Thursday, June 14, 2018

Coordinated

The Jetta is exactly seventy-nine steps down from here.
Through the windows I have heard cars, trucks, bicycles (sort of), motorcycles, scooters, horses, cruise ships, airliners, helicopters, fighter planes, and people.

Many, many people.

I have already spent more than two hours looking for a reasonable parking spot once. I like to think I am quickly learning the moves of what I am rapidly starting to call the Idiot Dance - the regular shuffle-and-pray ritual that is alternate side parking - and I have gotten supremely lucky more than once so far, but I know it doesn't work in anyone's favor. Our bicycles are waiting in the storage room in the basement.

I can look almost due east into the windows of Road & Track's 8th Avenue office, where Bob Sorokanich is allegedly flipping me off. I am a ten-minute walk away from a ridiculous variety of auto dealerships, from Toyota to Bugatti. I have watched a camera crew document a fuel stop for a Lamborghini Centenario and been honked at by a balding slob in a Lincoln for simply crossing the street, in a crosswalk, with the light.

I marvel at the sheer number and variety of motorcycles parked on my street. It both gives me hope that I can someday soon keep one here without undue fear or annoyance and provokes an ever greater frustration that, again, this summer is so far without significant work and my savings are going towards infinitely less life-fulfilling ends (and the lease and insurance on the Jetta, to be fair). The commute situation for fall may require drastic measures, though, because everything here seems to require drastic measures.

We're trying to sell the Passat, which has mostly been an exercise in parsing wording for Craigslist ads and attracting cashier's-check scammers. It's being kept in a relatively safe place for now. I hope we can find a good home for it soon.

We are back in New York - Manhattan, the collective consciousness's New York, not just one of the boroughs this time - and a few weeks in I remain completely overwhelmed by the unpredictable and unappreciated chain of events that brought us here and the omnipresent absurdity of this life.

No one ever said this would make sense, but no one ever said I'd have to keep waiting this long for a garage, either.

Friday, March 23, 2018

De-reckoning

Photo: some completely random public-domain stock photo website.
This is the time of my Great Unwinding.

Life at this little juncture of reality is, inescapably, stressful. It's difficult for me to come to terms with an increasingly surreal and horrifying outside world, if that's even possible. It's a struggle to maintain the ever-growing intricacies and responsibilities of my career situation. It's frustrating to continuously adjust a net of wants and needs against the parameters of physical laws and social allowances and each other. It's uncomfortable to look ahead and know that the next few months will, again, be a time of upheaval and repositioning.

It's been aggravating, irritating, depressing, numbing. My blood pressure is too high. My knees ache.  My temper has become scarily short and hypersensitive. I haven't slept well in months.

So: Enough. Time for self-care, like everyone seems to be talking about (or was a few months ago when it was the indulgent pop-psych concept du jour). Time to find a center, do what needs to be done and no more, invite well-being into my life*, be at peace with things.

I'm actually making some progress on this concept, too, which is kind of cheerfully anomalous for me. I've essentially abandoned my Twitter account - as of now it's basically notifications of new entries at this here place of deeper contemplation - and dialed way back on Facebook and the news in general. Freeing myself from the world's number-one online stress generator has been hugely soothing, and if my days aren't suddenly filled with enough time to learn Japanese flower arranging or read the Mahabharata in Sanskrit it's still nice to not watch the clock melt away as I become ever more fatalistically hypnotized by an unending reel of humanity's continuing crimes against itself.

I'm going to the gym more often (or was, until this past week or two, and yes, it'll be time to get back in there later today, I promise, seriously, I know). I've essentially given up butter and mayo and potato chips and ice cream. I've stopped making my coffee three times stronger than I should have been making it if I'd bothered to pay attention to the amount of coffee I was actually using to make two cups in the morning.

And I'm loosening my grip on the need to dispute and argue and assert my opinion, which just dissolves tension and confusion and self-doubt and all the rest.

