Bruce Garrett Cartoon
The Cartoon Gallery

A Coming Out Story
A Coming Out Story

My Photo Galleries
New and Improved!

Past Web Logs
The Story So Far archives

My Amazon.Com Wish List

My Myspace Profile

Bruce Garrett's Profile
Bruce Garrett's Facebook profile


Blogs I Read!
Alicublog

Wayne Besen

Box Turtle Bulletin

Daily Kos

Mike Daisy's Blog

The Disney Blog

Disney Gossip

Brad DeLong

Dispatches From The Culture Wars

Epcot Explorer's Encyclopedia

Envisioning The American Dream

Eschaton

Ex-Gay Watch

Hullabaloo

Joe. My. God

Made In Brazil

Peterson Toscano

Progress City USA

Slacktivist

Slacktiverse

SLOG

Fear the wrath of Sparky!

Truth Wins Out Blog

Wil Wheaton



Gone But Not Forgotten

The Rittenhouse Review

Steve Gilliard's News Blog

Steve Gilliard's Blogspot Site



Great Cartoon Sites!

Howard Cruse Central

Tripping Over You
Tripping Over You

XKCD

Scandinavia And The World

Dope Rider

The World Of Kirk Anderson

Ann Telnaes' Cartoon Site

Ted Rall

Bors Blog

John K

Penny Arcade

Friendly Hostility

Downstairs Apartment




Other News & Commentary

Amtrak In The Heartland

Maryland Weather Blog

Foot's Forecast

All Facts & Opinions

Baltimore Crime

Cursor

HinesSight

Page One Q
(GLBT News)


Michelangelo Signorile

The Smirking Chimp

Talking Points Memo

Truth Wins Out

The Raw Story

Slashdot




International News & Views

BBC

NIS News Bulletin (Dutch)

Mexico Daily

The Local (Sweden)




News & Views from Germany

Spiegel Online

The Local

Deutsche Welle

Young Germany




Fun Stuff

It's not news. It's FARK

Plan 59

Pleasant Family Shopping

Discount Stores of the 60s

Retrospace

Photos of the Forgotten

Boom-Pop!

Comics With Problems

HMK Mystery Streams




Mercedes Love!

Mercedes-Benz USA

Mercedes-Benz TV

Mercedes-Benz Owners Club of America

MBCA - Greater Washington Section

BenzInsider

Mercedes-Benz Blog

BenzWorld Forum

February 2nd, 2018

Mine!

December 20, 2011, I took delivery of the car I’d wanted since the summer of 1971 and I was a teenage boy, bedazzled by my uncle’s Mercedes-Benz 220D. Just this moment I finally paid it off. They say I’ll get the new title papers in the mail in a couple weeks, because for some reason even though the bank funds can transfer at the speed of electricity nowadays they still take a couple weeks to complete the process. So it won’t be officially mine until the Maryland DMV says it is, but I’ve made my last payment, and that’s a big chunk of money off my monthly budget now.

A Mecedes-Benz ‘E’ class was more expensive, and truth be told more car than I really wanted to take on. What I wanted was one of the little ‘C’ class diesels. That would have been the right size car for a single guy and it would have got amazing fuel economy. But Daimler wasn’t importing those (and as of last summer and the Germany diesel emissions scandal they’ve stopped importing their diesels altogether) and I figured I had a chance to finally own my dream come true car and so I went for it, and now I’m glad I did. You get one life. If all your dreams can’t come true, at least some of them can.

It’ll feel real when I get the new title. But it feels pretty real now. I want to go somewhere and celebrate tonight.

by Bruce | Link | React!

August 22nd, 2016

Mercedes Love

…still in it.

mercedes_love-8-16-sm

 

Took a wee day trip into Pennsylvania to wander around a bit with my cameras, finish off the roll of color film I started on the road trip last June, and hopefully clear my head so I can get back to work on A Coming Out Story. On the way home I saw a signpost advertising a scenic overlook beside the Susquehanna river and I turned off and started climbing. You really notice how nicely a diesel engine’s torque helps navigating a little twisty state park road when the switchback curves don’t even bother trying to smooth out the elevation gain. The car simply did not care how steep it got. 

The view at the top was lovely. In retrospect I should have brought out the color film camera, and I did consider it, but then I thought of the millions of other photos everyone had probably taken at that same spot and I figured I couldn’t add anything to it so I didn’t. But I did snap off a few with the iPhone for memory’s sake that I might post later. Then as I turned back to the car I saw the sky doodling all over Spirit and I had to snap a shot of it.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love

July 30th, 2016

Flashback: Topeka Car Wash Voguing

I didn’t buy Spirit, my Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan because I wanted a status symbol. What I wanted was a Mercedes-Benz, because I believe them to be the best built, best engineered cars made, and I like having solid things in my life. It’s a pattern that runs all through my life. When I was a teenager and I needed a new tool I bought Craftsman. I couldn’t afford the entire sets so I bought the individual tools one at a time. When I turned 40 and I finally was able to afford an apartment of my own and I needed a vacuum cleaner, I bought a Kirby. That was back in 1993 and I still have it, it still does its job without complaint, and all I’ve ever needed to replace on it besides the bags is the roller brush and some belts.

When I was a teenager, the saying was the first hundred-thousand miles on a Mercedes diesel is just for breaking it in. I was looking at a news article a couple months back about a man somewhere on the Mediterranean coast, a taxi cab driver, still plying his trade with the Mercedes diesel sedan he bought new in the 1970s, that had nearly two million miles on it. And it was no junker; there was a photo of the proud owner standing next to it, and from the look of the car and with the old Mediterranean buildings behind them you’d have thought it was taken in the 70s. Building a car, building anything, to that level of quality and durability (provided you take care of it) costs money, which is why they’re expensive.

The essential idea behind the Mercedes-Benz philosophy is this: if the car is properly cared for, it will work out to be cheaper in the long run. While Mercedes-Benz is rightly associated with luxury, its cars are also built to stay on the road for as long as you care to drive them. -From the article, Why Does Mercedes-Benz Require OEM?

I appreciate that the purchase price makes them status symbols in the eyes of some. They have no art in their souls.

I posted this to my Facebook page while on the road last month…

mercedes_love_topeka

Gave Spirit a run through the best car wash in town. They did an excellent job inside and out. Because while the driver may accumulate road dust as the miles go by, the car must always look its best.

And so it did. The car wash wasn’t all that far from my motel, and when I got there I could see it was as popular with the locals as the Auto Spa is here. And like Auto Spa, the run through the wash was only a first step. After the cars came out, they were parked out front and attended to by a bunch of energetic youngsters, with portable vacuums, electric buffing tools, spray on tire treatment, and so forth. People brought their cars there to give them the works. I didn’t see a single car while I was there just roll out of the wash and drive off. Nobody was getting the budget wash, at least not that day.

