Luxury Vehicles? Not for me.

As the beautiful fall colors are adorning our trees here in Western Pa., I see a lot of folks driving their luxury vehicles on leaf peeping excursions.  You know the ones with the Mercedes, Lexus, BMWs,  whose cars are immaculately shined, tires gleaming with Armour All, drivers dressed in pressed khakis and starched Polo shirts- loafers with no shoes, sweaters draped over their shoulders sporting aviator sunglasses.  These folks love their cars and love the idea of driving them to parties, work, or other locations where they can show their passion for their vehicles.  My crowd is a little more earthy and the mountain bikers, hikers, and skiers that I know drive dated SUVs and 4 wheel drive pickups.  I am no exception with a 5 year old Jeep which has 143,000 miles to date and is absolutely filthy- much to my wonderful wife’s dismay.  ” Why do you beat our vehicles” she gasps as she sees my Jeep filled with firewood or piled to the ceiling with mulch in the spring.  Some of that mulch is still working its way out of the seats this fall and the sand from the beach this summer compliments the compost like decor I have beneath my seats and on the surface of the carpets.  I see vehicles as a practical mode of transportation and if there is a layer of mud from my mountain bike gear, or last years doughnut crumbs still wedged in my cup holder, I am not dismayed.  As long as I can transport my gear and get there safely with 4 wheel drive, I am not concerned with the appearance of a vehicle.  IMG_0574

This disdain for vehicle maintenance all began when I started to drive my mom’s 1964 yellow Buick convertible back in high school. I transported many of my friends to school and back and oftentimes the top was down- even in the winter.  As we pelted classmates with snowballs from the moving convertible, it became a battle vehicle until the day the top would not go back up and my dad was aghast at the snow in the seats and floors.  I put large snow tires on the rear wheels and loaded the trunk with sand bags for the weekend ski trips to the mountains.  Whenever there was a snow day at school, you could be sure that the yellow Buick was filled with equipment and headed for ski country- no matter what the road conditions were like.  My parents were very understanding.  1964_Buick_Special_convertible

Moving along, I graduated to four wheel drive SUVs and the original orange International Scout hauled many a friend out of a ditch with the obligatory come-a-long or tow strap that I had stashed in my trunk.  I felt obligated to get anyone who was stuck, out of the snow and it was fun seeing what the Scout could do in adverse conditions.  That vehicle made many New England ski trips, hiking excursions to the Mt. Washington Valley, and regular weekend trips to the Laurel Highlands here in Pa.  When my dad built his house in Wexford, the Scout was our construction vehicle hauling angle iron for his greenhouse, mulch, lumber, and other required materials.  My dad thought the Scout was a great vehicle and often overestimated its capacity to haul.  Lots of oversized materials were transported in the Scout and as time went on, it was abused beyond function.  1979_International_Scout_II_For_Sale_Front_resize

Next came the Blazers.  Chevy warns you to break in the vehicles slowly and not drive too fast for long periods of time when you first acquire a Blazer.  My friend Bob Dresher and I would take the radar detector and set land speed records to Killington and the Mt. Washington Valley.  Needless to say, that vehicle woke up in a hurry.  Skis, mulch, firewood, all filled the Blazers for many, many trips and as the mileage piled up, so did the warning lights on the dashboard telling me that I had abused the vehicle beyond its normal capacity and maintenance was sorely required.  Honda Passports, Mitsubishi Monteros, and finally the Jeep have graced my driveway and my friends and neighbors all chuckle with the constant addition of ski related or mountain bike related bumper stickers or window decals.  My friends with the luxury vehicles all look at me with confusion in their eyes as to why I am not interested in driving a comfortable, well manicured vehicle?  I guess it just goes with my ragged, humorous personality and internal value systems.  The things that get me up in the morning are those that are fun and adventurous.  I may have wrinkled shirts and pants, and my Jeep is a mess, but my wife loves me for who I am and knows that some things are not on my radar screen.  Experiences are important to me, not creature comforts.  I have tried to be more considerate of Janet over the years, but that dirtbag ethos is lurking in my soul and I try to keep the lid on it as well as I can.  Ross_TX_89Blazer_1RR

The Jeep is running well and as I look forward to another winter of mountain adventures, I know that American ingenuity will keep me upright on the snowy roads.  I may have to hose it down from time to time and take comfort when I see a muscle car get stuck on the side-roads.  But I know that my selection and treatment of vehicles over the years has provided me with many memories of classic road trips. I don’t need pressed pants or a sparkling vehicle to enjoy the good times.  Just unloaded 2 Jeep-loads of firewood in my backyard over the weekend.  Guess I will be finding all of that bark next summer at the beach.  Thanks for reading.

The Culture of Bumper Stickers

photophotophotophotophotophotophoto Last July 21st, I wrote about T-Shirts. Check it out in my archive section- you will laugh. I outlined the “Americana” of T-Shirts and the rules and codes that apply to this iconic piece of American clothing. Today, I would like to poke some fun at another mainstay of “Americana” on the eve of our Independence Day- the bumper sticker. There are many reasons that folks these days plaster their vehicles with stickers so lets look at them categorically shall we?

