Subaru WRX STI
I guess I didn't actually want to take time off this week. I have stuff rattling around in my head as usual. I guess what I was really saying is that I need some more incubation time for thinking about the B&W submissions so I can build a better Baker's Dozen post...that's what I wanted more time for.
That's topic #1 for the "Open Mike" Editorial Page today: the role of TIME in editing.
The magical moment in photographic editing happens for me when you a) do a bunch of shooting; b) choose the shots you think are "good"; workprint a bunch of them and put them up on a wall or corkboard where you can look at them a lot; and then—here's the magic part—contemplate them regularly for three or four days.
The sorting takes place subconsciously, i.e., magically. Here's what will happen: you will start off thinking that all the pictures are more or less equal, and that all of them are pretty good. You will end up thinking that one, two, or three of them are really good and all the rest are throwaways.
What happens in between? I don't know. But it does. Call it visual intelligence. It takes time for this to happen...time going past, and time spent looking at your pictures with your eyes. It's easier, mechanically speaking, to edit on your computer, but better to do it with physical prints you can look at.
Time spent with your eyes on the pictures is the crucial key, and the fact that no one does it that way any more might be partially to blame for the fact that pictures are worse now than they used to be.
Topic #2: Crime in the United States is way, way down, and no one knows why. Recently the national murder rate reached HALF of what it was in 1990. We get distracted by the enormity of mass shootings, but that might be something altogether different than crime; personally I think it's an example of the sort of contagious mental illness that contributed to the epidemic of "anarchist assassinations" of the thirty years prior to WWI (which was touched off by, yup, an anarchist assassination), or the popularity of duelling in 17th-century France, which killed about one in ten (the literal meaning of "decimated") of that society's aristocratic and upper-class men, or the fact that every so often, suicide becomes popular. Popular?!? There's no other word for it...in Germany at the time Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther there was an absolute craze for youth suicide with a "romantic" cast to it. Suicide happens in clusters to this day. It has the same features as a fad. It worries me greatly that the psychological illness causing the craze or fad that has fed mass shootings now seems to be shifting to police assassinations; that is, socio-psychologically speaking, a very bad trend that needs to be stepped on in the strongest possible way, with the most concerted response we can muster.
But all of this should not disguise the remarkable fact that crime has declined very steeply in recent decades in the United States. The fact that no one can explain it just makes it interesting; explicable or not, it's still a very good thing.
Topic #3: As a car nut, I kind of hate modern cars. I hate electronic nannying, 500+ horsepower monstrosities, and feature-encrustation. We're approaching some kind of tipping point in automotive technology; I personally believe that a) self-driving cars will never happen but that b) all cars will be battery-powered thirty years from now. In the meantime, I still like what I like, namely, old-fashioned, light, moderately powered, "slow-car-fast" sporty cars that can be driven for fun on public roads rather than on racetracks. Luxury muscle cars shaped like trucks that have to be driven dangerously on closed courses to have anything approaching fun in 'em are decadent, twisted, and misbegotten, not to mention mentally unhealthy, if you ask me.
Saddest thing about modern cars: the traditional, simple, engaging, involving, connected manual transmission is going away. "Bah, humbug" ten times over! I don't give a flying fig if John and Jane Q. Public don't want stick shift in their appliance transportation, but cars meant to be fun for the driver to drive oughtta have 'em, dagnabbit. The reason I bought my 2014 Acura ILX is that the better engine (naturally aspirated 2.4 liter) only came with a stick shift. (Now you can't buy any Acura with a manual.) And no, I don't give a flying fig if dual-clutch automatics shift faster; it's my experience that matters to me, not the stopwatch. Who cares how fast road cars actually go? It's like caring about the golf scores of a weekend golfer. Matters not to anyone. What matters about cars is how fast they feel and how fun and satisfying they are to drive that way, not a meaningless tenth of a second here or there.
Here's a list of the cars you can still get in 2018 that have stick shift. And, per that article, special kudos to the Subaru WRX STI, one of the few cars left that comes only with a manual transmission.