We all sat in the Please Wait Here section, outfitted with vending machines and places to set and watch the finish work being done on our cars. It was an impressive operation. I glanced around at the faces among us, all watching the process raptly, even as they were chatting with their neighbors. Every one of those cars was its owner’s baby. I chatted briefly with a young lady who’s mini SUV came out just before mine. She’d just bought it and was the happy new car owner. A new model Mustang convertible came out after mine and I glanced around to see which face lit up. It was a middle aged guy who had more the serious minded businessman’s look about him than a Mustang owner. It’s not unconditionally true, but if you see a car that’s being meticulously taken care of, it’s the owner’s inner self. Yes, I am a Mercedes diesel sedan kind of guy…

“The Mercedes-Benz diesel-powered mid-size sedan is as durable a notion as you’ll find in autodom. Mercedes created the world’s first production diesel-powered passenger car in 1935 and began putting oil burners in its mid-sizers (a.k.a. Pontons) in 1955. The very words “Mercedes diesel” conjure all kinds of associations, from college professors who have forsaken their Peugeots, to wiry German mechanics, to cab drivers in Kabul. It’s an archetype; a 911 Turbo for meerschaum-smoking squares, a Shelby Mustang for people who got beat up in high school…” –Eddie Alterman, Car and Driver.

Just before they finished with Spirit, an absolutely huge pimped out pickup truck came out of the wash. I was surprised it even fit. Jacked up, oversize tires, painted in a gaudy two-tone orange and red, spotlights on the front, on the top, blue sideboard running lights…you get the picture. I looked around. Next to me a thirty-something young guy in khakis and a polo shirt smiles at me. “You like it?” he asks. “It’s mine.”

“Impressive” says I, smiling back, trying to be polite. Insulting someone’s car is on a par with insulting their mother. And really, whatever floats your boat is fine with me if I can see you’re really into taking care of it.

“It’s for sale.” he says.  Ah, thinks I, this is why he’s here…to make it look nice for the classifieds. For a moment I feel sad for the pickup. It’s one of the big GMCs. Under all that makeup there’s probably a pretty solid American made truck in there. But he’s found another love and needs some money. But I am not a potential sale.

I point to the lovely metallic blue four door Mercedes-Benz in the lot. “That’s mine” says I. Mr. Pimped Out Pickup’s smile kinda freezes on his face.

“It’s got just over ninety-four thousand on it,” I add. “Almost broken in.”

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Flashback: Topeka Car Wash Voguing

January 13th, 2015

Second NOx Sensor Replaced…

Got Spirit back from the dealer yesterday evening. In addition to the check engine light work they also did my usual between services oil change (I change the crankcase oil in all my cars at least twice as often as the factory recommends) and adjusted the emergency brake. I noted in the loaner car I got, a 2015 ‘C’ class, that emergency brakes are now electronic push button controlled. What could possibly go wrong?

Again I’m told it was the NOx sensor, but now I’m told there are actually two of them and so this time they replaced the other one. Fine. Let’s have no more of this now, at least for another 70k miles. K?

So now I’m seriously thinking about buying another extended warranty when the current one expires. The next extended warranty on offer would be a 100k plus one and I’m told, the dealership will offer one then. But a 100k plus warranty can’t be anything but expensive. I won’t be needing it until late this year at the earliest, but I’m already thinking I probably need to start a new pot of savings Now just to pay for it. I’ll have to look hard at the cost/benefit. A Mercedes diesel sedan is not supposed to cause trouble if you take care of it and do the maintenance, even after it’s got hundreds of thousands of miles on it. That’s no blue sky exaggeration, that’s the actual history of these vehicles. They make taxi cabs out of them elsewhere in the world. And I’ve met other Mercedes diesel owners who’ve put nearly half a million miles on their cars and were still in love with them.

But the new cars are vastly more complex than those older models too. Case in point, the emissions control system in mine that got all hysterical on me in Oklahoma and Texas while I was in the middle of my Christmas road trip. One factor in the legendary longevity of older Mercedes diesels is very likely how simple they are mechanically. Superbly engineered yes. Built like a bank vault yes. But still simple compared to the same gasoline powered versions, and way more so than the car I have now when you factor in things like the twin turbochargers that give it a surprising (for a diesel) capacity for sudden acceleration, plus all the various computer controlled subsystems. This is what I worry about going forward.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Second NOx Sensor Replaced…

January 11th, 2015

You Promised…

I’m spending the weekend here at Casa del Garrett with a loaner car from Valley Motors, a Very Nice new model Mercedes-Benz ‘C’ class, while Spirit is once again having a check engine light issue worked on, that dogged me back and forth across the country last month. That was a road trip I took to the ancestral Garrett lands in Oceano California, to spend the holidays with my empty nest brother.  Check Engine in Spirit, my Mercedes, means there is a problem with the emissions control system.  Thing is, that should have been fixed a couple months ago when my dealer installed a new NOx detector after the last Check Engine light event.

Back home, surfing the web and Facebook, I chanced across the following article…

Why Does Mercedes-Benz Require OEM?

Mercedes-Benz wants to ensure that your car is operating in as close to ideal circumstances as possible, and that means using the parts your car was built with. Mercedes-Benz is famous for its engineering for excellent reason, but that means they have to design custom parts or engineer seemingly-common parts to very specific tolerances, or it will affect the performance of the car.

Even seemingly-generic parts are built to a much, much higher standard than many other brands on the market. Thus, Mercedes-Benz builds their own parts, engineers them to an exacting degree, and carefully inspects them, selling them with a warranty that ensures any certified Mercedes-Benz repair facility can replace the part free of charge if a defect escapes their inspection.

The work currently being done on Spirit is completely covered…which is good considering it would cost me about a thousand bucks total if it wasn’t. Add that to the $950 the last NOx detector work would have cost.  But this is what you are paying for when you get that work done at an authorized factory trained service center. These cars are Not Cheap, not simply because they are luxury cars but because they are engineered to a higher standard, and that costs money.

The article I linked to is mostly about body work, but it really applies to everything about cost of maintenance and repair for a Mercedes-Benz: the parts are expensive, because Daimler specifications are higher, tolerances lower. Even down to the wiper blades and oil and air filters. I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of Mercedes OEM parts and good quality third party parts and it really leaps out at you. It’s not even close. Everything about these cars is more substantial. Everything. This means maintenance and repairs can seem atrociously expensive.  But it isn’t just throwing money at it for the sake of showing off how much money you have to throw:

The essential idea behind the Mercedes-Benz philosophy is this: if the car is properly cared for, it will work out to be cheaper in the long run. While Mercedes-Benz is rightly associated with luxury, its cars are also built to stay on the road for as long as you care to drive them.

