g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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 3/28/2005 -   4/3/2005
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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
 12/6/2004 - 12/12/2004
11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
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 6/28/2004 -   7/4/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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 3/31/2003 -   4/6/2003
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 2/24/2003 -   3/2/2003
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  2/3/2003 -   2/9/2003
 1/27/2003 -   2/2/2003
 1/20/2003 -  1/26/2003
 1/13/2003 -  1/19/2003
  1/6/2003 -  1/12/2003
12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
 12/9/2002 - 12/15/2002
 12/2/2002 -  12/8/2002
11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
 11/4/2002 - 11/10/2002
10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
 10/7/2002 - 10/13/2002
 9/30/2002 -  10/6/2002
 9/23/2002 -  9/29/2002
 9/16/2002 -  9/22/2002
  9/9/2002 -  9/15/2002
  9/2/2002 -   9/8/2002
 8/26/2002 -   9/1/2002
 8/19/2002 -  8/25/2002
 8/12/2002 -  8/18/2002
  8/5/2002 -  8/11/2002
 7/29/2002 -   8/4/2002
 7/22/2002 -  7/28/2002
 7/15/2002 -  7/21/2002
  7/8/2002 -  7/14/2002
  7/1/2002 -   7/7/2002
 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
 6/17/2002 -  6/23/2002
 6/10/2002 -  6/16/2002
  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
 5/20/2002 -  5/26/2002
 5/13/2002 -  5/19/2002
  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, May 11, 2007
09:46 - I wanted to do something. Something with a t-shirt.

(top)
I don't think I ever had any such thing as a "dream car" when I was growing up.

Oh, sure, I had all the usual car-geek-larva stuff that's issued by law to all male kids: giant red Countach foam-core poster on the wall, "Justification for Higher Education" poster featuring a lineup of Ferraris and such, a Motor Trend subscription, and in (I believe) 1985 a "Red Beauties" calendar featuring all the hottest exotics of the day, from Testarossa to BMW M1, all in red. (I remember that one because I used it as a diary, cramming the day's most salient events into each tiny square, and I specifically remember the entries leading up to the world-altering release of the NES, which is about as close as I ever got to following a pop-cultural trend.) Yet as religiously as I followed cool cars and the machinations of their world, it was somehow never with the idea that I'd ever own one. Much as how I approached NES games like Zelda and Super Mario Bros—it never occurred to me that one could actually beat these games, getting through all eight progressively harder levels until you were some kind of finger-twitching fiend who was able to overpower the programming might of the game designers. My brother and I were generally content to just play the first few levels of a given game and treat it like that was all there was to it; it was plenty fun, after all. And for me, carspotting has always been just as entertaining—keeping a roving eye on the far lanes of the freeway for anything interesting, going to the odd car show, following the industry rags, pretending I know what "heel-and-toe" and "2+2" mean. When I went to college, it was with the intent of being an automotive designer, someone who would shape the exterior panels like a Giugiaro or a Gandini, names that I followed like some kids followed sports heroes. To work a Futurama reference into this:

After fourteen years of graduate school Farnsworth settled into the glamorous
life of a scientist. Fast cars, trendy nightspots, beautiful women... the
professor designed them all, working out of his tiny one-room apartment.

Sounds a lot like me, except for the fact that I didn't go to grad school; I stopped studying Mechanical Engineering when it became clear that it was about quantum thermodynamics and fluid expansion cycles rather than how to fit a V-12 into a front-mid-engine chassis; I live in a nice house rather than a tiny apartment in Hell's Kitchen; and I test other people's software for a living. Other than that, though, it's just like my life.

Due to one thing and another, though, it's somehow never been quite enough. There's a lot packed into my life, and many facets that I keep carefully shielded from one another, which is itself a full-time job; but somehow it's not as fulfilling as it could be, mostly because as I enter my 30s, I can't shake the feeling that once I hit 40 I'll be looking back on these years—ostensibly the best of my life—as "those years when I worked really hard". Not a great epitaph for a decade, to my way of thinking, especially since the chances for a better one decrease as I go on from here.

