the less I’m getting better mileage than I was and that is a good thing.

Kansas City Driver’s Suck!

A few months ago I had to renew my driver’s license. Like most states my renewal was set to 6 years so it had been awhile since I had taken the written exam and visited the licensing station.

The last time I was there I was struck by the fact that they had a test that didn’t involve actually being able to read. You could, if necessary take a test that was based on nothing more than pictures and symbols, and if you passed that test, you were given a license to operate a 2000 pound plus piece of machinery, no questions asked.

When I went in this time, I had the study booklet with the written test in the back. I went through it and took the open book test fully expecting to be graded before my license was renewed. Much to my surprise, the guy that gave me my eye test told me they no longer graded the test for license renewals, only for first time testers. This just blew me away.

I think Kansas City has some of the worst drivers in America. Serious idiots behind the wheel. People that don’t pay attention, don’t obey the traffic laws, don’t know where they are going, do all sorts of stupid crap while driving like, exit to the right from the far left lane of the freeway, never come to a complete stop at a stop sign, fail to maintain position in their traffic lane, mash the gas at a solid yellow and end up running the red light. The list could go on for forever but there simply isn’t enough room here to cover it all.

All of this comes to the surface tonight, because for the 4th time in less than 48 hours I have almost been side swiped by some jack ass that has no clue as to what they are doing. 4 times, 4 separate intersections. If this were an isolated weekend experience it would be one thing, but more and more this is a common occurrence.

On Christmas day, I called 911 and turned in a driver on I-35 South that was drunk, weaving, and tossing beer cans out of his passenger window as he barreled down the road at 80 plus miles per hour. This was a unique event, but at the end of the day, people behind the wheel in this city are a bunch of idiots for the most part. (Not all of us, but enough to make me hate driving in this city any more).

I don’t get the leave 2 full car lengths between you and the car in front of you when stopped at a red light. I don’t get the I’m doing you a favor and waving you to go, even though I have the right of way, I’m holding up traffic, and causing a dangerous situation. I don’t get the “I don’t know where I’m going lets cut across 4 lanes of traffic at the last second and make a turn. I don’t get the inability to drive in the snow anymore. I don’t get the complete lack of understanding for the laws and rules of the road and driving. Oh, wait a second, maybe I do.

Since our written exams are no longer graded, or checked on one side of the state line; and since we are not required to actually take a physical driving test once we get our license in this country, it makes a lot of sense now. We get lazy and forget. Some of us weren’t that good to begin with and this just compounds the issue. And some of us are lazy, weren’t that good, and figure we’ll never get in or cause an accident to begin with. Frankly I think it sucks.

I wish to hell that every 4 years, every person in this country not only had to take an eye exam, they had to take and pass the written test (not open book format), and they had to take and pass the real driving test. Behind the wheel with a traffic officer in the passenger’s seat  grading everything you do. Maybe, just maybe things on American roads would improve then.

10 New driving rules I learned in Johnson County Kansas today.

I’m sure these things happen everywhere, but after spending a couple of hours driving around Southern Johnson County today, I was filled up with the road rage and ready to unload. I had to renew my driver’s license a couple of months ago, and I found out you no longer have to even take the written exam to renew your license. Frankly after what I saw today, I think every driver in both Kansas and Missouri should have to take a full driving exam every 4 years. It might cut down on the stupid factor   that seems so prevalent on Kansas City roads these days.

  1. Turn signals are always optional.
  2. If at all possible execute left turns from the right lane, and right turns from the left lane.  (I’m pretty sure rule number 8 has something to do with this)
  3. If you crawl up a persons butt, they will go faster or get out of the way, if they don’t honk and give them the finger. Either way, tailgating is good. The closer the better.
  4. When the light turns green, count to five before stepping on the gas.
  5. You must have a cell phone glued to your head when you are behind the wheel.
  6. Weaving across the traffic lanes is OK. See rule 5.
  7. No matter how long you have lived here, use a GPS that is stuck to your windshield and obstructing part of  your view. In addition please fiddle with the GPS at all times.
  8. Always trust the route the GPS gives you, even if it is wrong.
  9. Traffic clusters are good. If at all possible, bunch up into large clusters and drive 10 miles an hour under the speed limit.
  10. At a stop light everyone must line up single file behind the first car there, no matter what lane it is in, unless the first car is in a turn lane. The objective is to form the longest line of cars at any given light.

Midlife Crisis, or Just Plain Fun? Just Plain Fun I Think.

SCL_logoOK, many people are going to read this and think that I am having a mid-life crisis. In many ways this might be true, but this is not one of those events. I’m going to be in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks, and a friend of mine told me that I should check out the Supercar Life website. Yes the company name is stupid as all hell, but the concept is pretty cool. Especially if you like to drive, want to go fast, and know that it’s going to be a while before you can afford your own Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, or Porsche Turbo 997.

