Two nights in L.A. gave us enough time to see some old friends, get a few maps, and hit Sprinkles in 90210. I also convinced Birdie to do my laundry- it was an easy sell when she realized the alternative was to be trapped in her SUV with my unlaundered ski socks for two weeks.
We made it out of la la land by mid-morning and rode through torrential, seat-heater blasting, latte-fogging-my-window, rain for a couple hours.
It cleared up by the time we hit the desert, and when signs for Joshua Tree National Park made themselves apparent we veered off the highway and headed into the bush.
Turns out “the Tree” is a hopelessly inadequate moniker… because of trees, there are a shitload.
The moment you pass into National Park land the scenery goes full Dr. Seuss. The surface is a patchwork of coarse sand and rocks punctuated by monolithic heaps of smooth stones the size of our Mercedes. And between those commanding bouldermounds are hundreds of strange little trees that bear resemblance to an inverted cross-section of a human lung.
Thanks to the brochure we acquired in exchange for paying the park’s road toll I was able to identify these as,
wait for it;
Boom, box ticked.
These weird plants aren’t really trees- they’re Yucca Brevifolia, which is a derivative of agave (the stuff you get tequila from). I’m guessing because they taste as gross as they look, the name “yucca” comes from the reaction of pioneers who tried to eat it.
You’re probably thinking; “Yucca Brevifolia has such a nice ring to it, why change the name to ‘Joshua Tree’”?
The answer to that is decidedly less exciting than I had hoped. The Mormons, in their infinite desert-crossing wisdom, reckoned the weirdly shaped tree looked like the biblical figure Joshua with his arms outstretched in prayer. Of course it does.
The only biblical figure I’d ever heard of is Jesus, so I’m gonna have to take the National Park Service’s word for that one.
Semantics aside the park really is spectacular, and even has a few 4WD-only routes for stalwart adventurers. The ML did fine in loose sand and soldiered down miles of track without a complaint, even with the road tires it was wearing. In fact, the ride was smooth enough for me to wolf the rest of our Sprinkles cupcake cache while at the helm.
Having popped out at the eastern end of the Tree, we linked up with US-10 again and dropped the hammer across the barren wasteland of southeastern California and western Arizona to the city of Mesa, AZ where my aunt and uncle were staying at their place.
Third night of travel and we had only made it one state over… but we hadn’t broken anything. Chalk it up to good luck so far.
On March 15, 2012 the day had finally arrived for Birdie and I to pack up our rig and push off for Boston. But since my co-driver had PSIA testing until late afternoon, I made the most of my last day in Mammoth Lakes by getting on the sauce and hitting the slopes.
Uh, not in that order of course.
My roommates and I had returned from the bar the night before and decided we needed to record a music video to a song our new roommate Eli had written. By the time we were satisfied with a tenth take, the sun was starting to creep up and the lifts would be open in a little over three hours.
The decision to forgo sleep altogether was made when I realized Netflix had Hot Dog available for streaming- just what I needed to get amped for my day on the hill.
With daybreak officially in progress I rallied the crew they same way whoever wakes up first in Apartment Five always did- by yelling incoherently at the fridge and revving the coffee grinder like a Hayabusa.
Lanton and Dominic powered on, Eli was less responsive.
Nevertheless, we were on the hill by 9:00.
Well… at the lodge. Reviving ourselves with Bloody Marys.
By the time we had finished breakfast Eli was ready to join the living, and we headed straight for the summit. Despite low visibility at the top, the snow was great if a bit chunky. We were able to get some great turns in on the steepest stuff I’d hit all season.
The summit had been disappointingly bare for most of this year, and I was pretty stoked to be able to leave Mammoth with at least a taste of what it’s really known for.
Unfortunately the warm weather turned the snow into flypaper by mid-afternoon. My wax was literally melting again and had about as much glide as 10-grit sandpaper running over an old brick.
With my co-driver still preoccupied with her snowboard-certification test I had a few hours to kill, so I got dragged back to the bar for my last Mai Tais in Mammoth. A few minutes (hours?) later Birdie showed up; sunglasses on, car keys in hand.
