Bland Car Enthusiast: The 2016 Chrysler 300, At Last

Redesigned 2016 Chrysler 300Redesigns get revealed earlier and earlier, it seems, especially with Chrysler’s brands, and the 2016 Chrysler 300 is no exception. The 2016 model was revealed in 2014, which left two years’ models in between looking somewhat unstreamlined by comparison. I’ve always been confused as to how revealing the new redesign could possibly boost sales for the older models — unless, of course, the redesign is much uglier than the outgoing model, in which case, yes, you’d want to buy the better looking one before it goes away.

But whatever. Continue reading “Bland Car Enthusiast: The 2016 Chrysler 300, At Last”

Bland Car Enthusiast: The Buick Avenir Concept

Buick Avenir Concept - Bland Car Enthusiast

If you haven’t heard about the Buick Avenir concept vehicle, that’s not really surprising. Concept vehicles are for the truly enthused. Everyday citizens generally have little to no idea what concept vehicles come and go, but those who pay attention are regularly rewarded with something they like.

Me, I like sedans. Especially big ones. Especially Buicks. Continue reading “Bland Car Enthusiast: The Buick Avenir Concept”

Bland Car Enthusiast: The Instantly Classic 2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200 profileRedesigned for this year – well, next year, but it’s on sale now – it’s not a model many people are excited about, primarily because it hasn’t historically been a model to get excited about. But the new generation is awesome. Seriously, check that thing out.

I’ve written about the Chrysler 200 before, after it was first revealed. Now I’m seeing it out and about on the road, and I love it even more. It looks so good on our highways. SO GOOD.

Exterior styling is retro-cool, and I’m not talking about looking back at the 80’s or even 70’s with retro reach. I’m talking about Art Deco. The 1920’s, baby. The profile of this car has the right lines to have come straight out of classic Hollywood. (That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

The face, not so much – that’s very modern and just slightly forward-thinking enough to be at the forefront of what I believe is the direction of teens mid-to-late-teens overall sedan styling trend. The taillights fit right in with today’s hottest luxury cars. But that profile…yes. I can’t get enough of it.

It’s also got a nine-speed auto transmission, which is absurd and awesome and definitely a plus over any other sedans out there for smoothness and mileage. And its V6 option gets nearly 300 horsepower, which, for a family sedan, is absolutely unnecessary in the best possible way.

And for as much as I’ll talk about any car’s exterior styling – especially this car’s exterior styling – what actually intrigues me most about the new 200 is its cabin. It has a place below the cup holders & gear shift to place your iPad so it doesn’t slide all around, which, for some reason is a huge draw. It’s probably not that big a deal, but in my mind it’s fantastically innovative.

Also, it’s got a dial shifter instead of the normal stick. When I first heard of such an outlandish notion (as seen in the new Lincoln MKZ, with its console buttons), I scoffed, thinking with nowhere to place my hand, how could I possibly enjoy driving? But the more I think about it, the more and more appealing this notion is. Yes, if it’s not needed, by all means get that stick out of the way and feng shui the cabin for better flow. It will make me feel less claustrophobic, give me greater freedom of movement, and help keep me calm and serene. Ultimately, a great decision, and I secretly hope all car companies follow in that direction.

So – super-Zen, brain-pleasing driving with a nearly-300-horsepower engine that shifts smoother than butter, and exterior styling that no one else can touch? All for a price tag under $30K?

I’m sold.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Two Things About the 2015 Ford Focus

2015 Ford Focus DrawingOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Recently I discovered a new game. It’s called “Two Things” and it seems ideal for car trips. It’s simple: you just answer the question, “What are the two things you need to know about ___________?” Obviously, you fill in the blank and THEN answer it. This was more of an exercise in something professional when I discovered it, but I think it can easily become a car trip game.

I tried it on myself with the next-generation Ford Focus. What are the two things you need to know about the redesigned 2015 Ford Focus?

  1. It’s still the only car on the road that looks good in all shades of blue that the factory offers. Many cars come in multiple shades of blue, but every other car has at least one shade of blue that doesn’t look quite so great. Some cars offer only one shade of blue, and inevitably, they don’t look good in it. But the Focus looks good in all of Ford’s blues.
  2. The redesigned 2015 model, with its updated front fascia, now looks better in hatchback form than in sedan form. The current generation’s oversized front grille benefits the sedan, giving the appearance of a larger car when in fact it is a compact. The current hatchback still looks awesome, but I feel like the face was made for the sedan. The next generation, starting with 2015, looks like its face was designed for the hatchback. This is only disadvantageous to the sedan form. The next hatchback looks mega-sweet. Bold move, Ford, bold move.

Check out the 2015 Ford Focus on Ford’s official site.

Bland Car Enthusiast: It Is More Than Okay to Drive a Toyota Camry

Originally published June 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on how it’s okay to drive a Toyota Camry, the main concept being that despite other enthusiast publications’ insistence that it’s dull and boring and lame, it can be a super-awesome coolmobile because your car is what you make it. Everyone’s got different criteria for what makes a car a good car, and Toyota designed a vehicle with the goal of pleasing as many buyers as possible based on scientific market studies. So while it may not be perfect for anyone, it’s plenty good for a lot of people.

