December 26th, 2013
I got left behind in the world of automobiles some time ago. About ten years ago I got rid of my 1994 Ford Escort and became a bus rider. Naturally, I’ve been driven around in some nice cars, but I can’t get used to them. I keep comparing them — neither favorably nor unfavorably — to my Ford. They are just all such different species. Christmas day I rode to my brother’s in Sebastopol in a brand new Mercedes SUV. I never noticed what the model was, but that’s not because I’m inattentive. To my left was the driver’s seat, occupied by my friend and family member, Dean. Now, this seems obvious, of course — driver sits on the left in America. But it was difficult to move my gaze past the screen on the middle of the dash. Sure GPS is all run of the mill to you, but I’m slow on the uptake. I’d look at the solid blue water, the orange highway, the solid green representation of the natural world, and the arrow threading its way — moving, and yet not moving — through the maze, I’d feel the heat bleeding into my butt and back from the magic seats, and I could only think what has the automobile wrought?
My son and his sister are in back, arguing about wind noise. Just as I had thought Mercedes had ironed out all the wrinkles in its transportation machines, I find that there is a strange occurrence in the way wind wraps around a vehicle moving between 35 and 80 mph — which is to say, at all highway speeds. An annoying flutter develops and doesn’t stop until my son loses the battle with me, Dean, and Renee, and he rolls — excuse me, “buttons” — the window back up tight. A few confabs with a major aircraft manufacturer might have served Mercedes well on this problem. Maybe by 2015? While we’re on the mysteries of wind, we have just passed the house up on the bluff overlooking 101. The steel-barrel windmill house. I don’t know whether it powers anything, but it was in place, and working, when I moved here in 1975 — long before the second age of windmills began. It’s a clunky, but lovely reminder of the human mind plugging right along. If you have never seen it, wait for a windy day and look to the west side of the highway on the ride north. The rotors are made from 55-gallon steel drums, cut in half and placed on a shaft in the horizontal aspect. The bearings are old and it doesn’t spin as fast as it once did.
The arguments have settled down thanks to the discovery that the fluttering wind noise lessens when you open the roof window a crack. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the wind vectors drawn around cars in wind tunnels. The arrows pointing sleekly along the windstream except when they’re all mixed up and tied in knots — which is what they were doing a short while ago. We’re on 116, heading west now. I’ve turned the heat off in my seat and have my nose in the GPS system again. Another dozen changes of headings and we’ll be pulling into my brother’s property. Oh, there’s their coyote.. er dog, right now. I’m ready to eat.