“You ready to go?”
Still in my ski gear I thought back to my apartment, where the rest of my belongings were scattered like… well, not like I was about to move out, that’s for sure. So I came up with an evasive answer I thought would buy me some time.
“Uh, are you ready?”
“Aaalright. Fellas, it’s been real.”
When we got back to my apartment, Birdie was less than pleased to see that I had yet to initiate the packing process.
“Also, you’re driving to L.A. tonight,” I said as I crammed my ski wax, a few shirts, and two pairs of Calvin Kleins into the last cardboard box I had saved for this occasion.
Six hours later we had made it to the Shannon family’s West L.A. house, where we were greeted by two pint-sized dogs and a massive TV.
This would be our staging area for the 4,000 mile expedition we were looking down the barrel of.
Hope there’s Red Bull in the fridge.
Freshly jobless again at the end of my west coast ski season, I was able to talk Jessica “Birdie” Shannon into spending the second half of March 2012 co-driving to Boston with me. In her car.
And this was not another ski-bum beater… she had a beautiful(ly dented) black-on-black Mercedes ML that I had been eying hungrily since the first time she gave me a lift to the slopes.
Apparently her family was keen to unload the 4×4 they affectionately referred to as “The Champ” …a title earned by surviving nearly fifteen years of shenanigans from Lake Tahoe to Beverly Hills.
The Benz was marred by substantial body damage to the starboard side (maybe from its time as an extra in Jurassic Park II?) but I was convinced I’d be able to sell it for them easily enough on the east coast.
I mean, a double-black Mercedes with California tags? I reckoned the lot of “boston.craigslist.org” would be stoked on it.
I’ll write the trip up in subsequent posts as we did it- in about ten stages. Enjoy…
Local ski shop owner Tim Hinkle was peddling his wares outside Canyon Lodge yesterday- and was kind enough to be handing out demos of this year’s Surface skis like they were t-shirts at a wrestling match.
No license, credit card or background check required. How could I resist a free test-ride on new hardware?
“Whaddyou wanna try, man?”
Having just bought new skis I admitted I wasn’t in the market, but it seemed stupid to waste an opportunity try some different gear.
I picked out the most ridiculous offering in the lineup- a pair of 179cm powder/all-mountain planks called the “One Life” from Surfaces’ “Life Series” of skis.
Featuring a substantial 140 / 112 / 132 footprint and unheard of eight degrees of rocker; all four front ends of these beasts (twin tip, of course) pointed to the heavens while the only part of P-Tex that actually touched the snow was directly under the boot.
If you don’t understand what the hell I’m on about, check out Evo.com’s definitions of ski shape.
Designed for extremely deep snow and I’m assuming halfpipe skiing, I noticed loads of pop and an excellent wax job as I skated toward Chair Sixteen for an inaugural run.
Coming down the groomers I couldn’t help but pull flat 360s every couple meters. With such an extreme rocker angle the edges of the skis hardly had a chance to catch, and I found out quickly that the One Lifes would much rather pull spins than lay into a carved turn.
When I could break off a carve, I was rewarded with a most obnoxious plume of snow dust being flung off the tail. Imagine a never ending exit wound caused by shooting Frosty with an M1014- weirdly beautiful and decidedly awesome.
In bumps the One Lifes were a riot; weaving around obstacles so quickly and easily I thought I might trip over the tips.
The skis were so happy to turn at low speed that I could practically orbit every mogul on the hill in the same run. The bumps I couldn’t be bothered dodging were even more fun- just an easy bend of the knees and I was boosting effortlessly into the next dip.
But as you’ve probably already guessed, this level of dedication to low-speed maneuverability cost the One Lifes stability at speed. Over 35 MPH and they’re a bit squirrely. Over 50, they might as well be snow blades.
When I cleared the moguls and made it into the straights the riders I had smoked came up on me again and blew past in a white cloud of granular that stung my face almost as much as my pride.
No matter. I was coming up on the Art Park, a small gathering of features for park rats-in-training, and these oversized fruit boots would once again prove their worth.