I’ll say it time and time again: vanilla is not a bad thing. Vanilla is, in fact, delicious on its own, and hey, you know what else? Vanilla is customizable. You can add sprinkles. You can add syrup. You can add a slice of pizza if that’s your thing. You add what you want, because that’s your taste. And if you drive a Toyota Camry, others might call you vanilla because you don’t like an engine that roars so loudly you can’t hear the radio, or a sleek, aerodynamic cocoon with no rear visibility, or whatever. Let them say what they want, because you know what? The car doesn’t make you cool. You make the car cool.

Of course, having written that with a chip on my shoulder in the fall of 2013, we are now past the 2014 New York Auto Show and the reveal of the “mid-cycle refresh” for the Toyota Camry turns out to be basically a complete exterior redesign. So now Toyota is helping you out with that cool factor a little bit.

The new styling is exciting and aggressive, not unlike its little sister, the new Corolla. With daring, determined headlights and an open maw for a grille, this car now carries the nay-sayer-challenging attitude that I wrote with last fall. And my eyebrows are raised.

I’ll admit I didn’t care for the exterior styling when it debuted with the 2012 model, but it was perfectly respectable. The 2015 is much more than just respectable. Well done, Camry team. That’s one hot car.

Finally.

Bland Car Enthusiast: The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata

The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai SonataOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

I’ve been a fan of the Hyundai Sonata since before it got its dramatic redesign back in 2011. I thought the 2010 model was handsome – stately, even, in an understated way. But I wasn’t sad to leave it behind for the next generation, because wow, what a game changer it was for midsize sedans.

Every other major auto manufacturer tried to pretend that it meant nothing. Good looking, sure, they said, but it’s still just a flimsy little Korean car. Too exotic-looking for the segment, they said. They didn’t realize that the interior was also better-built and better-looking than their segment-leaders. They kept their heads in the sands.

But sales numbers are sales numbers, and it didn’t take the rest of the manufacturers long to realize that they needed a dramatic redesign for their midsize sedans as well. So the once-innocuous Sonata came off the diving board with a cannonball into the still waters of midsize family sedans.

And now it’s time for a new Sonata. The design cycle is up, and the 2015 Hyunda Sonata will once again depart from the previous generation. I doubt this time around it will shake things up in the segment – the segment is now a Galapagos Islands-level mixture of exotic, colorful designs, with everyone trying to outdo everyone else on styling and engine performance – but the new Sonata’s design is revealed and public and yet again, I’m excited.

For one thing, apparently the back seat is so spacious, and there is so much room in the interior cabin, that the 2015 Hyundai Sonata technically qualifies as a full-size sedan, not a midsize. I’m all about size when it comes to sedans, so it’s nice to see the Sonata once again making a splash in its segment, this time for interior space.

The new exterior styling, though, is really just the loveliest part. It’s like it’s halfway between the current generation and the previous one – like the 2011 Sonata and the 2010 Sonata had a baby. A very big baby. It’s stately and understated, but still dramatic and sleek. And it’s beautiful.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Tesla’s Patent Promise

Tesla Model S - Bland Car Enthusiast

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who wants to use Tesla’s patents.

Let me repeat that.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla WILL NOT INITIATE PATENT LAWSUITS AGAINST ANYONE WHO WANTS TO USE TESLA’S PATENTS.

In other words: any carmaker that wants to use Tesla’s patented technology to make righteously awesome electric cars can do exactly that.

They are still retaining the patents, though, so anyone who abuses this generosity for evil purposes can still be stopped through legal action. But basically, they’re giving them away for all other car manufacturers.

Why? To save the world, of course.

A Hero’s Journey

In the early days of Tesla, it was easy to assume they’d fail, just like so many other electric car startups. The problem was that these other companies were aiming for the market of “people who want a sweet-ass electric car” – Tesla’s target market has always been “people who want the best car on the road.”

And to that end, they have endeavored to build the best car on the road, and they have been creating amazing technology to do that. They have been more successful with the technology than others, but this attitude of competing directly with combustion-engine luxury cars is really what has helped Tesla succeed to the degree that it has today.

But Tesla was not started to take BMW down a peg. Tesla was started to help save the world.

The patents were acquired to ensure business security, but since the only real threat, Fisker, has gone down in flames (pun intended), Tesla remains the only real electric car manufacturer. Other major carmakers like Nissan and GM and so on have made half-baked attempts to produce all-electric cars, but sales have been abysmal due largely to lack of interest.

These cars were designed from the get-go as “electric cars” instead of “super-awesome cars that happen to run on electricity.” They were then marketed the same way. They were low-rent economy cars with slow acceleration and dopey looks, and they cost as much as a Cadillac – who would buy that?

