January 14, 2015

"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 the 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.

HT to The Dipso Chronicles: Literary Antacid for bringing this back.

Posted by Vanderleun at January 14, 2015 2:22 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

No it doesn't. I too am in love with the internal combustion engine. My truck has a five-speed, and I always run at higher rpms than most people do. I love hearing an engine accelerate, the smooth climb in frequency and the increase in speed as the best part of the torque curve arrives, until it is topped out and a quick shift to do it all over again.

Thanks for bringing the life in life to life.

Posted by: Bill at July 26, 2005 10:43 AM

Telling the bus driver to 'floor it' doesn't have the same cachet either...

Posted by: P.A. Breault at July 26, 2005 3:47 PM

It will be a sad day. There's nothing like accelerating a modern sportbike off of a turn at full lean, feeling the rear tire squirm as it searches for traction while engine revs move into the sweet spot where it "comes on the cam" and power builds oh-so rapidly. It works all the senses: Sight, hearing and balance. And provides a nice shot of adrenalin too.

It is wonderful.

Posted by: MarkH at July 26, 2005 6:16 PM

And we'll have fun fun fun 'til Big Brother takes the T-bird away...

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at July 2, 2006 12:35 PM

A fine horse in full gallop. That is poetry.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at July 2, 2006 10:38 PM

You guys like the road and turbo engines for, heaven knows, your own good reasons.

But I like it because it leads me to things I love. And just as long as there's gas and tires and enough oil to prevent the engine from blowing up, well it's all the same to me and my little SUV. (And would you please tell Gwyneth and Cameron that, yes, I do like to sit up high!)

Today, for instance, I shall complete the last leg of my now familiar cross-country "circulation." There is a highway that leads through the only place in the US where the Continental Divide splits into a great basin. There, tens of thousands of meadow larks live and sing their heavenly songs. I shall pull my little SUV over and be baptized once again in the sweetest of waters before going on to the end of the trip. Where the best of friends--God fearing, flag-waving conservatives--await me with a bonfire and barbecue! Thank heavens for the internal combustions machine.

And God bless America.

My life, my SUV.


Posted by: Webutante at July 3, 2006 6:38 AM

This was all predicted by Rush (the other Rush) some 25 years ago:

Red Barchetta

My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm, before the motor law
And on sundays I elude the eyes and hop the turbine freight
To far outside the wire, where my white-haired uncle waits.

Jump to the ground
As the turbo slows to cross the borderline
Run like the wind,
As excitement shivers up and down my spine
Down in his barn
My uncle preserved for me, an old machine ---
For fifty-odd years
To keep it as new has been his dearest dream

I strip away the old debris, that hides a shining car
A brilliant red barchetta, from a better, vanished time
I fire up the willing engine, responding with a roar
Tires spitting gravel, I commit my weekly crime...

Wind in my hair ---
Shifting and drifting ---
Mechanical music ---
Adrenalin surge ---

Well-weathered leather
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air
Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware

Suddenly, ahead of me, across the mountainside
A gleaming alloy air-car shoots towards me, two lanes wide
I spin around with shrieking tires, to run the deadly race
Go screaming through the valley as another joins the chase

Drive like the wind
Straining the limits of machine and man
Laughing out loud
With fear and hope, Ive got a desperate plan

At the one-lane bridge
I leave the giants stranded
At the riverside
Race back to the farm
To dream with my uncle
At the fireside...

Posted by: Ricky Raccoon at August 4, 2009 2:42 PM

And where would we be without the distance.

Posted by: Ricky Raccoon at August 4, 2009 2:50 PM

I just got back from a ride through seven states on my BMW K1100. Seven days of pure joy. I circled Colorado from Texas counter clockwise. Seemed like a good idea. Many of the sentiments expressed in your piece were running through my mind too as I gorged on asphalt. Bon voyage!

Posted by: John Hinds at August 4, 2009 3:23 PM

Thanks for the cred, G.

In the process of planning a Denver to Seattle road trip with my Dad. Probably rent something new and beefy like a new Camaro or Mustang. It will be a V8, whatever it is. Oh, the drive...