Here's my ideal automobile: two seats side-by-side, rear wheels driven, a willing, high-revving, naturally-aspirated engine that's low-powered enough that it encourages you to stay in the powerband using the gearshift, with excellent, communicative hydraulic steering and excellent tires. Oh, and a convertible top. The Mazda Miata comes close enough to this ideal (or would, with the addition of some mods) that I feel like I'm safe for the end of my life. (The fact that I can't afford one is on me. At least it exists.)
And while we're on the subject of Mazda: the best and most practical general-purpose vehicle you can buy today is the 2018 Mazda CX-5. Some Subarus come close. Here's why:
- The best car is mass market, with more of its cost in the initial engineering and less involved in handbuilding, exotic materials, luxury features, spec-sheet excess, and the moneysucking combo of big advertising/small volume.
- The best car is an SUV because that's what's popular now—midsized SUVs are to 2018 what midsized family sedans used to be—but small enough for four cylinders and decent mileage.
- Gotta look really sweet. The 2018 CX-5 in soul red paint is gorgeous.
- Nice interior...but not too nice. Cars are meant to be used.
- Not too precious. Who wants the responsibility of driving something irreplaceable? Not moi.
- The CX-5 handles much better than most SUVs.
- Can be used to transport dogs.
I rest my case. I would rather have a CX-5 than a Ferrari—and I can say that, because I can't have a Ferrari.
Topic #4: In human culture, lots of things are driven by popularity. We do things because they're the things we do. Things happen in cycles; what goes up must come down; people do things because other people do them. I like cue sports, and the popularity of cue sports is plummeting toward death like two drunks careening down a ski jump on a toboggan.
This glorious antique Glass Pfister was fully restored by
Blatt Billiards in New York City
Pool used to be one of the most popular sports in America, believe it or not. When baseball was America's most popular sport, pool and billiards (now called "three cushion," a game played on a table with no pockets) were not far behind: in the 1920s, there were almost as many articles in the newspaper about billiards tournaments as there were about baseball games. Willie Hoppe's earnings rivaled Babe Ruth's. And there were 5,000 pool halls in New York City alone. (Now there might not be 5,000 in the world, if you leave out the Philippines.) Not for nothing is there a steady trade in restored antique pool tables...there are lots and lots of them out there. A pool table used to be as much of a status symbol in the home as a piano. (Neither are in very many homes now...but people in the future will look at the homes we build and wonder why in the world we put our kitchens in the living room and made the counters out of stone. We are truly weird!)
Pool in the U.S. is in the process of dying. In much better health is a game that's popular in other parts of the world but not in the U.S., and it's popular in part because it's a much better game than any pool game. It's called "snooker," and it was supposedly invented by bored British imperial officers in India in the time of the Raj. They sure did a good job...the game is as subtle and rich as baseball. The Michael Jordan of snooker, the virtuosic Ronnie O'Sullivan, is still playing, and it remains to be seen what will happen to that game once he retires.
But Google "antique pool tables" someday, and poke around. It's really amazing what's out there. I hope to visit Bankshot Billiards, a local antique pool table restorer in Albany, and if I do I will file a report.
That's enough from me for today!
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Joe: "Way back in the early '70s I bought a 1969 yellow Fiat 850 Spider. What a piece of junk. The thing broke down literally every few hundred miles. The convertible top leaked all over me when it rained and kept the interior freezing cold in the winter. And the tiny 850cc engine was smaller than some of my friends' motorcycles' engines. This is the car, with my then-girlfriend:
"But hot damn that thing was fun to drive. Really fun. Really really fun. More fun to drive than any other car I've ever been in. It turns out that 850cc is plenty for a tiny two-seater. Zooming along with the top down in the summer, I've never felt less between me and the road (except when I owned a motorcycle). I had a friend who loved muscle cars and who drove a monster of a Camaro, and she took a spin in that Fiat one day and it opened her eyes. She had no idea what it was like to drive a car that probably weighed the same as the passenger door on her Camaro. She didn't become a convert, but she understood what I loved about driving that car.