Taking It Up A Notch

Hybrid models have been quite successful, especially the Prius, but they still use combustion engines. The first phase of Tesla’s life has been to prove that a company that makes only all-electric cars can succeed, and they have done that. The next phase is to lead the way for combustion engines to disappear from our streets entirely.

Hence the new open patent philosophy. Since no one else is developing attractive electric cars, and since electric research & development is so stagnated at every manufacturer besides Tesla, they figured they’d give everyone else a leg up. This is a smart business decision, because healthy competition is historically good for successful companies like Tesla, and because it will help Tesla appear less like a novelty, and therefore they’ll be able to nudge their way into new markets.

The Future of Bland Cars

Tesla makes the best car on the road. Period. If everyone else catches up, they’ll have to keep improving or fall behind someone else – either way, there will be even better cars than what we see now in the Tesla Model S, and they will comprise a greater and greater percentage of our street traffic.

Can you just imagine?

Can you imagine if the Tesla Model S was the bland car? What a wonderful world indeed.

So get on it, Buick. Get on it, Hyundai. Get on it, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Lincoln, GMC, RAM, Nissan, Infiniti, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes, EVERYBODY. Take Tesla’s patents and make a better car than Tesla, I dare you. I double dare you.

Read Elon Musk’s full announcement and explanation here:
All Our Patent Are Belong To You

I’m excited, and I hope you are, too. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Jetta Respect

VW Jetta - Redesigned for 2015

When the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was introduced, I thought it was so offensively bad that it actually made me angry. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the silhouette and I liked the rear end. But the front end – with that too-slim grill and those beady headlights – was just awful. It may have been that because I liked the majority of the car’s looks, the part that I didn’t like was so painful and disappointing that I wanted to throw rocks at it.

But by 2014 the design had really grown on me. Some very, very minor changes were made to the headlights (straighter and slightly larger), and that solved the entire problem I had with it. It may also have been that I saw so many Jettas on the road that I got over the bad part and just appreciated the good parts (the silhouette and those bitchin’ rear taillights). But also, truly, I really came to enjoy the face of the Jetta.

So when it was announced that the 2015 Jetta would be redesigned, where ordinarily I would hold my breath, for this model I thought, “whatever may come, let it come. If I hate it now, I might not later.” And lo and behold, the 2015 Jetta is a continuation of the right trends. Well done, Jetta team. Well done.

There’s been enough of a facelift that my brain is pleased and calm when I look upon it. The taillights are better-looking than ever – they’re halfway between the old Jetta’s taillights and an Audi’s taillights. The silhouette looks good, and the back seat is still one of the largest back seats in the compact sedan class. And the Turbocharged 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder gas engine yields 210 horsepower. That’ll get me up the Camarillo Grade in the morning, all right.

 

Bland Car Enthusiast: The 2015 Dodge Charger

2015 Dodge Charger - Bland Car Enthusiast

When a car that I like as much as the Dodge Charger is due for a redesign, I tend to hold my breath for a year or so until the actual official reveal, and I try to ignore all the concepts and artists’ renderings and guesses and assumptions that get thrown out into the Internet.

The 2015 Dodge Charger was actually officially revealed last month, and I can breathe deeply once again. The redesign is, to my eyes, a complete success. I knew the car would get a facelift, but I had no idea what kind, since the Dodge brand is in the middle of a complete design language shift, led by the Dart.

The new face bears some of the same influences that created the Dart, but it’s not like the car looks like a large version of the compact. It’s still completely distinctive. There are trolls out there saying it looks like a Camry or Accord, but they are wrong. When I see that front end coming up in my rear view mirror, I’ll still know it’s a Charger. There will be no mistaking this.

The sweet grooves in the side remain on the new version, as well as the full-width racetrack taillights, and these are two things I am happy to see carried over. Supremely happy. I really like this car, and those are two of the things I like most about it.

Shots of the interior of a car are almost never useful as far as showing what the inside experience is all about, but from what I’ve seen on Dodge’s website, I’m inclined to think I will love it. This car is beautiful inside and out.

And, as in every generation, the 2015 Charger is a full-sized performance beast. The base V6 engine gets 292 horsepower, a sportier trim level hits the 300 hp mark, and the HEMI V8 will tear your face off like a rocket to the moon. And here’s my favorite part: the base engine now carries the 8-speed automatic transmission, an upgrade from the base models’ antiquated 5-speed of the previous generation.

With the interior looking the way it does, the size of the car dwarfing what I currently drive, and a 292-hp V6 with an 8-speed transmission thrusting me along, I can safely say that the full-size Dodge Charger is now an economically superior choice to many of the mid-size sedans I’d be considering. Because let’s face it – I’m not likely to consider anything with less than 200 hp, which usually means upper trim levels, which means higher cost. Not anymore, jerks!

Bland Car Enthusiast: the 2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200

The Chrysler 200 is quite possibly the most under-appreciated sedan on the market, but frankly, now that we all know what the redesigned next generation Chrysler 200 looks like, the current model is a waste of space because HOLY SHITSNACKS the 2015 looks good.