Here is the deal, Supercar Life offers a number of packages with price tags that run from 200 bucks to 5 grand depending on the level of instruction, and the amount of time at the track. While I would love to take the Stage One class, it is only being offered on November 14th and I won’t be in Vegas on that day. The Stage one class offers extensive driving instruction, a full day at the Las Vegas motor speedway, and the chance to drive any or all of the cars that the company owns. It also sets you up for the next two classes, which culminates with Stage Three. Stage Three is a two day course that teaches advanced technical skills. It is a concentrated course that focuses on developing maximum driving potential in track driving and section training. And yes I’d love to do it, but at a cost of almost 9 grand for all three Stage classes, it aint gonna happen any time soon.

I am thinking about going for this thing they call the  “Power Hour” (someone really needs to talk to them about the names they use, but this probably appeals to a large segment of their target audience). The Power Hour is designed for anyone who has the desire to drive a high performance car at speeds they were designed for under the controlled conditions of a race track. The price point for this package is right. You get an hour of some pretty big thrills for $200.00! I put this in the same camp as going sky diving, hang gliding, etc. In addition, I don’t gamble, and this is probably cheaper than hitting the tables, it is something I can cross off of my bucket list, and it is probably as much or more fun than a $200.00 concert/show.

You get to select one of their elite cars, after you receive driving instruction from a professional driver, afterward you get  on the track and follow one of their pro drivers for multiple laps. The best things is that, Supercar Life offers these programs on a variety of days and times throughout the month (more importantly, while I’ll be in Vegas).

Now here is he question. Which car should I choose? Or better yet, which one will my 6 foot 4 inch frame fit into? I’m thinking the Porsche 997 turbo. I’ve driven a 911 and I know I can fit into that, but man the idea of driving the Ferrari F430 just gives me goose bumps.

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Design Friday, well sort of…

Mini

The new convertible, longing to be driven.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Kanon Cozad, who is by far the most obsessed automobile enthusiast I know. Kanon’s recent trip to Germany to pick up his new BMW M3 was cut short, before he could truly experience the car on the autobahn. So Kanon this post is for you.

In an article that was written for the Financial Times a couple of months back, a financial writer, in the course of bashing the government bailout of American automotive manufacturers, called out automotive advertising for its unrealistic image of the modern driving experience. The author decried the romantic vision of automobiles. The image of wind in the hair, open road… The kind of vision that was made popular at the height of the American auto industry peak at the end of the late 60’s.

He then described the reality of most  journeys in your car as “mandatory floggings rather than Kerouac-style Odysseys,” consisting of “commutes, school runs and business trips.”

In some ways it’s hard not to agree with him that cars, while better designed and engineered than they ever have been, are often pressed into utilitarian duty. I’ve seen a Lamborghini Murciélago (basically a racing car in street clothes) sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store. And ask yourself how many Land Rovers do you ever see roving off-road? It’s true enough that more than a few commercials for cars look like outtakes from The Fast and the Furious, with cars going at light speed through city streets miraculously free of traffic, or blasting through hair pin turns with the grace of a cheetah on the prowl. All of them baring the fine print statement, “Professional Driver, Closed Course”. But with that said, it’s not quite as grim as this article would lead you to believe.

Very few of people ever get to drive cars at much more than fifty percent of their potential, unless take your car to a racetrack for a track day (which a considerable number of car enthusiasts actually do, and with good reason). Now, if you have a car that handles well and are willing to look for the closest challenging back roads, your car that mostly serves as your personal shuttle service can become a nimble-footed runner again.

Finding those roads may be easy. If you are like me, you live in a place like the central Midwest where curvy back roads follow the contours of the landscape, hugging the outline of a river or other natural occurrence. On the other hand, if you live in grid-intensive place like Florida it might be tougher to do.

But real fun on the open road is not a completely unattainable dream. I know first hand that there’s still sport driving available on public roads. How do I know? Because I have been the proud owner of a Mini Cooper S for almost 6 years, and with the recent purchase of a Cooper S convertible, I can say that this is on of the most enjoyable cars I’ve owned since I bought an MGB in the early eighties, and with the help of a gear head friend in Lawrence built it to run. Both Cooper S’, the Supercharged and now the Turbo are fast, with tight suspension for amazingly flat cornering, this English retro revival courtesy of BMW has me thinking about the classic years of sports cars, when all you had to do was drive to a race track, tape the headlights, put a number on your doors, and make a play for the winners cup.

That those dreams can be revived by a modern car with ABS, airbags, computers, sensors, air conditioning, Etc., may be in part due to the fact that the MINI itself revives a legendary car from decades past. The original MINI was designed in the mid-fifties by Sir Alec Issigonis, a Greek whose family had English citizenship. The MINI, Like the VW Beetle, and the Fiat Cinquecento, the MINI was a gasoline-stingy answer to the post war shortages in the 50’s in Europe. With its front-wheel drive and four-corner wheel placement, the original MINI feels almost weirdly roomy considering it’s minuscule size.  The new MINI that BMW has revived, is almost two feet longer than the original, and it is a design that does exactly what “retro” should do: It improves on the past while still evoking it. In other words, the MINI is at once modern, and in mood nostalgic.