This is what we who love these cars value them for. This is what was true back in 1971 when my uncle drove to visit us in his brand new Mercedes-Benz 220D, and it’s what I’m counting on being true now: that spending money on this car is a long term investment in a vehicle engineered like no other, that is solid and substantial, safe and utterly reliable, that I can drive to and from the grocery store or to and from California whenever I want to and not worry about it falling apart because it was made to fall apart so you’d have to go buy another.  That was Detroit’s model. That is not the Mercedes way.  The Mercedes way is to build a better car first, then add the bells and whistles on top of that. And that is how it feels to drive Spirit.  I read a user on one of the Mercedes-Benz forums I frequent, describe his ‘E’ class diesel as feeling as solid as a locomotive, yet nimble and sure footed on the curves.  That’s it. That’s the experience you get driving one of these cars.

But… They really screwed it up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I would not own any Mercedes-Benz product made between 1997 and 2007. It’s the worst of both worlds: expensive cars that break down more than they should and require expensive parts to repair. I’ll give them this: it seems every German car maker had the same problems during that time frame.  So every time a problem arises, you wonder if this is just a random event, or the beginning of a downhill slide. And I can’t afford a downhill slide on a car that’s this expensive to repair.

I have two years and 20k left on the warranty. I bought an extended warranty…which I’m grateful for now given the cost of the work that’s suddenly had to be done.  Figure by the end of this year I’ll be over the 100k mark given how many miles I put on a car. So this second Check Engine fail is worrisome enough that I’m considering ditching the car if it needs another 1k+ repair before the warranty runs out, and just go with a cheaper ride.  I’m fast approaching a time in my life when living on retirement funds and social security makes any sort of high dollar spending very problematic.  I don’t mind paying a premium for regular maintenance, so long as that buys me a car I don’t have to worry about between maintenance. But it has to do that or I can’t justify it…

…even to own the car of my dreams, the car I’ve wanted ever since I was a teenager.

In 2008, when the new models designed under then new CEO Dieter Zetsche (one of the few CEOs today who I greatly admire) started hitting the showrooms, Daimler began running a series of ads, admitting to past failures to live up to the standard they’d set for themselves, and promising to do better. The slogan was, “Because we promised you a Mercedes-Benz”. I’m holding them to that promise.  So is the kid I once was, and he does not forget a broken promise.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Promised…

January 21st, 2014

Mercedes Love

…still in it.

mercedes_love-winter-2014

I fine powdery snow fell over Charm City this afternoon and my workplace closed at noon due to the inclement weather.  Knowing it was coming I’d walked in and walked back.  As long as the roads are bad my 60k dream-come-true diesel Mercedes that I’ve longed for since I was a teenager stays safely put. City life is good. I can walk to everything I might need, including the Institute, and I have this theory that a car makes a better parking space saver than a lawn chair.

I shoveled my backyard deck just now, and a path to the alley to put the trash out.  The stuff is so light and fluffy I could have used a broom.  I’d say we got about four to five inches in this neighborhood but it’s hard to say because the wind has been blowing the stuff around.  The side of the car facing into the wind is almost completely clear, the other side is covered fairly deep.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love

October 19th, 2013

Mercedes Love

Still in it…

I change the oil in my cars twice as often as the factory recommends…a practice I’ve kept on doing with my Mercedes.  My first car, a 1973 Ford Pinto, got its oil changed every 2k and I am convinced that is how I managed to get over 136k miles out of one of those.  When I finally had to give it to the junk yard it was because everything but the engine was falling apart. When you popped off the valve cover it still looked factory new in there…a thing I was intensely proud of.

So I took Spirit in for an oil change this morning and while I waited one of the service clerks and I chatted about our mutual love of Mercedes-Benz cars and she told me something I hadn’t known.  The steel for every part of the body…the frame, the doors, hood, trunk, all of it…are all cut from the same single sheet of steel.  Where other car makers cut a bunch of doors, or hoods or things that are all destined for different individual cars out of a sheet…bang, bang, bang, one after the other after the other…Daimler cuts the parts for each individual car from the same individual sheet of steel, to insure that all the body parts have exactly identical metal chemistry, exactly identical properties of rigidity and strength.  And this little detail she said, contributes to the overall rigidity of the car.

This is why you pay the extra money for a Mercedes-Benz. It isn’t about the options or the luxury touches. Compared to other makes my ‘E’ class isn’t even all that sumptuous.  You get more dazzle out of a Lexus or a Cadillac.  But not that solid Mercedes-Benz feel.  That is why I bought the car.  I like having solid things in my life.  Solidly built things, that are made to last and that you know the hands that built them can feel proud about.  That solid feel was the thing I noticed right away when I first sat down in my uncle’s brand new 220D back in 1971, and even more so when he took mom and I for a drive in it. I’d never felt a car as solid before then. Back then you were use to American cars, even the upscale ones, being a little loose and rattle prone.  And even nowadays, my Mercedes is noticeably more solid than other cars.  Of course the basic design and engineering matters more, but this business about cutting all the body parts from one single sheet of steel is typical of the attention to engineering detail they put into these cars.  And that is why they cost more.  A little Economy Of Scale is sacrificed in favor of a little more structural rigidity.  It isn’t about spending money, just to be spending money.

Matthew Yglesias tweeted a question a few days back asking what if anything justified spending the extra bucks on one of the “fancy cars”.  I didn’t bother tweeting back as I figured that question probably got him a torrent of replies.  But it depends on the car and what you’re after.  If fancy is what you’re after then go for the options.  If it’s a status symbol you want then go for the brand you think does that.  Alas, that’s all some people see in a Mercedes-Benz, but that’s disrespectful.  I wanted the car they use to say of when I was a teenager, that the first hundred thousand miles you put on it were just for breaking it in.  Because there are so many roads, and so little time in a life to drive them all.

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love

June 15th, 2013

Mercedes Love…

“The Mercedes-Benz diesel-powered mid-size sedan is as durable a notion as you’ll find in autodom. Mercedes created the world’s first production diesel-powered passenger car in 1935 and began putting oil burners in its mid-sizers (a.k.a. Pontons) in 1955. The very words “Mercedes diesel” conjure all kinds of associations, from college professors who have forsaken their Peugeots, to wiry German mechanics, to cab drivers in Kabul. It’s an archetype; a 911 Turbo for meerschaum-smoking squares, a Shelby Mustang for people who got beat up in high school…” –Eddie Alterman, Car and Driver.

“One thing I feel most passionately about: love of invention will never die.” –Karl Benz

“The best or nothing.” –Gottlieb Daimler

“When you get into the car and time stands still for a second – that’s my dream car.” –unknown

…still in it.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love…

June 9th, 2013

Mercedes Love

…still in it.

Something I try to do to Spirit once a month is clean and condition its vinyl and leather upholstery and the rubber gaskets around the doors, hood and trunk. The steering wheel is wrapped in a nice soft leather but the rest of the car is the legendary MB Tex upholstery which a lot of Mercedes affectionados will recommend over the leather because it lasts longer and is easier to clean. But something in my body oils dries up and hardens vinyl severely.