Even the small kickers were enough to elevate these skis to some respectable hangtime. Hell, I could have caught air off a hummingbird’s wang. I’m sure a more talented park skier could have really made them shine in one of our larger terrain areas, but I had a lot of fun all the same.
Obviously these skis aren’t viable as the only weapon in your on-snow arsenal, but they’d fill out your collection nicely if you’re the kind of rider that needs a specific ski for every lift on the mountain.
Sounds like you? Head over to YeahSweetOnline.com to place an order, or try and meet up with Tim for a demo. I hear they’ll let any idiot have a go…
Details on “One Life” powder/all-mountain skis by Surface
Mammoth Mountain plays host to some of the world’s most elite skiers and snowboarders in big-air events, halfpipe competitions, gate racing, and any other dick-measuring contest that can take place on steep snow.
And that’s awesome; because without those guys we wouldn’t have anybody to put on posters or call out for GNAR points.
“Dude, I can’t believe you’re a pro. I am SO much better than you!”
But what about those of us who want to compete on a legit FIS style course with nothing at stake, in any attire we choose, and with the assistance of everyone’s favorite confidence coach; PBR chased with peppermint schnapps? Where will we… uh, I mean, those guys… get their shot at a timed run?
Luckily, I wasn’t the first to experience this sentiment. In the glorious bicentennial year of 1976 some like-minded individuals put together the Village Championship Race Series (VCs) for guys and girls with a need for speed but lack of experience or endorsements.
A VC race is an event one can take as seriously, or not, as one desires.
Some arrive with Spider suits shrink-wrapping their lingonberries, shin guards bracing for impact and eyes on the price.
Getting a few more practice gates before their next Olympic bid? Maybe.
Seeking a chance to re-live their faded NASTAR glory days? More likely.
Others rock up in pink-and-purple onesies, wearing mullet wigs and blatantly taking pulls from clear plastic bottles that definitely don’t hold water.
Devotees and degenerates coming together for love of a sport- this my friends, is the glory of the VCs.
I show up for my two laps somewhere in the middle- sober, pretty much, but I did have to ask which side to pass the first gate on.
A question to which I was pleasantly surprised to get a very non-sarcastic response from the startmiester; “Left. Name and number?”
It wasn’t the first time he had answered that question.
Despite my lack of investment in the outcome of this race, which I figured out at the starting gate was to be Dual Slalom; I was savoring the feeling of standing on the starting line.
I’m crazy for racing sports. It doesn’t matter if I’m hustling my Honda Express against my sister’s tricycle or picking fights with Evos on my GSX-R… That moment when the light goes red to green gets me more amped than anything and I try to go Paul Walker on everybody’s ass.
It’s not something I’m proud of… but I give in to it every time.
This day was no different. I got tense, letting the red mist flow and fight-or-f**k mode engage.
My heartbeat was going nuts to keep up with the Maskinen Pandora station beaming into Bluetooth headset; then…
I jumped out of the startslope and skated hard toward the first gate. Leaning forward hard I gritted my teeth and went barreling into the synthetic bamboo stick (or whateverthehell those gates are made of) with my right shoulder…
“AGH, Gahd-DAMNiT!” I yelled into my facemask.
No time to bitch, I was already upon the next gate-
Christ, these things hurt!
All the other racers had chosen Swix plates or alcohol as a protective measure against the inevitable pain that comes with competitive gate racing. Something I was really regretting not thinking of a few hours earlier.
I bet Woolly never had this problem…
I smashed through six more gates before my aggressive plunge down the course degraded into a sheepish plod.
How many more of these gates are left!?
There were, like, a lot left. And I felt like I should have been skiing a lot… faster.
What was going on here, something wrong with my form?
But before my inner monologue could analyze the situation too closely I was clearing the finish line and making up for my weak performance with a dusty Shaun White-style snowthrow stop that only someone who was both sober and obnoxious could pull off.
Boom, cornered that market.
