Road trip good time to ponder life, language
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