Posted by: Andy at August 4, 2009 5:22 PM

What a beautifully assembled post. Very evocative. And I agree - it will be a sad, sad day when internal combustion fades away. I'll drive an electric go-kart when they force me and not before.

Posted by: Nicole at August 4, 2009 7:33 PM

I remember the feeling and loved this piece. Also liked John Hinds' phrase "gorged on asphalt!"

Posted by: Joanne at August 4, 2009 9:02 PM

I spied my future husband's 1983(4?) Ford Mustang GT, 5.0 liter, black with t-top from an upstairs window before I met him. My first reaction was, "what macho asshole owns that thing?" That's when I was a fully brainwashed lefty riding my bike (not the motorized kind) back and forth to work. Now, 25 years later, he's still my macho asshole and my political conversion may have started when he let me drive that car! It was fun, fun, fun...

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at August 4, 2009 9:39 PM

I've been on that road south of Nelson, and it's just one of many in the western provinces and states. We who live here and drive bikes or nice cars are the luckiest dogs ever.

Posted by: Fred Z at August 5, 2009 6:43 PM

"'Give it the photons' just doesn't have the same cachet."

Unless it's a vehicle powered by turning matter into photons. :-)

Posted by: at January 14, 2012 1:33 PM

Nice repost.

I wonder why you posted, and I didn't notice the first time, a photo of the Bow Valley Parkway near Banff, Alberta with Castle Mountain in the background.

A nice road but a long way from Nelson.

Posted by: Fred Z at January 16, 2012 6:52 AM

Good catch. I was just including, for the first time, a generic shot that got the sense of the moment. I didn't know where it came from and was too busy driving to get a shøt myself as it happened.

Posted by: vanderleun at January 16, 2012 9:24 AM

299 from Redding to the ocean, straight through the Trinity Alps in a '79 528i with a 3.5 liter and a rebuilt 4-speed, short Konis and Bilsteins and 20 mm sway bars front and back. Second and third gear through the ups and downs, driving it with your right foot. And there is a stretch in the middle through a high valley where you can see, coming over the hill, the whole damn road for a few miles, with no access and on a Sunday morning early no traffic.

130 miles an hour through the redwoods with every window and the sunroof open. Twenty years ago and it feels like yesterday.

God bless America.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at January 14, 2015 3:28 PM

Can the girls play, too?

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at January 14, 2015 3:57 PM

Apparently, yes. Sorry for the hat-trick. This is the only website that happens in!

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at January 14, 2015 3:58 PM

Miss Joan,

Ever now and again I'll meet a woman who can drive like that, and I always fall in love a little. Never could understand why more girls never got the urge when they're so obviously made for it.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at January 14, 2015 4:08 PM

When I feel sorry for myself to think I wasn't graced or raised with more feminine airs, I just go for a drive down some two-lane black top in the backwaters of the Lowcountry. It all comes around right.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at January 14, 2015 4:38 PM

All good, but for the record, your Mercedes does not have a turbo.

Posted by: Flannelputz at January 14, 2015 5:15 PM

A 3.0-litre inline-five cylinder turbo diesel was offered from 1981–1985 in North America.

Posted by: DeAnn at January 14, 2015 7:07 PM

Even better if you skinned your knuckles building the car (or bike) yourself. Haven't done it in a while but the memories are strong. You built the engine yourself, you put it in the car yourself. You go through the checklist, oil, water, firing order. All the other stuff. Turn it over with the ignition off. Oil pressure OK. Fire it up. Check for leaks. Let's go for a ride.

Posted by: Glenn at January 15, 2015 8:15 AM

Re: DeAnn at 7:07

Clearly, the girls can play.

Posted by: Gordon at January 15, 2015 10:01 AM

1965 from SW Minnesota to Sioux Falls on I90 to hit the under 21 beer joints. Cross the border into SD and run the petal to the firewall on a 59 Mercury Turnpikecruiser. Windows down...not a car in sight. The jackrabbits were envious.

Posted by: indyjonesouthere at January 15, 2015 1:05 PM

Reprint something by Mark Lowder and you'd have a perfect trifecta this week.

Much love to you, my darlin' Gerard, hope life's treating you well.

Hey, Andy!!! Big hugs and kisses sent your way.

Posted by: Daphne at January 15, 2015 7:48 PM