But there have been a few changes lately, such as a change of job (which forced me to exercise a bunch of stock options dating back to the pre-dot-bomb days), a change of diet/exercise habits (I'm down about 40 pounds in two months), and a recurrence—stronger than it usually is—of a nagging feeling that I need to Do Something™ in order to create some lasting memories, to compete with all those people around me who seem to be enjoying their lives a hell of a lot more than I am, despite not writing books about operating systems or running hugely popular websites or doing any of the other solitary nerdy things that I enjoy, like Google Earthing until the wee hours, which though it sounds like a perfect vacation plan to me, doesn't exactly capture people's imagination when I tell them stories about it.

So let's put the cards on the table here:

• Existential quandary? Check.
• Feeling of not getting any younger? Check.
• A bunch of money burning a hole in my pocket? Check.
• A friend with some pretty strongly held ideas about what constitutes a well lived life? Check.

This here's a recipe for a midlife crisis, unless I'm very much mistaken. 'Course, I'm a bit early for a midlife crisis. But I've always liked to be ahead of schedule.



Besides, how better to take advantage of a midlife crisis than by steering into the skid, as it were? No point in staving it off until I'm too old to enjoy it properly, right?



It's a 2000 Lotus Esprit V8, one of the rarest of supercars on the road, and in excellent shape to boot. My only experience with turbos being with my Audi A3 2.0T, the twin turbos on this beast are quite something to behold by comparison, and something requiring quite a bit more care and feeding than your typical econobox-that-wants-to-be-a-corner-carver. It's significantly more hard-core than the Elises that are swarming into the Bay Area as fast as they can be swatted away, and much, much rarer (only a few hundred were made each year). Lotus is remaking its name and business by cornering the small-roadster market with the Elise, but it's the Esprit that made it a player in the supercar world alongside the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the era.

And now I own one.

Yeah, it's a pretty surreal feeling, just typing those words. It's only just now beginning to sink in.



The trick to all this, you see, has been in not telling anyone about it until it was an absolutely done deal. I can't stand saying things like "I'm gonna..." and then not following through; when I commit to something, I want it to be as good as accomplished. It's one of those little neuroses I have. I insist upon my word being something people can count on, and I'll go to somewhat ridiculous lengths to make sure that that's the case, even if that means keeping friends, roommates, family, and blog readers in the dark about what I'm doing until the day the thing is parked in my garage.

I just got home last night from driving across the country in 3.5 days, from New York City to San Jose, on I-80 all the way, from the George Washington Bridge to the Bay. I started on Monday morning and arrived late Thursday afternoon, and I could have made it faster if I hadn't stopped once or twice to meet up with friends along the way whom passing by with but a wave from the freeway would have quite rightly thought the less of me for it.

But perhaps that's getting ahead of myself. What I really ought to do is start at the beginning of the weekend, when I flew out to New York on a Friday night red-eye to meet up with said friend, who had picked up the car from the dealership in New Jersey and had served as the negotiating intermediary who helped me get the price down to the $43K I ended up paying (apparently a steal for a car this rare and in this condition, whose cost to the dealer had been only slightly less), and who had spent the intervening two weeks tuning and tweaking and detailing the car to get it into presentable and eminently driveable condition. New tires, blow-off valves to protect the turbos, a boost gauge, wiring for a radar detector, a new high-end stereo system with iPod connectivity, a much better burglar alarm than the one that was already in there, a full clay-bar and wax treatment, and considerably more that I'm sure he will be more than happy to enumerate. Suffice it to say that if I wanted to, I could sell it for quite a bit more than what I paid for it.

Not that I want to.

After a shakedown cruise on Saturday, during which I got used to the seating position and the heaviness of the pedals (I'd driven a Ferrari F355 back in 2000, and the control dynamics are eerily similar—except I actually seem to fit better into this car, which is a real trick, since Lotuses are notoriously cramped and heartbreaking to tall people who would otherwise love to drive one), and had satisfied both myself and my host by nailing a couple of rev-matching downshifts on tight hill-climbing curves, we got up early on Sunday to take part in the NYU Toys for Tots Exotic Car Show, which took place at the NYU Medical Center on the East Side of Manhattan, as well as the subsequent run about fifty miles north into upstate New York in the midst of a line of other exotics, most newer, many considerably older, and few more unique than mine. The whole deal was a benefit for the Children's Hospital there, and while getting into the city was quite a challenge (a bicycle event the same day caused all the cross streets north of Canal to be closed off, shunting hundreds of cars down 7th Avenue in bumper-to-bumper gridlock, during which I lost track of my host in his borrowed Viper and had to communicate via walkie-talkies until I got to Canal and across and up 4th, occasionally jostling with Ferrari 360 Modenas and the like and growling our engines back and forth at each other, while not tiptoeing around manhole covers and road crud that none of us had the ground clearance to ride over), and while being teased into a parking space along the curved curb by NYPD cops who were dedicated to the event, that stuff's all pretty immaterial once you see all the cars lined up, a clown on stilts walking around them handing out balloons and posing for photos, and kids on crutches wrestling open the doors of a 25th Anniversary Countach, which is ostensibly the whole point of the thing.



