(Motor) Way of Life: Best Driving Albums

There are few truths in this world that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt. One of the most prominent is that the right music can make or break your road trip. In my short decade of driving, I’ve taken countless road trips across this country. From those lonely nights blasting up north alone to party at some nameless college, to the aforementioned rental car trip from hell in Colorado; music has always set the tone (no pun intended) for how quickly the miles tick by.

I will have to shamelessly plug steaming music here. Before God’s gift to drivers, I was stuck with a myriad of CDs, MP3s, Sirius, or (gasp) terrestrial radio. The choice was bland, and you never seem to hear what you want. Hell, even Pandora is horrible anymore. I don’t know how I could get anywhere without Spotify these days. I have the 20GB/month data bills to prove it.

That being said, continuously hunting for the “right” music with millions of songs at your disposal can be a headache. Unless you have a good copilot to dig for music, maintaining the soundtrack for your trip can be tiresome at best, let alone distracting.

On a recent trip, I queued three albums in succession and didn’t touch the phone during my entire trip (except for flagging on Waze when it was safe). For those three hours, it was pure driving nirvana. Open freeways, windows down, and a perfect Michigan sunset. There’s something to be said about the therapeutic qualities of driving in solitude. Granted, piloting a car you enjoy surely helps. However, even the best roads in your dream car can be spoiled by shitty music. I’ve had to suffer through that too.

I can wax rhapsodically about my love for road trips for another 300 words, but that is not why you’re reading this article. I’ve included my top 5 favorite driving albums below. If you are able to stick it through my (what some might classify as poor) music preferences, there’s some bonus material at the end that you might enjoy. Please note that I’ve focused on more modern music. I realize that many here will not be listening to Rush or Billy Cobham.

Coheed

Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005)

Best Setting: Introspective Road Trips, whipping through flyover country.

Best Song: “Willing Well II: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness” (Track 13)

Yes, Coheed. I realize they’re not the most popular band in the world. Most people I introduce to them cannot get past Claudio Sanchez’s voice. However, as a die-hard Rush fan, they definitely have my vote. Hell, I’d go as far as to say that undoubtedly my favorite band.

Their third studio album, “GA1” is a concept work that takes place within the “Armory Wars” narrative that spans their first 7 albums. (Side note – their 8th album, The Color Before the Sun drops October 16). While I will not get into the intricacies of the Armory Wars, the storyline is one of love, lust, betrayal, life, and death. The emotionally-charged lyrics and melodies will either hit you like a freight train, as heard in their hit “Welcome Home” (Track 3) or lull you to sleep as in “Wake Up” (Track 8). A bit of trivia, an acoustic rendition of “Wake Up” was featured in the soundtrack for “Snakes on a Plane.”

I was tempted to place “Welcome Home” as the best song, as it literally saved my life a time or two. Notable examples is when it blew the Nakamichi speakers out of Ffej’s 87 Scirocco 16v as we trekked up US 131 north of Grand Rapids in the dead of winter (with no brakes, I might add), or a horrible severe storm outside of Altoona, PA where I was nursing one of the worst hangovers of my life and tried to bring Ffej and I home in the Z06 without driving off of a mountain.

Gaslight

The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt (2014)

Best Setting: Cruising through the mountainous terrain of Appalachia, trying to figure out your place in life.

Best Song: “Dark Places” (Track 12)

The Gaslight Anthem is said by some to be your typical New Jersey punk band. Front man Brian Fallon has cited Springsteen as his main influence in many interviews. This definitely shows through in a lot of the work. It is undoubtedly very “rock and roll” in a way not many bands are these days. As the child of my early “Gen-X” father, I was raised on bands like The Ramones, The Romantics, The Doors, Springsteen, and Bowie. I have yet to come across many modern bands that seem to capture the essence of 60s-70s rock like The Gaslight Anthem. Not to mention, their lyrics are full of allusions to great literature, which always seems to put a smile on my face. To top it all off, their live shows are amazing to say the least.

