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Had a lovely couple of birthdays: I turned 42, and Sturdy Helpmeet™ and I drove to Dallas for a surprise party for my mother-in-law, who's turning 70. Then we drove back the same evening because Sturdy Helpmeet™ doesn't get to rest while the dastardly Texas legislature is in session.

On the nerdery front, I received a lovely Android phone from my darling Sturdy Helpmeet™. This is my first smartphone, so now I feel like I've joined the 21st century. That's nice, but on the other hand, I can't stop fiddling with it and gawping over how cool it is--Google SkyMap for the win!--which makes me feel like an old man who thinks he's hip because he's finally decided that maybe rock and roll isn't so bad after all.

So what am I actually doing with my fantastical new technogizmo? Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. I'm pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to read, too. My wood-pulp prejudice has kept me from buying an e-reader for a long time, but I'm reaching a point where I suspect that saving shelf-space would be worth the investment. So I downloaded the Google books app and a copy of the novel while sitting on the commode, and I didn't get up again until my legs had gone to sleep and Sturdy Helpmeet™ was banging on the door. At 3 AM.

Which also makes me feel a bit like an old man, but I don't care, because the fact that that can happen means the world is just fucking amazing.

Finally, and just to show how shallow I am, I think the best thing about Android is that now whenever I see an iPhone ad on TV, I feel neither envy nor the intensely douchenozzly self-loathing that I assume all sentient beings who own iPhones feel whenever they hear, "If you don't have an iPhone, then you don't have an iPhone."
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
Eight months ago, on my 40th birthday, the amazing Sturdy Helpmeet™ gave me a coupon for the 2000 HP Tour, a chance to spend four or five hours driving really, really fancy cars. We upgraded the package so that Sturdy Helpmeet™ could ride shotgun, and then after numerous delays, scheduling conflicts, and badly-timed attacks of DIZEEEEEEZE, we finally got to go on the tour last weekend.

Where the first person I saw was a co-worker who had just finished a tour of his own, having received the same gift for his 40th birthday. Small world. I bet he watches Top Gear too.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time. The guys at DFW Drive Your Dream who ran the tour did a great job, and the cars themselves are amazing. So: on to the cars! (A disclaimer: I've forgotten the fiddly details about exact trim levels and engine models, so I'll have to confine myself to overall impressions.)

Audi R8:  This was my first time in a car with a six-speed transmission, and it was also my first time in a car with paddle shifters, so it took a few minutes to get comfortable driving the car. This car, like the others below, is equipped with a double-clutch transmission that lets you switch between full-automatic and a kind of Formula 1 style "manual" mode where you shift up and down with paddles mounted just behind the steering wheel. Manual mode doesn't involve a clutch pedal, so it's a bit like driving a video game.  (A very loud, very fast video game.)

All in all this is a very sweet machine. It's full of carbon fiber and fancy computerized electronics, so it feels a lot like a spaceship.  The ride is pretty smooth, and the engine is a low, muffled roar.  Acceleration and deceleration are extremely powerful but also very civilized. There's no hint that losing control is even a possibility.  (I should note that the folks running the tour put the cars in full-safety traction control mode so that we wouldn't kill ourselves. I should also note that the cars are so insanely powerful it's hard to imagine that there's ever a good reason for turning the traction control off.  Maybe on a track.)

So: an excellent experience for Baby's First Supercar. I only had two complaints: one, it's a bit awkward in the low gears, but I suppose that might be my own learning curve getting in the way. And two, a number of the buttons and dials on the dashboard look like they were taken from the same parts bin used by Sturdy Helpmeet's™ Volkswagen Golf.

Ferrari F430 Scuderia:  Driving this car is like having sex with Catwoman after taking a snort of cocaine.

In an X-Wing.

In short, the car really, really wants to do with you all the deliciously nasty things Catwoman wants to do with you (if you're Bruce Wayne, that is, but the virtue of the Ferrari is that it makes you feel like Bruce Wayne). But like Catwoman it snarls and probably bites, and like Catwoman if you do something wrong you're going to hear about it. There's a little knob on the steering wheel with three settings:  "Fast," "Very Fast," and "Kill Me."

Put another way, the Ferrari lives up to every ludicrous stereotype you'd care to imagine about Ferraris. It's joyfully loud. It's light and nimble and full of leather AND it's the only car we drove that doesn't have a big computer screen on the dash.  So it feels like a proper sports car with no trace of minivan anywhere in sight.

I will spend the rest of my life dreaming of this car when I fall asleep at night.

Porsche 911 Carerra S Cabriolet:  But the Ferarri is probably not a car you'd want to live with every day. It wants too much attention. (And if you're the kind of person who owns, or aspires to own, a fancy sports car, then you know it's really all about you, isn't it? Of course it is.)  The Porsche 911, by contrast, manages to combine crazy-high performance with ease and comfort. Very fast, very smooth, and also very cozy, it just feels improbably right.

You could drive this car every day, even for grocery shopping, and you'd forget you're in an ostentatious sports car until you're in the parking lot leaving the store. And then you'd spot your car and you'd think, "Oh yeah -- I have a Porsche 911. Fuckin' A!"

Bentley Continental GT Coupe:  This was the last car we sampled on the tour, and it was certainly the most luxurious. It's like sitting in a vast jacuzzi of warm French butter. Where the others try to impress you with speed and savagery, the Bentley is all about plush curves and sensuality. If the other cars are top athletes, the Bentley is...how shall I put this...a top-flight prostitute, the kind that has an agency and business cards and a Bentley of her own. Or so I imagine.

Which is why, when you get on an on-ramp for the freeway and ask the car for a bit of acceleration, you're surprised to discover that your eyeballs have flattened to the back of your skull. The low-end torque on this car is insane. It's a bit too soft to drive like the other cars, though; it rolls to much in the turns, and it's too heavy for truly graceful deceleration from high speeds.

It's like the car is saying, "Look honey, you paid a lot for this experience. Take your time.  I'll take care of you."

So the Bentley was the only car which, at the end, I thought ought to be driven in full automatic mode like an ordinary luxury car.  It's not an ordinary luxury car, but being a speed-demon takes work, and it's stupid to make yourself work too hard when there's so much voluptuousness to enjoy.

That said, I think the Bentley has one technical flaw that would prevent me wanting to drive it regularly: the pillars on either side of the main windscreen are so thick that turning corners becomes awkward: for a moment you can't quite see where you're going. It's probably the sort of thing you quickly get used to, but I found myself bothered by it. On the other hand, the Bentley has proximity alarms that protect you in parking lots from getting too close to other cars. And that's very cool when you're trying to park a rented $200,000 car at the end of the day.

To sum up: Sturdy Helpmeet™ is made of awesome-sauce.

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smackshack

June 2012

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