I rolled off my bed and onto the floor, where I got through my morning ritual of three minutes of planking followed by a hundred push-ups.
You know, for when I come out of the shower and our hot neighbors are over. …I mean, endurance on the slopes.
Pathetic excuse for a workout completed, I b-line it for the coffee machine. My roommates and I had just ordered four pounds of ultra-premium coffee from a shop in Lanton’s hometown of Fresno. He’s our resident caffeine connoisseur, so I was keen to sample our new stash.
But before I could scratch my ass I passed Chris in the hallway, who was grinning like he had either just got laid or setup a hilarious prank on one of our cohabitants. Either way, I wanted details.
His response indicated something I hadn’t considered.
“Have you looked out your window?”
I always slept with the blinds down, in case employees from a rival resort were plotting a drive-by, so my answer was no.
“Dude, go open the door!” yelled Stephan from his bedroom.
I complied, and quickly identified the source of my roommates jubilation.
I was looking through a whitewashed winterscape where our dusty front lawn had been just twenty-four hours prior.
Roads were impassible, cars were buried beyond recognition, and I pitied the dog who had to take a leak.
“Oh, it’s on.”
Satisfied with my assessment of the situation I turned around and yelled an open inquiry as to which of my fellow Apartment Five residents were free to ride.
Chris and Stephan replied in the affirmative and commenced whipping up a beast breakfast of eggs, sausage, and high octane coffee.
The Samurai was loaded and moving half an hour later. We rocked up at Canyon Lodge before quarter-past-eight.
Suited and booted shortly after, I dialed back the DIN on my bindings to allow for easier ejection.
The snow that falls in our region is known as “Sierra Cement” for a reason- it’s a thick, wet, heavy surface that can grab a ski and tear an ACL quicker than you can say “Dude, watch this!”
I knew my Line Mavericks were going to have trouble in this stuff, but I was hoping the massive flex factor and twin-tip design would compensate for the skinny footprint. I was wrong. The slim all-mountain park skis that kicked ass on hardpack were struggling to stay afloat in powder, and I was taking dives left and right.
And since it was still snowing, visibility was an absolute joke. This picture isn’t a new Photoshop canvas- it’s Chris and everything else you can see. Taken from the top of Chair Five, you can usually see endless mountain peaks from this position. Not on this day.
My luck changed a bit in the early afternoon, when Chris had to duck into his office and offered to let me have a go on his pontoon-sized Blizzard One’s.
It felt like stepping out of a Triumph TR-6 and into a Nissan GT-R. The fat powder ski absolutely massacred the terrain, and I went from zero to hero in one run. Still took a few spills, but he way the Blizzards were floating over the snow made them so easy to manage that I felt like I could have done another eight hours on them.
Just look at the picture, wider is better!
We chased the liftline of the infamous Chair Twenty Two where Stephan and I swapped leads as we hucked wind lips and rubbed shoulders with trees.
Legs pumping like pistons I blasted over and around massive moguls. Fun as hell, but quickly fatiguing. I sought refuge in a flat piece of snow, and slid out of the bumps as soon as I had eyes on a steep fastblast section I was running parallel to.
Picking up another twenty kilometers an hour at least I straightlined it for a huge lip, bent my knees and limbered out for lift.
But when I made contact with the snow again, I realized my landing zone was softer than a pillow made of baby bunnies- as I somersaulted through the powder and righted, stunned, covered in snow, to cheers and laughs from the chairlift overhead.
With a salute to the crowd and a double head-shake to myself I got up and headed for Mammoth’s central lodge- The Mill. Pulled pork nachos were needed to repower for the last couple hours of ridetime.
Next time you’re skiing Mammoth, go to The Mill and get the pulled pork nachos. It’s a beastly three passenger meal that could psych you through even the gnarliest of conditions. Tell them I sent you and they probably won’t spit in it.
By the time we broke lunch we had added two people to our entourage; our neighbor Krista and Stephan’s friend Birdie.
Krista’s skis looked like they had just been unearthed at an archaeological dig. With a ridiculously skinny profile and what looked like the first interpretation of parabolic shaping I estimated their origin at the mid 1990’s. When I made my observation known, she told me she had borrowed them from a friends mom before coming out here.