Despite the tendency of the fashion industry’s ability to be successful by recycling styles every 20 years or so with slight changes, retro  can be tricky for car makers. On the list of successes, besides the MINI, there is the new Fiat Cinquecento, Ford’s Mustang “Bullit” model (styled after the Mustang Steve McQueen drove in the legendary movie with the same name), and, the new Dodge Challenger which, truly grabs the original vibe of that car. Companies like Jaguar had a good run with its reissued version of its famous E Type, and the XK series, but Indian company Tata motors that bought Jaguar from Ford early this year, is going with the decidedly not-retro variation, playing to an olde more established consumer. I’m still not sure  about the new Chevy Camaro I have yet to  drive one yet, and the chopped roof kind of bugs me . Frankly I am a bit surprised that Chevrolet has never tried to recall to one of the most popular collector cars GM produced in its long history, the mid- to late fifties Chevy Bel Air. A pure classic with its  two-tone paint and fins, designed by the legendary Harley Earl and his magical team. This would surely have been as welcome as the Thunderbird was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s from Ford.

Though successful in terms of sales, a retro car that was designed by J Mays and Freeman Thomas illustrates what problems can occur when looking forward and back at the same time. The car that brought J Mays initial fame, and eventually landed him the top design position at Ford, was the Volkswagen New Beetle. It’s been a huge success for VW, and when first sighted back in 1998 the car was hard not to like. I test drove one of the first of these new beetles to arrive in Kansas City, and if I’d walked down the street with naked and carrying sacks of money I couldn’t have attracted more  attention. The car, was essentially a VW Golf with a different body, but the stand out shape was its arched roof. The new Beetle was reminiscent of the Art Deco-influenced pre-and-post-war Volkswagens, but unlike the Beetle of old this was a modern front engine car, and within the first year of introduction VW had a performance Turbo Beetle.

Then there are the faux retro cars, whose designs  evoke the past without referring to, or being based directly on an actual motor vehicle from the past. The most popular of these is the Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, which was designed by Bryan Nesbitt. The PT recalls, a line of Plymouth trucks from the thirties. The styling is meant to make us think about burly men in fedoras smoking cigars and looking like gangsters. The PT  has sold surprisingly well since its introduction in 2000, proving that funky design doesn’t turn everyone off. One particularly egregious version even re-introduced a woody like version with wood grained vinyl siding. We now know, however, the PT, like was  not able to save Chrysler and a stake from Fiat will hopefully to do that.

The point to all of this is that, while the author of the financial time article was partially correct, there are still a number of affordable, well styled cars out there that provide a fun driving experience, provided that the driver is willing to seek it out. I am the former owner of New Beetle and a number of classic cars in the past. I am drawn to the fun design stylings of the new MINI, and  the modern driving experience that comes with 21st century engineering. Like many smaller sport coupes today, The MINI is so well thought out. It falls in the same class as the Volvo C30, VW’s GTI, Subaru’s WRX and so many others. I really hope that this signals a new age of automobiles driven forward by the merging of solid industrial design, engineering, and more over the fun of driving. Yes Driving your car should be fun. The overall experience should fill you with a complete sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction that comes not only from the act, but from the design of the vehicle you are sitting in.

Back in the first world.

photoAfter 14 days in South Africa, I have a few observations. Before I list them I am going to say this. I had a great trip. The team was amazing, and we got tons of footage for the film. In addition we built playground equipment for school children that have absolutely nothing. I mean nothing, they are beyond impoverished. I’m glad I went and I feel like I made a difference even if it was in the smallest of ways. Now here are some things I took note of, some funny, some interesting, and some that just pissed me off.

They have meat flavored potato chips. yes meat flavored and they are surprisingly good.

They eat loads of meat, potatoes, and pasta. not much in the way of salads. If you are a vegetarian, South Africa will be tough for you.

The drivers are insane.

The country has an unemployment rate of over 30 percent. This means many people are desperate for money and the like. This is why Johannesburg is the most dangerous city in the world.

Apartheid might be over, but little has changed for people of color in South Africa. The law might say you have equal rights but chances are you won’t be treated that way.

There is a HIV positive rate of 47% amongst women in South Africa, yet the government thinks it is a good idea to legalize prostitution for the World cup soccer games next year. This is so they can tax the prostitutes. What the hell are they thinking? Hey let’s make it legal so 150 thousand plus tourists can be exposed to a 47 percent chance of getting infected.

The country is absolutely beautiful.

Wild animals in the game parks are really wild and they will eat you or maul you if you get to close. No, I did not find this out first hand.

36 hours of travel time to get to South Africa is really really rough.

The announcement on the flights was punctuated with this phrase, “PAIN PROGRESS” it should read PA IN PROGRESS. I think PAIN PROGRESS is more accurate.

There is no high speed internet in South Africa

Afrikaans is one messed up language

Did I mention meat flavored potato chips?

There are rich people and poor people in South Africa. There is hardly any middle class at all.

South Africa is really huge. It takes for ever to get from point A to B because it is a massive country. We drove no less than 4 hours between all the cities we travelled to. Twice it was over 9 hours.photo(2)