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The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the cloud.
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

– – Wallace Stevens

A clear day and a long road running south out of Nelson in British Columbia towards the US border. Lakes loom on the left embraced by forested mountains that rise up displaying more greens than can be counted. The air, as it slips by the window, is crisp even in July. Somewhere up past the first two ranges of mountains, snow lingers. It’s a perfect day and the road goes on forever.

We come over a rise in my red Mercedes 560 SEL and see curling out before us between the forests a rolling S-curve of smooth asphalt arcing down the valley and then up and over the hill far beyond and gone. My passenger, skilled in racing very large motorcycles very well, looks at it and says, “That’s the road motorcyclists dream of. Perfectly banked and perfectly curved with a long, long sight line and no oncoming traffic.”

I nod and give it the gas. The turbocharger kicks in. The car leaps forward with a growl. The forest outside becomes a green blur. We sweep down and around, up and over the hill.

We pin the speedometer.

And we’re gone.

I pity the future for a lot of reasons, but I really pity that future that will no longer be able to know the pure pleasures of personal speed. As Jack Kerouac knew,

“Man, you gotta go.”

Say what you like about our poor beaten-down gas guzzlers, they’ve given us over a century of thrills for everyman.

I pity that future that won’t ever experience the sweet feeling of motoring in a vehicle with a large internal-combustion engine running on heavy fuel. A vehicle with a glutton’s diet of pure petrochemical byproducts. A car that turns the sunshine that fell to Earth on some antediluvian day 500 million summers gone into a surge of pure speed on this fine July afternoon.

I pity my descendants who will never be able to look out at some sweeping mountain road, perfectly curved, perfectly banked, with no oncoming traffic and just “Give it the gas.”

“Give it the photons” just doesn’t have the same cachet.


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  • Rob De Witt June 30, 2017, 10:33 PM

    Oh my yes.

    Sometime in the middle ’90s I had a weekend gig as a judge at a high-school music contest in Redding, about $1500 plus a room and free food. Sunday morning it was back to Sausalito for the work week on Monday, but there was a whole day to get home in, so….

    I’d driven up in my ’79 528i, the engine of which had been replaced with a 3.5 liter when I put a new suspension under it with Konis and Bilsteins and 20mm sway bars. At around 90 it’d just sorta squat down on the springs and reach out with its front paws looking for the next curve, up the next mountain. My map showed me California 299, a straight shot over the coast range to Arcata – just south of the Trinity Alps, beautifully maintained and about 150 miles. Turn left at the ocean, and 101 home. Coffee and donuts and a fresh tank of premium, and I was on the road before 9 am.

    And there was nobody out there but me.

    The car had a rebuilt 4-speed, and in the twisties you could drive it in 3rd gear with just your right foot, since the 6 had a real broad power band. This was Springtime, probably April, and I had all the windows and the sunroof open, and a tape of Bach cantatas in the deck. Me and the Germans in the mountains. Get outta my way. At one point in the middle of that run there’s a looooong valley where you can see the whole thing from the entrance hill, with no crossroads or civilization in sight. That’s where I found out I had a genuine 130-mile-an-hour BMW. My Lord, what a morning.

    There were a couple of other road trips in that car, once up through the Tetons for a week and then down through New Mexico and the panhandle and West Texas to Austin, then back home on 10, and a few years later up through Utah into Wyoming. I been a poor boy all my life, but for a few years there I was in the middle class, and brother I made the most of it.

    America.

  • ghostsniper July 1, 2017, 3:27 AM

    We were there, weren’t we?
    If you never had a well running old skool V8 under your ass you haven’t lived.

  • Kolrado July 1, 2017, 7:58 AM

    I had the V-8’s and the power rides that went with them out on the open roads of Colorado in the 60’s and 70’s and those were worth remembering but i also loved sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck watching the country side opening up behind us as we just drove on and on for the love of it.

  • Callmelennie July 1, 2017, 10:27 AM

    You make me want to steal my next door neighbor’s Corvette and take it out to I-10 West just to see if I can make it from Phoenix to LA in three hours

    And when the cops catch up to me outside of San Bernadino, I’ll say Gerard Vanderleun made me do it

  • Terry July 1, 2017, 10:46 AM

    The 356 Porsche Speedster pictured reminds me of the 1960 Porsche Super 90 Coupe I owned and drove the hell out of way back then in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Highway 49 was a challenge and also deadly.

  • Jaynie July 1, 2017, 1:45 PM

    Oh yea, I love it too!!
    Just sure do wish that all that great fuel was not underneath the Saudi desert and our gas money gone to those who now want to destroy us.
    Energy independence all the way, baby!
    My husband’s new Ford 150 may not be v8, but she is turbo.

  • jwm July 1, 2017, 2:34 PM

    I’ve never been much of a car guy. It was the V-twin. American steel, torque like a tractor, and that machine gun exhaust note. To quote a long forgotten motorcycle journalist: ” You’re on this whirling, clicking, thudding beast- This is mechanical theater, visual, and visceral, and there’s nothing else like it in the world.” There is, indeed, nothing like the two wheeled locomotive. Chugged my FXSTS across this glorious continent ten times over. I will be forever grateful for the experience.

    JWM

  • Casey Klahn July 1, 2017, 4:07 PM

    V-10 Ford. That’s right, baby – running a monster motor home that we rented and drove to Nelson, BC last week. LOL. Not a muscle car, but funner than a sharp stick. Beautiful area, that’s for certain.

    The looks and interactions we had for driving that Earth-killer were amazing! Except they were trying to shame the wrong guy. I drive what, how, and where I please. ‘Merica! OK: Canada! You got a beauty of a country, there.

    The funnest part was putting that 37 footer on the ferry and heading to the Rockies.

  • indyjonesouthere July 1, 2017, 4:25 PM

    Never had any real fancy cars other than maybe an old 64 olds cutlass convertible but it was kind of a dog for power. The best HI way ride I had was a 59 merc turnpike cruiser with a nice v8, about a football field long and half as wide. When college classes ended on Friday the lot of us guys would load up in southwestern Minnesota town and head for Sioux falls where the drinking age was only 19. I90 was the freedom route and it rolled on through a sparsely populated part of Minnesota and Dakota. We always cruised along at 85-90 and seldom met another car on the road. One exception was coming up alongside a later model Cadillac in which we drivers decided to check out the top end of the speedometer. That old Merc maxed out at 118-19 and was about 2-3 mph faster than the Caddy. I feel rather sorry for the following generations that never really get a good chance at super cruise on the freeways. You could do that for quite a few years and no one would bother you but try it now and they would take you straight to the slammer. It seems to be the difference between peace officers and law enforcement officers….no peace officers left anymore.

  • Casey Klahn July 1, 2017, 5:06 PM

    indyjonessoutere, try Canada, where they call cops “Law Service Providers.” Or something like that.

  • pfsm July 2, 2017, 10:58 AM

    This summer on a road trip to southern California and Henderson, Nevada. I found a twisty little state highway in California south of Hollister and had it all to myself on a Sunday afternoon – just me and the new Mustang GT. And then on the way home it was clear that 80 to 90 mph was a nice easy cruising speed on those empty highways with plenty of get-up-and-go left for passing the occasional slower vehicle. Yeah, V8’s forever….