Props. I had been too much of a pussy to bring my dad’s Kneissl 200‘s out west, a decision I was regretting now that this sheila was about to chase us through waist deep powder on skis only slightly more advanced.
Krista gave the pow a fair effort, but she was working her tail off in conditions that had stifled my 2005 all-mountain skis and was knackered after just a few runs.
I tried to show her some moves but mostly ended up looking like a jerk- there was no way her ancient Dynastars could replicate the lines I could rip effortlessly on Chris’ brand new Blizzards. She split and we headed back toward Chair Twenty Two to end the day with a guaranteed near death experience. Birdie stuck with us as we rode the speedy lift over cliffs, thick trees and avalanche chutes. With the light getting low and fatigue rearing its ugly head, it occurred to me that this was probably not the best chair to be on fifteen minutes before closing.
Of course there was always the Blue bail-out run, but everyone knows that’s for pussies.
So we dropped in to the face and gave it hell. The surface was brutal; the thick snow was starting to get an icy covering that made the moguls rock-hard and therefore a massive pain in the ass to negotiate.
We had all come off more than a few times before we were halfway down.
I emerged from the trees first, and glanced back just in time to see Stephan stack it over a lip. He barely had time to set himself up for recovery when Birdie came down on him and stamped him a foot down into the snow.
She laughed and pulled herself out, but Stephan was buried in the Sierra Cement and was too tired to extract himself completely. The poor bastard dragged himself and his new Burton Mr. Nice Guy through forty meters of thick, wet snow before getting back to the hardpack where he could stand up and ride.
But we made it to the employee dinner at Canyon Lodge with all of our gear and limbs intact, so I’ll chalk it up to one hell of a season opener.
Some have even been cultivated by industrious humans with poured concrete benches, recirculation valves and stepping platforms.
Having been given the opportunity to use an N50 Xterra the other night, we decided to round up the neighbors and head for the desert, following directions from a Falcon Guide book. If you’re trying to find the springs but too lazy or poor to order the book, try this abbreviated online guide.
Whichever map you use to sojourn into the desert, make sure it’s a good one because the ride out to most natural springs is pretty lonely.
We found ourselves making turn after turn as the road deteriorated from highway, to single-lane, to dirt, and finally to about two kilometers of deeply-rutted track.
You do miss the dramatic mountain horizon by heading into the bush by night, but when the headlights have been out for a few minutes the starfield that makes itself known overhead is nothing short of spectacular. Enjoy that view from a pool of clear, 105˚ water with the muted song of wind blowing over your beer bottle and you’ve got yourself the perfect setting to get to know your friends a little better.
Location: 407 Manzanita Road, Mammoth Lakes CA.
Time: Dawn’s own ass crack, early January 2012.
I was laying in my tiny bed debating whether or not to snooze the next alarm when my housemate Dominic busted through the door.
“You gonna be ready to go in half an hour?”
I grunted in the affirmative and reached for my light. We were up before the sun to make an attempt at scaling Mount Dana today. Though not a particularly technical hike, the third pitcher of Tahoe water at The Tap the night before had me somewhat skeptical about our chances of a timely wake-up, let alone a successful ascent.
Yet there I was, chasing ibuprofen with coffee and putting on flannel-lined pants before the sparrow’s first fart of the day.
The winter drought may have made for weak skiing but we took a quantum of solace in the fact that Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park’s eastern access road, was open this deep into the usually snowy season.
We piled into a 1987 Suzuki Samurai and broke the morning silence with the long grind of a tired starter motor followed by the persistent cough of a leaky exhaust. Dom was in front, I sat in the cargo bay clutching a McDonald’s coffee and at the wheel was Chris, another adventurous resident of our apartment.
The 4×4 belonged to him, and was a surprisingly clean example of one of my all-time favorite off road machines. With no heat, no radio, and a top speed of around sixty miles an hour it required a bit of patience to operate, but the little Samurai packed its own weight in je ne sais quoi a hundred times over to make up for a lack of amenities. And with its straight, rust-free body the little rig project potential in spades.
