5 Reasons Why Some People Love Cars So Damn Much
I love cars. That doesn't mean that I'm a good driver, that I could talk to you about the state of the automotive industry or that I could do anything to help you fix literally anything in any sort of meaningful fashion -- but I love the damn things nonetheless. This love actually extends beyond cars, to motorcycles, trucks, airplanes and basically any other marvel of engineering that, in a fair and just world, my incompetent fingers would never be allowed to touch. But as a dude who digs whirly things that go places, I find that most people either share that exact same love with me or else cannot understand the appeal in the slightest. So on behalf of all of us fans of controlled explosions with wheels on them, I figured I'd give a go at explaining this baffling affection, and maybe shed some light on what makes the box that occasionally takes you to the store something more special to us.
It's Meditation for the Unenlightened Man
Two out of five douchebags will describe their hobbies to disinterested women as "a zen thing, you know?" They will go on to clarify that "It's like I'm really at peace when I'm windsurfing/quilting/strangling hobos on the F train. So like, do you do butt stuff or what?"
People who actually say shit like that with a straight face are clearly not spiritually enlightened men. They're callow conglomerations of dick that only want to seem like deep, contemplative people with real thoughts and emotions. But there is such a thing as daily, accessible meditation, and it doesn't have to have any kind of philosophic motivation. Take me, for example: I'm a writhing ball of condensed worry, fury and childish bullshit. If my brain's not mentally giving me cancer or spinning an epic revenge tale about the bitch who cut in front of me in line at the gas station, it's probably running a little skit about a knight slapping a dragon with a floppy dildo. Or else it's a combination of all three. My mind just frantically skipping back and forth from how shitty chemo is inevitably going to be, to stabbing Gas Line Bitch with my IV, to plotting the logistics of modding my hospital wheelchair to look like Optimus Prime.
So that when I back up, it looks like Optimus decapitated a guy and mounted his head on the roof, obviously.
But when I work on my car, or hop on my motorcycle, I suddenly gain focus. I'm no longer running the numbers on my budget for the next year while wrath-banging the wife of my old grade school bully -- I'm only wondering what, exactly, a PCV valve is, and why it has to be constantly fucking with my life so much. Or else I'm plotting my ideal line through the next corner while trying to discern if that pickup truck is going to pull left in front of me. Sure, all those emotions are still there: I worry that I'm screwing up my engine, I'm furious at the inattentive bastard who might run me off the road and I guess there's probably something juvenile about how I'm mentally screaming "Wheee!" at the top of my psychic lungs around every apex, but there's no more skipping about. If the inner monologue is a song, then mine is some shitty club DJ slamming together Leonard Cohen and Ludacris with occasional ironic breakbeats by Devo. But when I'm working or riding or driving, then my focus is one single melody, unbroken and pure.
I mean, I'm still me, so that melody is a little more "Walk Like an Egyptian" than "Mooonlight Sonata," but the important part is there's finally some mental consistency in this otherwise slipshod and fragmented psyche.
Everybody needs a puzzle solving fix. It's just the way our brains are wired. If you don't give the damn things a puzzle to solve once in a while, they'll keep you up all night scatting the melody to The Simpsons until you get up to go cry in the bathroom. Maybe you solve theoretical mathematical questions on AskScience, or do Sudoku on the train, or just slingshot disgruntled birds at ambivalent pigs inside shoddy constructions -- hey, nobody said the puzzles were all brilliant. Your puzzle could be just rapidly opening and closing the fridge door to see if the light stays on or not.
"It's like a zen thing, you know? If it's on, but I can't see it, is it really on? It's a modern day koan. So ... butt stuff, yea or nay?"
Some guys do the crossword on Sundays; I try to figure out why my Subaru is cranking but not turning over. Diagnosing car trouble really is more puzzle work than simple troubleshooting, I swear. Sure, maybe it's not cranking because the battery's low and any idiot knows that, but it's never that simple. You have to take every other variable into account first: Were you running heavier oil for the first time in this engine? Is there some corrosion in the ground cable? Remember when it did that strange shuddering thing when you gave it some throttle the other day? This could be connected. Because in any good mystery, the culprit is never the sinister Duke Murderfist; it's always the jovial butler or something. You can't just pin the blame on the obvious. You have to carefully track and plot a long series of events, examining every suspect and tracing the often conflicting, overlapping clues that lead to this particular crime. Because every mechanic is a detective: His cases are strange vibrations; the victims are innocent camshafts and naive, starry-eyed young tappets; his boss is a-
Oh, it was the battery? Shit.
There Are Two Different Types of Satisfaction
I believe every human being needs two types of satisfaction: productive and creative. If you're lucky enough to have a purely creative job, like me, you spend most of your time tweaking and experimenting with concepts, putting words and ideas together. It's really rewarding stuff, but it's all a little abstract, too. Sometimes it leaves you a little empty afterward. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the builders: You spend your day assembling, measuring and crafting. Factory workers, carpenters, construction workers -- you all know a set of rules and how things fit together, and at the end of the day, you produce something real and tangible that was not there before. Rewarding stuff, too, but maybe you're also a little creatively empty. You probably do something to fill that void. You play in a blues band on weekends, you draw comics, you write one-man plays about the fantastical adventures of your penis, Sir Cockwell of Dongton Abbey, and perform them for unsuspecting subway patrons -- you know, whatever gets you through the day.