I say “under-appreciated” because it’s so much better than the Sebring, the model it replaced, which was far and away the worst car in the world. The 200 was basically a nicer version of it, with many design flaws corrected and some vastly improved looks, although the overall looks were, shall we say, subtle and easy to under-appreciate.

The 2015 version of the 200 is completely different, inside and out, coming now with the most aerodynamic exterior of any sedan out there (including some bitchin’ taillights), an space-increasing futuristic center console with a space-decreasing gear dial instead of a gearshift, a nine-speed automatic transmission mated to some big horsepower numbers, and a very serious sense of personal confidence. Furthermore, Chrysler offers this beauty in some kind of weird dark teal color, which I’m strangely drawn to.

Knowing what the 2015 Chrysler 200 looks like means owning a 2014 Chrysler 200 would be an embarrassment. So, old people and mid-grade new-money businessfolk: I implore you, wait a few more months for the new model to come out. You’ll be glad you did.

One last thought on this car: there’s been some griping from comment trolls on internet rags about the name “200” for a car. The general sense is that under the Chrysler umbrella, you’ve got the Chrysler 300, which is taken from the classic of the same name that had a 300-hp engine, which was logical; you’ve also got the Fiat 500, which refers to the vehicle’s historical 500 cc back in its earliest form; and now you’ve got the Chrysler 200, which refers to nothing other than the fact that there is another car in the same brand lineup, and that that car is larger.

You know what I say to that critique? Go screw, that’s what I say. Chrysler has two cars and a minivan. One car is called the 300, the other car is called the 200. That’s just bad ass, that’s what that is. So there.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Defending The 2014 Toyota Corolla

Redesigned 2014 Toyota Corolla.Critics far and wide are panning the redesigned Toyota Corolla as a new shell on the same old boring car underneath. To me, this is wholly advantageous.

By all accounts from those who’ve driven it, the 2014 model is the same as the 2013 model, meaning it’s a low-horsepower, high-mileage suburban runabout. Here’s the thing about that, though: this low-horsepower, high-mileage suburban runabout is the world’s top-selling car. As a for-profit corporation, Toyota would be foolish to change that formula. If you can produce the same car but wrap it in a newer, more interesting exterior, then by all means, do so.

I’m just grateful that the new Corolla looks so good. I mean, it looks really, really good. Toyota’s recent design language has been, shall we say, missing the mark in my opinion. The redesign of the Corolla brings the count of Toyota vehicles that I think actually look good up to two. (No, the other one is not the Camry. It’s the Avalon. More on that later.)

And the world’s top-selling car, being essentially the same economical and reliable car on the inside, is very likely to continue near the top of global sales, a large chunk of that being in the US.

I live in the US. That means no matter what, I’m going to see a lot of Corollas all around me. And now that the Corolla is a good-looking model, that means my view will improve. So, although I have no plans to buy a Corolla myself, I will absolutely endorse one for anyone else looking to buy a compact sedan.

So thanks for the redesign, Toyota! Well done.

Bland Car Enthusiast: It Is Okay To Drive A Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry - Fucking RadIT IS OKAY TO DRIVE A TOYOTA CAMRY.

This is a declaration that never gets made, so I’m making it now.

It is also okay to drive a Honda Accord, or a Chevy Malibu, or a Volkswagen Passat, or any other family-friendly midsize sedan.

Critics and auto bloggers everywhere love to get in their jabs at the Camry for being so “vanilla,” maligning it for being slower than a Ferrari, for having a smaller engine than a Boeing 747, and for having more doors than a Porsche. But nobody thinks about these cars the right way. If you think they’re boring, I will tell you straight up you’re wrong.

These cars are designed for efficiency, for safety, and for practicality. Think that’s boring? Shut the fuck up. Efficiency means less gas consumption, which means less smog and more going places, which means more of our population checking out places like Yosemite and Griffith Observatory and the Mojave Desert, and seeing those magnificent places with fewer particulates in the air obstructing the view. Efficiency in cars means opportunity. Safety means less chance of dying on your way to a ziplining tour; it means cheaper insurance so you can buy even more gas and go even more places; it means the difference between being alive and being remembered. Safety in cars means more risks can be taken. And practicality? That’s a no-brainer. Going somewhere? Cool. Taking people? Even better. Taking people and a bunch of stuff like sports equipment, camping equipment, maybe a dog? Super-awesome. Long car trip ahead? Sure would be nice to listen to your favorite music without a roaring engine pounding your ears the whole way, huh? Practicality in cars means more excitement in life.

Here’s what really gets me: when “sensible” is used as some kind of insult. So, really, are we supposed to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for something that’s NOT sensible? Sensibility is good. Reason is good. Logic is good. Without these essential ingredients to our national makeup, we end up with government shutdowns, economic bubble collapses, and open letters to Miley Cyrus.