“You might want to put your jacket on,” was the warning Chris issued as I squeezed behind the front seat in a sweater.
“It’s going to be pretty cold back there.”
These words rang true soon enough. The soft top flapped against the roll bar and the engine spat in protest as we raced the sun across Highway 395. I tugged my Spies Like Us hat a little lower and took another pull of coffee.
But before I could open my mouth to complain the sun hit full strength and the mountain’s majesty preemptively shut me up.
Day’s first light makes for the most dramatic views of the High Sierra Mountains we were passing through, and being squarely centered in one of the country’s most spectacular valleys made for a scene nothing short of extraordinary. Sunlight revealed rocks that crashed out of snow-dusted peaks like the gnarled fingers of an exiled god reaching desperately to the heavens. Each crag was accentuated by the low sun, which presented the mountains with the deep texture of an impasto painting.
The Samurai struggled through the Tioga Pass as we climbed a thousand feet in less than a mile, and nearly another thousand in as far again. Engine surging to redline, tiny carburetor gasping for air, Chris had to dive for second gear to punt the machine up the road as its geriatric suspension keeled us like an old ship around hairpin corners.
I couldn’t help but imagine the road on my sport bike… it had been far too long since I’d pulled face-rocking G’s on my GSXR, and these corners at this time of day would certainly have given the tires a workout. But the bike was locked away in dad’s garage on the other side of the country; I’d have to rely on skis for my adrenaline drip this season.
We arrived at the trailhead just before eight, and Dom pointed out the peak we would be attempting. It looked… far. This was to be the moment of the trip when I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.
Dom was an experienced woodsman, with seasons of work with the U.S. Forestry Service under his belt. His knowledge made itself apparent in his pre-departure advice; “If you have any candy or snacks in the car, I’d get rid of them. Because of the bears.”
The first kilometer or so of trail was on flat land, but I was already having trouble breathing. I had only been living at altitude for a few days, and we were ten thousand feet above sea level before even beginning the ascent.
Once the path headed upward, ecosystems flashed by us like a slideshow. The thick forest we began in gave way to rocky grasslands, and then steep stone steps through sparse vegetation. But by the time we were about a third of the way up the ascent angle and thin air was catching up to me, and our progress was slowed significantly.
Still, I had no qualms with frequent breath-and-water breaks as it allowed me the chance to turn around and take in majesty that is Yosemite National Park.
Peaks tore up the bottom of a brilliant blue sky, and the wind whispered ominously as it snaked through the trees. The little Suzuki, now nearly a mile away, was barely visible where we had left it.
It was easy to see why legends like Muir, Chouinard, and Bachar, called this place their favorite stomping ground. I reckoned Yosemite ranked among my top ten favorite places already… and I had only seen one percent of it.
As we continued to climb the flora features became more and more of a novelty, as the “path” and mountainside were pure rock at the halfway point.
At this point the peak was clearly visible, and I could taste victory. And beef jerky. Dom had brought a righteous three-quarter pound bag of the stuff, and we indulged ourselves in a few strips for a morale and calorie boost.
The last quarter of the climb was the steepest, rockiest, and biggest pain in the ass. I was taking giant steps and grasping footholds with my hands, to avoid putting one of these tippy boulders into my teeth.
All three of us were feeling the strain, and but with a few encouraging insults we inveigled each other to press on.
Dom had got a bit ahead as I scaled the last rock… which wasn’t. I made it to what I had thought was the last ridge to be greeted with a fantastic view of Mono Lake, and the actual peak of Mount Dana another hundred meters up.
I could hear laughter from the top, and Dom called down “thoughtcha were at the top didn’t ya? Just one more ridge!”
After a quick timer-photo I zipped my coat up all the way and reached deep into my energy reserve for one last scamper to the peak.
I made it, with Chris close behind, and was rewarded with a three-hundred sixty-degree view of the most unbelievable curves I’d seen since I left Hollywood three weeks prior.
