The other day I left the shop, admittedly a rare occasion, to pick up a newer BMW coupe from a customers garage about 45 minutes away. As I drove down the road in my older Mercedes diesel sedan I reflected on the humble car that I owned. My daily driver is a mule, it is safe, it gets great fuel mileage, and it weathers the abuse of both time and nature better than most vehicles. My car just passed the 200,000 mile mark and still has all of its original paint on every panel, it is tight and right inside and out. This car was built with good ingredients.
A heavy diesel vehicle is pretty much driven with the accelerator pedal pressed down to the floor. The car needs to be endlessly pushed forward by the driver. When cruising speed is finally reached and the driver lets up on the throttle, the car is sailing. In order to slow down, simply letting off the throttle slows the car rapidly, due to its weight and the aerodynamic forces fighting against the shell of a vehicle that is moving too fast to begin with. The experience of driving this car is one of pushing, and sometimes strangling it into submission. The engine hums loudly, the wind whips past and it feels like point A and point B are as far apart as they really are.
When I arrive to fetch the BMW, it growls to life. I park the Benz in its place and head back to the shop. As I drive my right leg begins to fatigue in a way that is unfamiliar to me. I realize that I am continually, and uncomfortably, holding the throttle back. The car and my gas pedal leg are at odds with one another. The car wants to go a million miles an hour while my leg, thankfully connected to my brain, wants to keep us somewhere around the speed limit. The car is too damn fast. To be honest it starts too fast, turns too fast, goes too fast, and is too fast. And yet the cabin is perfectly silent, filled only with Terry Gross on the radio having a laugh with somebody who knows better.
But, my leg is tired. Succumbing briefly to the wave of modern convenience and demand has left me wanting. I want to push a car forward, using everything that it has, rather than hold it back from being perfect, predictable and fast.
I've always appreciated the slower path. I want my senses to have time to absorb what is happening. I prefer experiences where my attention and focus is required. These things are more tangible which makes them more memorable.
Drive a slow old car 90 MPH down the interstate and you've accomplished something. You cannot send a text, prepare for an important meeting, or add another chapter to your dissertation. No, you are piloting a relic and are forced to pay attention to the gauges, engine notes, and chassis growls. Your senses are needed and loaded, which is a wonderful feeling.
The evolution of the motor vehicle is impressive, but technological evolution has scrapped some things that are meaningful. The first cars were bulky, slow and guzzled gas as they and rumbled along dirt paths at 15 miles per hour. Today cars are wind cheating cyber lounges that get 40 miles per gallon while racing down the highway. Slow things are trimmed, changed, and usually discarded. They are replaced by faster things, but at what cost? Some important things are left behind.
Weeks later, when I returned for my old Benz it greeted me with a rough plume of unburned diesel fuel. Once again I was having an adventure behind the wheel. My eyes and ears were tuned and sharp, there was no time to think about anything other than my slow car.