I discovered this effect back when I was a teenager, on the Koss Pro 4AA headphones I happened to love the sound of.  I was always having to buy new ones every a couple years because of what my skin oils did to the ear pads.  Those really nice soft vinyl ear pads would become rock hard and useless after a couple years just from contact with my skin and you couldn’t just buy new ear pads. Eventually even the cable connecting the headphones to the stereo would harden and start coming apart wherever my fingers touched it and then the headphones were finished and I would have to buy new ones.

So, decades later and two years after I bought it, the driver’s seat on my ‘C’ class, Traveler, began to harden and crack where my bare legs touched it in the summer while wearing cutoffs and when I took it in for repair my dealer said he’d never seen that happen to MB Tex before, and I remembered what my skin oils did to all the Koss headphones I used to own.

So now that I have Spirit, my ‘E’ class Dream Come True car, I do a careful cleaning and conditioning of my driver’s seat and while I’m at it I do the rest of the car too.  I have it down to a routine now.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love

January 6th, 2013

Notes On The Road This Time

I’m just back from one of my semi-annual road trips to California, in case anyone reading this blog was wondering where the heck I went. My job at Space Telescope came with a wonderful vacation benefit, but the workload now on JWST is pretty steady and taking a couple weeks off at one go is getting harder and harder to schedule. I figured the Christmas/New Year’s break would be a good time to take a road trip to California and see my brother and give the Mercedes its first taste of the great plains and the southwest. As we get closer and closer to launch it will become very hard to schedule a long road trip west.

Time was I’d take everyone who reads this blog along with me for the ride.  But these days it probably isn’t the smartest thing to let the whole world know you’re away from your house.  So the blog went silent.  But I’m back now…I have pictures to develop and post…I have stories to tell.  But I also have unpacking to do and some settling back in to my little Baltimore rowhouse.  So for now let me just jot down a few notes while the road is still fresh in my thoughts…

First, a few statistics from my car’s trip computer:

  • Total Miles: 6,420
  • Average Miles Per Gallon: 36.8
  • Average Speed: 60 mph
  • Total Driving Time: 105.59 hours
  • 2917.4 miles from my brother’s house to mine, mostly along I-40.

I’ll total up the fuel chits later.  West of the Mississippi you get highway speed limits higher than 70mph and sometimes higher than 80. You cover distance faster, but mileage suffers. Still, this is absolutely the most fuel efficient car I have ever owned and that’s saying something.  My first car was a 1973 Ford Pinto with the little 1600cc engine and one barrel carburetor.  It did 35mpg tops. The little Geo Prism got high 30s and so did the Honda Accord. For a car this size and this sumptuous the fuel economy is just amazing. At the end of some days on the road this trip I was pushing 39mpg. But when I hit the high mountain passages my averages went down into the low 30s.

Bio-diesel was not a major problem. First bio-diesel pump I saw on the way west was at a Love’s just west of Little Rock. I’d put a tad over a gallon in the tank before I noticed this little sticker…

…and quickly shut off the pump. That sticker, which I saw on every pump selling bio-diesel, is not helpful. But next to it (usually) is a bigger green sticker that does specify the grade you’re pumping. I never saw anything lower than B10 on the road, and nothing higher than B15. Mostly it was B10.

So there I was with a half tank of regular diesel left, plus I’d driven from Maryland with a full five gallon spare diesel can as insurance…that it eventually turned out I didn’t need. The Pilot truck stop across the highway had the same set of stickers on it. But across from the Pilot was a Petro and it had a Chevron station attached to it that had regular diesel pumps and I was able to fill up.

That was pretty much how it went all the way to California and back. Wherever I ran into bio-diesel I was always able to find a station nearby that had regular. But it was completely random as to which brand was a problem. Most often it was the Love’s. But I ran into it at all of the truck stop chains at least once. Usually it was the Shell or Chevron stations that had usable diesel, but I ran into it there too occasionally.  But wherever I ran into it I nearly always found usable diesel right across the street.  Just once in Arizona I had to drive to the next exit.

And there was no noticeable price break on the bio. If anything, the regular was usually cheaper, and sometimes by a lot. At one location in New Mexico there were two big truck stops, a Love’s and a Pilot, both selling bio at $3.95 a gallon. An independent travel center nearby was selling regular diesel at $3.73 a gallon.

My path this time took me well south of I-70. I have no idea how bad it is further north in corn state territory. But for now at any rate, I can drive my car from the East Coast to the West. How long that remains the case remains to be seen.

Truck Stops Are Now “Travel Plazas”. There are five big chains you see all the time on the road, Travel Centers of America, Love’s, Flying J, Pilot and Petro and while the truckers are their bread and butter business, they’re all vying for the long distance passenger car market and some like Flying J/Pilot are even offering us “loyalty cards” now.  Flying J/Pilot is the chain that seems the most determined to remake itself as a general purpose highway “travel center” with a clean, uncluttered common floor plan and mini food/coffee court. I could walk into any Flying J or Pilot from Maryland to California and see pretty much the same layout and after a while you knew where everything was when you walked in the door.  Their coffee bar was especially handy and the coffee was very good, with half to a dozen or so coffee dispensers all lined up with various blends in them.  By the time I got to California I was making it a point to stop at one of these and I ended up getting a “Flying J/Pilot” loyalty card because I was stopping there so often for their coffee and breakfast muffins.

Rest rooms in the big chain truck stops are often Much cleaner than the state run highway rest stops. You need a high tolerance for country music though.

When stopping for the night, make sure your cell phone network isn’t crappy before checking in. Unless you really want to be disconnected from email and the web. I bought into the iPhone when the first one came out and that was an AT&T device only. Since then they’ve added other better carriers, but the one with the best network, Verizon, uses a digital signal that prevents their iPhone from doing both voice and data at the same time. So I stick with AT&T. But its network in the out of the way spots is crappy. The nice thing about cell phone technology is you aren’t dependent on your motel for internet service. But you need to remember to check your signal before you check in.

Almost any cheap motel room can be a good night’s sleep if you bring your own pillow and a sleeping bag that can double as a comforter. During winter travel you should always carry a good sleeping bag with you anyway, in case of breakdown. Also food and water. Take some good ear plugs (I use silicon ones) and I also bring along one of these white noise generators, because screaming dysfunctional family of five, or selfish TV volume up full jackass will probably be given the room next to yours. Note that these amenities can be found in expensive motels too, so if you aren’t as willing as I am to go with the cheap room you still need ear plugs at least and I strongly recommend the white noise generator too.With these four things, pillow, sleeping bag/comforter, ear plugs and white noise generator, all you really need to care about is is the room clean and the mattress reasonable.

Check the ersatz Continental Breakfast on your way out to see if there’s anything worth taking on the road with you. It’s included after all. Occasionally I am able to make a good breakfast muffin out of the sausage and egg servings. But it’s rare the cheap motels serve meat and eggs in the morning.

