Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

How dare you pass me!

Ego is a heck of a thing.

Even as I mature into my thirties and give less and less care about what other people think; even though I drive a six-figure car that’s easily in the fastest top 1% of all the vehicles on the road - therefore no reason be self-conscious at all, certain moments can still momentarily awaken those base and rabid emotions.

Case in point this past weekend when I was doing my usual drive on the mountain roads in the GT3, going at a reasonable clip: not enough for jail time, but definitely faster than the posted speed limits. Suddenly I noticed in the back mirror two cars coming up rather quickly onto my tail, and soon I became a mobile roadblock to their desires to go faster. Had it been my younger years in a similar class of machinery (an impossibility, but indulge me), I would have eagerly taken the challenge and sped up into pseudo race against them. Me at 31, highly cognizant of my mortality, cannot be tempted such foolishness.

So I kept to my pace, and at the earliest passing opportunity (thank goodness these guys weren’t assholes who pass over a double-yellow line or in a blind corner) allowed them to by. The leading car was what looked to be highly-modified Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, while the follower is a current-generation Chevy Camaro. No harm no foul: if they want to go triple digits on these mountain roads, I’m not about to play citizen police. I’ve encountered those sorts of people too, and they are I would say equally as dangerous as those who overtake illegally.

I was ready to move on my merry way, but for some reason, feelings of embarrassment and anger started to well up from within. Those guys must be laughing their asses off thinking I’m some chump who can’t pilot a 911 GT3 to its best ability: “Look at this guy, all money and no skill!” (the no skill part is very true) In turn, I was seething over their audacity to pass me with their lowly cars that are not only slower on spec than the GT3, but when combined is still worth less than my German sports car.

Needless to say, my ego took over; I had brief thoughts of chasing these guy down, though thankfully those feelings were indeed fleeting, and I was able to detach from the situation and calm myself down. The fact of the matter is the two drivers wanted to go faster than me, and they passed me in an objectively very safe manner. There’s really nothing to fume about, but something about the ego’s inability to accept slights, especially those pertaining to manhood like who can go faster in a car.

I’d thought owning one of the best driver’s car ever produced would alleviate such juvenile tendencies; there’d be no need for comparisons and battles. It seems it may in fact exacerbate situations: last thing anyone wants is to look utterly stupid inside an expensive car. The ego probably wouldn’t have reared its head had I been driving a Honda Fit.

As always, a work in progress.

I’m just running in the 90s.

The early morning drives

Living in a dense city full of cars and traffic, it’s mighty difficult to find space to truly stretch the legs of my beloved sports car. Even the mountain roads gets congested on the weekends; due to hikers, revelers of nature, and people trying to get to the Pacific Ocean. It only takes one not so cooperative driver refusing to pull over for your obviously faster car to ruin what is suppose to be a joyful drive (there always is one). Of course, I can be a dick about it and pass them crossing the double yellow line, but I’m the type to follow rules of the road absolutely, and also I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype of the asshole (junior) supercar owner.

A good strategy to avoid the crowd and traffic is to get up super early and drive the same mountain roads whilst everyone else is still soundly asleep. It’s an especially serene time as well, perfect opportunity for a bit of meditation and reflecting. Driving on city streets and highways with nary another car on the road, backdropped with the subtle haze of glow from the approaching sun dancing with the darkness of the receding night, is something immensely therapeutic. I’d get up before dawn, so that by the time I’m finished with a few hours of driving, I’m greeted with the day’s sunrise (weather permitting, naturally; can’t be sure with San Francisco’s notorious fog).

Well, at least that was what I did with my previous cars. Due to unique circumstances with the 911 GT3, its let’s call it permanent location is not inside the house (we don’t have a garage, sadly). Rather, the GT3 is parked some distance away at a different location, necessitating a 20 minute drive to access. Therefore, to perform an early morning blast on the mountains, I have to add at least 20 minutes on top of the already ungodly hour I’d need to wake up. In my twenties perhaps this would be doable (as if I could afford a Porsche in my twenties), but nowadays with me paying close attention to the quality of sleep, it’s not an enticing proposition.

Just one of the many idiosyncratic realities of owning an expensive car in a crowded urban city.

Grimy nights.

Bad luck for car enthusiast

As a car enthusiast, sometimes luck simply isn’t on your side. I’m not talking about the big sorrowful events like horrible accidents, but rather mundane annoyances that strikes at random (like a scraped bumper), and should you be so unlucky, a cluster of them seems to hit you all at once.

Mind you I am not talking about me, thank heavens, though back in April just about the biggest rock chip I’ve ever seen was thrown into the upper portion of the GT3’s bonnet. Actually, there was also that rear tire puncture as well, which turned out to be quite the chore to fix. But no, compared to my brother’s year with his mark 7 Golf GTI, I’d consider myself fortunate.