All too soon, though, that part was over, and the better part of the assemblage of cars began revving up their engines and rolling out on FDR Drive to head north out of the city at what would prove to be the kinds of speeds that only people who have been doing this sort of thing for years are really comfortable with. I did my best to keep up, but we ran into traffic, and eventually I fell in with a group of cars that were equally content to stay at or around the prevailing speed of the traffic flow. I was following a Ford GT and a couple of Corvettes and leading a Ferrari 400 Automatic for much of the way, and while I was clearly no more in my element than Jack Dawson was at dinner on the Titanic—new money, obviously—I was gradually getting my bearings, and having spent the previous night studying the geography of the area on Google Earth (as well as paying attention on the taxi ride from the airport, which followed much the same route up past Sleepy Hollow and the Tappan Zee Bridge), I had a good idea of where I was going.

At least, so I thought. The directions sheet they'd passed out was newly printed that morning, with a new destination—FDR Park—that not all the attendees knew about, and not everyone had received a new sheet. I had, but somehow I'd gotten the idea that we were supposed to get on I-87 and then just stay on that for like 40 miles. So it caught me by surprise when the Viper that had moved in front of me suddenly was no longer there, and I saw it on the other side of the traffic flow exiting on Saw Mill Parkway. Too late to make it. But there was another exit immediately afterwards, and I got off on it, which put me in what I would later find out was Norwood. Fine, I thought; I could loop around and get back on Saw Mill. But to my dismay, I saw two cars behind me—a silver Shelby Cobra and a bronze Lamborghini Diablo—follow me off the wrong exit. Apparently they thought I knew where I was going. I got to Gun Hill Road and pulled up so we could shout to each other; I waved my sheet and confirmed that we were part of the same group, but they shouted back something about the Hutchinson Parkway, which didn't appear anywhere on my sheet. But they clearly seemed to be locals, so I yelled back that I'd follow them.

Unfortunately the Hutchinson Parkway was part of the previous set of instructions, and we'd made it all the way to Mamaroneck—on the opposite side of the isthmus from where we did need to be—before we pulled up again and I was able to overcome their thumbs-up-flashing confidence and convince them that the directions had been changed. I was the one who'd gotten us lost, but they're the ones who'd gotten us a lot more lost. So nyeah.

We made a plan to get back to the Saw Mill Parkway, after which I was to take over as point and get us all to the barbecue at FDR Park. But by the time we'd covered the twenty miles back to that intersection, though, the other guys both pulled off onto the shoulder, in neat formation, and got out and came back to tell me that since we were by now so far behind schedule, the barbecue would be over by the time we got there—so they were both going to call it a day. I had to get there to meet back up with my host, though, so throwing it in was no option for me. It was a real pisser, though, because I'd been hoping to salvage at least some of my dignity by shepherding home these poor lost lambs, this sweet helpless Cobra and this innocent young Diablo, from out the wilderness and into the barbecue. But it was not to be, and I straggled in on my own half an hour later just as the food was being packed up.

But most of the cars were still parked there—Gallardos and Murciélagos and Vipers and Diablos and 360s and Ford GTs and the classic Charger that had almost won the "Bull Run" TV show—and I got to hobnob some more with the gang and take some photos as they did burnouts in the park access road. (My host and I beat a discreet retreat when cops began to congregate, rushing in past us in the opposite direction as we shuffled out of the park whistling; we found out later that those still in attendance were issued many tickets for their trouble.) I'd say that the day could be considered a success, all things considered.