Thing about a lot of arguments: they don't matter. The world will still keep going the way that it's going even if you "win" an argument. You can hold the absolute moral high ground and be the vessel of noble Truth and Sincerity and people are going to shrug and just do whatever they want to do and look for a good lease deal on something painted metallic gray anyway. And unless you can put enough capital behind an ideal to have the invisible hand tip the scales somehow, it's just going to float in space and not be relevant. (Side note tangent to this: Have also pretty much stopped paying visits to upscale car dealerships; got to the point where I was just feeling awkward and progressively more depressed that I literally didn't have any business being in places like those.)

And a lot of the time the essence of an argument verges on a very personal belief or philosophical ideal anyway, as with a recent attempt to educate a bunch of clueless Philistines about the grotesque inappropriateness of consideration of whether the Civic Type R really needs seat heaters. Kind of more intellectual jerking off than anything, which doesn't do anything for the sake of the world and can't be that fun to watch.

And I don't want to be the person who thinks that the two possible opinions on any issue are my own and wrong. Life is more interesting than that, and I can think of a few people who have that particular rhetorical corner covered anyway.

And sometimes you just have to know how to pick your battles, know when to engage and when to acquiesce. And there are plenty of opportunities to recognize these situations and find in yourself the deep placid morality of Non-Ado and just let reality be what it is.

Especially regarding crossovers.

We are at the point in automotive history where the crossover, that lite-FM SUV on a car basis, is the functional market paradigm. Not only have they become the default family vehicle, but they're increasingly a predictable presence in the lineup of just about every carmaker on Earth. Not much mystery here; they sell, and they're profitable, so from a business perspective (and let's be real: carmakers are businesses, not religions) they make sense.

In fact, looking at sales numbers they make an outsized degree of sense. Porsche is now more or less a luxury offroad manufacturer with a sideline in anachronistic street racers. The strongest cases for market legitimacy for a returning Alfa Romeo and a renewed Maserati are the Stelvio and Levante. The F-Pace made for half of Jaguar's 2017 sales. Lamborghini's new Urus is projected to be their most popular product out of the gate. Even freaking Rolls-Royce is teeing up an all-wheel-drive dreadnought that will be the ultimate vehicular lust object for anyone who occasionally takes a Holland & Holland side-by-side out for a bit of sporting.

Can we argue about whether they're the right product for certain manufacturers? Sure, I suppose. We can also argue about whether all personal vehicles should be painted International Safety Orange. Does it matter to anyone? C'mon. We live in a world where BMW can market a slopebacked four-door-SUV as a coupe with a straight corporate face and get away with it. Nothing matters.

So I'm done fighting against crossovers. People want to buy 'em, that's fine. There is increasingly little point in trying to stake a moral claim for the elegant logic of a good sedan or the soul-lifting vivaciousness of a convertible when The People continue to just do what they do regardless.

And that's great! Folks aren't dumb. Solid attributes like cargo space and all-wheel-drive (which may not be totally necessary, but let's let it ride) are desirable. And in these weirdly anxious times, something that gives off a sense of strength and security can't be all bad. A good crossover does an impressive job crawling up Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

I'm not totally immune anyway. We do outdoorsy things, so the ability to chase down a rough dirt road would help sometimes. And like basically every other human being in the industrial world I've got a soft spot for Jeeps. I can totally see getting a good old YJ sometime soon.

So yeah, crossovers? Okay. Good, even. Let it be. Someone wants to make them and people want to buy them and it's a good business decision, sounds fine.

Actually, let's go further: Crossovers are an important part of a good product lineup for everyone in the business. They're trendy! They're expressive! They're practical! They're profitable! Everyone loves them except for sniveling weirdos who read too many car magazines in the 1980s! So: Perhaps every automotive nameplate should have at least one soft-roading utility cruiser in its lineup.