Get Hurt is their most recent release. There is no overarching theme in this release, outside of the almost clichés of love, lust, and loss. I’ve probably fallen asleep listening to Get Hurt more than any other album. It has carried me through a very scenic trip through Kentucky, a very hungover redeye flight back from Ft. Lauderdale, and a blustery winter trip to a close friend’s funeral. The Tracks range from the strong “Helter Skeleton” (Track 5), to the sincere “Mama’s Boys” (Track 14), and the sad “Dark Places” (Track 12). If you ever needed something to put on as you drive around to “figure shit out,” this is it.

Muse – Black Holes and Revelations (2006)

Best Setting: Lost in suburbia hell.

Best Song: Knights of Cydonia (Track 11)

I could end this blurb with Knights of Cydonia. In my eyes, it’s probably the best driving song of all time. Nothing fills my head with felonious thoughts like this song. For those who have been living under a rock, Muse is a British Alternative Rock band who also relies quite frequently on concept albums (experimental, rock operas, etc.) to carry a deeper message than what the casual listener might extrapolate. Black Holes is said to carry a political message. I am not one to be overly-political, and by that I mean care about the political beliefs of others. Therefore, I will give them a free pass on this one. The most popular Track on this album is by far Starlight (Track 2), which peaked at number 2 on Billboard’s modern rock chart. I was tempted to select 2009’s The Resistance, as it’s concept is a little more prevalent in a similar vein to Coheed, but it simply does not spark that chord with me as a whole.

Nirvana

Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

Best Setting: Late night drives.

Best Song: The Man Who Sold the World

Insert “stereotypical gunge album” comment. Truth be told, I am not a huge Nirvana fan. Something about the purity of Unplugged seems to do it for me. Perhaps it is because it features the late Kurt Cobain in his most “raw” form. Regardless, this is one that I’ve been able to listen to on repeat during many long nights.

I would go as far as to say that there truly isn’t a bad song on this album. If you have ever have had the pleasure of accompanying me at the bar, and I decided to take over their jukebox (thanks Touchtunes mobile!), you would know my affinity for The Man Who Sold the World. As a shameless Bowie fan, I’m here to say Cobain truly owned that song, much in the way that Johnny Cash owned Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

Metallica

Metallica – Death Magnetic (2008)

Best Setting: Traveling at the Posted Speed Limit

Best Song: All Nightmare Long (Track 5)

Metallica killed Napster. They are sellouts. They suck. St. Anger is the worst album ever released. Death Magnetic sounds like shit because it was mastered to be played at 11. All of these statements are true. However, I still love Metallica. I could go with the masses and list Kill ‘em All, or The Black Album. However, Death Magnetic has a certain nostalgic value for me. It was blasted during some of the most idiotic things that I have ever done behind the wheel of an automobile, most of which was spent wheeling my Jeep with my now-deceased oldest friend (RIP Nick) in an abandoned construction site. It woke me up on my hellish commute to downtown Detroit after one too many all-nighters during my brief stint in the College of Engineering. If you want to drive like an asshole, or drink copious amounts of Jägermeister and break shit, this is that album.

Bonus Round: Podcasts

If you drive as much as I do, music eventually gets pretty damn boring. I also hate 99% of the talk radio you find on your AM/FM dial. If I want to educate myself about current events, I’ll read an article online. If I cared about sports, I would watch them. However, there are 1000s of podcasts covering nearly every topic imaginable.

It is no surprise that I tend to sway toward automobile-related ones. My favorite by far is The Smoking Tire. It reminds me of my group of friends, sitting around a table, drinking, and bullshitting about cars. Hooniverse is a close second and has a very similar tone. However, if you’re looking for something more in-depth, Car Stories is pretty interesting. It is produced by The Peterson Automotive Museum and features a new guest each week from inside the industry. If you have the time, I recommend you give all three a listen.

Flipping over to the “B-Side” of this post is the WORST music for driving. The truth here is that there is no one album that can kill your trip; it is whatever music you hate. I hate hardcore music more than anything, even autonomous vehicles. When I am forced to listen to it, I daydream about being as deaf as Anne Frank. A Day to Remember, Blessthefall, Falling in Reverse, etc. They should drive their tour buses into a bridge abutment.

Hate the music I suggest? Want to suggest something better? Sound off in the comments. I’m always looking for something new to help the miles click by…

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(Motor) Way of Life: Ode to the Dodge/Plymouth Neon. It was better than you remember.

