Sunday, October 7, 2007

I Thought I Would Never Buy A Ferrari

I always thought I never would buy a Ferrari. I guess that’s an obvious no-brainer, as currently I doubt I could even afford to get one tuned up, let alone actually buy one.

But what I always meant by that was that even I if could afford one, I thought I wouldn’t get one. There would be just too many other places to spend all that money, such as on a boat or an airplane (or at least entry-level versions of each). I would prefer to open up other avenues of transportation beyond just the asphalt. Besides, where and how in the United States could a person actually take advantage of what a Ferrari has to offer? Surely never in any insanely crowded urban area like Los Angeles, where I’ve always said the only solution for those mean streets is to take to the sky like in a Back to the Future DeLorean.

It would be an improvement, and maybe worth it, if a couple of thoroughfares such as Los Angeles to Las Vegas, or anywhere across Nevada, or Montana, opened themselves up to no speed limits. I know that it used to be that way in a couple of states prior to the mid-70s gasoline crisis which saddled us with the punitive 55 mph speed limit everywhere, a situation which thankfully finally was relaxed again, but still not all the way to “autobahn” status.

And I’ll just bet that with whatever “crisis” we are supposed to have, whether it be “peak oil” or “global warming” or some other anti-technology scare that there will be politicians activating for hobbling speed limits once again. You know, the concept is that faster speeds use up more gasoline, so if you want to conserve fuel you have to lower speed limits, although I don’t get that. I know that with my own car, when I am driving on I-5 from Los Angeles to San Francisco, between the bottom of the Grapevine all the way up to the Tracy turn-off on which 4-hour stretch one can drive 70 mph, when I set my cruise control to 70, I get 30 miles to the gallon. At a slower speed, such as 65, I get more like 20 or 25 miles to the gallon. So it seems to me that a slower speed not only takes me longer to get to my destination, it also uses up more gasoline to go that same distance. Everyone knows that when studying a car’s mileage figures, “city” is a lower number than “highway”. So is the solution to impose “city” type speed limits onto the highway in order to save fuel? I’d say leave us the H alone (and those people who want to be green can voluntarily drive slower if they want, and if they believe that would make a difference—yet you know they won’t).

I have driven at least one fast sports car on Southern California highways. When I was the executor and in pro per lawyer for my uncle’s estate, I had possession of his (the estate’s) brick-red Porsche 911 Cabriolet Turbo (of which admittedly, the price of a Ferrari would buy three or four). It was a beautifully-made, tight, powerful car which earned tons of admiring stares and comments, and yet it was a nightmare to drive in what was usually bumper-to-bumper highway traffic. Only on very rare stretches between Orange County and San Diego was I ever able to experience even a piece of its awesome “spine g-forced to the back of the seat” acceleration. The rest of the time, constantly moving up and down those gears and working the clutch and the brake pedals was like working out on a Nautilus machine. Frankly, after a couple of those trips, I preferred to use the car I had then, a Dodge convertible with automatic transmission, where all I needed to do was sit back and relax. It was bad enough for the Porsche that felt constantly muzzled; what must it be like for a Ferrari? I can forgive those occasional arrogant guys I see coming down out of one of the L.A.-area canyons suddenly gunning their engine and screamingly momentarily taking advantage of any opening in the stream of traffic; what seems like an irresponsible death leap to us plodding along must be a momentary escape from a potential anxiety attack for those guys.

So the Ferrari always seems like lot of money frustratingly spent, and for simply getting around, at least, the cheapest tin can on wheels is probably good enough and better for ones sanity. (For pride of ownership and ego, it’s a different story.)

But whereas the highway has speed limits, there are no imposed limits on the great frontiers of the ocean or the sky. You can freely go as fast as the technology of your boat or airplane will allow you to go. And if one wants to spend money, the sky’s the limit when it comes to airplanes, and the hole in the water into which boat money can be poured is depthless.