The Political Activist- these are the people who proudly display their stickers on their bumpers or windows telling the world who they voted for or for whom that they did vote. I still see Obama 2008 “Change” stickers on vehicles. Hey? We get it. You voted for the winner, maybe twice, and your old Volvo reflects your political agenda and we respect that.

The Folks for a Cause- we all tend to see the same types of cars( old Volvos, vans, Euro-Vans, classic sports cars) adorned with those stickers promoting a cause. “Buy Locally” – nothing wrong with sustainability and if you are going to plaster something on your car, this is ok. Some tend to be a little out there but neat on the cool factor- ” Free Tibet”. Now it would be nice to see the Dalai Lama make a return and perhaps the Chinese government would be ousted, but it probably won’t happen. But this guy is glad that you know that he is in touch with international issues as he chugs down the road advocating a cause and wanting you to buy organically raised chickens from his granola crunching uncle’s farm.

The Vacationers- these are the proud folks who want you to know that they have visited or visit regularly the Keys or Hilton Head. Like the rules of the T-shirt, the farther away from home that the destination sticker reads, the cooler. You don’t want to waste good vehicle space with a local vacation spot, you want the world to know that you have made the effort to visit someplace exotic or expensive. These vacationers are careful with their placement of the sticker. They want that nice round beach sticker or the well recognized Harbor Towne( with an e) Lighthouse strategically placed on their left rear window of their expensive SUV.

The Athlete- this guy wants you to know that he has completed a marathon with a subtle round sticker that reads 26.2 K. Or the new guy or gal that has just completed his or her first half with the sticker that reads- 13.1. The Ultra guys and gals have that 50K sticker or the well placed Ironman Finisher sticker on their SUV with the bike rack and canoe rack visible at all times-even in the winter. There is the cyclist who plasters every sticker he can find on his roof rack front panel. These folks put every swag sticker from every cycling manufacturer on that front panel along with their favorite radio station sticker placed alongside of their “Dog’s Breath Ale” marker prominently placed front and center. Fill in stickers are placed on the panel as the years go on but they tend to be smaller and more insignificant and just a space filler. Bottom line- they are proud of their accomplishments and when they park in that church lot, they want the other parkers to silently admire them with a nod of approval that says, “wow- he did the Ironman!!!” With a smile, the athlete swaggers into church sitting like a proud Pharasee knowing that his accomplishments are out there through the iconic sticker.

The Skier- this guy always has an SUV with the roof caddy that houses his equipment safely to the slopes. The caddy has every ski area that has been visited on display carefully placing the resort that is farthest away in plain view. Maybe he has heli-skied and has the coveted CMH or Mike Wiegle sticker in view? Maybe he is affiliated with the National Ski Patrol or the Professional Ski Instructors of America? He or she want to display that so that their dedication is appreciated. Maybe that is part of their rap in the parking lot as they say,” ski here often?”

The Shameless Self promoter- the clown who displays his blog site on his bumper fishing for followers for his blog riddled with drivel?

How about the dog lovers? Look at the example above of the person who loves his Italian Greyhound. Does the dog bark with an accent? Maybe he cooks a mean pasta? Not sure, but the owner wants us to know that they appreciate the ethnicity of their canine friend. How about ” My dog is smarter than your honor student?” Really?

Finally- lets talk about putting stickers on at all shall we? There are lots of people who value their vehicles because they make a statement about how they have arrived. They buy or lease an expensive vehicle and would never think of lowering their pride to put a sticker on their car- reducing the perceived financial worth. How plebian to place a bumper sticker on a car. “Wow- Muffy- we need another wax on the Beemer dear!!!” Then there are guys like me. I am all of the above except a dog person. Dogs like me- I taste like chicken. I don’t have any dog stickers on my Jeep. But I do have ski area stickers, publication stickers, blog stickers, in short- I have always been a sticker guy. I may age chronologically but I will never mature. If there is a space on the rear window or the bumper, I will use it. I have a rust spot rearing its ugly self and it may be covered with a micro brew sticker shortly. I have stickers in waiting to replace old or faded ones. You see, I am the kind of guy who loads mulch up to the roof in my Jeep. I put firewood up to the roof in my Jeep. My wife says that I kill our vehicles but I see them as a means to an end. I have no problem plastering stickers on my vehicle. So when you see the 59 year old kid driving down the road, smile when you see the rust and the advertisements. The Jeep might look different the next time and I will for sure be wearing a T-Shirt from a far away destination to keep with the rules. Happy Fourth, wear a cool T-shirt and plaster something funky on your car- will ya? Thanks for reading.

The Adventures of Four Wheel Drive

Google Image Result for (2)Ross_TX_89Blazer_1RR1979_International_Scout_II_For_Sale_Front_resize So, the other day I was coming home from Kansas City and had a rear wheel drive rental van at my disposal because my Jeep was in the shop for repair. When I got back to the airport in Pittsburgh, it was snowing like crazy and I was treated to an adventure in driving on the way home. The two wheel rental van was less than optimal to say the least and I really was looking forward to getting my Jeep back.