I’m talking about the horizon, of course.
Huge lakes, valleys, peaks of all sizes and the biggest sky in California had my team and I completely speechless for nearly a whole second before I ravenously dived for the jerky bag to rescue myself from a calorie deficit.
Chris was still in disbelief at the fact that he had completed the climb as I gnawed on my second strip of beef. He had wanted to bail more than a few times, but I’m happy to say we talked him into sticking it out.
We allowed ourselves a few moments to revel in our accomplishment, but it wasn’t long before the howling wind coaxed us back toward the bottom.
The descent was a lot easier and less dramatic than the climb, but while easy on the lungs it was hell on the knees.
Finally back at the 4×4 and happy to discover it un-tampered with by bears we were ready to return to the apartment and right on schedule to arrive before 2:00. Hell, there was still enough daylight for another climb… almost.
I reckoned six weeks in Hollywood had left me full enough of “city” to last another year, and one week in the Boston ‘burbs was more than enough time to spend with the family and cash in on a Christmas appearance, so now it’s on to the next adventure.
I landed a winter job at a ski resort called Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierras of Northern California, so after a long night of Laphroaig and laughs with my old man, I packed up my shit and dragged myself into the security line at Logan International for a 6:00AM departure to Mammoth Lakes/Yosemite Airport via San Francisco.
I had managed to navigate baggage check and the Dunkin’ Donuts line using only grunts and gestures to communicate, but the TSA agents at security were less amused with my groggy antics. The fluorescent lights were burning a hole in my brain and I could barely stand up straight while the body scanner emailed pictures of my wiener to some dude behind a curtain. I had forgotten to remove my belt, which earned me the removal of all my bags contents onto a steel table.
“How long did you say you were going for?”
“Uh, three months. Ish.”
The agent looked at me suspiciously. Apparently he didn’t reckon a jacket, two t-shirts, three pairs of Calvin Kliens, and a toothbrush was enough equipment to live off for that period of time.
“And you’re on a one-way ticket?”
Christ, at least I had shaved my beard that morning.
They finally let me go when they saw my MacBook Pro. Obviously someone willing to spend $1,500 on a computer couldn’t be bothered hijacking a plane.
I rocked up to the gate as the jet was boarding, and was met with another buzzkill when I realized I had a middle seat.
All the way to San Francisco? Nooo.
As I sauntered through the aisle of the 727 my eyes dawdled from my ticket to the seat number, then down to the person I’d be spending next seven hours rubbing shoulders with.
Wait… could it be?
Not only was the person tiny, but she was a she, and she was actually rather attractive.
God, Allah or whoever was watching over the universe that morning had taken pity on me and hooked me up… this more than made up for the lack of free champagne on the cheapass airline I had booked last minute.
I wanted to say something to her but I knew I reeked of scotch and I hadn’t slept in over thirty hours… if I ever had an excuse to be off my game, that was it.
So I passed out and woke up five hours later, took an airplane shower (lavatory sink water splashed in the face and under armpits followed by two swift slaps to the right cheek) and started talking to my neighbor.
She was pretty cool but sadly, not heading onward to my destination, so I reckon the SFO United terminal was the last place I’ll see her.
No matter, a few hours later I was walking across the tarmac to my friend Mary’s Subaru and on to the tiny town of Mammoth Lakes, which I’d call home for the Winter of 2012.
So I stumbled out of my friend’s apartment and in a rare stroke of luck, a big green bus was grumbling up to the curb on cue. I got on and rode it to the end of the line; a place full of monolithic office buildings and parking garages called Century City.
Not having enough cash for another leg of bus travel, I was directed to the curb and set out to find an ATM. The obvious choice was the massive commercial establishment to the north, so I crossed the street and proceeded to get hopelessly lost in what I would later learn was the Westfield Mall.
Spacing out at a Victoria’s Secret banner it wasn’t long before I walked straight into a parked car. A bit of a surprise, but not as much as the fact that it was a model I couldn’t identify.