Truly, it is the most unappreciated form of theater.
As a purely creative worker, I need to go out to the garage on the weekends and put something physical together. There's no creativity to what I do out there -- I'm not good enough to design, build or even mod my own machines. And I don't have much interest in that stuff, honestly. I just want to change parts, check clearances and follow directions, because when I'm done, something works that didn't before. I see a tangible effect on the world.
There are a lot of perks to being a comedy writer on the Internet, but "I had a tangible effect on the world" is just not something I can say after I spend an afternoon making dick jokes about experimental science, you know?
The Symbol of the Machine
There's a lot of infighting amongst gearheads because, like pretty much all groups, they're focusing on the differences instead of the commonalities. In the world of motorcycles, sport bike riders hate cruisers, cruisers hate tourers, Harley riders hate everybody and scooters don't count. Classic car aficionados hate modern car lovers, Ford owners hate Chevy owners, fans of the Japanese market hate the European and everybody hates Priuses. Aside from despising scooters and Priuses (naturally), I never bought into this mentality. I have my preferences, of course. I like my cars like I like my cheese: American and a lot of it.
And I like my bikes like I like my beers and situational comedies: dark and British.
Ladies, please, I can't give ALL of you a ride ... because I keep accidentally shifting into neutral.
But hey, that C10 is badass, that old Rolls Royce is really cool, too, and your sport bike looks like a fucking battle mech; of course I get the appeal.
I'm pretty sure there's a Japanese schoolgirl discovering the untapped power inside of her just out of frame.
If we took all the bickering out of it, maybe we'd find that every gearhead has something in common: a place of reverence in their heart for what the machine represents. These things we love are the culmination of thousands upon thousands of years of human ingenuity. You don't have your beloved Skyline just because somebody in Japan built it, you have it because an engineering team focused on the mechanics, an aesthetics team worked on the looks, the QA guys put countless hours into testing it, and so on. But it goes beyond that. You wouldn't have that car today if somebody hadn't invented the turbocharger, or if somebody else hadn't invented liquid cooling; if they hadn't refined the process for breakaway glass or perfected the hinge. You couldn't sit down in that beautiful machine if there hadn't been countless iterations of countless teams throughout history, all devoting their entire lives to developing one type of valve in one small part of your engine. And that goes all the way back to the day the inventor of the wheel, Oglak Wheel, first noticed that round things rolled downhill and then immediately started hurling his poop to mark the more desirable females as his own.
You know what they say: Mo' money, mo' poo.
The means that lead to the end of pretty much any machine are billions upon untold billions of man hours. There are innovations upon innovations, processes upon processes, pressed unto themselves over and over, folded and tempered like a sword until, at one particular point in time -- whether that was in 1967 Detroit or 2012 Osaka -- they all came together to make one amazing thing. That's your car, your bike, your plane, your boat. All vehicles are the pointy bit of a mechanical sword that's several millenniums long.
And now you're going to slap a bright green spoiler on it because you fucking know better.
You've heard (and likely rolled your eyes at) this line before: "It's the freedom of the open road."
Kerouac got high and liveblogged about it half a century ago, and guys who insist that the poster of Steve McQueen pinned above their headboard isn't the least bit gay still repeat it to this day. But there is some truth to the association of freedom and vehicles. Usually at this point the author would tell you a story about a '57 Chevy they fixed up with their dad, or an '82 Corvette they worked three jobs to save up for. I'm going to tell you about my first car: It was a 1986 Ford Taurus.
The back seat smelled like corpses from the day I got it, and in under a year, I'd managed to fuse the thing to a stone fencepost in the backcountry of central Oregon when the power steering pump rage-quit on me mid-corner. And to this day, I still love that smelly, murderous, ugly, ugly bastard. Because your first car is never just a car: It's an entire city, a state, a country! As a teenager, your pre-automobile field of influence is a small circle about five miles around your home. Maybe you had a bus pass, or a bicycle, but there are limits to both of those things: The buses only ride certain routes at certain times, and, with some rare exceptions, you're probably not bombing down the only highway out of town on your Huffy. With a car, your field of influence is only limited by your gas tank. And I grew up at a time when gas was relatively cheap.
If I could scrape up a dollar or two, I instantly added hundreds of potential square miles to my life. My car meant parties across town, late movies and impromptu road trips. But it went further than that. Your first car is always your first house, too. It's a roof, a lockable door and a tiny, uncomfortable bed that smells like corpses, sure, but it's yours. It's a place to crash in when you're too hammered to drive, a place to bring girls (if you hang with the kind of girls who are down to mack atop a mortuary floor, of course) and even the occasional bathroom, when you lose a tag team match to Jim Beam and Pauli Percocet.
I think some measure of what turns people into gearheads is a sense of gratitude that we just can't shake after that first terrible, broken, shitty, smoking, rusted-out Festiva opened up our worlds like a goddamn Disney movie.
Get the first episode of Robert's Sci-Fi Serial Novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here, or buy Robert's other book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out 5 Bizarre Pitfalls of Owning a Classic Car and 7 Real Car Chases Way Crazier Than Anything in the Movies.