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June 11, 2010

Driving Like Crazy

P.J. O'Rourke - ISBN - 9780802144799

I'm a great fan of this man; he's funny, witty, and on occasion flabbergasting. My favorite of his books, as I've noted previously, include A Parliament of Whores (his best by far), Give War a Chance, and Holidays in Hell.

His newest, "driving," is just out in paperback, and is a bit of a disappointment, though it is still quite funny on occasion. I suspect that if I had been a more typical young male during the era of America's preeminence in auto manufacture I might have liked it more. (Back then, like most American boys, I could identify virtually every American car: make, model and year--and the small handful of imports; but I was never a fanatic about it, and horsepower, stroke volume, cams, valves and mufflers interested me not at all. I found such data boring, which may be why I did not enjoy the book as much as many others will.)

For years he was a freelance correspondent, and one of his subjects was motor vehicles: cars, trucks and motorcycles. For 30 years he covered events from NASCAR to the Baja (California) road races. He has revisited many of his original articles, rewritten some and added modern commentary to the texts. An early chapter, in page after page of bi-polarism, reports a drive from Florida to L.A. in a '56 Buick, which escapade reminds one of Dean Martin's "Ain't it a kick in the head?" Another bears the title The Rolling Organ Donors Motorcycle Club. The chapter on NASCAR is alone worth the price of admission.

He inserts his signature cracks and witticisms, sometimes laugh out loud funny:

• On one adventure, driving thru a wilderness, he comments that "As dusk gathers, critters are everywhere . . . Mainly it's the moose and deer that kill you. The deer if you swerve to avoid hitting them and go into the ditch, the moose if you don't."

• "The motorcycle is a device created by a team of God and Darwin to rid the world of useless young males."

• "Reporters are famous instant experts. And with any ordinarily arcane sport a weekend would have sufficed for me to argue all the fine points of the game . . . but there was something about [a NASCAR mechanic's wise, comprehensive and informed] tutorial that made me think I wasn't anywhere near smart enough to play dumb."

• "[Watching] the pit crews . . . refueling the car and changing four tires in less than half a minute [is] like five hulking Baryshnikov's in fast forward. And the cars themselves: words flunk description." (He became and remains an ardent fan of the organization and its races.)

• On a remote Baja excursion, packing for every eventuality: "The Jeeps were so full that we had to leave a lot of things behind, but only the things we'd be needing."

• On another jaunt across Nevada: "Everywhere the trace of man was visible you wished it weren't. The entire state was obviously temporary. As soon as the locals got their cars fixed they'd be moving to California. Much as I love the roadside sprawl of freedom, Nevada was littered, ugly [and] vile." Obviously he wasn't a fan.

He gets in his political licks as well, lamenting the passage of the "car era" in America as he catalogues the calamity and causes thereof. In a rant about unions and car executives he comments:

• "They no more deserve our sympathy than the malevolent trolls under the Capitol dome. But pity the poor American car when Congress and the White House get through with it--a lightweight vehicle with a small carbon footprint, using alternative energy and renewable resources to operate in a sustainable way. When I was a kid we called it a Schwinn."

• "The only people that could possibly be worse at running a car company than the current crop of car executives--who have proven themselves to be plenty bad--would be politicians."

• "The problem with making a hybrid that works is, it's going to be a heavy vehicle, and it's going to be expensive to build, and is it gonna net out to be more efficient? It kinda depends upon how you do the math on making the batteries, and how much battery power it carries, [and] how you dispose of the batteries when done. It's tricky . . . [and] since Bolivia is the key source of Lithium . . . [can it be progress to] trade the Saudis for the Bolivians?"

So, P.J. with the future of cars and journalism both in doubt, where does that leave you? His answer: "Clint Eastwood has done it all with 'Gran Torino.' I've been channeling that character ever since I saw the movie. I've decided that my motto in life is 'Get off my lawn'. It's the right answer to everything."

After all, "I live in New Hampshire. . . . Eleven hundred more feet of sea-level rises [and] I've got beach front property. [You say' 'By the end of the century New York City could be underwater' and [I] say: 'your point is?'"

The feminists grabbed our women,
The liberals banned our guns.
The health cops snuffed our cigarettes,
The bailout has our funds.
The laws of Breathalyzing
Put an end to our roadside bars,
Circle the Fords and Chevys, boys

Posted by Curmudgeon at June 11, 2010 12:40 PM