29/38 MPG. 132 HP. Seats 4 comfortably. $15,000. Would you buy this car? I did. In fact, I owned 3 of them. The Car? A Dodge/Plymouth Neon. In January of 1994, Chrysler Corporation released their new compact car as a 1995 model. Replacing the K-Car based Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance, the Neon set the bar as far as a new car launch goes. These included the “checkerboard square” method in production facility planning, a transitioned to environmentally-friendly water-based paint implementation, and breakthroughs in computer modeling. Such innovations in engineering Chrysler gained during the birth of the Neon were a major reason as to why Daimler-Benz purchased Chrysler in 1999.

Yes, the Neon was an utter shitbox; especially the base model which originally sold for $9300. For that price, one received a 4-seat economy car with 13” steel wheels, a manual transmission and no Air Conditioning. However, the more upscale Sport/Sport Coupe and Highline models featured options far above those of its competitors.

In 1994, the Neon was a true segment leader. The car was faster, better handling, more interior space, and was more profitable.  It certainly made one hell of a race car, dominating at various levels of Sports Club of America (SCCA) competition right out of the gate.

The Neon was not without its flaws. Namely, head gaskets. The Neon’s 2.0 engine was available in 132 HP single overhead cam and 150 HP dual overhead cam specifications. The engine block was iron, while the heads were aluminum. Unfortunately, the thermal properties of iron and aluminum are dissimilar. As the engine would heat up, these metals expand at different rates. This necessitated a multi-layered steel (MLS) head gasket. The MLS gasket was made out of sandwiched pieces of metal, allowing the head and block to expand and contract as needed.

Initial plans were for a MLS head gasket, rather than the more traditional unit, fitted at the beginning. Why you might ask? Corporate accounting. The MLS gasket was more expensive to produce, thus raising the cost of the cars. Eventually, those added profits were marginalized as cars came in for warranty work due to the failed gasket. In 1998, the MLS gasket was installed on all Neon engines. By then, its reputation was already ruined.

One place the Neon’s reputation was already solidified happened to be racing. In 1994, the ACR (later known as American Club Racer) package was released. Initially featuring a “base” sedan for weight reduction with the SOHC engine, the ACR included an option package tailored for competition. It lacked A/C (later available as an option), sound deadening, and a radio. Also standard was an updated transmission with 3.94 final drive ratio for quicker acceleration, stiffer springs, “heavy-duty” Arvin struts (later replaced by Konis in 1997), 4-wheel disc brakes, and a larger front and added rear sway bars. Later in 1994, a Coupe model was added and featured the 150 HP DOHC engine. The DOHC was also available as an option for all Neons until 1999.

Neons dominated in competition. Chrysler paid out a lot of contingency money to those campaigning Neons. It was the de-facto standards in many forms of motorsport. Between 1994 and 2001, Neons took over 38 national championships, ranging from Solo II to Showroom Stock. They even had 2 of their own series, dubbed the “Neon Challenge” and “Neon Celebrity Challenge.” The Neon Challenge was a showcase for the most successful Neon road racers in the countries, allowing large amounts of prize money for the best Neon racer in the country. The Celebrity Challenge featured a fleet of factory-prepped cars campaigned by local celebrities across the nation. This series occurred on selected Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART, now known as Indycar) events during the season. It was upon seeing one of these Celebrity Challenge cars in 1994 that first sparked my interest in the Neon.

The Neon was my first car. A 1999 Plymouth Highline Sedan. By 1999, the Highline was the main trim level offered on Neons. Gone were the “base” models of 1994. The only two options on my 99 featured were the automatic transmission and Air Conditioning. The previous owner botched an engine install and I purchased it non-running for $900. After replacing all engine gaskets and a crankshaft position sensor, I had a running car.

It was then that I learned about automotive forums and tuning sport compacts. My first purchase was an exhaust off of one of the Celebrity Challenge cars. It was a straight-pipe replacing the muffler, making the car unbearably loud. Despite the car was horribly slow, visions of it tearing up a race track were always in my head.

I had a lot of firsts (and lasts) in that car. My first real date, the first time I drove over 100 MPH, the first accident I almost got into, and my first (you fill in the blank). It was also car in which I went on my last date with probably the first girl I was ever truly into. One never appreciates true freedom until they have the ability to transport themselves anywhere they wish. The car eventually was passed down to my sister, which carried her safely throughout High School. It was eventually sold to a girl commuting from Detroit to Ann Arbor for College. Unfortunately, my first car met its demise after coming in contact with a Ford Escape.

