Friday, May 25, 2007

Live to Drive

The hills in Vermont are green by mid may. The snow tops on the mountains have yielded to the much delayed but inevitable arrival of spring and the road ahead-a long, black ribbon of broken asphalt-has just settled back into its bed after a tumultuous season of thaws and freezes. The old Jetta I am driving transmits every pavement incongruity through its suspension, up the steering shaft and into my hands via the steering wheel. In return, I respond with inputs to the wheel, the brakes and throttle. This is the sort of connectivity you do not find in most modern vehicles. In an old Volkswagen, however, the road, the car and the driver are all one.

But this is not what the driver of the 21st century wants. Today's neo-drivers want an appliance-like auto that will convey them across the total distance of their commute or trip without the inconvenience of feeling pot-holes, frost heaves, uneven pavement or anything at all. In one of these Maytag road machines you can get to 60 mph in five seconds, scream through the quarter-mile in under 15 seconds and tear down the highway at 130 mph. True, these modern cars are technological marvels equipped with phones, satellite radio, navigation systems, flat screen TVs, DVD players and 20 or so cup holders. But it is so completely distracting that you may forget you're actually in a moving car.

Not so in an old Jetta. In an old Jetta, 50 miles-per-hour feels like 50 miles-per-hour and, instead of numb conveyance, there is a pervasive sense of motion. There is the wind buffeting the windshield, the noise of the tires rolling and the steady, soft throb of the in-line four as it metabolizes fuel. And, best of all, not a single cup holder nor any other article that may distract from the task at hand.

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