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By Michael Davidow, Radio Free New Hampshire
This past Saturday, I joined a few of my fellow columnists at the Nackey Loeb School of Communications in Manchester to give a presentation about opinion-writing. Being fairly new at this, I had little to say. But it was fun to hear the others talk. Turns out that my peers at IndepthNH have a great deal of experience in not just journalism, but also state government, teaching, and writing in general.
I sat next to George Liset, who contributes a column about fly-fishing and other outdoors sports. Now I write about politics, which is another kind of sport. But he reminded me of how much I used to enjoy columns like his when I was younger, and more of them existed.
I also used to enjoy reading about cars. Local newspapers always had a car columnist on hand to review the newest models. They were always hopelessly conflicted, of course, because they didn’t want to drive away any of their paper’s advertisers by giving them a bad write-up. But even the most anodyne automobile column had humor and history and common sense woven through it, making it worth reading even when you had little interest in buying the latest Buick or Ford.
I bought a new car myself, some time ago. After the usual several million miles, my old Volvo finally died (and there is another column, about the love affair between New Hampshire and Volvo cars) and I replaced it with a Mini because I missed having a standard shift. So here is a review of my Mini.
It has four doors, all wheel drive, and a standard shift. It has a fairly high center of gravity, which I actually notice but do not particularly mind, because it is fun to change gears no matter what. I do not know what torque is, so I will not discuss torque, but it’s a beautiful word so I wanted to use it. My kid likes my Mini because it’s as cute as your basic English bulldog and he counts them on the highway now with real enjoyment. You can tell when he’s been in my car, too, because he seems to leave crumbs behind even when he isn’t eating something that makes crumbs. That is the magic of childhood.
The Mini is an old English brand that is now made by a German company. Because it’s English, it has some endearing quirks, like a lollipop speedometer that takes some getting used to, and because it’s German, all the parts fit together neatly. If I recall correctly, George Harrison drove a Mini on occasion, as did Mr. Bean. The guys who used to host the great British automobile show on the BBC, Top Gear, always seemed to be fond of Minis, even if grudgingly. This car makes people smile.
Politically speaking, I fear it runs to the left. I constantly find myself parked next to comically huge pick-up trucks that make me wonder what the hell is going on. I imagine their drivers think the same of my ride. But I would like to think that anybody who enjoys being behind the wheel would appreciate, again, the joys of a manual shift, especially because the manual shift is heading the way of the horse and buggy. Try one now, before it’s too late.
I feel lazy when I drive an automatic, and even worse, most cars these days act like entertainment systems, rather than as means of transportation. People plug into their phones and listen to their podcasts and there are even screens involved at times. I cherish my time in the driver’s seat as providing me with rare things: peace and quiet, and a chance to enjoy the scenery. And while I grant that the Everett Turnpike may not be a totem of great beauty, it still gives its own brand of emotional uplift. For instance, in wintertime, three or four reliable times a year, I will be plugging along in some low gear (of my own choosing), and I will see giant SUV’s sliding sideways through three lanes before spinning in graceful circles and plopping into the breakdown lane with soft muffled thuds. It always happens in slow motion, except when it happens fast. It’s entrancing.
America was made for cars, for good or ill. Rather than building up our center cities, we chose instead to build highways, with suburbs on them. The American dream has long been to own your own home, which you can only do when there are plenty of homes to own, which means more suburbs, and more highways. This makes for pollution, most obviously. It also had a lot to do with our national economic breakdown, several years ago, when all those too-cheap American mortgages got consolidated, marketed, squeezed and shaken down.
But that’s another column, too. We’ll get there in due time.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project. His books are available on Amazon.
Views expressed in columns and opinion pieces are those of the author and do not reflect those of InDepthNH.org.