I have been driving four wheel drive vehicles since I was in my early twenties. I used my mom’s Buick in my teens to go to the mountains with heavy snow tires and sand bags in the trunk. I had some driving adventures in Western Pa. and West Virginia but the moment I went to four wheel drive, I felt a lot more secure……… certain instances. My first vehicle was an International Scout. It was a heavy, reliable bucket of bolts which I used to haul my friends out of trouble with my trusty tow strap. I thought that since I had a four wheel drive, especially an International, it was my responsibility to haul everyone out of the mud or snow when they got stuck. One time up in the mountains, I saw a black limo standed in the ditch at the entrance to Seven Springs Mountain Resort. I pulled in front of the guy in a raging blizzard and got under his vehicle with my ski school uniform on and proceeded to hook up my tow strap to the vehicle. I went to the window and the driver said,”thanks man” and kept looking straight ahead. I managed to pull him on to the road and when I went to the car, uniform dirty and greasy from the road, the Mayor of Pittsburgh was in the back seat and gave me a flippant “thank you” and told the driver to get going because he was late. There I was in my dirty uniform at the side of the road, soaking wet from snow, and all I got was “thank you” and basically get the hell out of the way – lubehead. My introduction to the fact that graciousness is not always first and foremost for some people for whom you do a favor. But I continued my benevolent ways with my strap.

When I drove Chevy Blazers, I used them in a slightly different way in that my friend Bob Dresher and I used to set the land speed record to Vermont from Wexford. Not the best way to treat a new engine but 90 MPH on the New York Thruway with the radar detector tuned in made for a short trip to go skiing. Several of those trips were slowed by sleet, freezing rain in Buffalo, and feet of snow going from New York state into Vermont to ski. The Blazers were large vehicles and it was convenient to take every bit of gear with me on the Northern treks. They were great to sleep in as well in the parking lots of ski areas especially with a sleeping bag that goes down to -40. I still have that bag but the Blazers are long gone.

I learned real quickly that four wheel drives climb real well but can slide like a mother when the snow is greasy, especially if you make the mistake of trying to get one more winter out of a set of tires. I had a Mitsubishi Montero for a while and had my son in the car seat when I started to slide down Highland Avenue near my house. I remained calm and aimed the slider towards the first open yard that I saw and came to a rest right in front of a stranger’s house. The same Mitsubishi also almost went over Wagner ski slope at Seven Springs when I began to slide sideways trying to park at the top of the mountain for a mountain bike race. Had it not been for the gravel road right in front of the chalet at the top of the slope, I proably would have had to bail out of the vehicle and watch it roll over and over towards the ski lodge. The good Lord was watching over the kid that day for sure. Yikes!!

My Honda was a fun vehicle and one time my family and I were traveling to ski up in Western New York with some friends. It was snowing like crazy again when we started our trip north and we watched four wheel drives flying by us on the way up. My son was a young teenager at the time and I was already starting to tell him about the virtues of driving cautiously. I asked him to mark the vehicle in his mind when they passed us and predicted that they would have an issue with the roads ahead. Sure enough, every one of those drivers were in the berm in the middle of the interstate stuck up to their doors. The tow strap did not come out in those instances for a number of reasons but suffice to say that my son got the message about four wheel drives and their supposed invincibility.

Currently I am a Jeep man and there is something about driving a Jeep. You kind of have a swagger like ,” yea- I have a Jeep and I load it up with firewood and mulch up to the ceiling” ” It is a manly vehicle and even though it is like all of my other four wheel drives with the musty smells and mud from mountain bike excursions and wood chips constantly raining from the seats, it fits my personality. I like tough vehicles and in my Walter Mitty mind, it makes me the true mountain man. My wife says I kill our vehicles but it is better than me driving a Cadillac or a Lexus. That would be like putting slippers on a hog. I am a four wheel drive guy.

Three years ago I had finished skiing with my friends in Tahoe and we all went to dinner in my friend’s four wheel drive van. I was the designated driver that night and while we were at dinner, it snowed 2 feet. Not unusual for Tahoe but it was a challenge to get the van out of the parking lot and on to the road. I white knuckled it down the road and large four wheel drive trucks passed me like I was standing still. Two feet of snow at any one time is nothing for the folks in the Sierra and I got used to the fact that driving is driving and if you respect the conditions and the limitations of the vehicle, you can make your way. It is all relative and the more you drive in the winter, the better you get. But as I tell my resident 18 year old driving expert in my house that he needs to be careful on the roads when it snows, I do need to let him experience what my folks let me experience. Driving the ’64 Buick in the winter taught me a lot and when I graduated to the four wheel drive world, I was a happy guy. So, be careful driving in the winter and respect the conditions and the limits of your vehicle. But enjoy the winter and be glad that there are vehicles out there that you can enjoy and get to the places that you love. Think Snow and drive safely! When you see my son, tell him the same.

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