The Casual Blog

Tag: Porsche 911

My hopeful hand checkup, a new salad restaurant, a Porsche contretemps, and discussing legalization

14 08 03_1352I was a bit anxious about my check up for the torn ligament with the hand doctor earlier last week, but it turned out fine. After the doc twisting my fingers a bit and asked if it hurt (it did), he pronounced me improved, and lowered the chance of needing surgery to 5 percent (a big improvement from his previous estimate of 50 percent). He cleared me to play the piano gently (no Rachmaninoff, he said), but to otherwise keep my fingers taped up for another month. I asked about getting back to golf, and he strongly advised me to wait. This was disappointing, as I’d felt like this could be my year for a big golf breakthrough (as, admittedly, I’ve felt in previous years). Still, I I was pleased to be heading in the right direction.

Playing the piano again was a rich, dense, textured pleasure. Going a month without playing is something that I hadn’t done for at least 30 years, and I missed it. I started gently with some Chopin mazurkas, and then some nocturnes. I couldn’t resist trying some Rachmaninoff – the Elegie, op. 3. It was all a bit rough, but I felt I was listening better, hearing more nuance, and playing with more rhythmic freedom. Perhaps the forced time off did my ears some good.

14 08 03_1277The next day I discovered Happy and Hale, a relatively new take-out restaurant on Fayetteville Street a couple of blocks from my office. It serves only three things: salads, smoothies, and juices. All are not only super healthy, but also lively, interesting combinations of ingredients. My first experience was the quinoa salad, which had quinoa, black beans, avocado, cilantro, feta cheese, and a couple of other things, with red pepper vinagrette. It was amazingly tasty. There was a long line, but I found this more cheering than annoying. It was good to see people interesting in eating something healthy, and to see this little business doing well.

The next day, I took Clara to the Porsche dealer for servicing. Her check engine light had come on, but even before the that, I’d felt something wasn’t right. Giving her more throttle in the higher RPMs yielded more noise, but not more thrust. I suspected a transmission issue, which turned out to be correct. I needed a new clutch and new flywheel, and the cost was a big ouch.

Waiting for the parts to come in, I drove a loaner Ford Explorer (a sport ute). I just don’t get why people like this type of vehicle, at least when they don’t have a big group of kids or other heavy loads to haul. To me it was not fun to drive. After my sports car, It felt lumbering and awkward. I had the impression of barely having enough road, like a truck pulling a massive mobile home, needing a “wide load” sign to warn other vehicles.

But I admit that I liked the instrumentation. It had a touch screen set up for the climate control, radio, blue tooth, etc., and a handsome virtual compass. In reverse, the touch screen showed the view behind, with the danger zone outlined in red. It had some sort of RFD key that allowed the vehicle to unlock when I pulled the handle without the need for any use of the key. A nice convenience.
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Reading the New York Times is a settled part of my morning breakfast ritual, and there is a sense in which I always enjoy it. But golly, the news has been grim! Part of it is structural: in conventional journalistic thought, information usually only qualifies as news if it involves dramatic conflict. So we don’t hear anything about the peaceful countries in, say, Africa. But the lead stories recently inspire a special mixture of horror and hopelessness, because they’re big and absolutely beyond any individual control. Examples: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Nigeria, Washington.
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This week, though, there was a welcome exception. I was pleased to see the Times came out in favor of partially ending the war and drugs and legalizing marijuana. The editorial board had clearly had thought hard about it, and put some elbow grease into collecting the arguments: including the enormous human cost, the huge economic cost, and the relatively low risk. It felt like a watershed moment. Maybe now it will be possible that we can have a debate based more on facts and less on myth, moralism, and hysteria. I don’t think marijuana is a particularly good thing; for some people it’s surely an unhealthy thing. But criminalizing it has been an absolutely terrible thing.