When I turned 21, I got a new job. Doing promo work for 5-Hour Energy, I was making pretty decent money working there and at my local bicycle store. I had enough saved up to buy my ACR. It was a Black 1998 Dodge ACR Coupe that spent the first 13 years of its life parked in a garage on the outskirts of Toledo. The original owner, Jason, campaigned in Auto-X from new. The ACR came equipped with the entirety of the Mopar Performance catalog, Kosei K1 wheels, and a host of other modifications.

That car was my baby. I washed it religiously. Some claimed that it was one of, if not the cleanest coupe in the country. It was never truly up to my standards, however. I purchased new front and rear bumpers that were painted. I met a good friend, Tony, who previously was a subcontracted engineer for Chrysler. One of his primary jobs was actually prepping the Celebrity Challenge cars out of a shop in metro Detroit. He was restoring a black ACR coupe of his own. I purchased a lot of parts from him, namely a Keystone Viper Hood. The hood featured a NACA duct (hood scoop) much like the 1996 Viper GTS Coupe. I soon purchased a set of Electromotive/Hilborn Individual Throttle Bodies with plans of installing a stroked 2.4 PT Cruiser engine for “big” power. When I calculated the cost of bringing the car to my standard, I realized the foolishness in dropping $10,000 “slow” Neon.

It was then that I put the car up for sale and began shopping for the Z06. Based upon the reputation my ACR had within the community, I sold it for a pretty hefty profit a week later. I regret selling it to this day. Luckily, I am still in contact with the current owner. I plan on purchasing it back if the opportunity ever arises.

That car is what really got me into the whole “car scene.” I did a lot things that I’m not entirely sure the statute of limitations has expired on yet. I beat cars to which many would not believe had they not been present (5.0 Mustang were easy targets). I can honestly say that I’m glad I didn’t own something like that in high school; it would have ended up in a ditch after the first week. I attribute my currently level of discipline and car control skills (or lack thereof) to what I learned in wheeling the ACR.

I made a lot of memories in that car too. There were several solo trips to northern Michigan contemplating life, camping trips to the lake, and drunken nights sleeping in the car. I rejected more than one attractive female’s advances while I was caretaker of the ACR. There was one girl that I ended up “freezing out,” and parked it at a friend’s house for two weeks. I truly expected her to key the thing in my driveway. On the car’s last night, I rejected someone to which I probably shouldn’t have (to say the least). This is one of the few regrets I still hold, second to selling the car I rejected her in. I’ll never forget the defeated look she gave me as I dropped her off at her apartment for the last time.

I also purchased a 1-owner 1996 sedan from an old man in my city for use as a winter beater. Despite the 170,000 miles in that car’s lifetime, the body is spotless. Nearly every replaceable component was fitted sometime during its lifetime. It would return nearly 40 MPG on my highway trips, with A/C as an added luxury.

Despite the short time I was actually driving the car, quite a few crazy things happened. I made more than a few trips up to visit my sister in northern MI to party with her college friends. My best friend, Dosh, and I drove it to my cousin’s wedding in Pittsburgh. We nearly burned out the clutch trying to drive the car on the steep inclines of the Allegheny Mountains. Unfortunately, I lunched the motor with two friends during a crazy January night out in Downtown Detroit. It has been down for two years as of writing this diatribe. The bottom end was rebuilt and I am lacking the motivation to put everything back together.

I understand that my experiences with Neons are not the norm, and that they will not change your opinion as to how great (or horrible) they are. However, this one car played a large part in shaping me to the person I am today. Without this shitbox designed in Highland Park, I most likely wouldn’t be even writing this for you.

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Impeding traffic: In defense of bashing rental cars (or how we got banned from Enterprise)

DISCLAIMER: I am not endorsing the abuse of rental cars, nor am I condoning breaking the terms of your rental agreement.  Information contained below is for anecdotal purposes only.

