The stud saves!
One of Life’s Basic Truths is the older we get, the less we can hold onto anything.
We’re in Father Time’s sights, it’s always open season, we’re all fair game, and there’s no limit.
You name it, we lose it. Hair, teeth, sight, memory, family, friends — the list is literally (not virtually) endless.
Though we’re all on The Great Downhill Slide, we’re not all sliding at the same rate. However, there’s one thing everyone loses along the way — Perspective.
That’s why, enlightened and hip guy that I am, when I talk to another hip and enlightened guy my age, I find myself sounding like the embittered alter kockers of my Gilded Youth.
“Is there anything more ridiculous than wearing jeans that are full of holes when new?” says my pal Long John Carhartt.
“Yeah, buying ’em in the first place,” I say, my Engine of Bitterness always in gear. “What kinda idjit would pay full price for clothes that’re rags to start with and’ll be outta fashion in a matter of months?”
“Not to mention,” he mentions, “all those freakin’ tattoos they got. No deck ape on my ship ever had half as many as the average college girl today.”
“You mean college woman, don’t you?” I say, trying to get his goat.
“College women. College men,” he says, and spits.
You can figure out the rest of the conversation — if not the subjects, then the attitudes.
How I ever got like that, I don’t know. I only know I am, and my attitude’s not going away till I do … to The Great Greenwich Village in the Sky.
Beauty was only paint job deep
But no matter how out of it I and my peers are, or how skewed our perspectives are, there’s one thing all us greybeards agree on: The Golden Age of American Automobiles was the 50’s and 60’s.
If old gearheads had any mantra it’d be, “They sure don’t make ’em like the used to.”
And that’s true … as far as it goes. Only thing is, it doesn’t go all that far.
Aesthetically, in my not-the-least-bit humble opinion, that judgment is spot-on. When it comes to chrome, curves and class, nothing can ever match those road whales. No matter what make, from the uber-elegant Lincolns and Cadillacs, to the humble Ramblers and Studebakers, they were all works of art — especially compared to today’s indistinguishable shoe boxes on wheels.
But, sadly, the only superior thing about those classics was their looks. By any other measure, they were at best beautiful losers.
As for safety? Simply put, they were death traps. All that steel meant one thing: In a wreck, they didn’t absorb the shock — you did. And in those glorious times sans seat belts, if the car hit anything, you’d bounce around like a pinball, from seat to dashboard (unpadded) and back, and then for an encore, into the windshield, if not through it.
Beyond that, suspensions and steering were sloppy, headlights were dimmer, rearview mirrors were tiny, and dashboards had all sorts of chromed knobs that were perfect for punching neat and deep holes out of your face if you banged into them.
And as for the stopping power of drum brakes, compared to disc brakes? No match at all.
At two bits a gallon, no one cared about mileage, which ran the gamut from lousy to atrocious. With today’s gas prices, in one of those cars you’d need to take out a second mortgage to cruise from here to Plattsburgh.
Pollution? You bet, and lots of it.
And then there’s dependability. Or in the classic cars’ case, undependability. Points and plugs got fouled with alarming frequency. Rings and seals wore out prematurely; if you weren’t burning oil, you were leaking it. Starting in sub-zero temps tried the souls of men and batteries alike — even with the now-extinct oil pan heaters.
Finally, there were those old bias-ply tires. Radials cost a lot more … and they’re worth it. At the least, they last a lot longer and resist punctures much better. Most important, they have excellent traction compared to their ancestors, so they corner and stop better. And since the only thing keeping your ton of steel on the road as you fly over the asphalt at a cool 90 feet per second is a few square feet of tread, traction is not only the name of the game, but the game itself.
If you’re not a snowbird, but an ADK winter hardcore, you might want your tires to be winter hardcores as well. I do, which is why, before we get buried under the white stuff, I stash my all-weather tires and break out The Big Kahunas — studded snow tires.
Studded snows may seem like overkill, but lemme put it to you this way: You may need them only once in five years, true. But that one time? You don’t have them, and you’re up the crick without a paddle, a canoe or a clue, and you won’t be going anywhere till the tow truck arrives — provided you’ve got phone coverage in the first place.
Education on ice
I learned all I needed to know about studded snows the way I learn everything — the hard way.
It was mid-winter and I was taking my mother to Montreal to catch a plane. Luckily, we were in her car. I say “luckily” because of how mother viewed the universe, namely that it was malevolent. Damon Runyon said, “… all life is 6 to 5 against,” and while my mother would’ve agreed with him in principle, she probably would’ve changed the odds to 6 to 1 against. As a result, she didn’t leave much to chance when it came to dealing with the elements. Thus she always had studded snows (which I’m ashamed to admit I thought was just a little old lady move).
We’d just gotten through the border and were making great time when it started to rain. But it wasn’t plain ole rain. Uh-uh, it was freezing rain — my absolute numero uno driving nightmare.
I slowed down a bit, and as I did, the road started to ice over while still having a layer of water on top. I slowed down some more.
A minute or so later, a weird motion in the rearview mirror caught my eye. It was the car behind, and its weird motion was swaying back and forth, all over the road.
I suddenly realized we were hydroplaning.
“Thundering Lord Jesus!” I yelled.
“What?” said my mother.
Before I had time to answer her, I saw the car behind us do two 360s and spin off into the right-side snowbank. And before I processed that, the car in front of me flew sideways across the opposite lane and plowed into the median snowbank.
And then all hell broke loose. The only cars not slamming into the snowbanks were the ones that had already slammed into them.
Meanwhile, my heart hammered in my ears and I started to tug on the upholstery — and not with my hands.
I slowed down and, amazingly, kept going, never breaking traction. But ours was about the only car who hadn’t: All the others were buried in the banks or had pulled over, praying for salvation from either the Mounties or Brother Andre.
We got to the Jacques Cartier bridge with no problem (and with the road practically to ourselves) but once we got on the bridge itself, all traffic stopped. After that, it was crawling forward, inch by slushy inch, and it took us an hour and a half to get over the bridge. By that time we missed the plane. And beyond that, the radio announced the RCMP had received over 300 accident reports in the previous hour, so everyone was asked not to report an accident unless it involved serious bodily injury.
After I’d taken my mother home and before I went back to my place and changed my skivs, I stopped at Adirondack Tire and ordered a set of you-know-whats.
Mayhem in Montreal was over 40 years ago and while its memory has faded quite a bit, its lesson is ever-present: I put studded snows on my car before I take my union suit out of storage.
Since I’m so vocal about studded snows, people always ask me if I know what’s the best tire. I do, and now I’ll tell you: The best tire is being able to re-tire!