So we might be close to overcoming this particular moral hysteria and to ending of prohibition. Perhaps some of our other seemingly intractable problems aren’t beyond all hope.
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My Father’s Day trip to a new race track (CMP)

Last weekend, I took Clara down to Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, S.C. for some track driving. My Garmin GPS guided us down country roads and through small Baptist towns. I’ve gotten to like as a companion the Garmin’s female voice, except when she says, “Recalculating.” This can be interpreted as, “Can’t you even follow a simple instruction!” I’d like to defend myself, for example, when she didn’t describe a particular turn clearly, but we cannot have a dialog — yet. Anyhow, this was a pleasant trip of just three hours.

CMP is a road track with 14 turns, and my first objective was to learn the line for each turn. Even with this clear commitment and my experienced teacher beside me, I found it challenging to memorize the exact turning points of the track. There’s so much kinetic sensation, so much noise. After a dozen or so laps, I started to build up a body of knowledge, but even then, I had a few lapses.

In addition to learning the track, I learned more about performance driving techniques, including rev matching, dealing with understeer, the beginnings of trail breaking, and assorted other bits of car stuff. Not surprisingly, almost everyone at the event was into cars, and some were clearly crazy for cars.

Car-philia seems to be less common today than in my youth, as young people adore their smartphones more than their wheels. I remember my dad talking to relatives, acquaintances, and strangers about their cars and his, Ford versus Chevy, this year’s models versus last year’s, and on and on, and remember wondering why adults were always so boring. But the worm has turned, and now I find it all enjoyable. Even technical discussions of specific engine problems that I know absolutely nothing about, which I used to make me feel incompetent and confused, now seem intriguing, even though part of me realize we’re talking about relatively ancient technology.

At this event, organized by the Tar Heel Sports Car Club, there were some cars like Clara, pretty street cars with lots of power and a racing heritage. A Lamborghini stood out as the exotic queen of this subgroup.

But there were also a fair number of cars that at first glance looked like sad junkers, and on closer inspection turned out to be highly elaborate racing machines. I began to see how it could be fun to have an ugly car for which the only concern would be track performance. It would be nice, in a way, to not worry that Clara’s beautiful body might be seriously maimed by a poorly judged turn followed by a high-speed encounter with the tire wall.

On the other hand, this would involve a significant investment in infrastructure: a trailer, a vehicle to tow a trailer, a place to stow the trailer and vehicle, more tires, tools, etc. And a lot more time to take care of it all. There’s the rub. This would be fun, but there’s an opportunity cost — other fun foregone, other thoughts unthought.

My teacher, John, was a friendly, funny guy who turned out to know not only a ton about driving and cars, but also a lot about contemporary technology. We had a great conversation about robotics and economics.

He predicted that in the not-distant future driverless cars would end the need to buy a personal car, as groups of people subscribe to a share of a fleet of driverless cars that can appear to convey them at any time. In his view, states will eventually put strict legal limits on human driving, on the grounds that driverless cars are so much safer and more environmentally sound. The driverless cars will go much faster safely, and work together in a network to police themselves. If one should go rogue, the others will cooperate to avoid being damaged and to deal appropriately with the offender.

I told John about a story the prior week in the WSJ about the bomb-squad robots of the US Army in Afghanistan. The robots have saved plenty of human lives, which is good. But the surprising thing was that the units get attached to their particular robots and treat them as companions. When a unit’s robot gets blown up, when feasible it is shipped to the robot hospital. Its companion soldiers at times are specific that they want their robot repaired and returned to the unit, rather than a replacement.

I stayed at the Colony Inn in Camden in a ground floor room that opened onto the parking lot. It featured the three c’s: clean, comfortable, and quiet, and entirely worth $65 dollars a night, even if they didn’t throw in breakfast. I watched some of the Master’s golf tournament on non-HD TV and sipped some wine from the Piggly Wiggly. At the urging of Larisa, my personal trainer, I’d bought some TRX portable trainer cables. In the morning, since the Colony had no gym, I hooked the the TRX systen to the door and got in a workout.

It is my custom in all hotels to leave a few dollars for the housekeepers, which I figure they can use and which may create good karma. I was glad that I followed this custom at the Colony. When I checked out I left behind my phone charger. The manager gave me a call to let me know, and I was able to retrieve the charger. This was excellent karma.