I’ve been ridiculed by more than a few of my SJW friends for my rental car exploits.  Whether or not you have a reputation for beating on your own cars (I do), few posses the restraint go treat a rental with any level of respect.  In fact, I do not know one man younger than my grandfather who actually care about they treat a rental.  Some, such as yours truly, skew toward blatant disregard for the next renter.

My logic is pretty simple: I pay a company a nominal fee for use of one of their vehicles.  For an extra $30 per day, I purchase a loss damage waiver covering any sort of issues that may arise while using said vehicle.  I ALWAYS recommend the waiver.  If anything were to happen without, you are stuck turning in a claim to your personal insurance policy.  Do you really want to be held liable when a 30-something in flyover country spills his Starbucks and ends up destroying your rental Impala?  I don’t.

The great thing about the loss damage waiver is it literally covers ANYTHING.  Obviously, some restrictions are in place.  Per Enterprise’s rental agreement, these restrictions include, but are not limited to:

  1. Intentional, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct
  2. Operation of the vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  3. Towing or pushing anything
  4. Operation of the vehicle on an unpaved road if the damage or loss is a direct result of the road or   driving conditions.
  5. Vehicle is used for commercial hire
  6. Vehicle is used in connection with conduct that could be properly charged as a felony
  7. Vehicle is involved in a speed test or contest or in driver training activity
  8. Vehicle is operated by a person other than an authorized driver
  9. Vehicle is operated outside of the United States.
  10. 10. Driver has provided fraudulent information to the rental company
  11. Driver has provided false information and the rental company would not have rented Vehicle if it had instead received true information

In the real world, most rental companies play pretty fast-and-loose with these restrictions.  How would one determine that my rental was deemed immobile due to reckless conduct?  Can they really prove I was using it as an Uber driver?  The internet is full of stories where people broke these rules and got away with it.  Over my short time on this earth,  I have (allegedly) broken many of these rules.  It eventually resulted in a friend being banned from Enterprise for life.  That’s ok; I am more of a Hertz man…

While most 4th generation Ford Taurus’ have now been converted into iron oxide or melted down into Duralast brake rotors, they were quite ubiquitous on the roads during the mid-00s.  You can thank Ford Motor Credit and their sweetheart Red Carpet Leases for that.  They were also quite the popular fleet/rental car.

Back in 2007 my father and my best friend’s dad (let’s call him Rick) decided they were going to coach our hockey team for the spring. What you have to understand is both of these men love hearing themselves talk.  Coming from corporate sales, they never seem to run out of anything to say.

After a particularly late practice, Rick threw us the keys to his rental Taurus to load up our gear.  45 minutes later, we were sitting in a nearly empty parking lot while our dads talked inside about inconsequential things.  My friend (known from here on out as “Dosh”) and I, being logical teenagers, decided that some rental car fun was in order.

We were fortunate in that the parking lot is at least 1/8 mile off of the road, and obscured by the behemoth that is our local ice rink. Better yet, the lot was completely empty sans our car.  The parking lot was nearly as large as one suitable for a local Walmart, but only half of it was paved.

For the next hour, we probably had the time of our lives.  Doughnuts were the first order of the night.  The pedal-actuated emergency brake was rendered useful by pulling back the release and using hockey tape to affix it in the “open” position. Despite the idiocy that ensued, we probably learned a lot about car control that night.

After getting bored playing rally car in a Ford Taurus, burnouts were the next order of the night.  Surprisingly enough, the Duratec-equipped 3.0 DOHC Taurus was rated @ 205hp.  This was more than enough to brake torque the car and light up the front tires. After a few-dozen drag launches, we decided the intelligent thing to do would be get up to ~15mph and slam the car into drive @ WOT (wide-open throttle).  Eventually, our fathers heard the commotion and decided to yell at us for being assholes.  Not long after that, the Taurus’ transmission gave up the ghost while Rick and Dosh were driving home. Luckily they purchased that damage waiver.  Enterprise brought them a new car and an agent waited with the disabled Taurus until a tow truck could be dispatched.

Fast forward 9 years. I traveled with Dosh and Rick to Beaver Creek, CO for a guy’s ski weekend.  While I won’t disclose the details of his demise, Rick ended up hurting his ankle and was unable to do much the whole weekend.  I was somehow entrusted with the rental car, a glorious Dodge Journey.  Featuring the 2.4 inline 4-cylinder “World Engine,” this particular Journey was capable of sending a staggering 173 HP to all 4 wheels via its optional AWD system.

