Early on in my residence here in the lovely D, I described the daily freeway traffic as a Ben-Hur chariot race. I don’t often fall in love with my own clever turns of phrase, but I stand by that one. And if you haven’t seen “Ben-Hur,” my God, check out the totally awesome FOUR-MINUTE trailer on YouTube. You get a big chunk of the chariot race around the 2:30 mark. That’s the morning commute here. Really. They issue you one of those whips at your first real-estate closing.
I guess lots of places are like this, but Detroit (and Chicago, to name another) combines those elements of speed, aggressiveness and close quarters you find in older cities, the ones that had big footprints before the freeways were built. The new roads required that neighborhoods either be demolished or sliced in two, which wasn’t easy or cheap then or now, and so tended to occupy the bare minimum of space. The entrance/exit ramps on the oldest parts of the Lodge, Ford and Davidson expressways here are short, and join freeways that frequently clip along at 75 miles per hour, even in the right lane. You want to know why Detroit automakers have had such a hard time giving up horsepower and bulk? Because every day their executives commute to work on these crazy-ass roads, and goddamn, you need a car that goes from zero to white-knuckle in about three seconds. Where’s my whip? Get over, jerkoff! Let me in!
So last night I was heading home from my class at Wayne State, which I always take at a gallop, because by the time I get home I have less than 30 minutes to pay the sitter, take her home, brew coffee and tuck Kate into bed before I start news-farmin’ at 9. I was moving along with the flow of traffic on I-94 when I glanced down and saw: 80 mph. Jeez, but you are a local now, aren’t you? I changed lanes (without signaling, because no one does) and dropped down to 70. As I said, 80 was flow-of-traffic speed, but even with seat belts and air bags, that’s a stupid pace to set on an urban freeway. I am someone’s mother and someone’s wife, and they would not be better off without me. Plus, we live in a two-story house. Not wheelchair-accessible.
The other night I caught most of “Drive,” the new Fox show about, as the promos reminded us about a million times, “an illegal cross-country road race.” Apparently it’s not only illegal, it’s a blind course that the participants, who have all been coerced in some way, navigate via cryptic text messages. It makes little sense, but the story is still building and in between befuddlement, there’s lots of enjoyable, hot car-on-car action.
Then I noticed something: All the cars were American-made. This may well be a sponsorship/product-placement issue, but it worked, dramatically speaking. One woman drove a Taurus, the new mom drove a minivan of indeterminate American lineage, the young men tended to be outfitted with classic, pre-OPEC muscle cars. The Taurus and the minivan were visual jokes among the Firebirds and Challengers, but it was a GM executive’s dream, all this American iron speeding down the Georgia blacktop, jockeying for position. I tried to imagine the action with Camrys and Accords, Tundras and Pathfinders, and it didn’t work. Whatever else Detroit gave the world, it gave it some pretty cool cars, and could again, I believe.
I pay more attention to car commercials than I used to; after all, the value of my house now rides on the fortunes of the auto industry. The other day one for the Dodge Avenger came on, and it featured…cupholders. Evidently the Avenger has heated and cooled cupholders. The Caliber has illuminated ones, for all those times you’ve struggled to find your coffee in the dark, I guess.
I’m not optimistic. Maybe they could get their mojo back selling chariots.
Roger Ebert, still swingin’.
How amusing: You can buy a “House” T-shirt emblazoned with one of the good doctor’s favorite sayings: “Everybody Lies.” Including, you’ll see if you click through, the show’s producers, who would like us to believe female doctors spend their days making rounds in plunging necklines and towering heels. Oh, and pearls. I wish I’d saved the first note I got from Dr. Frank, back when we were arranging to meet for our first lunch. From memory: “I will try to find a tie without too much bloody sputum on it.”
To work I go. Keep your whip hand nimble.