Tuesday, July 23, 2013


"joyride [ˈdʒɔɪrʌɪd]
noun informal
a fast and dangerous ride, esp. one taken in a stolen vehicle: kids stealing cars for a Saturday night joyride."

Chapter One - The Rough Start

"Drive it like you stole it" is often given as ungrammatical advice to owners of older Porsche cars, lest they allow those vehicles to moulder away in a garage somewhere, unused, against every intention of Herr Doktor Ing. h.c. F. Porsche, who assuredly enjoyed driving in a sporting fashion. I don't know how your average thief drives, but I can imagine that whatever his method, risks are rampant. In this post I will talk about some consequences of risk, tragic consequences, followed by pure joy in order to bring you, and me, back into the realm of the happiness that Porsches are supposed to bestow on us. Without that happiness why would we (I) put up with the care and feeding of such a fussy, noisy, risky car as a 911, that is still going beyond its 40th year?

A week ago I drove my Porsche across the entire width of the northern edge of the State of Vermont. It isn't a large state, but it does take two-and-a-half or three hours to make the crossing using some of the speedier roads, which is a relative term and it means little. I got a late start, because of delays in traversing the US/Canada border. In the summer, tourists plug up the Homeland Security checkpoints by driving motorhomes and caravans festooned with kayaks on the roofs, and wads of bicycles on the back. They don't move fast, and the border guards don't either. Local knowledge helps, so I decided to detour two towns over to a very small crossing where there was only one car ahead of me in line. [Today, a week later, there was a two hour wait at the border I routinely use, which isn't that little one.]

Where are you going? the border officer said. To a Porsche club drive and picnic . . . What's that !?! the DHS officer demanded in an elevated voice as he leaned over to squint at the name tag on my shirt. A name tag, I said as his squinting got wrinklier. How could a name tag have implications for terrorism, or whatever? I answered him satisfactorily, I guess, so at length he quit squinting and asking questions and I was on my way, late.

So, I was starting out on a cross-state run and I was behind time, and I was in my Porsche. What could be the solution to this situation, especially considering that I faced twisty little roads through sparse farmland, rolling hills, and maybe a few small towns? Yes, that's correct, you've got it. Drive it like you stole it.

The problem is traffic. In the summertime everybody is on the road, in every type of vehicle, many going very slowly. On a road with a 50 mph speed limit (the maximum limit on secondary roads in Vermont) there is always a Prius going 30 mph. When the driver occasionally winds it up to 35 mph, you can see the occupants leaning into the curves as if on the Pike's Peak hill climb. There are few passing zones when the roads get interesting, and when a passing zone appears, it is 30 yards long. Maybe on a hot sport bike that's enough space to pass, but not with my 911. A frustration builds up; it's normal.

So, you have to try harder. At last on a highway that is little used, by comparison, I was able to open it up. Not in a crazy fashion, but still. It's a nice road with wonderful views, nearly smooth pavement (some even new), many hills, and plenty of curves - I don't remember that there is a straight part to this road. A straight part would have allowed passing. I passed.

At some point in bygone days when animal-drawn vehicles and humans on foot were the only occupants of the roadways, the paths (which became roads later) took a far more organic and meandering journey through the countryside. Very commonly, farms had their houses on one side of the road, and the barns on the other. Plenty farms are still like this, but now the road in between has maniacal Porsche drivers on it. The original purpose was probably convenience of some kind, now it imposes hazards and inconvenience. But, in this corner of Vermont, the roads still curl around through farms, just as they did when horses reigned supreme, and I didn't perceive a hazard beyond the confines of my spirited driving. I should have.

I love animals; all of them. They are innocent, they honestly do what they have evolved to do, and with many it is possible to have an actual relationship of a mutually beneficial nature. Not all animals that are often pets are pets. There are barn cats, among others in this category - working animals, mostly. Farmers keep barn cats to do what cats do - catch mice and other critters that annoy farmers.

Even before conscious perception of what I was doing I braked heavily on the gently curving road, in the center of a bend between the house and the barn. The beautiful orange stripped cat ran for all he was worth toward the barn, coming from my right. There was a bang. In my rear-view mirror I saw the heart-rending sight of the stricken cat, who had one rear leg standing straight up in the air. In one second, not more, the leg dropped down, the cat no longer able to support it in death. A tight knot gripped my gut; the landscape lost its color, the road's curves became flaccid, and the hills flat. It was 'just' a barn cat; it was an innocent being doing its job. I was playing; I was guilty.

I stopped. I found no one, and was forced to leave the creature. I told someone of this later and they said, "So? It's only an animal." I think less of people who have that arrogant and essentially ignorant attitude. We are all in this together. Sorry if you, dear reader, fit into this category, but that's the way it is. 