"I wouldn't buy a Fiat again, and the breakdowns were way more of a pain than the joy the 850 brought me, but bring me joy it did."
Robert Roaldi: "Really, you need two cars. At least two. You need an everyday grocery-getter that does most things OK, starts every time, room for the dog, etc. Then, for that Saturday afternoon drive that you do for fun, you want a Miata, Alfa GTV, Volvo P1800, FIAT X1/9, etc.
"One car can't do it all; it's just like with cameras. You don't take a large format film camera to a cyclocross bicycle race, and you don't want a manual shift MGB in a three-hour rush-hour drive in a hot humid August heat wave. Having more than one can be expensive, but then you don't need to buy new ones."
Geoff Wittig, who masquerades as a mild mannered, middle aged small town doctor but is actually One Cool Dude, replies to Robert: "Robert, That's actually one of the many joys of Subaru's WRX STi. You can only get it with a hand-built six-speed manual transmission, and it's stupid fast, with chassis tuning that is perfectly calibrated for America's typical rutted winding two-lane rural roads. Yet it's a very practical daily driver; the back seat fits actual adult humans, and the trunk is quite capacious. My trunk generally houses a large tripod and a huge LowePro pack with two DSLRs and six lenses, with room for groceries left over. And you can drive it in the snow!"
CGarrison: "I’ve owned a lot of cars and motorcycles over the last 18 years and slowly progressed toward higher and higher power and complexity. This culminated in an R35 GT-R Nismo with 600 HP and a very smart AWD system. This car was amazing to drive at 8/10ths or above, but less inspiring most of the time. I also then had a 200 HP Ducati Panigale R which features an amazing engine, amazing brakes, electronic suspension, and amazing traction control/engine braking control, etc. What a fun motorcycle on a twisty road, but a nightmare everywhere else.
"I sold the Nismo and the Panigale and looked into a similar list of attributes as you described. I considered (another) Mazda RX8, a Honda S2000, a Subaru BRZ or WRX STi, and others.
"Here’s where I’ve ended up. For a motorcycle I have a hand built Ducati based upon an old air-cooled, carbureted Ducati 900SS motor. It’s loud, light, reasonably quick and a blast at normal speeds. It’s very simple in every way and almost the entire motorcycle was fabricated by hand.
"For cars I ended up with a Ford Focus RS. It’s at 350 HP, all wheel drive, has a simple and practical interior, has a very fun engine and transmission combination, and is an absolute blast to drive hard, anywhere. The AWD is similar in feel to a GTR but the car is so small and light that you can enjoy full throttle and all gears on the street.
"The Focus RS is a lot of fun and I’m keeping it, but the steering is light and noncommunicative compared to the GTR and certainly to any hydraulic RWD setup. The suspension is way too stiff in all settings, and there is an occasional feeling that you don’t quite know what the throttle and differentials are doing when driving hard. I still wanted something more pure so I then ended up with a car that ticks a lot of the boxes you listed, an Ariel Nomad.
"Rear wheel drive. Manual steering. Manual braking. Sixteen hundred pounds. Honda K24 engine and six-speed transmission with 240 HP. No electronic assistance at all. This is the most fun I have ever had driving anything. It’s likely not even close and I’ve driven a lot of cars on street and track. Ariels are expensive (Atom or Nomad) but offer such a pure driving experience and so much fun. You have to try one if you can. The Focus RS (a pretty aggressive street car) feels soft now, in steering, the clutch, the shifter, the throttle, everything but the suspension."
Mike replies: You've more resources than I. Unfortunately for me I mostly read about cars rather than drive them. I've never driven an Ariel and most likely never will, but I have memories of (briefly) driving a Lotus Super 7, the car that convinced me of the wisdom of "slow car fast" and set my preferences for light, go-carty cars. On paper, hear hear to your journey!