But all that was still only the warmup for the real reason I'd gone to New York. The following morning, Monday, was when I was to start my long trek home. 3000 miles in a cramped exotic with tight suspension over some occasionally quite bad roads, through 11 states and three major mountain ranges, and all to get it back in time to complete the illusion that I'd only taken three days off of work and was to be on a "flight" home that would arrive mid-day Thursday.

No problem, huh?

Well, off we went. My host and I set off at the same time, in the same direction—him to return his Viper, me to catch I-80 at its intersection with the Garden State Parkway, just a few miles from its nominal start in Teaneck—and I lost sight of him as he zipped between some slow-moving cars and shot off into the distance. I settled in at a much more leisurely cruising speed (around 80, modulated by conditions and signage and competing traffic) and turned my bow westward.

The whole point of buying this car is so that I can inject more "adventure" into my life. And man, was this ever an adventure. I'd say that even if I were never to drive this car again, I'll have successfully achieved one of my main goals, which was to have something good to look back on when I'm 40. And since I actually made it home in one piece and on time, and in all likelihood will be enjoying this car for a long time to come (especially since I've found out that some of my existing friends already are car guys and even do occasional runs and events with the Lotus group from two weeks ago), I'll be thinking of my 30s as "those years when I had a Lotus". Score.

I make it a point of my driving style to keep to a bare minimum any clutch-related jolting or random variations in engine speed; but this car makes both efforts challenging. The clutch is extremely heavy and short in travel (as befits a supercar), and while its pickup is smooth and continuous, it requires a lot of ankle strength to modulate it properly. Fortunately I spent most of this trip in fifth gear and at highway speed, so although it doesn't have cruise control, I found I could pretty much just take my left foot off and let it wander around the footwell. (Surprisingly enough, there's plenty of room for my feet down there, and far more space between the brake and gas pedals than in the Elise); I'd bought some Oakley driving shoes for this trip, and while they do help by giving different kinds of support to my feet and preventing chafing of certain kinds, their narrowness—it turns out—is a benefit that I didn't even need.)

The gas pedal is just as heavy as the clutch, and getting the hang of blipping the throttle before engaging the clutch is probably the most challenging part of driving it well. Still, with some practice, it's fairly easy to get things moving smoothly.

Highway speed, though, is a challenge; right at about 80 is where the engine starts getting rather buzzy, wanting you to either push it higher (inadvisable for reasons of gas mileage and general propriety) or let it drift lower (inadvisable for reasons of obstructing traffic and falling behind schedule). I had to keep modulating my right foot to keep my velocity more or less constant, as well as to respond quickly to changing traffic conditions and such; and while both pedals are heavy enough that I can pretend the clutch is the missing dead pedal and the gas more or less stays where I put it, fine-tuning where my feet go for thirteen hours at a stretch is somethng that really drains down your energy. I found at the end that despite all the higher-than-normal food intake over the past week, I'd actually lost about six pounds. Not a very cost-effective diet, but it seems to do the trick.

Speaking of gas mileage: how much would you guess this thing gets? 20? 15? 8?

Not quite. Going the wrong direction.

I saw mileage range from about 22 to (believe it or not) over 30. The latter happened on at least two different tankfuls, so I know it wasn't a fluke. Taken on average, this is actually probably better mileage than my A3 gets. So this is a practical purchase! Hyuck.

Oh, and let's not forget the styling, which is still—to me—the major point of the exercise.



