My speedometer said that I hit top end. My foot was glued like lead to the floor. Thats all that there is there aint no more.

13 Jan

There is an old saying.  ‘Drive it like you stole it’.  I say ‘Drive it like you rented it’.

Some people say that American cars handle the best, others say foreign cars handle the best.  I say NOTHING handles like a rented car.

When I was a kid, I thought my Dad drove fast.  Diane was eccentric.  Opera Singer.  Iconoclast. Hotel soap thief.  and boy could she drive a car.

I am a natural behind the wheel, I have driven thousands of laps at racetracks spanning more than 30 years.  More days at high speed behind the wheel that I could even consider counting.  From the German Autobahn, to the Italian Autostrada, to US 50 (the loneliest road in America), to the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, I am comfortable driving for hours at triple digit speeds.  I am comfortable fording flowing streams where the water is over the tires.  I’ve taken courses at renouned racing schools at famous tracks around the country, and anti-terrorist courses at the BMW driving school facility in Spartensberg North Carolina (where the chief instructor, an Appalachian son of a bootlegger took a special interest in my driving skills).  Can you google ‘J turn’?

If Diane had lived long enough, and she drove  Laguna Seca Raceway (which I consider my “Home” track), I have no doubt she’d leave me in the dust on her first lap.  She was an excellent sightreader.  really!  the woman had huge balls and incredible driving skills.  She scared the shit out of me and my dad regularly.

Paul is a lawyer and is joining a family that is artistic and cultured and (for the most part) law-abiding.  There is a deep dark secret that comes from the Sanders side of the family which is generally frowned upon in elite, intelligent circles and anywhere in NYC.  It’s also my favorite topic!

CARS!

Grampa Sam Sanders, who was born in 1898, apparently loved cars.  My grandma Anna told how when they were courting he drove a very fancy convertible roadster (hey I have a Miata!).  I also remember he had an Impala, and a Corvair Monza.  It didn’t occur to me when I was a kid, that those were performance cars of the era.  He also pointed out to me the specific model of car he had, but never made performance claims.  Sam was known for backing up on the parkways, expressways and bridges (especially toll bridges).  If he passed an exit, he would stop, put the car in reverse and back up.  Not Safe.  J-turns are much safer.

My other grandfather, Sam Scolnick also enjoyed long driving trips.  I once drove him and Grandma Ethel up the Jersey Turnpike from Piscataway to NYC in moms Volvo.  The speed limit in those days was a widely disregarded federal speed limit of 55mph.  I drove that route every day to and from work in Edison.  You could go 74mph and the police would ignore you, 75 and over – they’d arrest you.  I was going 74mph and grandpa asked me Mellowly:  “Tell me Daniel, what speed does the law allow?”.  Without hesitation I answered “74 mph grandpa”.  He settled down until we passed the next speed limit sign, then said: “The speed limit sign says 55mph, but you said the law allows 74”.  I explained that what the ‘law allows’ and what the ‘speed limit is’ are two different things.

Mom and Dad always bought cars that had a little “extra” under the hood.  My parents told me stories of a 40’s something Plymouth named the “green pig”.  Dad told me of driving it across the country (with infant Laura) and how driving through the desert at 95 mph felt like 25 mph anywhere else, fond, nostalgic whimsy in his voice.  That childhood image prompted me to take driving vacations across the American west regularly.  My earliest memory of an actual car was moms ’56 Chevy Bel Air with a “3 on the tree”.

1956_Chevrolet_Bel_Air_4_Door_Sedan_Front.jpg

1956 Chevy Bel Air.  Notice the “jet age” hood and fender ornaments!

 

Not fast, but dads car at the time was a ’57 Imperial with a 392 Hemi and dual quads which he bought second hand from one of his best friends, Al Solomon’s father, Mr. Haganow.  Unreliable as hell, big, gaudy, and when mom drove it, it felt like someone hit the rear bumper with a huge sledgehammer when the secondaries kicked in.  then they bought a 65 Pontiac Catalina with a 389 4 barrel, replaced shortly with a ’69 Bonneville 428 4 barrel and duel exhaust (mom said it helped the gas mileage, nothing like lying to your children).  The last car of dad’s was a ’72 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham with a 440 magnum.

1957 Chrysler Imperial. Dad’s was “Florida Blue”

img_2144

One of the sexiest cars ever made.  Designed by Virgil Exner.