Does “sensible” equate to “boring?” No. Sensibility is sexy. Sensibility is what fuels industry. Sensibility gives us E=mc2. Sensibility solves problems and takes us to newer, wilder heights. It provides a launch pad for things that are silly and fun, and catches us gently when, like children up past midnight, we fall down asleep. Sensibility doesn’t hold us back, sensibility saves the day. Sensibility should be our fucking hero.

So yeah, it’s okay to drive a Toyota Camry. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s fucking rad. So go live life. Ride a roller coaster if you want cheap thrills. Drive places in your Camry for everything else. Leave the excessive, obnoxious sports coupes to those with less imagination.

And another thing: I like vanilla. It’s delicious. So there.

 

SEO Has Taken Over My Life And It’s Rad

I wanted an image to accurately portray the mood, so I did a Google Image search for “Barren Wasteland” and this is what I got.

Here I am, in the future! You’ve all aged about five months, but not a single second seems to have gone by for me…

Just kidding. I know this blog has been sorely neglected for five months, or at least it would seem that way. I don’t apologize for not blogging. If anyone needed an apology, chances are someone would have said within the last five months, “Hey, why haven’t you posted on your blog lately?” So the hell with apologies. The hell with excuses, too.

But interesting things have indeed been happening, and they have indeed been time-consuming. I suspect no one’s noticed that BilGaines.com has not been updated for five months because we had, you know, the Olympics and the whole election thing to distract us. I hadn’t even noticed myself until just now.

In brief: In February I was hired part-time as an SEO specialist for a very cool company called Intrapromote. This meant that in addition to commuting 50 miles each way from Oxnard to Santa Monica and back every single day to work at Edmunds.com as an account manager, I was also donating eight hours of time and energy to a second gig. That was nine hours in Santa Monica, three hours total on the road, and two hours of SEO after putting the baby to sleep. That was my typical workday. I don’t remember what I did on weekends during that period.

In May, I started full-time for Intrapromote, which meant that although I loved my Edmunds co-workers dearly, I left them behind to work at home and adopt new, seemingly robotic co-workers. They only seemed robotic, though, because I “met” them all over the internet. Mostly over Yammer, but some IM me and I do hear a few voices on the occasional phone call. I know our HR director from our mutual time spent in the Chicago theatre scene and I met the president in person when he flew out to L.A. to give some presentations to a Southern California-based client. We ate at the best pizza joint in Hollywood and he remembered the bartender from, like, four years ago. And the bartender remembered him, too, because they were both from Indiana and people from Indiana never forget each other.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of parenting, travelling, and exploring the area I actually live in, i.e. Ventura County. I’ve seen very few people I know, but I’ve seen a lot of them, and it’s been great.

Also, as it turns out, my new remote coworkers are amazingly hip and groovy and cool and all kinds of other positive adjectives. And my new job is super-sweet. I’m doing something that keeps me interested ALL DAY LONG (usually) and I get to work from home. This means more time with my daughter Alie and my wife Devon.

With this new job, I actually HAVE been blogging, just not on BilGaines.com. I blog regularly for Intrapromote and I do a good amount of ghost blogging for clients. It’s awesome. This makes me a professional blogger, technically, but I will never describe myself to another as “professional blogger,” because every time I see someone call themselves a “professional blogger,” I instantly lose respect for them. I don’t know why, it just happens.

So, why start up again with BilGaines.com?

Many reasons, but mainly:

  • You should always warm up. This self-re-introductory post is a warm-up.
  • Small changes have been made – not important enough to call attention to, but a fresh blog post gets better PageRank on Google, and I want the new changes to be seen by strangers.
  • This is a teaser. Consider yourself teased. I am (again) changing course regarding SharkBlog (major DEmotion this time) and will probably meander a bit until I find a proper focus for the site, but know this: I have a small series planned regarding Instagram optimization. I will have data that I pulled myself on my very own Excel spreadsheet, and I will have my very own hand-drawn infographics.
  • I aim to sell you something.

Stay tuned. I will go ahead and publish this article right now, on Sunday night, the WORST TIME TO PUBLISH A BLOG, because I frankly don’t care about this particular article. This is not the one I want everybody to read. (If you are reading it, thanks! You’re awesome.)

But it’s good to be blogging on my own little website once again. I can say “fuck” as much as I want to.

Pigeonslaughter

Driving down PCH at the blackest morning hour is a dangerous and unpredictable commute, but one thing I never thought I would see (let alone be a part of) is a moving lineup of the entire Scion brand.

There I was, casually speeding at a weak seven miles over the limit, when I noticed the headlights behind me were catching up, so I moved over to the right to let the car pass. In the side mirror, I noticed there was another car right on the first car’s heels. As the first car passed me, I couldn’t help but notice it was a fairly new Scion tC.

I gave the passing tC a little wave, like I do for all Scion drivers, even though I knew that a) it was pitch black and there’s no way the driver would see me wave, and b) the wave would probably only confuse the other driver, since my patent-pending “Friendly Scion Driver’s Wave” hasn’t caught on in the mainstream yet.