However, a couple of days ago as I was helping with the afternoon “kids being picked up after school” detail, a father in a shiny new black Ferrari convertible with the top down deep-throatedly purred in and happened to stop in the circle to wait for his child right next to where I was standing. Normally I only peripherally admire some of the cars that come in, of which there are quite a few admirable ones (top-level Mercedeses, stretch BMWs and Lexuses, Bentleys, even a Maseratti or two and an Aston-Martin), but this Ferrari could not be ignored. The sound of its engine pulled like a pace-maker on my heart. That black color made the normal red and yellow Ferraris I had seen look like child’s play; this one was serious business. And I could even smell the magnificence of the interior. I said to the Dad, “If your child doesn’t come soon, I’ll just have to ride home with you.” He understood what I meant, and responded, “It’s all good.” Yes, it certainly is!

At his request, I went to call his little girl from the crowd, because he said she wouldn’t be able to see his car, which was low and hidden by the line of monster SUVs in front of him. I found her easily and then helped to buckle her into her own little pink child seat sitting on top of the car’s brown leather. As they pulled away, I could see that the engine, which was in the rear, was not covered by a metal boot, but instead the covering was glass, showcasing what the car was really all about, that which powered it (all clean metal, with red-painted pipes). This astonished, amazed, and impressed me, so I had to tell everybody about it (and everybody’s response indicated that Ferraris, due to their price, regardless of design feature, simply were not on their radar).

Suddenly, I could absolutely see why a person would buy a car like this if they could. It tugged at you even while it was standing still and heaven help you if you ever took it for a test drive yet did not have the money for it—you’d helplessly put yourself into hock for life, I’m afraid.

Suddenly, an airplane or boat seemed to pale in comparison. After all, driving a Ferrari (again, if you have the money) is actually available, you merely hop in and go down the street. No special license, training, or knowledge, no heading out to a special location (airport or marina), no checking the weather, no pre-flight checklist, no unwrapping sails or blowing gasoline fumes out of the bilge. And what of the experience? I’ve flown airplanes (in beginning lessons) and mostly the experience felt like whatever was underneath me holding me up (air!) was likely to fall away (turbulence!) and there was the ever-present anxiety of “how will I find and recognize the airport when I need it to get down again?”, not to mention the stress of the landing itself (to the still untrained). Mostly, I imagined flying long distance (as a pilot) to be the exhaustion of constant attention to minute detail spread out over a field of elongated boredom.

Sailing, despite the thrill of the heel and the refreshment of the salt spray, is also a jarring chop chop chop as you plow through waves while half the time you have no control of the rudder that is up out of the water; the wind is shifting and always there is the ever-present thought that out here, you can drown!

Of course, my thoughts of flying and sailing are beginner’s thoughts, learner’s thoughts; for the experienced, these activities could be, should be glorious and less anxiety-inducing. One would probably not enjoy taking a Ferrari out on the highway on the second or third driving lesson. I don’t know if even a newly-licensed teenager would enjoy it—I sure wouldn’t have when I was a newly-licensed teenager. Wouldn’t that be much like jumping from a pony ride at a fair to racing a thoroughbred in a steeplechase?

But a financially successful person who can afford a Ferrari is probably not a newly licensed teenager (there may be exceptions, of course), so that easy availability to the quality and thrill puts having such a car in a separate realm from buying a boat or airplane. The brain doesn’t consider each of those in the same decision-making process, I wouldn’t think.

Which takes us back to me…maybe if I really could afford it, I would buy one after all. Probably pretty lucky that I can’t afford one. I mean, what would I have to do to keep it looking as nice as it should, especially with that window peeking into the engine compartment? Have that engine steam-cleaned once a week?

But please, just keep me out of the showroom…unless you hear that I have come into a surprisingly large financial windfall. Even then, it might be better to guide me back over to the marina or the airport first. Those skies and seas do await. Roads, I can drive over them in anything, even in what I have already.

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