Chapter Two - Downhill From There  

Clouds and sun were evenly balanced and it was warm, not hot since it was still early, although I had been driving for some time since my farcical interview at the border. I just drove, without the same initial enjoyment, and the miles ticked away on the odometer, unnoticed and not appreciated. I was still on the same highway, the one with the greatest geological variation of any I would travel today and I should have been delighted at my good fortune in traveling through lovely countryside like this. It was only a barn cat; I kept telling myself this, but I hated it

As had been my luck throughout the morning, I was stuck behind a pick-up truck, the worse for wear, being driven by a man in no hurry, except to go somewhere, slowly. I resigned myself and tried to appreciate the hills that were remnants of Vermont's Green Mountains; I had seen them all before and the next bend was as familiar as the previous one, so it seemed today. The man in the truck had much time on his hands to be driving at this pace for so long a time.

If I get my earplugs wedged into my ears just right, so that they really work, the 'song' of the Porsche's engine (and ring & pinion gears) recedes to a level that will allow me to actually hear conversation when I reach my destination, since the ringing in my ears will be at an almost moderate level. My ears have been insulted enough over the years by gun shots, agricultural equipment, cross-continent motorcycle tours, and my ex-wife, although not so much by volume in her case. At any rate, my ears need protecting. 

And so the drone carried on and I focused on what the balance of the day would bring once I reached my journey's end, awash with friendly faces. The drone was subdued, of course, by my noise-attenuating ear plugs, and so the world as I perceived it was not real, at least in the auditory realm. I could see, I could smell, I could feel, I could hear to a degree and the sun was now brighter. It became a lovely morning once again.

The pick-up truck turned into a farm yard, allowing me to nimbly disappear over the next small horizon, and so now I felt much more alive; in charge of my actions once again.

It didn't last long. Now I was behind an SUV fat enough to block my whole forward view and, naturally, the driver was not in a hurry to get to where he was going. We carried on.

At some distant point, in the middle of nowhere not near a town, the SUV abruptly began to slow.  I could make out that there were a couple vehicles ahead of it, but beyond them there was a sea of flashing lights. A man, a volunteer of a sort found in Vermont, was in the road, wearing a florescent vest and he was directing traffic - something bad had happened, at least this much was clear.

With the volunteers' pick-ups already present, plus two local fire trucks, there was a vehicular crowd; too many for safety on a tiny, winding road. I was obligated to slow to a crawl, but this allowed me to become a voyeur; I did not want to stop and make the problem worse. 

An anonymous car - a middle-sized, beige thing that was probably a Japanese blump - had driven straight where the road curved gently to the left. It went unswervingly across the front lawn of a house, and slammed square into the granite wall of a piece of the Green Mountains. The mountain did not move, and the car was flattened up to its windshield.

The driver of the car, and its only occupant as far as I could tell, had been removed from the automobile and she was sitting on the ground, leaning against the rear door. She was being tended to by a woman, I think. No ambulance was yet on the scene.

I will never forget the expression on that woman's face:  shock, fear, wonder, disbelief, pain. Saucer-eyed and incredulous, the look of her sitting there told nothing about her injuries, but there had to be some. There was no obvious bleeding; she was conscious. She was clearly pregnant.

I have to suspect texting in this case. It could have been anything, so this is speculation, because I have no hard evidence for this idea, but the day was fine and bright, there was no wind, the portion of the road she was driving on was flat and dry. The lawn was part of a residence, not an agricultural property and no such property was near. Rule out animals or a person in the road, because if it were necessary to swerve to avoid one of these, the car would not have gone perfectly straight. She just drove the car straight, into a granite wall. Why?

Because she was distracted by something. She could have started going into labor, but then she didn't look that pregnant. I believe she was doing something inappropriate, and these days a likely culprit is texting. If so, that would have been a very high-risk activity, especially considering her pregnancy. I am convinced she took that risk.

Two innocents in one morning . . .

Chapter Three - Everybody is Smiling  

There is no reason to speculate anymore about the balance of the day. It is true that I'm still low-spirited from what has happened, but the landscape is getting more 'foreign' as I near Lake Champlain, with smaller hills and a swampy pungency, and I know I am about to arrive in the promised land.

Well, this is a surprise. I guess I drove with more intensity than I was conscious of doing, because I'm actually early, somewhat. At least there are fewer cars than I expected, although there are some people around, plus a couple dogs, and a boat. I get to select a good parking spot. There is plenty of room, but getting away from the dusty driveway is helpful for the car's shine. It turns out that there are a few carless visitors, but they seem friendly, anyway.

The population builds quickly, and rather nicely. There is a gorgeous 356 that just underwent a full restoration - there isn't even any dust in its wheel-wells - and nearby a weeks-old 981 Boxster with new-car-smell oozing all over the place. Those, and everything in between; about 33 Porsches (and a couple others) showed up for this activity. I'll get to the people in a moment.