Put bluntly, I love it. It's muscular but restrained, audacious but elegant. It doesn't go in for the whole scissor-doors/lander-from-planet-Grebulon thing that so many supercars of today espouse, and frankly that's fine with me. This is a car whose basic design lasted for 28 years without getting old, and that's one hell of a trick. This car's year—2000—is the year when they finally stopped making any changes other than minor tweaks (like the shape of the taillights), and my host in his tinkering found that pretty much everything he'd thought he'd have to do to the car to get it shipshape—braided hoses, MAP-style EFI, Bilstein shocks, big giant brakes, twin-plate clutch, cloth sleeves protecting rubber hose joints—had already been done at the factory, and designed in such a way that servicing the engine is a matter of popping off a cover and maybe taking out the luggage compartment liner. I have never been a gearhead, as long-time readers know; but I'm fully prepared to become however much of one is necessary to keep this car running in a cost-effective manner (finding a licensed service shop that doesn't charge by the limb will be interesting); but from the sound of things, if there's any car that will make the learning process more or less painless, it's this one. This is all made the more true by the fact that this car, while in really nice shape, has been put through some energetic driving by its past owner, and it's got a few battle scars and beauty marks; but oddly, that all just makes it the easier for me to want to push it (and myself) places I might otherwise be scared to take it. If I had a Gallardo or a V8 Vantage, I'd be forever obsessing over whether the switchgear was gleaming properly and the scissor-door lifters operated equally smoothly and seamlessly; whereas with the Esprit, I can just accept that the buttons are plastic and the door locks are sticky and move on with my life. Considering the number of bad roads I saw in the last three days, I'm sure I'd have turned back in terror if I were driving a car that wasn't a little bit roughed up already.

So let's see: great looks, relatively easy maintenance, very nice comfort level and driveability, and all the exclusivity in the world—and it's black to boot, probably the best color for this car. If I'd known in advance that I'd ever be in a position to own one, and had thus been willing to put that "dream car" label on anything, this would have been pretty close to the top of the list.

How fast does it go, you ask?

Gee, I wouldn't know. (Had it up to 160 on the Bonneville Salt Flats...)

Some highlights from the trip home:

  • The Delaware Water Gap is awesome. And what a perfect illustration of how the Appalachians, with their bizarrely smooth and unbroken ridges paralleling the eastern seaboard, presented a bulwark against westward expansion that had to be breached forcibly at whatever weak points existed.

  • Road conditions varied a lot by state. New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania is pretty chewed up (much in keeping with the mashed-together, perpetually-under-construction-but-never-really-finished aspect of the place), but western PA has very nice road surfaces. Same goes for Ohio (once you get on the turnpike) and Indiana: good roads, few cars, and an atmosphere that encourages you to make good time. Illinois roads were all right (outside of Chicago); Iowa and Nebraska marginal, Wyoming through Nevada (particularly Nevada) superb, and California god-awful. I swear, I-80 over the Sierras is so chewed up by chains that you feel like you're in an old-time wagon train again, with your wheels slipping into the ruts left by a thousand settler trains before you.

  • I stopped for lunch the first day at an Arby's in Clarion, PA. It's funny how fast-food joints in freeway towns have to be both passerby-facing (for traffic just stopping in for a quick half-hour bite) and locally focused, so as to serve as a hangout for the hometown. From what I gathered from the many locals eating there (who all knew each other), the Clarion girls' junior-varsity volleyball team is in a huge nationwide tournament that has all the town's mothers in a flurry of activity supporting their daughters. Reminds me of marching-band days...

  • Speaking of fast-food joints, I hope people have stopped picking on McDonald's, because have you been in a McDonald's lately? It's pitiful: it's like the whole restaurant is one big apology for its own existence. Everything they sell and do is just wreathed in contrition for all past sins real or imagined. Chicken wraps. Fruit salads. The only place Ronald McDonald appears is in a tiny icon on the bag, of him jumping around and being "active" and recycling the bag in an approved disposal container. Even the "I'm Lovin' It" slogan is printed on the bag in about seventy different languages, just in case anyone was planning to accuse McDonald's of being racist or something. Far from being purveyors of gluttonous masses of meat, you can barely even buy a frickin' burger there anymore—they get smaller every year, it seems, and even a Big Mac is less food than your typical Taco Bell gordita—but the "We're good guys, honest, please don't leave" slogans just get louder and louder. I hope people are proud of themselves.

  • Have you ever had your iPod just keep bringing up songs that are oddly, bizarrely appropriate to the surroundings? Like the Brokeback Mountain theme as you drive through Wyoming's stark, Alaska-like mountains, or the Village People's "Go West" when you approach an interchange with signs pointing to I-80 westbound? That kept happening to me over and over again this trip. But the best example of the bunch had to be when I got to the Sandusky, Ohio area, and the iPod started playing Brak's "Ohio" song. This is right in the middle of the state when I was seeing turnoffs for the various cities; so I more or less could wave at the signs as I passed them by: "Hello Cleveland... Hello Toledo... Hello Columbus (Buongiorno, Brak-a!)".