I truly cannot speak enough about how horrible the 2.4 Journey is.  This article is nearing 1000 words, and I could easily use another 1000 to wax rhapsodic about our beloved journey.  However, it did carry the three of us in relative safety through Vail Pass in a snowstorm.  We were fortunate enough to have XM/Sirius radio, which provided a lovely amount of Hall & Oates to serenade Rick with during our trip.  The Journey has a manual shift mode actuated via Chrysler’s vaunted “Slapstick” shifter. Most importantly, Traction Control and the Electronic Stability Program could be disabled with the push of a button.

While Rick was stuck in our villa, Dosh and I decided to “check out” the town of Avon, CO.  This included plowing through snow banks, bombing over curbs, and (allegedly) attempting to race a Subaru WRX on the road to Beaver Creek.  In case you were wondering, a WRX is most likely a lot quicker than a Journey.  However, the car does GREAT 4-wheel launches with TC/ESP disabled, or so I’ve been told.  I was actually starting to warm up to the ol’ Journey, as it is not a completely horrible car in town.  10 consecutive launches later, we were greeted with a “Trans Over Temp” warning.  At that time, we decided it be best that we park the Journey and actually do some skiing.

A few days later, we began our trek back to Denver International Airport.  It was a 2 hour drive to Denver International from Avon, and today was particularly snowy (go figure).  Our flight left in 4 hours.  1 hour into the trip, we stopped at a rest area to re-hydrate.  Upon our exit, a semi-truck going the wrong way forced me to make a quick decision: crash the car, or take my chances with the snow bank.  Still thinking of myself as a Jeep guy from my days wheeling a 1998 Cherokee (more on that in the future), I chose the snow.

We got stuck.  I don’t mean “stuck,” but really stuck.  The Journey’s 173 HP drivetrain and AWD was not enough for the frigid snow of the Rockies.  I first tried the “brute strength” method.  TC/ESP disabled, and a lot of WOT.  Shift to drive, WOT. Shift into reverse, WOT. Repeat, ad nauseam.  Things got worse.  “Shit,” I exclaimed from the driver’s seat.  “Trans Over Temp.”

Right as we started to call both Delta and Enterprise, another motorist noticed our problem and provided a shovel and tire chains.  I rigged the chains to work and dug out the car.  A few minutes later, we finally made it out of the snowbank.  It happened again, “Trans Over Temp.”  “Fuck it,” I said. “We’ll make it, no worries.”  We had a mere 2.5 hours until takeoff, and at least an hour drive to the Airport.  Did I mention it’s at least a 30-minute shuttle ride from the Enterprise office to the terminal and that we were coming up on rush hour in Denver?

The Journey was totally anemic at elevation.  It didn’t help that I was actually trying to make it somewhere in a hurry. I ended up having to wind the hell out of the engine in 3rd gear, returning us gas mileage in the low teens.  We ended up needing gas by the time we got to Golden, CO.  My suggestion to tour the Coor’s brewery and stay an extra night was met with an unsurprising “No” from both Rick and Dosh.  They both lack any sense of adventure.

Coming into Denver, the transmission was shifting VERY hard.  What I never disclosed until now is that the “Trans Over Temp” warning reared its ugly head at least a half-dozen times.  Each time the light came on, I pushed harder.  We were going to make our flight, whether ‘Ma Mopar wanted us to or not.  We limped our Journey to the Enterprise office with an hour to spare.

For those who had any doubt, we made our flight.  The 3 of us dropped our bags and breezed through security.  The train system ferried us across the expansive terminal in minutes.  Dosh and I even had time to have a few last beers in Colorado and treat ourselves to a bagel dog from Einstein Bros.  We had (allegedly) blown up a second rental and gotten away with it.

Or so I thought. 2 days later, Rick was contacted by Enterprise.  It was disclosed to him that the transmission in the Journey failed on the renter after us, some 3 miles outside of the Enterprise Office.  Looking back upon his history, it was noticed that a similar thing happened with a Ford Taurus nearly a decade earlier.  They also had security footage showing an unauthorized driver dropping the car off at the office.  The manager decided that they’ll let our waiver cover the costs, as it could not be proven that we caused the damage.  That’s what being an “Enterprise Plus” member earns you: impunity. Unfortunately, he is now on their “Do Not Rent List.”  Per my suggestion, Rick is now enjoying his Hertz Gold Plus member status.  Maybe next year we can spring for a Cayenne or E63 AMG….