Then, as I let the second car pass me, I saw it was the delightfully boxy Scion xB.

OH MY GOD, I thought. This is my chance.

I drive a Scion xD. This completes the current lineup, I thought. Just like some pre-dawn, noir-styled brand commercial. How fucking cool is that.

The Scion iQ is not on sale just yet, which leaves Scion with just these three models. I knew the iQ goes on sale starting December first, a little over a month away, so that was probably the last chance I’d ever have to be part of a living car commercial.

So, as the xB passed me, I sped up just a bit to match their speed, turned on my turn signal, and moved into the lane behind the first two, gloriously completing the Scion trilogy.

And then I ran over a pigeon.

I had never run over a bird before. In fact, I’d never killed anything larger than an insect with a car before. It was really fucking awful. The muffled splat of an insect on your windshield is nothing compared to the “thunk” of a substantially-sized object in the road combined with what was surely the sound of tiny bird bones crunching all at once.

I was immediately so overcome with guilt that I fell into some kind of trance. I don’t know what happened to the other Scions, where they went or how long I was behind them. But I didn’t stop the car after it happened. I just kept driving. It happened so fast, I never even took my foot off the accelerator.

Oh, that sound. That sound is still playing on a loop inside my head, like some grim, undying echo.

I wasn’t sure why I felt so bad. In that split second between when I saw the bird in the light of my headlamps and when I lost sight of it below the hood, I could tell that the bird was injured. It was flapping uselessly with one wing, trying to fly in any direction at all, but it was just too wounded to survive. Either that, or it was break dancing in the middle of the road.

It was just a pigeon. I’ve been telling myself all morning that it was just a pigeon. Pigeons are not even close to an endangered species. They are not even popular among environmentalists. I hear vegetarians refer to them as “sky rats.” And this particular pigeon was already mortally wounded (or bad at break dancing), and I just ended its suffering.  It wasn’t vehicular pigeonslaughter, I tell myself, it was assisted suicide.

But I still felt terrible about it.

That was earlier this morning. I’m okay now.

But that sound. I can’t get that sound out of my mind.

There’s only one solution: Disco.

 

The Emigration To California: Epilogue

The day after we landed, Trevor took off again.  You never saw a guy so jacked up on adrenaline and caffeine for the entire duration of a 2,000 mile road trip. That plane ride home must have been a sleepy one.   He had a layover in Salt Lake on his way back to Chicago.  I don’t think Utah will ever be the same for him.

Ten or so days after that, our stuff arrived from the shitty movers.  They had not been careful, and much of it was either damaged or destroyed.  They are shitty, shitty movers, and I hate them.

We’re still not fully unpacked, but at least we’re in California, in our little place by the beach.  Our daughter is now a California girl.  Born in Chicago, she’ll be a California girl with California parents from now on.  That’s how we wanted it.

So.  Life.  All of it.  Permanently changed.

To say that a little dust has been unsettled is like saying Mt. Saint Helens chucked up a little dirt.

But it’s falling into place, speck by speck.

So, here we have the end of Operation: Move to California as Soon as Possible.  It wasn’t easy, but it was fast.

What to do now that we’re here?  Primarily: raise Aliena to be the best possible human being we can raise her to be.  Secondarily: chip away at those writing projects.  Diligence, patience, and constant learning will be the keys in both endeavors.

Also, I have a surfboard I’ve been meaning to take out on the water.  Someday soon, I’ll get around to that.

Trip takeaway – beer list:

Recap:
Prologue
Trying To Leave Chicago
Chicago To Kansas City
Kansas City To Denver
Denver To The Middle Of Utah
The Middle Of Utah To Southern California

The Emigration To California: The Middle Of Utah To Southern California

On Saturday, I woke up feeling fresh, the way you do when you realize that the events you thought happened yesterday were all just some silly bad dream.

Trouble was, the events were all real, and Trevor and I were still in Richfield, Utah, without a working vehicle.  And it was still fucking Pioneer Day weekend.

Through a multitude of phone calls and inquiries we were able to set up an appointment with a mechanic who begrudgingly agreed to come into the shop to take care of our car.

Our guys at AutoZone confirmed that a rebuilt alternator could not be provided, since no one anywhere in the nation seems to have one.  I’d have to get a brand-new factory-direct alternator, which would cost at least three times as much.  They also confirmed that my shitty old battery was, in fact, shitty.  So there was yet another expense.

They were very nice about it, though, and they really did everything they could, so I took their word when they said the mechanic we were going to bring the car to was a shady douchebag.  I agreed to let them take the car to Mike’s Auto Clinic instead.  Mike was a buddy of theirs.  They also encouraged me not to do the polite thing and let the other mechanic know I was blowing him off; they said he had it coming.  Who was I to argue?