Indeed, said brother have only had the car for one year, and within that time-span the following misfortune occurred to his precious little hot hatch. First was the time during his move back to university for the Fall semester, and my clumsy dad absentmindedly scraped the rear quarter panel when he attempted to stuff the mini fridge into the rear passenger compartment (it didn’t fit through the aperture, obviously). Shortly after that, the GTI got broken into whilst parked in the lot of a restaurant, necessitating a replacement of the rear passenger window, plus that annoying tiny triangular glass at the corner that doesn’t really do anything.

California saw its wettest rain season in many years, so road conditions this winter was not very good. My brother drove over a set of light-rail tracks thinking nothing of it, but lurking adjacent to far rail was an enormous pothole. It obliterated the front left tire, requiring an emergency trip to the nearest tire shop. Now my brother did take this opportunity to swap the crappy stock all-season tires with a solid set of summer performance boots, which I have to say utterly transformed the GTI’s character. However, I’m sure his wallet holds a different opinion.

Lastly, a month ago an errant stone chip to the windshield proved a bit on the too large side, causing two parallel cracks to form at lower left quadrant, directly in the sight-line of the driver. My brother is still in the process of getting that replaced, which is another chunk of change that with better luck could’ve been avoided.

That’s all part of owning a car, isn’t it? To keep a car pristine, stuff in a garage forever; otherwise, it’s simply things a driver has to deal with. A person could go for years without a puncture, then suffer multiples of them within a short time. I jokingly told my brother that he doesn’t have to deal with any of this if he’d only take the bus instead.

Like I do. Sort of.

A veritable jungle on campus.

It's not all that precious

It’s expectedly strange to drive around in a car costing six-figures: the price-tag never really leaves the back of your mind. Every peculiar sound the car makes, loud or faint, causes an immediate reaction, questioning whether this will be the hour the car crumbles, costing to the tune of thousands of dollars.

It doesn’t help the GT3 is a manufactured in Germany, and we’re quite familiar with German automobiles’ reputation for reliability, which is to say, not good at all.

Alas this is what happens when you buy a car in that high of a price category, but you yourself am not sufficiently endowed monetarily as the typical owner (I don’t even make the price of the GT3 in salary annually). Surely those people have no issues dropping the occasional hundreds or thousands on an errant bent wheel or coil-pack failure, but I definitely do. I’m somewhat stretching it just to afford the 911 as it comes, so surprise repair bills are not welcomed sights.

Obviously, the prudent option would’ve been to buy not so nice of a car, but as the kids say these days, you only live once, and indeed I can pay for the GT3 and its associated running costs; it’s just that when things go wrong in a Porsche, the fix is usually spectacularly expensive (hello, Porsche tax!). Therefore I end up treating the car as if it’s the most fragile object in the world, like dodging even the smallest of road debris, or thinking it’s irreparably ruined at the first hint of any weird noises.   

Often times I have to remind myself the Porsche 911 is known for its robustness, a supreme legacy of reliably fun motoring for nearly six decades. It features some of the finest German engineering to exist, and ergo I shouldn’t be so apprehensive about driving it as I would any other car (within reason). The components that interacts with the ground are all motorsport focused, so the typical pothole isn’t going to do any damage. The engine is meant for heavy track abuse, so my putting around town and the occasional mountain road isn’t hurting a thing.

I have to train myself to let go of the GT3’s preciousness, and treat it as it’s meant to be: a superbly fast and immensely sporting transpiration device. Unexpected costs should be dealt with as they come unexpectedly, rather than keeping it constantly in mind. I bought the car for a sole reason, and that is to drive, unreservedly.

Lens flare to make JJ Abrams proud.

Fast mountain driving is an exercise

Can spirited driving be considered as exercise?

After what transpired this past Saturday, I certainly think so.

It was a glorious post-rain afternoon basking in sunshine, on a long stretch of winding tarmac where nary a car could be found (we were out in the middle of nowhere); I had the first opportunity to really explore the lofty limits of the 911 GT3 since I bought it back in January. For a word to sum up the experience, it would be ‘sweaty’.

Perhaps an empty parking lot might have been the more ideal proving ground to start off with, because for the first quarter stretch of the road I was super hesitant with my inputs, not daring to upset the car. Admittedly I had yet to break the GT3’s backend loose even once, so I had zero idea what its dynamics were like. All I knew at the time was the Porsche has tremendous power and grip, and it’s up to me to find the edge where either of those begin to falter.

That is, if my body is up to the task.

For the first proper go on a twisty mountain road in anger, I can say I handled myself fairly well: my friend who was following behind told me afterwards that I got noticeably quicker the deeper we got into the route. That said I simply could not keep up with the driver in front of me in a Chevrolet SS; he’s had 60,000 miles of familiarity with that car, and in his capable hands the SS disappeared from my windshield in short order. No doubt the GT3 is capable of going much faster - a 475 horsepower sports car ought to be quicker than a 4,000lb sports sedan; the problem is obviously not the car, but rather me.