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Impeding Traffic: Why I won’t be at the Woodward Dream Cruise this weekend (and why you shouldn’t attend)

superbird

For those who are out of the loop, Woodward Ave. stretches from literally the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit (home of General Motors) to downtown Pontiac, MI (former home of Pontiac Motor Division. Woodward is designated by the Michigan Department of Transportation as state trunk line. It is one of the most culturally-significant stretches of pavement in the United States.

The road has its origins in the Saginaw Trail, which was utilized by Native Americans to connect the Cities of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Saginaw. The name “Woodward” is derived from the man Augustus Woodward, former chief justice of the Michigan Territory. “The Woodward Plan” was conceived after Detroit’s “Great Fire” in 1805, which decimated the entire city. Woodward based his plan upon Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s “L’Enfant Plan” which laid out the streets for Washington D.C.

Woodward was home to many firsts. In fact, the significance was recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as both a “National Scenic byway” in 2002, and an “All-American Road” in 2009. The first mile of paved road was laid on Woodward in 1909. Henry Ford first constructed the Model T in his Paquette plant 0.3 miles off of Woodward. In 1910 he opened the infamous Highland Park Plant, located directly off of Woodward. In 1917, the first “crow’s nest” traffic control tower, the precursor to traffic lights, was constructed at Woodward and Michigan Ave. in 1917. Subsequently, the first automated traffic light was later constructed at that same intersection a mere 3 years later.

Nobody is exactly sure when the first race occurred on Woodward, but one could hypothesize that it occurred long before any of the above occurred. Since the beginning of time, man has felt the urge to compete against one another. Perhaps the first race happened on foot, or between two Native Americans atop their horses. Henry Ford first drove the Model T prototype(s) on Woodward Ave. after their completion to the Piquette Plant.

Racing and cruising has always been a part of Woodward lore. In the 50s and 60s, it was THE cruising spot for youths and adults alike. Many engineers from the Big 3 (and American Motors) tested the best iron Detroit had to offer against all comers during those warm summer nights. The stories seem to be taken right out of “American Graffiti” or “Two-Lane Blacktop.” On any warm night, auto enthusiasts travel from around SE Michigan to converge on this significant stretch of road. Today, you are just as likely to spot a Honda or Subaru as you are a Corvette or Mustang. Don’t worry, plenty of American Muscle still cruises Woodward just as they did 40 years ago.

1994 held the first Woodward Dream Cruise (WDC) as a means to raise money for a new soccer field in Ferndale. A mere 35,000 people were expected to attend. After the event was held, it was estimated that over 250,000 people were in attendance. The route begins at 8 Mile Road (Detroit/Ferndale border) to the northern terminus in downtown Pontiac. The event takes place every third Saturday of August. Known as “The Largest Single-Day Classic Car Event in The World,” the WDC attracts around 40,000 classic automobiles alone! Attendance numbers normally hover around 1.5 million! It is held on the third Saturday of August. This is a “must see” for anyone with even a passing interest in cars.

Enough with the history lesson; I imagine that 99.9% of the people reading this article (all 5 of you) are from the Detroit area, and/or are fully aware of Woodward and the Dream Cruise. I’m here to tell you why I am not going this year, and why you shouldn’t waste your time.

1) It’s too crowded. Yes, this is a personal thing. However, I see no joy in spending 4 hours to traverse 32 miles. It is even worse driving something with a manual transmission. I am fully aware that several manufacturers and tuning companies have displays throughout the area. I will admit that there are normally as many great cars parked along Woodward as there are actually cruising. Have you ever tried to find a parking place during the cruise? Good luck doing that if you’re an average Joe. Unless you have connections, or a very significant car (the Superbird gets you premium parking almost anywhere), you are pretty much out of luck. Several businesses will rent you their lot for the weekend. Expect you and your friends to be out a few thousand dollars at a MINIMUM.

