Someone’s Messing With Me

Driving yesterday, I had the thought: “Someone has replaced New Mexico with an exact duplicate, except without orange barrels on I-25.”

1

12 Hours and One Minute Until Dawn

I looked at my watch, and that’s what it just told me. Seems like a title for a story.

1

Still Searching for the Electric Roadster

Before I go too far down this rabbit hole, we should all make note of the fact that it is entirely possible that I will never buy another car, and that the roadster I currently own (a 1999 Miata) almost never leaves the garage. I have the battery hooked up to a trickle charger and I use my bike pump to keep the tires from going too flat.

But still, every once in a while, I go looking for the “electric Miata” — a simple and spirited little car made for top-down fun. I want this vehicle to exist. There was a time known as the 1980’s where no one thought there was a market for a fun little two-seater, and then Mazda introduced the Miata and bang the genre was reborn. I’m looking for the company that does the same thing, but electric.

It’s a challenge, to be sure. Batteries are heavy, and weight is the last thing you want if your goal is a nimble little car. That fact alone is probably why my dream has not already been realized. I get that. But I dream.

“What about the Tesla Roadster?” you ask. I will not go into detail here, but the original Roadster has value only as a collector item and the fabled new roadster is a preposterously expensive supercar that isn’t actually a roadster at all. What about Detroit Electric? Audi? BMW? The list goes on. All preposterous supercars and not a ragtop to be found.

Part of this, again, goes back to the weight. If it’s going to be heavy, is has to be powerful, and it has to stay very low to the pavement if it wants to turn corners at any speed. I get that. But I dream.

MG, the famous British company whose name is synonymous with “fun (as long as it isn’t broken)”, is now owned by Chinese giant SAIC, and the badge adorns SUV’s over there. But apparently some guy in that company remembers what MG used to mean, and MG has been working on an electric vehicle to pay homage to that heritage. Here at last, I thought, would be the electric that captured the true roadster feel.

Dubbed (I kid you not) “Cyberster”, the MG concept absolutely does NOT capture that feel. It is just another electric two-seat supercar in a market with about as many offerings as customers.

Mazda has now said they will “electrify” the Miata by 2030. But they probably mean hybrid, because, well, batteries are heavy. I’ve long wondered if the Wankel Rotary is well-suited for turning a generator; maybe we’ll find out.

Perhaps what I want is not possible with current technology. In fact, go back and remove the “Perhaps” from that statement. But I still want it! And let’s face it; a battery-encumbered Miata would still out-corner the 1974 Alfa Romeo I used to love to drive.

And there’s the thing. I get the weight. But the people choosing what cars to build don’t get the feeling of being out on the road on a chilly night, top down, heater blasting, moon washing the landscape. They don’t get the drives across the desert where sunscreen is a constant activity. They don’t get that the vanilla smell of ponderosas is part of the magic of weaving up a mountain road. They have never looked straight up and seen the sun shine through the feathers of a golden eagle coasting over the baking blacktop.

They do not love the road as deeply as I do. The motion, the air, the adventure. Someone should put me in charge of a car company (actually, they really shouldn’t). Then my company could make the car we all want.

For symmetry with the start of this episode, also note that in the unlikely event that I actually buy another car, it better drive itself so I can take a nap before I get where I’m going.

A Very Ordinary Genocidal Sociopath

I thought I’d celebrate the day with a link to an article about Cristopher Columbus over at defector.com: Christopher Columbus And The Replacement-Level Historical Figure. If you’re not a sports fan, you might not have seen the phrase “Replacement Level” that is used in the title. In sports, as statistics become ever-more sophisticated, you come across the question “how much better (or worse) is this athlete compared to a completely average person doing the same job?”

Patrick Wyman likes to ask that same question, but not about athletes, but about political and historical figures. Was Henry VIII exceptional, or was he just another Wealthy Asshole doing Wealthy Asshole stuff? What Wyman has discovered is that it is much more informative to look at the class of person who did something big, rather than to dwell on the name of the particular member of that class who actually did it. If it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else.

Back in the 1480’s, there were dozens of Christopher Columbuses sailing around. The one we remember might have been a little dumber than most of his peers (just about everyone else was correctly certain his estimate for he size of planet Earth was way off the mark), and maybe a bit more consumed with social climbing, but in every significant way he was a perfectly ordinary sociopath getting rich off the suffering and subjugation of others.

He would hang out with other, now forgotten sea captains, trading tips on how to most efficiently destroy civilization in Africa and how best to suck up to the various navies deployed to protect their evil trade.

Chris was just dumb enough to try something his peers hadn’t yet, but it was only a matter of time.

Would anything have been different if another captain had made the voyage? About the only difference is that other captain would have been smart enough to realize he had stumbled on an unknown continent and named it after himself, and the natives in this land would not be called “Indians”.

Other than that, the replacement-level sea captain would have still have been a genocidal racist, willing to kill thousands of people if it meant he could sell dozens. He would have used disease, intimidation, and rape to get what he wanted. Back home, he wold tell outrageous lies.

Yet we have a day in this country named after one slightly-below-average member of this club. We learned in school that he was a hero, now we are learning something closer to the truth. But both these narratives make Columbus someone special. He was not. There was a swarm of flies, and he just happened to be the first fly to land on the new world.

2

The Car in the Camp

There is a homeless camp near the Children’s Museum. I ride through it on my trips that start to the North. The camp is growing, as are all the tent cities along the river. We can all take credit for that.

The city does what it can to limit the harm, providing portable toilets and looking the other way when a chain of extension cords or even a hose reaches from the museum to the camp. In one of the most expensive towns in the world, it doesn’t take much to knock a family out of their home. At least some here are more concerned with protecting people and environment rather than assigning blame.

You see some pretty nice cars in the camps these days, reminders of where these people were before they lost everything. Tricked out rice rockets, European luxo-mobiles, big-ass SUV’s. The cars are memories now, tires going flat. Time, poverty, and desperation inevitably overcome all things, especially cars; decay is accelerated. The minivan parked by the tracks one day is a burned-out hulk the next.

In the camp by the children’s museum, there was a car on a trailer. I am not an expert on antique automobiles. My first guess was a 1950’s MG, but looking at pictures now, this car lacks the signature fender->running board line of the MG’s.

But it is a classic roadster of that form, and at first it was on a trailer. The trailer is gone now.

It is a negotiation I think I understand. Job is gone, home is gone, but there is one thing you hold on to. But even being homeless is expensive, especially if you want to escape it. Fees on everything. Do you keep your phone account or do you eat? The trailer is sacrificed to keep the idea alive that this is just temporary. That on the other side will be a life where the classic car means something again.

I wonder that someone down on their luck can’t find a friend with a garage to hold their car until things get better. But although this car is more conspicuous, as I said above there are many nice automobiles in this place, and the number is growing. And friends are hard to find when you have nothing.

I dread the day I ride past and the accelerated entropy has overcome this vehicle. It’s just a thing, metal and rubber and whatnot, and its only value is what we assign it. But it’s also a dream. It’s hope. It’s a lifeline someone is clinging to. I just wish I shared that hope.

3