Nevertheless, I was absolutely hustling the car to my (not so great) abilities, and it was indeed quite the workout. Even with the automatic climate control set at the standard 72 degrees, my back was perspiring heavily, and my palms needed periodic wipes on my shirt. I had to take off my hat because sweat was forming on my head as well. A leisure weekend drive it certainly was not.

And I felt the affects the following morning: I must have gripped the steering wheel too hard because my fingers were sore, and due to the countless shuffling of the right foot between braking and acceleration, the calve muscles were barking. I guess I never appreciated - until now - how much of an athlete a racing driver has to be, and how sorely lacking my own conditioning is.

Looking forward to improving on both fronts: mastering the GT3, and making sure my body is up to the task of doing it.  

Paying my respect to the locals.

Damn it, why can't I just drive?

I am indeed that person who implores people to drive their cars, that vehicles aren’t meant to be permanently stored in climate-controlled garages, that superficial blemishes give character to a car (those sweet patina points), and it’s okay for it to not be as perfect as the day it rolled out of the factory.

I am also the person who is supremely obsessive compulsive about keeping a car as perfect as possible, and the two diametrically opposed ethos create quite the friction point for me. There’s not a lot I love more than taking the GT3 out on a long drive: music on to accompany the melodic rumble of the engine, and with no particular destination in mind. But, as soon as a set of loose pebbles get pelted onto the windshield, creating fresh pockmarks, that’s when the agony begins.

So much for putting miles on cars and embracing the patina. Given the opportunity and resources I’d totally park a car forever in a my living room and polish it with the finest baby diapers and extra virgin tears.

Admittedly my car OCD was immensely worse back a few years; these days I’m much more accepting of flaws and scars from normal wear and tear (or self inflicted extracurricular wear and tear). I’d thought buying a used car would alleviate some of the compulsions, given the car is innately imperfect, and the first few cuts (if you will) have already been done. Contrast that to the brand new vehicles I’ve purchased, where it was an utter mental drain to pay attention to each and every weird sound, and thinking the worse of it. That pothole I ran over? The car is ruined!

Turns out I’m equally obsessive with a used car, and worse, I’m being OCD about blemishes that weren’t even my fault! Isn’t that just the most pathetic: I’m letting things done to the car by the previous owners bother me. He put a scratch on the steering wheel leather - that bastard!

Obviously I’ve been fighting myself to not be so caught up with the GT3’s imperfections, whether or not they were caused by me. As long as the car remains clean and mechanically sound, that is all I can and should ask for. The GT3 is a driver, not a museum art piece; though the process to be completely at peace with that notion is going to take some time. The work continues.

Spring bloom in full effect.

Hot hatches are awesome

I have indeed seen the light.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is universally known for being the best all-round car for the money, an indefeatable combination of power, sports, and utility. If you need one singular car to do everything in, and you’ve only got around $30,000, the GTI is the definitive answer.

Which explains my excitement a year ago when my brother brought home a brand new 2018 edition of the GTI. I’ve never driven one up until then so I was eager to get a taste of what everyone’s been raving about. For sure it seats four adults in comfort, and the boot can swallow a surprising amount of gear; but does the Golf GTI really live up to its sporting acclaims? 

Initial impressions were a bit of a disappointment. Yes, the power from the 2.0-liter turbo four is wholly sufficient, and the torque shove is tremendous fun on urban routes. However, it’s when I took the GTI through some corners where it started to baffle me: it’s very quick through the turns, but to my hands it felt numb and sterile. It was as if there’s a filter between my inputs and the car’s reactions. The GTI is an adequately fast car, but as is from the factory it’s curiously lacking in driving thrill.

It turns out, the culprit was the tires.

A few months ago my brother had an unfortunately run-in with a serious pothole, and the left front tire got obliterated. A perfect opportunity to swap the stock all-season tires for a set of proper summer performance boots. I recently got a go in the new setup, and the GTI’s dynamics have been utterly transformed. The car was simply let downed by the stock tires.

I finally got to experience the genuine joy of driving a hot hatch. Armed with a sticky set of tires, the GTI becomes incredibly playful and alive. The turn-in is just mega: jerk the steering wheel with abandon, and the front-end responds with seemingly endless grip. Mash the throttle out of a corner, let the limited-slip differential do the work of finding purchase, and the GTI rockets out with the gobs of available torque. The amount of confidence in the front axle so high, it beggars belief it’s front-wheel drive.

Combined with a good manual gearbox and nicely spaced pedals for heel-toe maneuvers, the GTI, when fitted with good set of tires, is an absolute revelation. I can now see why people adore hot hatchbacks; I might need one of my own.

Gum spots.