The last thing preventing us from leaving Richfield was the fact that we couldn’t get a rental car.  There is only one rental company in the whole city, and they were closed for Pioneer Day.  Also, they were apparently all out of cars to rent.  We walked there to confirm they were really closed, and sure enough, a handwritten sign on the door explained they’d be closed till Tuesday.  So I dumped my shitty motel coffee into their mailbox. They had it coming.

We then walked next door to the Ford dealership to see if we could rent something from them, and the Ford dealership was also closed. Again, just a handwritten note from them and some impotent rage for us.

In desperation, we walked into a neighboring Honda/Suzuki motorsports store.  I don’t really know what we were thinking – even if they could rent us a motorcycle, I don’t know how to ride one.  I guess we were just hoping that they had some connections in town or some leads as to where we might borrow a car for a week.

And there, in that shining moment of glory and cosmic harmony, the man we were talking to confided that he was, in fact, co-owner of all three business – the motorsports, the Ford dealership, and the rental company.  He ordered an employee to come into the rental office on his day off.  He even made sure that someone returned a car so they’d have one to rent us. I suddenly felt slightly bad for pouring my coffee into their mailbox.

Once again, I have to declare my amazement at the quality of customer service in Utah.  Those guys may enjoy their long weekends, but they’ll still help a human being in need.

And while I’m at it, I’ll take this opportunity to point out what a tremendous human being Mr. Trevor Watkin is.  Not only is he good at teaching music, he’ll buy you steak and beer when you’re having a rough day and he’ll be the first guy to slap down his credit card for a car rental company to hold when you rent a car for a week.  He’s a goddamn American hero, that’s what he is.

And so, after a long and painful stay in Richfield, dealing with very nice people and their somewhat indescribable Utah accent, we got in our rented Ford Focus and sped off.  And I mean sped.  We couldn’t get away fast enough.

Richfield is right at the intersection of the 70 and the 15.  The 15 signified the last long interstate freeway of the trip, and the energy picked up again just like on that first day out of Chicago.

Like a duo of proper Californians, we made a brief stop at the first In-N-Out we encountered (it’s in St. George, UT) and then kept flying, straight through Las Vegas without any hesitation.  No desire to pop a head in and pull the lever on some slot machines.  We didn’t stop.  We didn’t even slow down.

We hit the last state border around sunset.  California looked the same as ever on the 15.  You cross the border, the quality of the tar beneath you changes slightly.  The dirt beside the road looks slightly browner, but the bushes look slightly taller.  You feel more comfortable stepping on the gas pedal a little harder.  You get inside the state and it’s like there’s no activity more noble than driving.

Down the 15, through the mountains, past those little desert towns, out the Cajon pass, and you hit the 210, and then just a few speedy minutes to my parents’ door in Rancho Cucamonga.  A quick visit with them turned into a long-ish visit with them.  They had set the deadliest trap of all: pie.

And then another stop at Trevor’s parents’ place in the same town.

And then, one more hour west and we landed in Agoura Hills.  Devon’s parents’ place.  It was there we would stay until we could properly move into their beach condo in Oxnard.  We made it.

Boosh.

Sleep.

Next: “This is not my beautiful house…”
Previous: “Houston, we have a problem.”

The Emigration To California: Denver To The Middle Of Utah

 

Thursday was the day of bad burritos.  Friday was far, far worse.

It didn’t start that way.  It started with a beautifully scenic drive through the Rocky Mountains.

My iPod died on our way down.  Instead of open road songs streaming from my speakers, I got the little Macintosh frowny face and a URL for online support.  Still, I remarked, if that’s the worst thing that happens on this road trip, we’re in pretty good shape.

Then my car’s alternator died.

This happened in the middle of Utah, before we reached a town called Richfield.  Richfield is the biggest city in central Utah, and it’s not even big enough for foreign car dealerships.

The stretch along the 70 in Utah is a gorgeous tableau of red rocks, rocky crags, swooping canyonlands, and clear blue skies.  But the landscape goes from breathtakingly beautiful to annoying as hell in about as much time as it takes for the red light from the electrical systems warning icon on the dashboard to travel to your eyeballs.

Once we were aware something was wrong with the car, I didn’t care how pretty it was.  All I wanted was some assistance to help get us past all that natural beauty.

I learned from this experience that the car can still run after the alternator dies, but when that happens, the battery powers the car all on its own, and no battery can last too long doing all that.  Certainly no factory-installed battery.  My car is about three and a half years old, and no one was surprised to learn that the battery was pretty much incapable of holding a decent charge.  Everyone, however, was surprised to learn that a Toyota-built car like my Scion xD should lose its alternator after such a small amount of time.  Obviously, Scion thought that might happen, since my car was about six months past its warranty.  So much for the fucking reliability of a fucking Toyota, I thought.  Then I thought the word Fuck some more on a loop for a while.

We crawled into Richfield on a Friday afternoon.  That particular weekend, of all weekends, was a long one for the state of Utah.  Utah holds its own self-important holiday called Pioneer Day, and they celebrate it by taking the entire weekend off of work.  So, no mechanics.  No rental services.  No car dealership service departments.  So much for fucking Utah, I thought, and then I thought Fuck really loudly.