And…no matter how tired and irritable you are when you get off the road an into a room, smile and be nice to your desk clerk. I’ve worked late night and over night shifts a time or two in my life. They are not fun. And depending on how far into the sticks you are, that clerk checking you in may be desperately wanting to go with you when you leave the next morning.  Once in a very small town in southern Utah, I was checked in by a young girl who chatted with me for a bit about her dream of getting onto American Idol.  It was going to be her ticket out of there. I tried to suggest and tactfully as I could that her ticket out of there was to just get up and go.  But the Unknown is a very frightening ball and chain on a person…I know this from personal experience, I suppose everyone does to some degree.  Be nice to your desk clerk.  Also everyone who serves you on the road. Especially in the sticks. Notice how they sometimes look at you like you are nuts when you tell them you’d love to move out of the city someday, into some nice quiet out of the way place in the country Just Like This One.

Don’t drive long into the night.  Shift your schedule forward instead.  Get off the highway early, early…like around six or seven. Then get back on the road next morning early. That way you have no trouble at the end of a long day on the road, getting a good room on the ground floor you can back your car up to. And early in the morning traffic will be very light to non-existent, which is a better way to start your day (obviously that does not apply in Washington D.C. or L.A.).  And speaking of traffic…

Truck traffic was very heavy this trip actually.  Which is good, because it means the economy is picking up. My own private economic indicator is train whistles. Here in Baltimore, when I hear them often I know heavy bulk goods are on the move, which is good. Whenever I am stopped for the night in Kingman Arizona (it usually works out that way somehow), I go watch the BNSF main line for a while. When times are good the trains are about fifteen minutes apart. When they’re not so good you maybe see or hear only one or two in a night.  This trip the trains were running pretty constantly through Kingman, but not at fifteen minute intervals.

The new Mercedes loves the open road as much as its driver. 19 degree gale force winds in Virginia and crappy Arkansas highways barely rate its notice. And there is nothing more satisfying than hearing that muscular diesel engine sound in the morning as you repack the trunk, as though the next seven or eight hundred miles ahead of you that day are but a mere trifle on the way to its first hundred thousand miles. I chatted briefly at a diesel pump in Arroyo Grande with a couple young guys driving a very beat up old 240D. It had lost both its bumpers and its paint job was worn almost to the primer and its owner had bought it for $600 dollars and was absolutely in love with it.  Tattered and worn as it looked he said it was the most solid and reliable car he’d ever owned.  His friends he said, told him it was more like a piece of farm equipment than an automobile. But to a Mercedes aficionado, that is a complement. What most Americans don’t know unless they travel abroad, is Daimler is the world’s biggest maker of heavy trucks and buses, and the Mercedes diesel sedan is often seen doing taxi duty in other countries.

To make an automobile that is that heavy duty and substantial, yet also agile, comfortable and beautiful, is a serious work of engineering art. This is the car I’ve been dreaming of exploring the open road with all my life. I’ve owned it for just over a year now and put nearly 30k miles on it. But that was mostly on several drives down to Florida…three to Disney World and one to Key West…which were acceptable to it I suppose.  Most days it’s just sitting in front of my little Baltimore rowhouse.  I can walk to work, and to the grocery store and The Avenue and Cafe’ Hon in Hampden, and I absolutely hate city traffic. For a year now it may have been sitting there wondering if the slovenly pointless life of a computer geek’s status symbol was its fate after all.

No dear…I love you better than that…

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Notes On The Road This Time

November 16th, 2012

Mercedes Love…Proceedure For Cats

Nice car…  Bluetec diesel is it…?

…I’m here to make sure its residual engine heat does not go to waste.  You’re welcome.

   

Won’t come near me or sit in My lap…oh noooo…but my car is obviously another story.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love…Proceedure For Cats

November 14th, 2012

Mercedes Love

Still in it…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love

September 27th, 2012

Not Quite Broken In Yet…

I bought the ‘E’ class diesel, Traveler II, last December.  It wasn’t exactly the kind of money I had in mind to spend…I would have been thrilled to own a ‘C’ class diesel…the smaller car seemed more reasonable for a single guy…but Daimler still won’t import those for some reason.  As it turns out, I really Really like the ‘E’ class after all.  It is a solid, beautiful car, very nice on my occasional passengers, has lots of extra trunk space (which is nice for people who take road trips with lots of camera equipment), and yet gets absolutely great fuel economy.  It has been an absolutely solid and reliable ride all the way.

It’s already time for Traveler IIs 20,000 mile ‘B’ service.  Since the plan is to eventually become one of those wirey old codgers with a Mercedes diesel that has half a million miles on it I feel off to a reasonably good start.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Not Quite Broken In Yet…

September 21st, 2012

Thank You For Choosing A Mercedes-Benz…NOW TAKE CARE OF IT!

Just received in the mail today a nice letter from Mercedes-Benz USA, all done up on Very Nice stationary, thanking me for “choosing one of the most advanced diesel automobiles in the world…” and then just about screaming at me to stick to the factory maintenance schedule.

It is critical that you follow the service interval requirements of not more then 10,000 miles or one (1) year, whichever comes first.  Permanent engine damage can occur if the interval is not closely followed.

(Emphasis theirs!)  Followed by two more pages of Very Nice stationary detailing the maintenance schedule. As if I’d buy a car this expensive and not read the service book.  You best believe I read the service book.  Like a seminarian studying the holy writ I read the service book.

But I get their concern.  I don’t think American drivers understand diesels.  I wonder sometimes if one reason the Germans don’t import many of their diesel models into this country is because most American drivers just don’t know how to take care of one.  The reputation of diesels, particularly Mercedes diesels, for über longevity probably doesn’t help any.  People think hey…it’s a diesel…they’re tough. Well…yes.  They’ll outlast a gasoline burner every time.  But you have to do the maintenance.  Oh…and don’t stomp on the accelerator in a futile attempt to get gasoline engine acceleration out of one because it isn’t in there.

The simplest routine thing you do for a car’s engine, the oil change, is absolutely vital for a diesel engine.  That’s because the compression ratios on a diesel are greatly higher then even a high performance sports car’s is.  Compression is how a diesel ignites its fuel. They work on the principle that compressing air heats it up.  So at operating temperature a diesel gulps down a bunch of air, compresses it to temperature, and then at the right moment injectors squirt in the fuel and it ignites and you get your power stroke.  For that to work compression has to be high enough to heat the air enough. (when starting cold, diesels use either glow plugs or pre-heat the fuel before it is injected.)

Compare: The Corvette LS9 6.2 liter V-8 with an Eaton four-lobe Roots type supercharger has a power output of 638 bhp at 6500 rpm and 604 lb·ft at 3800 rpm and a compression ratio of 9.1:1.  My 3 liter V-6 twin turbocharged Mercedes diesel on the other hand has a compression ratio of 17:1.  In diesel fashion it only generates 240 bhp at a red line of 4500 rpm…about a third the Vette’s.  However it generates 400 lb·ft at 1800 rpm.  So the Vette engine has it on torque and horsepower, but the diesel is less then half its displacement, still has 2/3rds its torque and look at where the torque Is.