There was nothing remotely like healthy vegetarian food at the snack bar at the track, but happily I found a Subway sandwich shop a few miles down the road. Oh Subway, you are the best! In the ugly wilderness of industrialized and unhealthy fast food, so many times you have nourished me well. I ordered my usual: whole grain bread, a variety of greens and vegetables, and that delightful honey-mustard dressing. It was tasty. My Subway sandwich guy made eyes at Clara.

I did not have any serious driving errors on this trip, but as I increased my speeds I also increased the stress on my brakes, and learned what happens when brakes overheat. It is more exciting than desirable to have big speed approaching a tight turn, to hit the brake pedal hard, and find that it goes all the way to the floor with half the usual braking power. I somehow stayed on the track. John counseled me to take the last few laps of that session slower and to drive a few minutes afterwards to cool the brakes down.

On the trip back, I got a call from Jocelyn, who wished me a happy Father’s Day. I regard this holiday as even more synthetic than Mother’s Day, an occasion for retailers to encourage watch and tie consumption and, except to them, of little real value. Yet it was ever so sweet to hear her voice. As I told her, she was one of my two proudest achievements as a father.

She’s currently working her first retail job in a high-end sportswear store in Telluride. It doesn’t sound like her ideal career path, but at least it’s a job. She’s been going out with a cute guy, a river rafting and fly fishing guide whom she really likes. It seemed like she was doing OK.

Later I got a Father’s Day text from Gabe, which said I was the best dad, which I am sure is not true, but I was grateful for the thought.

Driving at Road Atlanta

Clara and friends at Road Atlanta

I had a few butterflies about taking Clara down to Road Atlanta for the Rezoom track event. There is, after all, an element of risk to pushing a car as hard as you can. But at the same time, there is something that felt right about the trip. A Porsche 911S was not created to be mere transportation. It is a sports car.

After a simple breakfast at the Holiday Inn, I was loading Clara when I saw some working-guy types staring at me. My first reaction was to assume they thought I was a twit. Then I realized they were admiring the car. This wasn’t exactly pleasant, but not exactly unpleasant. I wasn’t interested in attracting their attention, but I could understand it. It occurred to me that this is something that very attractive people must deal with: the slightly unsettling attention of strangers.

I had more butterflies when I saw the field, which included some true racing machines, stripped of creature comforts and equipped for massive speed. My instructor, Bryan, had one such: a Miata with everything torn out that didn’t have to do with the business of moving.

Bryan and his Miata

It also had an awesome paint job. Bryan introduced me to his track buddies, all from Jackson, Mississippi, and invited me to hang out at their canopy area.

The track was 2.54 miles — about the same size and shape as VIR, but more difficult. There are big elevation changes, and vertigo-inducing blind curves. Where VIR has fields to run off into if you misjudge a turn, RA has hard walls. Bryan took me as a passenger out as a passenger on the first session, and scared the bejesus out of me. It was a fast, very rough ride. I felt car sick, but managed, barely, to avoid spewing.

The drivers were divided into notice, intermediate, and advanced groups, and each drove 30 minutes per session. As a novice, with an hour between sessions, I looked at the other cars as they prepared to run or ran. I enjoyed talking with Bryan and his friends.

Bryan, Chris, and Snookie

They knew an amazing amount about cars. They must have thought I seemed a bit different, but they were really kind to me, and went out of their way to explain things and be helpful. It was great to hang out with them.

After the first couple of half-hour sessions, I began to get a feel for the track. It demanded total concentration. The senses are overloaded with sensations — screaming engines, rushing edges. There is no room for ordinary thought. Bryan kept coaching me to use more of the track and carry more speed through the turns. Gradually I got faster.

At times I couldn’t stop smiling. There were, however, some harrowing moments. Once I hit the gators at speed coming off the blind turn at number 12, and skidded dangerously. That scared me, and it took a few laps to regroup. As I kept pushing against the limits of the turns, a few times I found them, and barely hung on.

But with each session, my confidence increased, and on the second day I broke the two-minute barrier for a lap — a milestone. As I prepared for the fourth run of the day, Bryan announced I was ready to solo. He asked me not to do anything that would embarrass him. I was really pleased, and I didn’t.