I couldn’t wait around five days for the weekend to wrap up and a mechanic to come back to work.  I had to start work in California the following Monday.  Even if we could order a new alternator, it wouldn’t get there till Tuesday at the earliest.  So we racked our brains all night to find a solution.  I looked up the KBB value of my car, subtracted the cost of an alternator, and seriously considered a straight trade for a used piece of junk from one of the domestic dealerships in town.  A 2001 Taurus is a really nice car, I thought, even with a hundred thousand miles.

Luckily, the AutoZone in town was open, and those men are just about the most customer-friendly bunch I’ve ever seen.  They made all sorts of phone calls on my behalf, pulled some favors, got a guy to take my car that weekend, and told us where we could get various services.  Human decency scored a victory that day.

It relied on availability of other people, though.  The plan we decided upon was to rent a car and travel on to California, leaving the Scion behind, and just come back again the next weekend to retrieve it.  We’d have to deal with these things in the morning, though, so the last thing to do that night was eat dinner and drink beer.  This was definitely a time when I felt like I needed a beer.

Only we were in Utah.

But the Mormon God took pity on us that day, and the steakhouse attached to the Motel 6 in Richfield does indeed serve beer.  Beer and steak.

You can surely destroy a massive boulder by chipping away at it with little rocks.

Zen.

Next: “I like to call it ‘Lost Wages.'”
Previous: “Every state has at least one winery.”

The Emigration To California: Kansas City To Denver

There is another side to Kansas City. The Kansas side.

KC seems to be to Missouri what Chicago is to Illinois, but the Kansas side is viewed as poorly as East Chicago, Indiana.  I’m not sure why that is, since our only experience with it was a fast food breakfast and a freeway out of town, and I can’t really make any judgment calls based on that.

What I will judge, however, is the fast food.  I judge harshly.

The middle of the country has Hardee’s instead of Carl’s Jr.  As I understand it, Hardee’s existed and then Carl’s Jr. bought them out, which accounts for the difference in menus and the gap in quality.  It was very early in the morning, and there was a rusted mid-20th-Century Impala in the parking lot.  That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, just a curiosity of the trip.

We drove through and I ordered a breakfast burrito.  That was terrible burrito number one.

Long story short: character or no character, bad fast food at breakfast is just about the worst thing ever for a long drive.

Kansas marks the switch from the real Midwest to the Plains.  Driving through Kansas is just like driving through Nebraska, but with hills.

Topeka is Google’s headquarters, though they haven’t been there long enough yet to influence the physical look of the town.  As we approached, I half-expected to see large LEGO blocks in bright colors peppering the city.  Instead, it looked like any other mid-sized mid-America city, with some multiple-story buildings that you couldn’t call skyscrapers and a handful of pointy church steeples. Quaint, though; I can definitely see the appeal of Topeka.

We didn’t stop there.  The timing wasn’t right.  I was still recovering from that ridiculous Hardee’s breakfast burrito, and Trevor was recovering from whatever the hell it was that he ate.  We sallied forth to our next destination: Longmont, CO, a suburb of Denver.

At the western end of Kansas, we stopped for lunch.  Our choice of eats?  Taco John’s.  Because every now and then, you have to try a restaurant that sounds like a really bad idea just to experience it.  It’s like the freak show at the circus.

It was here I encountered terrible burrito number two.  This one was made with fried chicken and tater tots.

From both burritos I expected some culinary Mexican influence, based on the fact that they were burritos.  Both times I was wrong.  Neither burrito contained any salsa.  Both burritos contained gravy.  Lesson learned, Kansas.  I’ll just get the steak next time.

By mid-afternoon, we were across the border into eastern Colorado, and our ascent began.  Up the inclined plane towards the Rocky Mountains we climbed, leaving Interstate 70 the first time that day just before Denver, just as the mountainous region really began.  We cruised north of the Mile-High City until we found the house of Trevor’s kin, and there we stayed the night.

Trevor taught a quick music lesson to his nephew that night.  A brand-new trombonist, now on his way.  Trevor is an amazing teacher, in case you didn’t know.  You watch the guy at work and you can tell that he loves it, and his love is infectious enough for not only the student, but anyone watching, too, to get excited and want to pick up the trombone themselves.

The evening was capped with a trip via open-top Franken-Jeep to a local microbrewery, one of Colorado’s finest gifts to the rest of the nation.  Oskar Blues was the joint, and their pale ale (Dale’s Ale) is among the finest I have ever had.  I dare say it even topped the outstanding pale ale from Boulevard Brewing Co. I had the night before in Kansas City.  As beer across the country goes, this was perhaps the best trip I’d ever been on.

Beer is best when you don’t feel like you need it.  And to this point, the road trip was smooth and, barring a couple of worthless burritos from the plains, a trouble-free journey.

But no good thing lasts forever.

 Next: “Houston, we have a problem.”
Previous: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”