  • The turnpike system through Ohio and Indiana is very slick: you get a ticket when you enter and pay when you leave. Very friendly for thru-state drivers, who only ever see a toll plaza at the beginning and end, rather than having to slow down every few miles to toss in some change. $10 to cross Ohio? Sounds fine to me. Illinois' system, though, is less fun to deal with—toll plazas all over the place. But since everything is focused on the locus that is Chicagoland, there's really no other way to do it.

  • More toll booths, though, means more chances to interact with people who might be in the job because they like cars and are getting a chance, however oblique, to come into contact with cool things on wheels. A toll taker on I-294 in Chicago broke character and handed me back my change with a big sloppy grin and a bunch of questions about the car, which I was more than happy to answer, until someone else in the sparse 1AM traffic came up behind me and forced business to resume.

  • Iowa is lots less flat than I remembered. It's full of undulating, rolling hills and picturesque little streams through cow pastures. I don't know where I'd gotten the idea that it was one endless plain of corn (perhaps the last time I'd been through it, in 1982); but it was anything but.

  • Adjacent to the freeway in the middle of Iowa, I saw a Honda Element bookin' it along a dirt road at at least 60, kicking up a huge cloud behind it. On its side was the US Postal Service logo.

  • I was warned by friends in Iowa that Nebraska was a long, horrifically boring wasteland. But while it was flat for the first 200 miles or so, at Grand Island I-80 starts following the Platte River, and at that point suddenly I started finding it absolutely fascinating. Cottonwood trees lining the river in all its flatness, and then—as you get further west in the state—you start seeing outlying vestiges of the Rockies, and finally, when I-80 meets I-76 from Denver, it suddenly goes leaping up into a green, windswept plain with rocky outcroppings that point the way into Wyoming. A storm rolled in just as this happened, and I could just imagine what it must have looked like to the pioneers: seeing huge thunderheads gathering on the horizon but never getting any closer, they'd have realized that there were some huge mountains ahead even before they could see them.

  • The Taco Bell in Kearney, Nebraska has a print of "The Scream" on the wall next to the soda machine. Yeah, that'll put diners at their ease.

  • A day of driving that begins in Des Moines and ends just outside Salt Lake City is, according to Google, 1064 miles. Just a little factoid for you.

  • Most people who sidled up to the car—including a couple of young ne'er-do-well types with horrible teeth in a rest stop just inside Wyoming—wanted to know how fast it goes or how much it cost brand-new. An old guy at a gas station in Nebraska, though, wanted to know what kind of gas mileage it got.

  • Ever since Google Earthing the route in preparation for this trip, I've been looking forward to getting this photo: me at the highest point on I-80, at the summit between Cheyenne and Laramie, where the Lincoln Highway crossed the ridge and there's now a giant Lincoln statue looking out eastward from the ridgetop. It was still snowy up there, with big patches of unmelted snow all over the rest area, and Medicine Bow Peak off to the west was completely enrobed in white.

  • Wyoming is a desolate place, full of the same sagebrush and tabletop mountains one normally associates with places like Utah and Nevada. It's just higher up.

  • I had my Check Engine light come on as I took off from Illinois; counting the Elise, the other guy's Elan, and the Esprit, that makes three Lotuses I've interacted with and three Check Engine lights. I stopped at an AutoZone in Davenport to have them plug in and check it out. You get one guess as to what it was. Yup: the O2 sensor. Grrr. I am this close to being convinced that the O2 sensor doesn't exist—it's just a code word, a convenient excuse for the car to go back to a shop and generate some revenue for somebody. Anyway, the AutoZone guy reset the code (he's from the Bay Area, as it turns out), and it stayed off until Utah. Right around the Bonneville Salt Flats, when for "some reason" it came back on again. Guess I've got my first project.

  • Hey look, someone made a sculpture of the Pulch in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

  • I'd been dreading the trek across Nevada for some time, but by the time I got there—after crossing Bonneville early in the morning—it wasn't really all that bad. Four to five hours of hard driving and you're through it. But there's nothing to reinforce the vastness of the country like seeing those endless expanses of sagebrush receding off to the feet of high snowy bleak ridges hundreds of miles away.

