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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 with autumn closing in. 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 late August. 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. Give it the gas.”

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 August 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.

I don’t care if my liver is hanging by a thread
Don’t care if my doctor says I ought to be dead
When my ugly big car won’t climb this hill
I’ll write a suicide note on a hundred dollar bill

‘Cause if you wanna run cool
If you wanna run cool
Yes if you wanna run cool
You got to run on heavy, heavy fuel

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Thud November 3, 2017, 2:49 PM

    I hope to leave a couple of decent cars in the garage so maybe my kids will get a chance to enjoy some motor madness in our coming electric,self drive car sharing future.

  • Sancho November 3, 2017, 3:04 PM

    “This is a song about a car… this is called the Red Barchetta…”


    The lyrics echo your sentiment.

  • Gordon November 3, 2017, 5:55 PM

    Geez, they have to be able to actually drive a car. An amazing number of them don’t, these days. I can’t understand that. I got my license one month after my 15th birthday, that month because I had gotten caught taking out the family car one night when my parents were out in the other car.

    They only caught me the one time.

    I had friends who were driving the farm’s grain trucks from the field to the elevator when they were 12.

  • waltj November 3, 2017, 7:02 PM

    I had a Mercedes S430 back in the early 2000s, and I got the same pleasure out of that car that you did from your 560SEL. Smaller V-8, naturally aspirated, but willing to go hard if you let it. I did, and it did, and the results were exhilarating. It was a big, heavy car, but it felt about a ton lighter than it was, and went around corners at high speed like it was on rails. Unfortunately, I sold the car when I moved overseas to a right-hand drive country. I couldn’t have cared less about selling my money-pit house, glad to be rid of it, but the car I missed, and the used, RHD Saab that I bought in my new location didn’t come close to the Benz. Autobahn speed in a competent road car with no traffic around is a thrill I don’t get very often these days.

  • John The River November 3, 2017, 8:00 PM

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for the overthrow of the internal combustion vehicle by the lithiumheads…
    Ever looked at the stats on the amount of electric current that would have to be generated by an industry that is raising the costs of electric generation by stupid decisions to push Wind/Solar?
    The lethal toxicity of everything involved in Solar, batteries, and the total lack of planning or accountability by those industries on dealing with it all?

    Try getting elected after it becomes plain that only those elites that can afford a half million dollar set of wheels is going faster than 45 or farther than 50 miles between recharge stops.

  • GoneWithTheWind November 3, 2017, 9:47 PM

    In 1968 I had a 1960 Mercedes 220S in Germany. I was on the autobahn one day doing about 220+ Klicks in the left lane, light to very little traffic. One minute nothing behind me the next a Big new Mercedes was right behind me flashing his lights. Loved the autobahn.

  • ghostsniper November 4, 2017, 4:45 AM

    I blew up a brand new Oldsmobile Metro Ambulance on the Wurzburg autobahn going 135 mph. The woman patient in back was screaming at the top of her lungs and the surgeon on board was yelling “Go, Go, GO!” I had just pulled into the delivery point at the hospital when the engine caught fire. I used the extinguisher but it was inadequate for the task. Total loss. This was in 1977. FWIW, on this run a Volkswagon “Jeans” model passed me, it was a Beetle. It was going at least 140. Autobahn style driving wouldn’t work in the US because it requires extreme professionalism and german cars don’t have cup holders.

  • Firecapt November 4, 2017, 6:32 AM

    For an electric car, you just have to reach a little further back in time, and “pour on the coals.”

  • mushroom November 4, 2017, 10:48 AM

    I love my motorcycles. I would not mind so much if, when it’s time for me to go home, it happens with the roar of an engine in my ears.