These engines are not racehorses, they’re draft horses and they will go any distance and bear loads that would give a gasoline burner of equal size a heart attack.  But you absolutely have to do the maintenance.  You can slack on the oil changes in a gasoline burner or cheap out on the grade of oil used and still get good service out of one for quite a while before it catches up with you and gets expensive.  A diesel can be completely destroyed in a very, Very short time if you do that.  Like in under 30k.  Try this wee experiment: look at the dipstick right after you’ve given a diesel engine an oil change.  See how nice and golden the oil is?  Look at it again at 100 miles.  Looks dirty as hell doesn’t it?  17:1 and running on diesel oil not lightweight gasoline will do that.

This is the big reason why I never bought one second hand though I’ve wanted one since I was a teenager.  By the time I was old enough and making enough to afford a second hand Mercedes diesel I’d seen tragically what your typical American driver does to a diesel engine.  Yes, they’ll last practically forever.  You can’t build 17:1 ignition-by-compression on the cheap and expect it to outlast the warranty.  And the routine maintenance isn’t expensive.  But you have to do it.

And I would recommend changing the oil twice as often as the factory recommends on any car.  I’ve done that on every car I’ve ever owned and never had any engine problems.  But it’s especially critical for a diesel.  Daimler gives its engines very large oil reservoirs…something around nine quarts in the V-6s (compared to around 6 in an American V-8) and they say change every 10k.  I change at five.  The other service gets done on schedule.

So anyway…I’m looking at this very nice letter from Mercedes-Benz USA printed on Very Nice stationary and what I’m seeing is evidence that Americans just don’t know how to take care of a diesel.  And these aren’t just any diesels.  These are Mercedes-Benz.  These are magnificent automobiles, they are expensive, they are exceptionally well made, and it is so embarrassing to see how MBUSA needs to gently remind its customers…it’s presumably well to do customers…on Very Nice stationary, to take fucking care of their cars.

by Bruce | Link | React! (2)

August 18th, 2012

Luxury Car

I’ve been meaning to write this one for years actually. Ever since I bought my first Mercedes-Benz.  And…trust me…just typing out that phrase “my first Mercedes-Benz” makes me want to do a double-take.  Time was I lived in a friend’s basement and mowed lawns and did Manpower temp jobs to make ends meet, and I figured that was pretty much going to be my life. But even a low income kid can dream, and when mine turned to automobiles I always had pretty definite ideas about what a top rank, best of the best, car was.

I grew up in a household without a car.  Mom divorced dad when I was 2 and we never had a lot of money.  So for the first decade and a half of my life we were carless, and the edges of my childhood world were tied firmly to wherever public transportation and my own two feet could take me.  Cars were fascinating, but distant things, like home ownership.  I grew up in a series of garden apartments, always near some bus line that could take mom to work and near enough to walk to a small shopping center with a grocery store, a drugstore and a five and dime.  It was still a time when most American households had only one car, if they had a car at all.  So to be carless wasn’t necessarily considered a sign of poverty and we were not poor…I never went to bed hungry…just very low budget. We would get rides occasionally from neighbors and other church members when necessary, but mostly the weekly shopping trip involved a foldable two wheel grocery cart, something like this…

…which I would pilot, being the man and thereby the muscle in the household.  Trips downtown, or to a deluxe shopping center some distance away (there were no malls back then), possibly involving a bus transfer ticket even, were very special occasions, and usually all day affairs the end of which left my little legs very tired. Vacations involved either Trailways, Greyhound or the train. I still vividly remember the magical two vacations we took to Lauderdale By The Sea, Florida, by way of the train.  There was a dining car, and a car at the end of the train you could sit in and watch the landscape go by, and the lovely sound of the tracks clicking off the miles to sing me to sleep.  It would never have occurred to me that a car was a necessity.  A car was a luxury.  We got by just fine without one.  But oh…how nice to have one!  Possibly even as nice as having a house of our very own.

I recall vividly the 1960 Ford Falcon one of the church lady’s had that took us back and forth to Sunday services…

…which would get so hot inside sitting in the sun during church services that even with the windows rolled all the way down by the time it got me back home I felt like a baked cookie. Or the 1959 Rambler Rebel owned by Mr. Rogers, one of the deacons…

…the car that taught me the value of seat belts well before they became mandatory equipment, when my little seven year old face got slammed into its all metal dashboard when Mr. Rogers had to stop suddenly to avoid a drunk driver. I never doubted after that that cars could be dangerous things. But they were magical things, whispering promises to little me of travel to distant places, in a time when my world pretty much ended at reach of mom’s voice.

I think my first glimpse of the 1958 Ford Thunderbird is what really ignited my love affair with the automobile.

I remember I was walking with mom to the local grocery store and one of those things went gliding by on the street and my little jaw dropped.  From then on I was all about cars. I used to embarrass mom walking beside her as she shopped, pretending to be driving a car, holding my hands out on an imaginary steering wheel and making all the sound effects.  But embarrassing mom is part of a small boy’s job description.  Frightening to her, and in retrospect to me later in life, was my habit of peering into the windows of parked cars to admire the dashboards and steering wheels. This was a more Baroque age in American automobilia, and the dashboards and steering wheels of that time are amazing to me even today.  They just don’t make them like this anymore…

I would get smacked every so often when mom caught me peering into a parked car, entranced by what I saw, and warned darkly that someday I’d find myself getting snatched away by a stranger. In retrospect it scares me now to think of too. Eventually one Christmas I got a toy that was probably intended to divert my attention away from parked cars…

When you turned the little pot metal ignition key it made a rumbling motor sound.  There was a horn, wipers that flicked back and forth, turn signals that blinked, a light switch that illuminated the dials and gauges, and lots of finger candy just like the grownups had on their dashboards.  It would be the only car I ever owned whose gas tank I could fill back up just by turning a knob.

I had an uncle who back in those days drove big Oldsmobiles.  Probably more then anything else those cars set my childhood notions of what a luxury car was.

A luxury car was a car that was big and magnificent and had all the options, and even a few options you couldn’t get on the other models.  Uncle Wayne’s Oldsmobile had Power Windows! No hand cranking in a luxury car…you just pressed a button one way and the window went up…pressed it the opposite way and it went down.  What won’t they think of next?   It had Power Seats! Oooooh!!!  You just pressed a button and the seats moved forward or backward.  It was a push button future all right.  It had an antenna that automagically extended when you turned on the AM/FM Radio!!! It had two-tone bench seats.  It had a light in the glove compartment.  It had Air Conditioning!!!! Cool air, really cool air, flowed out of these chrome plated vent balls at either end of the dashboard, and from some chrome plated vents in the middle…

Oh.  My.  God!!!  Our apartment didn’t have Air Conditioning, and here it was in a car no less!  No more rolling down the windows in the summertime and waiting outside the car before getting in, until the seats were something less then frying temperature.