Right away, an opinion. First, to me the new Porsches are too fat (I won't mention which ones at this event). This remark might step on some toes, but Porsche is addressing a market, and that market evidently wants posh along with power and prestige. The recent cars are absolutely stuffed with electronic gizmos beyond any need as far as spirited driving is concerned. Yes, some are digital nannies that will keep the unwary going in their intended direction, never mind their ineptitude or distractions, such as trying to program idiotic details into the infotainment system, but this is sad. Sad, because when I look at the history of Porsche, that's not what I find. I find nimbleness due to light-weight, minimalist cars, that are raw and visceral. They were, as my car still is, driven by the driver, not by people in Porsche's marketing department. 'Less is more,' in the sense meant by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, is fine by me. I'll take mine additive-free, please. 

To many, this view I have is an odd and abstemious perspective. It's almost unpatriotic, or similar to a general rule observed by the Old Order Amish, or the Mennonites. Those people aren't much for sports cars, but they know what basic technology is and what it does, and no frills are necessary. Good attitude. The fact that my car has no power brakes, no power windows, no power seats, no power mirrors, no intermittent wipers, no sunroof, no sound system, no automatic transmission, no console, no GPS, no AC (it's a hot car), no power steering, a cable operated clutch, no ventilated seats, etc., is more than fine with me. The car is a blast to drive, and any mistakes made are mine, and not the car's fault.

Everybody is smiling. I don't know who came with what car, mostly, so I smile back and tell them that they have a nice car, and all of them do. It's just that some of those cars are not for me. I also see plenty of people that I know. Being friendly is universal, of course, so all of this is easy to take, and conversation is relaxed and pleasantly fluid. Talk covers every imaginable subject and it ranges from ephemeral smalltalk, to Descartes vs. Schopenhauer. Everybody keeps on smiling. 

The happy dogs make believe that they are trying to murder each other.

We get our orders from the boss that explain how we should behave on the drive we will take around the islands in the north part of the lake and everyone jumps into their cars, fires up, and joins the parade. We imagine that we are wowing the locals with our snaking line of shiny Porsches, but most of those locals continue to weed their gardens, or hang laundry on the line out back. One or two point in our direction and comment to their beer-holding buddies about them souped-up Volkswagens going by. We keep smiling.

Food. There was a lot of food. It was very good food. I'm not a foodie.

Chapter 4 - Let's Go Boating 

The boat was meant to be a sort of add-on hotel, should the need arise. This was a big party, after all, and a good number of people had driven substantial distances to get there, so the considerate hosts offered to put up those who wanted to party more so that they would stay off the roads in the dark while possibly being a bit tipsy. This was a good ploy and there were takers for the offer. There is a house and a guest house. The owners stayed in the guest house, and turned over the 'real' house to those who wanted it. The place sleeps ten comfortably, but the hosts were uncomfortable that this would be enough, so they asked one of the participants to bring her boat - which sleeps six - in order to be sure there would be enough capacity, bed wise.
It costs something like $800 to $900 to fill the gas tanks of that boat. I'm not quite sure how many hours it took to drive the boat to the location the house has on the lake, but the fuel consumption per hour is considerable because the boat has a big, rumbling V-8 with a lot of weight to push. As it happened, the boat wasn't needed as a mini hotel. 

Even if it had been needed, the cost of gasoline for that boat would have exceeded the cost of the best motel rooms in the vicinity, so the surplus guests could have been put up in relative splendor for a comparative pittance. Yes, but what romance is there to that? The boat rocks you to sleep, after all, and it was easily available. Too bad.  

As we (I was among them) awoke the following morning, groping around for coffee, the boat was still there and it was a nice day. This was a no-brainer. 'Let's burn some gasoline tootling around on the lake' seemed to be the collective thought and it was the middle of summertime. 

A boat that draws a meter of water must be maneuvered with care no matter where you are. On this lake you don't go anywhere without a chart spread out in front of you, and your depth-finder turned on to constantly read out how much depth you have under your bottom. In some places that look like fully open water you would rip the bottom off of this boat if you drove through there fast enough.

And so we launched ourselves out onto the waves to see the sights and enjoy the day. Soon the engine was roaring at its power output sweet-spot and everybody's hair was blowing horizontally toward the rear of the boat, so we were smiling. It's silly, isn't it? Anyway, the boat driver's head bobs up and down as he or she monitors the chart, the finder, and the horizon/shore/landmarks for clues about how to get from here to there without drowning a dozen people in the bargain. This is great fun, and when I took the wheel I sweated profusely and drove slowly. You have to become accustomed to this sort of thing. 

In the end, after rounding this island, then that one, then a few more, it was over and everyone said that they had a wonderful time. The presence of the boat represented tremendous generosity on the part of its owner, and it was a clever idea to have it available on the part of the party givers, too. We did sincerely appreciate it. 

I'm a car guy.