  • Reno is where suddenly civilization comes back and roughly shoulders its way into you. Coming from the east, Reno has a lot more in common culturally with California than with the rest of Nevada—it's become an outgrowth of the coastal cities rather than a distant foreign location. Suddenly I found myself looking at Minis, Mercedes, Cadillac SUVs—and realized that I hadn't seen so much as a Volkswagen in the entire trip up to that point. The interior is the domain of Fords and Chevys (to the point where I have to wonder if that's the only thing keeping those companies in business); and the fact that after three days in the heartland even a Mini looks exotic just drives home the point further.

  • I had an odd premonition that although I'd had no police interactions on the entire trip, something would happen when I was like ten miles from my house. And sure enough...

    I was on 680 southbound, after having passed a whole bunch of traffic crawling northbound in rush hour (you couldn't pay me enough to live in Pleasanton if that's what I'd have to endure every day), and suddenly my luck ran out: traffic came to a stop right about at Montague Expressway. On the shoulder was a cop just finishing up with a minivan driver, who got in and pulled into traffic, followed shortly by the cop. I was suddenly and vividly reminded of the fact that my license plate frame housed not a license plate nor a valid registration, but a temporary New Jersey non-resident placard with the registration info in a bag and "5-9-07"—the 20-day expiration date—written on it. That was one day before. And the cop behind me had a big eyeful of it. So I started jostling around in the traffic, trying to put some cars between me and him, while at the same time looking all inconspicuous (you try doing that in a black Esprit); but all I succeeded in doing was allowing him to move past me and get in front, where he had a direct view of my front end with its lack of any plate (a common fine-I'll-write-you-up-for-this-at-least transgression). Well, that's no good. More bobbing and weaving and hide-and-seek, but it was another three or four minutes before he finally got sick of the traffic and turned on his lights and zoomed off on the shoulder, and I never saw him again, though I was super-careful to surround myself with other cars all the way home from there. Wouldn't it just figure, that if anything were to happen on this trip, it would be something like me getting black-flagged mere miles from home, and for the stupidest and pettiest of technicalities...

  • I was all set to finish this list off by saying (with some justification, I think, considering that I hadn't seen anything more exotic than a Mustang since Sunday) that I didn't see a single other car cooler than mine on the whole trip. But wouldn't you know it: not an hour after I'd thought that to myself, as I was tooling through North Platte, Nebraska, which is as close to a dictionary definition of "the middle of nowhere" as you're ever likely to find, I saw a frickin' Veyron going the other direction.

    But aside from that, there wasn't a cooler car than mine on the road. Well, except for a big red truck with "Ferrari of Newport Beach" on the side going eastbound outside of Winnemucca (which probably had some neat stuff in it), and a Murciélago at the top of Donner Pass (apparently someone else's new toy) that was being carried over all the mud puddles and ditches so it wouldn't get its pretty little feet wet.

    But I don't think those count.


So now it's in my garage, resting, as are my raw-chafed heels (though not in my garage). Now comes the fun part: showing it to all the people who for whatever bizarre reason had been developing the theory that I was going to buy an Elise, and have been ribbing me for weeks: "So when are you gonna get your Lotus? Huh? When are you getting your Lotus?"

Well, I got my Lotus. So there.

And oh yes, the epilogue:

When my roommate got home, and I opened the garage door to reveal the car wedged in there, as he stood and stared at it I said, "Remember a couple weeks ago when you asked me if all that FedExing and faxing I was doing was book-contract-related? And I said yes? Well... that wasn't entiiiiirely accurate."

He pointed at me and barked: "I knew it!"

"Aha!" I countered. "You only knew part of it! You thought I was getting an Elise!"

And he stuck out his finger and said, and I quote, "..."

Then he said that I'd done an excellent job of pulling the wool over his eyes and others'. What with all the little balancing acts I've been pulling over the past couple of weeks to keep people thinking along certain lines but actually going off in a slightly different direction, well... this kind of payoff is worth the cost of admission right there. Score.

UPDATE: Here's the scoop on what-all was done to this crazy thing before I ever saw it in person.

UPDATE: I think my parents' reaction is the best so far. I quote: "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

UPDATE: And to think, I could have had this...

UPDATE: Okay, one more photo—this one taken by Mark when I stopped off in Chicago:


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© Brian Tiemann