Its speedometer had the first progress bar I ever laid eyes on.  Instead of a needle that swept across the numbers, it had a green bar that extended from left to right in a horizontal box…

When it got up to highway speeds…40 and over…the green bar was replaced by an orange one.  Above 60 it became red.

But the thing that just floored me was the magic button in the middle of the windshield wiper knob. Uncle Wayne showed me one day what it did. He pulled the knob and the wipers started wiping…so much so obvious.  Then he pressed the magic button and two little jets of soapy water squirted out onto the window!!!


SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

It was perfectly clear to me what a luxury car was.  A luxury car was a car that had all the options, and maybe even a few options you couldn’t get on the other cars.  You certainly weren’t going to get power windows, let alone power seats, on a plain old ordinary everyday Chevy.  No.  It had to be an Oldsmobile.  And if you wanted leather instead of cloth seats, then obviously you would have to step up to a Cadillac.

One day, when I was 16, he came for a visit driving his brand new Mercedes-Benz 220D…

I was…nonplussed.  I knew by then that Mercedes-Benz was a German luxury car of some sort, but I had a general disdain for European cars.  They were expensive compared to U.S. cars, plain and generally unexciting. And here before my very eyes, was the proof.  And…it was a diesel!  You didn’t have to know the ‘D’ meant diesel, you knew it the moment he started it up. They’d put a truck engine in a luxury car.

Mind you, by this stage of my life I’d already decided I was a four-door sedan kinda guy.  Sports cars didn’t really do much for me, though I admired the engineering that went into them and loved to watch them race. But they weren’t practical for what I wanted to do with a car by that age, which was see the country…just take my maps and my luggage, find some roads I’d never been down before and go. I wanted a car I could drive comfortably in for hours at a time, which you really couldn’t in a low slung, stiff suspensioned sports car, could carry lots of luggage and cargo here and there, could drive my friends anywhere we wanted to go. It had to be a sedan…preferably one with four doors because two doors meant folding down the front seat and squirming your way into the back.  I had no money for a car of my own, and not much hope I’d ever have one either. But I had specifications.

This is a luxury car??? I wandered around the Mercedes while my aunt and uncle took their luggage in and chatted with mom.  It was small compared to the last Oldsmobile he’d had, and boxy. There wasn’t nearly as much chrome.  It had no fins.  The front row were two unappealing looking bucket seats.  From outside the dashboard looked a bit sparse, the steering wheel somewhat old fashioned.  Then my uncle invited me to sit down in it.  I opened the passenger side front door and noted the locking mechanism looked very simplistic and odd.  I sat down in the bucket seat, closed the door…

…and that was when I realized I was in a whole different world.

This thing is built like a bank vault… I’d never experienced the like of it.  Just sitting there I could feel the solidness of it.  The seats, made I later learned of the legendary MB-Tex, weren’t soft and cushy like the Olds, but very firm and somehow lots more comfortable in spite of that.  And there was absolutely no wiggle in them.  They weren’t power seats like the Olds.  There was a lever directly in the front and bottom of the seat that you lifted up and then you could move the seat backward or forward.  It slide smoothly, and when you snapped it into place the seat locked firmly and would not budge, even a little.

You got used to a slight degree of slop in a car back then.  It was normal.  A little give, a little wiggle here and there wasn’t a big deal unless it got excessive. A little play in the steering wheel, a little give in the shift lever and turn signals.  You knew a car was a mass produced thing and you didn’t expect anything mass produced in those days to be as tight as a watch.  Just so it wasn’t so loose it felt like it was about to come apart.  Thing was, a little initial looseness usually ended up being a lot of looseness.  Things broke down.  Lots.  And so you took them in for repair.  Cars especially in those days, needed lots of repair.  But you expected that, just as you expected that a car would not last much further then 50k miles.  Odometers back then only had five digits on them.  You pushed a car all the way back to the point all the zeros rolled back over…100k…only if you didn’t have the money for a new one, or you were stubborn.

A good car was one that didn’t break down in the first few months of ownership.  A great car got you maybe all the way to 50k on just the routine maintenance, and maybe a few minor repairs for things like a knob that fell off or got stuck.  By 50k you’d have replaced the brakes several times, and the exhaust pipes and muffler, and the shocks maybe half that.  You’d have gone through several sets of tires and multiple tune-ups.  That was routine and you bought a car knowing all that was coming.  But you also expected at least one or two break downs somewhere along the way.  Cars just did that.  A lemon was a car that did it every week.  A good car maybe only once or twice in 50k miles.  Beyond 50k you knew it would give you more trouble then it was worth.  So most people traded in at that point for a new one.  And so it went.  By the time he’d bought that 220D, my uncle had gone through several Oldsmobiles.

And there I was, sitting in a car that Just Felt like uncle Wayne could have driven it clean around the world and it would only just be broken in. I looked over the dashboard, every instrument and knob exactly centered in it’s holder, noticed the odometer had Six Digits on it…and I think I sat there for a few moments with my jaw hanging open nearly catatonic…like Bowman in 2001 sitting in his space pod at the end of his trip down the stargate.  Then I was a barrage of questions.  How much did it cost?  Why a diesel?  Is it hard to find diesel fuel?  How do you start a diesel?  What kind of mileage do you get on Diesel?  What’s the maintenance like?  Do you need metric tools to work on it?

He explained to me how Mercedes didn’t come out with a new model every year, but instead made little incremental improvements over maybe an eight or ten year run.  He told me how if a part showed more wear or breakage then expected it would be redesigned and improved and once the improvement was approved it went right into the production line and no waiting for the next model year.  And when you needed a new part you always got the latest most improved one, not an identical to the one that just broke on you part.  That was the Mercedes way.  He told me that the diesels got way better mileage because diesel fuel had more energy in it by volume, and since a diesel had to be built strong if you took care of one it would last not just 50k but easily hundreds of thousands of miles.  He told me about its safety features and how they were building Mercedes-Benz cars with crumple zones back when Detroit was fighting Washington over seat belts.  He told me about the cornering and handling capabilities of the car and that they were engineered primarily as safety measures: the best way to handle an accident is to prevent one from happening in the first place.  A car that can get its driver out of danger is a safer car.  He told me that all the engineering in a Mercedes-Benz was judged against that purpose.  Speed and handling weren’t just about speed and handling…they were about safety.  German practicality.  I felt myself falling in love.