2) The cars are nothing special. Perhaps I am extremely fortunate, but I am quite jaded by the cars you see out. If you live in Iowa or Nebraska, I’m sure you’re salivating at seeing a COPO Camaro or Ford GT a few feet in front of you. Around here, you have a chance to see any of these (and more) on any summer night cruising Woodward. As a bonus, you can actually hear guys open them up, and drive your own car while doing it! If you want to see cool cars, The Henry Ford is open on most days. Hell, The Lingenfelter Collection holds several charity events throughout the year. Ken’s collection has more Corvettes and Supercars than all of your wet dreams can handle.

3) The road is nothing special. It is open 365 days per year. You can drive on it anytime you’d like. Go on a Saturday Morning. Attend “Parking at Pasteiner’s” (the original Cars & Coffee) on a Saturday Morning. It’s located at Pasteiner’s Auto Zone Hobbies (33202 Woodward Ave, Birmingham, MI). Check out the beautiful cars that are parked there on any given weekend. Pick up a copy of Evo or Autocar magazine, swoon over the myriad of die-cast models on display, and even pick up your “Woodward” automobilia. As a bonus, you can actually go for a drive afterward!

4) Spectators are annoying. If I had a dollar for every drunk redneck yelling “light them up” I would be driving a new 458 instead of a 10 year old Z06. Everyone seems oblivious to the fact that the car in front of me is worth $250,000 and I don’t feel like rear-ending him. I’ll let it slide that a set of rear tires for a C5Z cost more than 3 months of said redneck’s lot rent.

5) Police are everywhere. Disclaimer: I have nothing but the utmost respect for LEOs, but let’s get real here. How much fun can you truly have with the boys in blue posted up every 1000 feet, passing out citations as though those fines fund his salary for the year. Better yet, save up your pennies and buy your own car. This way you can actually, I don’t know, take part in the event. You can then do as many burnouts as your heart (or your pocketbook) desires.

6) I actually enjoy driving.  I know this is directly related to point 1. The fact is, why would I spend a few hours walking around or stuck in traffic when I can drive on legitimately any other stretch of road. Why not explore the beautiful roads around the rest of Michigan? Sure, the Detroit area is very flat. However, once you get out of the urban sprawl, there are miles of smooth road to traverse. Perhaps take a trip out to the Irish Hills, or see what northern Michigan has to offer. There’s a lot of great driving in this state, and plenty of small cafes and bars to stop into for lunch.

Some of you may be asking, “What will you be doing on Saturday, since you’re too good/pretentious/smug to attend the Dream Cruise?” If you must know, I’ll be racing on Saturday. One of my best friends spends a lot of money trying to turn his car left at Flat Rock Speedway on Saturday nights. I’ll be there working on his car, hoping that he can turn left a little faster than the next guy. While watching a parade of beautiful (and a lot of shitbox) vehicles creep by you at 1mph may be enjoyable at times, I find it much more exciting to watch grown men compete for $50 and possibly a plastic trophy. That’s what it is all about anyway, isn’t it?

advance

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Where’s the Content?

Victory Lane

For the 11 people who stumbled upon my blog (8 of which I sent the link to, the other 3 stalked my Facebook page), at least 4 have asked me when I am finally going to post something.  I’ve got great news for you: I’m working on it.

Plans now are to post at least something each week.  As of right now, I am working on every Thursday.  This should allow me to keep a steady stream of content to actually have something to write about each week.  As of right now, I have an article ready to publish for tomorrow AM.  There are a few from various road trips I have taken earlier this year that are currently in-progress.  I also have a project (the one that sparked the blog idea) that I’ve been working on.  This will most likely be broken down into several parts.  I’m hoping to send it off to legitimate magazine or blog for publishing, but will at the very least be linked to off of my blog here.

I am full of enough hot air to rant on a number of automotive-related topics that should keep everyone entertained for quite some time.  If readership grows past what seems to be immediate family/friends, I will look at committing more time to this endeavor.  We will have to see what the future holds…

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Welcome!

This blog is about cars.  Fast cars and slow cars.  Extraordinary cars and ordinary cars.  Cars you love and cars you hate.  Growing up in the Detroit area, I’ve been exposed to cars all my life.  My aim is to cover not cars, but the stories behind them.

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