 

 

Arthur almost lost his license getting caught for ‘several’ minor traffic infractions.  Diane only got caught once, going 78mph in a 55mph zone westbound on the Northern State Parkway just over the Nassau County line through the twisty turns, shortly after I had tuned up the car.  She claimed she was singing along to “ride of the Valkyries” on WQXR radio and wasn’t paying attention to her speed.  I figure she slowed down for the turns, and it gave the police the opportunity to catch up.  Anyways that was about the slowest she ever drove.  I remember her driving flat out in both the Bonneville and New Yorker going to Boston to visit Laura at the New England Conservatory.  One time mom came into the toll booths a little too hot, locked up all four wheels to stop in time (for which dad yelled at her: “Was that really necessary?!”).  A dramatic entrance filled with the sound of screeching, fury and tire smoke.

I have spent some time in my adult life trying to match some of the point A to point B times she set in these old cars (on bias ply tires).  Her last car was a 81 Volvo DL (you could speed past a cop at 110mph in that car and they wouldn’t even look at it).  As with all our cars, I did a little hotrodding to the Volvo.  Mom, Laura and Ray were driving to Augusta Georgia to see an old friend, Bill Tool.  The legend goes, that Ray started driving the trip from New York, it was raining.  My mom made him pull over, mumbling about how they’d never get there at that speed, took the wheel, and made it to Augusta Georgia in 12 hours…. in the rain.

 

When I took Diane shopping for that Volvo we looked at various cars.  In a scene reminiscent of “Harold and Maude” I took her to junkyards to look at wrecked Volvo’s.   The Volvo was much smaller than any of the previous American iron so there was a concern about safety.  Ultimately Diane said the Volvo “called her name” and she bought a white one.  It was the best car we ever owned and ended up outlasting her.  It went 14 years and 347,000 miles (most of those miles flat out).  I sold it for 10 percent of its original purchase price to a man who then proceeded to get himself and the Volvo run over by a cement mixing truck.  He survived unscathed.  Diane made a sensible choice.

The Volvo had a ‘federal’ speedometer that only went to 85mph.  A few weeks after their return from Georgia, mom asked me in an offhanded, disinterested way if the car is limited to 85 because the speedometer never goes past the peg.  I informed her cheekily, “yes mom, the car goes much faster than 85.  You can tell the speed by doubling the number on the tachometer that I installed”.  She said: “I thought so, because when I take my foot off the gas it takes 30 or 40 seconds for the speedometer to fall below 85 and start registering speed again”.

72 new yorker front

1972 Chrysler New Yorker “Brougham”

 

72 new yorker rear.jpg

Lady drives a Chrysler – it could top 130mph

Many years after her death I managed to beat her time from NYC to Boston.  I drove a ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1 twin turbo factory race car.  I beat her time by 1 minute.  She had done it in 3 hours flat in the ’72 New Yorker, I did it in 2:59 in a 1993 race car.

Rx7-01

’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, Twin Sequential Turbo Rotary

 

 

I bought cars, fixed them up and sold them for a profit during my high school days.  I worked my way to up to a 1970 Challenger R/T 440 Sixpack.  This car had a much stronger engine than the New Yorker in a smaller car that weighed 1,000 pounds lighter.  I threw the keys to mom one night and we went for a ride.  After a while I asked her to pull over so I could show her what the car could do.  Indignantly, she said “I am perfectly capable of seeing what this car can do” and floored the gas.  The Challenger had power steering, power brakes and power power.  We found ourselves going near triple digit speeds on Wolf Hill Road westbound in about 5 seconds when I screamed at her to slow down!  I think she didn’t expect anything like that, and while she didn’t admit it, I think she scared herself.

1970-dodge-challenger-rt-440-sixpack-shaker-4-speed-dana-real-e87n96-no-stripe-1

1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Sixpack

 

 

Everyone in the family wanted me to drive long trips, but no one wanted to sit in the front seat.  in fact they all fought over who would sit in the back seat.  You could make great time in that Volvo (reference the title to this page).  I made it from Germantown Philadelphia to my apartment on the corner of Bleeker and Thompson street in the village, in the rain, with my sister, mother and grandmother asleep in the car in 59 minutes one summer night (it’s 89 miles).  My moms time from NYC to Augusta – that’s safe: it isn’t going to fall in my lifetime.

A representative example of Diane’s driving can be found in the reference section below.  As the clip says: ‘You can drive a Volvo like you hate it; cheaper than psychiatry.’

It is this legacy that Paul is to be blindsided with.  Just like there are mandatory things, like education, empathy, a splash of culture (some attributes skip a generation) knowing how to DRIVE is required in this family.  The skillset is really a matter of safety.  That’s why both Izzy and Amity have taken high performance driving courses, can drive manual transmission cars (even though Amity denies having the ability, don’t believe it! – she can do it), and Izzy was driving on the track when she was 14 – before she was legally allowed to drive on the street.  She was lapping at Thunderhill Raceway and Laguna Seca Speedway in my ‘spec’ Miata, AAHHRRR, before she was 20 years old.

izzy at Laguna

Izzy in AAHHRRR at Laguna Seca Raceway

 

The Big Island doesn’t have many places to drive fast, but it does have places that require a 4wd vehicle.  4wd is NOT Awd.  Only specialized vehicles like Jeeps have 4wd and they have their own quirks and characteristics that need to be learned and then exploited.  Since we can’t all fit in one  jeep and we will require the 4WD, for this final part of the trip we have rented two Jeeps.