Trick is to have it match the manufacturer's priorities and identity. Even the goddamn X6 has a fair bit of BMW in it, what with the motors and however they figured out the handling.

So who needs a crossover in their lineup, and what should/will it be like?

To that effect, a few predictions:

Ferrari: Spare us; we all know it's happening. The question is how, and the answer will be something like: The silhouette is a heavily tweaked derivative of the GTC4Lusso with an extra pair of doors and a more upright seating position; think Levante, but longer. Add larger fenders covering Z-rated Pirelli Scorpions. The V12 is a given; the all-wheel-drive system is purpose-built, fully integrated with a four-wheel-steering system derived from the 812SF and the newest generation of high-performance traction and stability control, and quietly shares a few pieces with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The steering-wheel manettino now has "sabbia" and "roccia" settings just in case you miss the point. In testing it will lap Fiorano three seconds faster than an F50, accompanied by an unusual-for-a-Ferrari degree of body motion; after achieving this feat the test driver will disembark and promptly puke his breakfast out all over pit lane both from sheer horror at what he has done and from severe motion sickness. No list price is officially published, but it's rumored that the slightly larger than usual fender shields are a $6,580 option selected by each buyer literally to the person.

Aston Martin: Andy Palmer's group of happy warriors has done away with the flirting and flat-out said they're going to take a run at this market segment, and it's not difficult to see how they could get there: Take the Rapide line which is underselling anyway, square up the hindquarters and add a liftgate, finesse in some fender extensions and rework the suspension for a bit more travel. Float the cheerful promise to (eventually) offer a a manual transmission, which exactly no one will buy but that's how they roll and it's still cool to know it's (theoretically) there.

Lotus: The simplify-and-add-lightness folks have also made their intention to go crossover public, but one understands they'll be coming from a different perspective. Instead of a family mover, a Lotus SUV would essentially be a modernized first-gen Toyota 4Runner prepped as a desert prerunner - all stripped-down low-mass minimalism and snorting chainsaw engine and switch-flick manual transmission and harelike agility and unbelievable fookin'-hell/yeeeeeeehaw fun. Everyone who drives it will absolutely love it, they will sell twenty a month, and it will be pulled from the US market after three years amid mumbling about some previously unannounced DOT waiver expiring.

McLaren: The crew from Woking has sworn they won't go there, but why not? Bruce's New Zealand is sort of a crossoverish kinda place, so there's some thematic ground for a foundation here. And the spec practically writes itself: Reinforced carbon-fiber monocell with four butterfly doors (quasi-suicide rear-hinged in back for extra sci-fi effect). Flat-crank turbo V8 in high-torque tune with revised ratios in the dual-clutch gearbox. A suspension that combines bionic responsiveness with a Citro├źn DS-like ability to float above it all. It will be severely fast, it will be a high-water mark for materials and performance technology in a crossover, and - owing to McLaren's well-documented dislike of locking differentials - it will be completely useless on anything slipperier than a snowy driveway.

Pagani: If Horacio's Magic Shop has sort of taken the place of an increasingly mainstream** Lamborghini among the affluent and extroverted, then why not chase the entire range of possibilities? Yes! - nuovo LM002! Take the running gear from an AMG G65 and wrap it in Martian canyon-racer bodywork.  Note: Cargo space may be compromised (and heated) by the retention of the trademark four-pipe center exhaust.

Caterham: They've made their name perpetuating one British icon; why not add another? Introducing the Caterham Series IIA, an updated but not debased version of the 1961-1971 Land Rover 88. The chassis is the traditional steel ladder updated (but not too much) with a few CAD calculations and the aluminium body panels are done in-house alongside the Seven's skins. All the rugged glory and mountain-goat adroitness of one of Britain's most famous and well-loved vehicles is available new again! Kit available for $54,700; bring your own Ford Zeta 2.0 and T5 gearbox.

Don't you feel better too?

*: I cannot believe I actually used this sentence.
**: Relatively, I guess.