We went for a short ride in the country. I thought I knew how good a sports car was in the curves.  I was naive.  American sports cars were no damn good in the curve back then.  They were big muscle bound V-8 things that would blast you off the road in the straight and get lost in the curve.  For an afternoon I sat in a little boxy four door sedan that didn’t accelerate very fast at all, the Oldsmobiles would have laughed at it on the on ramp, but it took the twisty little country back roads we traveled down like it was foreign to no road on earth and just hunkered down and glued itself to the asphalt.  It felt like it could have taken the corners at twice the speed my uncle took them.  You felt the road under the tires, and the car’s response to it, but not in a scary or discomfortable way.  The ride was smooth and serene but not to the point you lost your feel for the road…and that was the thing that stunned me most.  I’d never really known before what it was to experience a car that gave you such absolute control before then.  A luxury car was supposed to insulate you from the road…make you feel like you were gliding along on a cushion of air! No.  I saw it then.  A car that takes the feel of the road away from its driver takes their control away too.  A great car gives its driver absolute control, moment by moment and that means you have to be able to feel the road under you, and the response of the car to it.  The car I was riding in did that…I could feel it even though I was in the passenger seat. It was the first time in my life I’d really experienced that…and it was no sports car.  It was a boxy little four door sedan.

Yes, yes…most American luxury car models can take a curve at high speed now and keep you in control.  But try to imagine going down a twisty country road in a 1971 Cadillac DeVille and trying to make it take the curves like it was a sports car.  No.  More like a whale.

That whole day I never once asked my uncle why he bought that boxy little four door sedan.  The moment I sat down in it I knew damn well why he bought it.  For the next several decades of my life I wanted one too.  Some decades later, to my amazement still, I was able to afford one…

…and then…a few years after that…finally…a diesel….

…like the one my uncle drove to visit in, but with forty years of incremental improvements.

In my thirties, broke, doing Manpower temp jobs and mowing lawns to make ends meet, living in a friend’s basement, I never thought I’d own another car again, let alone a new one, let alone a Mercedes-Benz. Luxury. It is not about money. Luxury is better then good enough. At one time in my life a car was something our family considered a luxury. We got by without. And though that was a long time ago, practically in a different America, some folks even now consider cars a luxury item. If you live in the urban zones you can probably get by without one most of the time. But even the new carless urbanites still make use of new ways to rent when they need a car. ZipCar and Car2Go being examples. Owning a car in today’s America might still be considered a luxury in some places. But a car is still more necessity now then it was back when I was a toddler and Washington D.C. still had trolly lines and transcontinental train lines still boasted of their speed and comfort.

Gottlieb Daimler’s motto was “Das Beste oder nichts”, The best or nothing. But what is “best”? If basic transportation will do there is much you can buy nowadays, thanks to the ass kicking Japan gave the rest of the auto making world, that will get you from point A to point B and give you your money’s worth for years and years and then some.  My first new car after decades of bare bones living and no prospects was a little Geo Prism and that car was a champion.  Under the skin it was a Toyota Corolla and I’d own one again in a heartbeat if I didn’t have the money for the car I do now and I’d be proud of it.  It was well made and if you took care of it it would outlast a lot of other makes.  I got just over 200k miles out of mine. But if you are lucky and you have it to spend you can reach for something better then basic transportation. That’s luxury. But what is better? What is best?

There’s a scene in Mary Renault’s novel, The Last of the Wine, where the philosopher and teacher Socrates and Alexis, one of his young followers, are walking down a street where the armorers are busy working. They’d been discussing Alexis’ troubles in love and hearing the sound of the armorer’s hammers, Socrates, slyly testing the boy, supposes aloud that now that he is of age he will soon be wanting to buy his first set of armor. Where will you go, he asks. To Pistias, if I can afford his price, says Alexis. “He’s very dear; nine or ten minas for a horseman’s suit.” “So much?”, wonders Socrates aloud. Well surely you’ll get a nice gold device on the breastplate for that kind of money. Not from Pistias, says Alexis, he wouldn’t touch that if you gave him twelve. Kephalos, says Socrates, will give you something to catch the eye. Well but Socrates, says Alexis, I might need to fight in it.

That. A Cadillac or a Lincoln is expensive because it has all the options…all the nice gold devices you can’t get on a Chevy or a Ford…and because the job of a Cadillac or a Lincoln is to tell the world you have a lot of money to spend.  Under the skin, a Cadillac is a Chevy and there is no reason other then the marque to not give a Chevy all the options a Cadillac has. That’s how they do it in Japan, where what we call a Lexus here in the U.S. is still a Toyota over there.  But here in the U.S., driving a high end Toyota does not say “money”.  A Cadillac is expensive, because it is a Cadillac and not a Chevy.  A Rolls Royce is expensive because it is practically hand made, by the best artisans working in the finest rarest woods, the finest rarest leathers, the finest wool carpeting, meticulously hand producing only a few cars every year.  Ostentatious spending, yes, but at least its ostentatious spending in the service of excellence in craftsmanship.  But the engineering and the technology in a Rolls or a Bentley is subordinate to the purpose of luxury for its own sake…everything about the car is about pampering and calling attention to its owner, it’s all about the nice gold device and something to catch the eye. But I might need to drive in it. All day and through the night, down uncertain roads, through whatever weather, in whatever conditions the journey throws at me.

And I have driven my Mercedes-Benz cars, mostly the little ‘C’ class because I’d owned it several years, but now also my ‘E’ class diesel, through some pretty hazardous weather, and down long twisty gravelly roads, winding up and down hazardous no guardrails here sorry you’re on your own terrain, and over scorching desert landscapes and I have never felt safer inside an automobile, or more in control when the going got seriously ugly.  Luxury.  I could always walk to the grocery store and take the bus or the train come vacation time.  But I love cars and I love to drive and I want to see whatever there is down all the roads I’ve never been down. I want a car that will take me to all those places. Not an SUV because I drive long distances and also short ones over many kinds of roads and my car needs to be agile and fuel efficient not large, clunky and hungry all the time. But not a sports car either because I need to carry cargo and passengers. Comfortable on the inside, because I will be driving long hours. And built to keep its passengers safe, because you never know. And yes, beautiful too, because I love the automobile. But not empty beauty. Beauty that comes from within. I have specifications.

These days I admire car interiors from a safe distance via Google Images, and at the dealer’s whenever I take a car in for routine servicing and I can sit down inside one in the showroom and wonder. When I first laid eyes on the new ‘E’ class it took my breath away so beautiful did I find them to be inside and outside. Thank you Dr. Z for making them solid again, like they used to be. When I sat down in my very own new ‘E’ class diesel last December, and started its engine for the first time, it made a sound like I could have driven it clean around the world and it would only just be broken in. Das Beste oder nichts!

[Edited and edited again…and again…and again…sorry…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Luxury Car

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


    What I'm Currently Reading...




    What I'm Currently Watching...




    What I'm Currently Listening To...




    Comic Book I've Read Recently...



    web
stats

    This page and all original content copyright © 2015 by Bruce Garrett. All rights reserved. Send questions, comments and hysterical outbursts to: bruce@brucegarrett.com

    This blog is powered by WordPress and is hosted at MomoWeb. Some custom design was done by Winters Web Works. Some embedded content was created with the help of Adobe Photoshop for MacOS and/or The Gimp. I proof with Firefox on either Windows, Linux or MacOS depending on which machine I happen to be running at the time.