Road trip good time to pon­der life, lan­guage

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS -

THE sec­ond week of Septem­ber found me on the road, trav­el­ling from Whistler, B.C., to Pine Pass. That’s just shy of 1,000 kilo­me­tres, so while the trip started in the morn­ing, night fell as I went past Prince George. The re­ward was a sky dec­o­rated with north­ern lights, pale green ice-fire hang­ing there in the dark­ness. This was a ma­jor dis­play, brought on by so­lar flares. Road trips are a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for ob­ser­va­tion, and the aurora bo­re­alis was just one of the vignettes that tied the jour­ney to­gether.

Ear­lier in the day, near Cache Creek, I spot­ted a lo­cal cof­fee shop and de­cided to take a break. I pre­fer to sit at a ta­ble with my cof­fee, ver­sus gulp­ing from a take-away cup. It was a good brew, tasty enough to be drunk black, worth savour­ing. As I sat there, a cow­boy walked in. He was the real thing, with a weath­er­beaten face and legs bowed from years on horse­back. Old school, he took of his hat be­fore com­ing inside. Drug­store cow­boys could take this as a les­son in man­ners. We fin­ished around the same time, and I checked to see what he was driv­ing. It was a well-used and dusty Honda Civic hatch­back.

Beyond the jux­ta­po­si­tion of hatch­back and cow­boy, it re­minded me of some­thing I’d writ­ten some years ago, an ar­ti­cle about how the VW Golf and its com­peti­tors had a rea­son­able claim to be­ing the best cars in the world. My favourites in this cat­e­gory are the Golf, for be­ing such a com­plete car, the Mazda 3 for style and driv­ing dy­nam­ics, and the Hyundai Elantra GT for high con­tent, snarky per­son­al­ity and awe­some war­ranty. There are oth­ers worth con­sid­er­ing, all with the same twobox for­mat. Box 1 is the mo­tor, box two car­ries pas­sen­gers and cargo. Max­i­mum util­ity in some­thing that still has a sporty feel.

My choices aren’t even the so-called hot hatches beloved by au­to­mo­tive jour­nal­ists. For every­day driv­ing, un­less your roads are much smoother that those where I live, you are bet­ter off with a de­cent amount of sus­pen­sion travel. Just about any new ve­hi­cle th­ese days has ad­e­quate power. The Hyundai Sonata I tested ear­lier this year had per­for­mance and han­dling that would have made many 1990s mus­cle cars look silly. That cow­boy’s Honda Civic could show its heels to all of the old-school sports cars from MG, Tri­umph and the like. All the cars men­tioned ear­lier are nicely styled, yet still dis­creet enough not to at­tract too much at­ten­tion.

Some­where past 150 Mile House, I spot­ted a bill­board from a shop that promised to ser­vice its cus­tomers well. As a writer, I’m fussy about lan­guage. Peo­ple are served, ve­hi­cles are ser­viced. An ex­cep­tion to this might be our Li­mousin bull, back on the ranch near Rocky Moun­tain House. It did quite a bit of ser­vic­ing. I’m fairly sure that’s not what peo­ple have in mind when they take their car or truck in for re­pairs. Another abuse of lan­guage comes when brakes, as in au­to­mo­bile brakes, is re­placed by breaks, as in bro­ken. I drove by a garage that ap­par­ently ser­viced breaks, which with a lib­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion might even be true. How­ever, “I was brak­ing for a cor­ner,” is not a phrase any rac­ing driver would want to write.

My pref­er­ence for in­con­spic­u­ous ve­hi­cles paid off dur­ing the af­ter­noon, on a stretch posted at 100 k/h. Traf­fic nor­mally flows at 115 to 125 when the weather is good. In the stream of ve­hi­cles were some whacked-out pickup trucks; in front of me was a Neon that had seen bet­ter days. Fur­ther ahead, but mov­ing no faster, was a red Corvette. Guess who got pulled over?

Four of my close friends are cur­rent or for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of my in­struc­tors. They ad­mit some law-en­force­ment types en­joy tick­et­ing ve­hi­cles that have a high per­for­mance im­age. That’s too bad, be­cause prop­erly driven, th­ese cars are bet­ter in ac­tive safety, abil­ity to avoid a crash.

The only re­ally nasty left lane hog of the whole trip was an SUV with Alaska plates. Most peo­ple from that state seem to be com­pe­tent driv­ers; this was a clear ex­cep­tion. Traf­fic started to jam up be­hind, cre­at­ing an un­safe sit­u­a­tion. Much as I dis­like do­ing so, I down­shifted, spooled up the turbo and passed on the wrong side. The Bri­tish call this “un­der­tak­ing,” a suit­ably macabre term. At least I was sure the SUV driver wasn’t for­mer Alaska gov­er­nor and vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sarah Palin. She would have been in the far right lane. Alan Si­dorov is an ex­pe­ri­enced au­to­mo­bile racer, prod­uct tester and free­lance writer. You can reach him at


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