 

I had expected Izzy to be one of the drivers, but she’s 1 year too young to rent a car.  So the driving responsibility for the second jeep falls on Paul.  This should be interesting.  One of my (driving) mentors, Aaron, says you can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive.  “M”/butterblogger made a comment a few months ago “don’t let someone take you to the airport that has never gotten a speeding ticket”.  I think in the backdrop of this context Paul knows the pressure is ON!

Paul wants specific addresses and driving instructions.  Kona has no streetlamps, no ambient light, no reflectors on the street and, unbeknownst to him, it’s a black volcanic lava desert for as far as the eye can see, which sucks up any stray ambient light.  My seemingly non-specific directions “just go 18 miles and make a left at the first traffic light you come to which is Waikolowa Village” does n0t instill confidence or make him comfortable.  My backup plan: “just follow me” seems to make things worse.  I find out later – he is cheating – he’s using GPS electronics in his smartphone to navigate.  I’ve been just dead reckoning.

the other thing I find out, is that for the rest of the trip there will be a “kids car” “KC” and a “old fart” “OF” car.  You know which one i’m driving.

I also explain to Paul that if I have to change lanes, I will signal, slow down to make traffic slow down, then speed up to give him room to get behind me.  He looks worried and says: “i’m not going to race”.  I explain this isn’t racing it’s cooperatively driving with each other and I do it all the time with my friends.  He gives me a skeptical look.  I do it once, he picks it up like a champ and we use the tactic (and others that didn’t require explanation after the theory was put into practice) for the rest of the trip (and probably will for the rest of our lives).  I’m initially pleased, the man has excellent situational awareness and driving aptitude.  His lead foot doesn’t hurt either.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.

Today is THE day that has the most promise and the most risk to fail miserably.  We have chartered a boat with a local captain I know, Captain Ron.  We’re going to split the day.  The morning is for swimming with Dolphins and whale watching.  The afternoon is off, then the evening is night time snorkeling with Manta Rays.

Laura has a deep dark secret too.  She’s an addict.  a coffee addict.  I never acquired the taste, but I do enjoy an occasional cappuccino.  In Italy I have cappuccino every day.  I am a foodie, though, and appreciate fine food, while eschewing fine dining.  That’s one of the reasons Hawaii fits me so well.  The raw products of the islands is incredible.  every day has 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of night, and the geography is such that the produce (and the animals that eat it) get tropical sun and rain every day.  Everything grows in rich volcanic soil.  Ideal conditions to farm and ranch.  Formal Dining in Hawaii means the forks and knives are metal instead of plastic, and you wear a t-shirt without holes.  For special occasions, like weddings, the groom might wear Hawaiian shirt completely buttoned to his sternum (but not tucked in, ever!).  Flip Flops are always appropriate.  This dress code is heaven for Dan.

The first time I had Kona coffee (in a cappuccino), I knew it was something spectacular.  I called Laura from the Cafe and told her that some day she had to try this.

That day has finally come.

We’re up early.  The kids car found a coffee shop near the marina, so we go.  It’s a little difficult to find as it’s hidden behind a car wash.  It’s typical in Hawaii to have “pop-up” gourmet food places.  You find them IN gas stations, regular grocery stores and sometimes in school buses parked on the side of the road overgrown with years of lush weeds.  We circle twice to find this place.   They have these funny doughnuts with holes in the middle, they call them bagels (but they really aren’t).  and Kona Coffee, which they prepare expertly AND describe how they are preparing it whilst doing it.  Kona coffee is rich, and robust and strong (blah blah blah) but it has a very light, silky quality to the mouth.  When you’ve had Kona coffee the oils stay in your tongue for hours afterwards giving a sated, peaceful feeling.

This is not the place I intended to take Laura for Kona Coffee, but it was top notch and right next to the marina.  Perfect choice.

Next we go to the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor which I refer to as “Giligans Island Marina”.  I only call it that because it is.  We meet Captain Ron and Shannon, get our safety briefing and:

off we go……….

to be continued………..

 

Wet Before and Wet Behind

Dan’s “Spare Parts” catamaran – Sailing to Fire island Talisman Park, NY……

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

Title: “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody

 

 

‘Lady Drives a Chrysler’ – ‘Young American – David Bowie.

 

J turn.

 

‘You can drive a Volvo like you hate it,  cheaper than psychiatry.’

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