Sitting static in the pedestrian pathway was a small, white poky-looking sedan called a CODA. Further inspection revealed that was a full-electric vehicle, and was on display to attract shoppers to the company’s adjacent storefront.
We’ve all seen car dealers, but this was the first time I’d seen a mall shop selling cars. And yet here was CODA, peddling petrol-free propulsion between Banana Republic and Armani Exchange.
The company’s primary interest is battery development. The car itself is designed by Mitsubishi, built in China, then powered by a massive lithium-ion phosphate juicebox developed in Southern California.
The car is fully electric with no gasoline engine on board whatsoever. Range is an impressive 150 miles per six hours of being plugged in to a standard residential powerpoint. That’s plenty of room to get to work, the gym, and whatever nerdy-organic grocery store CODA drivers will undoubtedly frequent.
Performance? Despite an impressive 135 horsepower and very impressive 221 foot/pounds of torque, the CODA is governed to 85 MPH. Enough to get the attention of L.A.’s finest, but you probably won’t get a second look when you roll up on Vin Diesel in his RX-7. CODA didn’t want to comment on acceleration numbers, which is fair enough- these cars are designed to spend their life in stop-and-go traffic and 0-60 times are completely irrelevant.
Pricing is a bit complicated, because the tax credit scheme for alternative energy cars varies state to state. But from what I gathered the CODA can be had for between $30,000 and $40,000. Value for dollar varies from state to state as well… with electricity costs being dramatically different across the U.S., the price of kilowatts/hour where you live is going to make a massive impact on dollars/mile of operating a CODA.
Hmm… might be a tough sell in a town obsessed with image, when you can get a used S-Class for that kind of money. But of course, these cars are the anti-S-Class. They’re targeted at cashed up commuters who like the idea of “passing the pump” every day. I was about to say environmentalists but surely that lot will be wise to the massive ecological impact involved in mining lithium ion and transporting car parts across oceans.
The CODA guy claimed they’ve taken payment and arranged delivery of over thirty cars in the few months they’ve had their store going, and will commence delivery next year. So next time you’re star spotting on Rodeo/Santa Monica, keep your eyes open and see if anybody pulls one of these out of the trunk of their Maybach.
In a rare stroke of luck I managed to wash up in Los Angeles on opening day of one of the nation’s biggest auto shows. Perfect excuse to put off looking for a job another day.
My oldest friend lives in town, and he was kind enough to scoop me up from LAX in his fresh RX-8. We headed to the convention center via Señor Fish… where I got the most righteous Mexican food I’d had since my last visit to tinsel town fourteen months ago.
Coming from Far North Queensland and Cape York just over a week prior, the Shock & Awe factor of L.A. freeways was nothing short of overwhelming. I had forgotten just how nuts the traffic was here- and I’m not just talking about the volume of vehicles.
I looked around at the first stoplight we came to and realized we were surrounded by half a million bucks worth of motorcars. Continental GT to the left, AMG Black to the right, and the entrancing HIDs of a Rolls Royce Phantom burning a hole in our rear-view mirror. A few blocks down the street we passed a Fisker Karma shored up at some brunch place… I didn’t even think that car was real!
We hit LA LIVE late-afternoon and started taking in the show with the Tuner section downstairs. I could tell I had been in the bush for awhile when I realized how many vehicles I didn’t recognize, and how much the tuner scene has changed since the last car show I’d been to (Geneva ’09).
The late-nineties Japanese imports I’m used to seeing have long fallen by the wayside in favor of ultra high-end European exotics. Not just 458 Italias and Murciélagos… even a Bugatti Veyron and the new Lamborghini Aventador had been sprayed and tweaked by local skunkworks.
But upstairs in the main hall, the Manufacturers’ displays were just a little less awesome.
Lexus had their unicornian LFA sports car on a turntable, and BMW was toting a pair of glow-in-the-dark Tron cars. But other than that, the main floor was largely devoid of the world’s truly unique automotive offerings that I had been hoping to see.
I can’t get that excited about a face-lifted Camry or economy-trim Civic. Even the new Mercedes SLS, easily one of the sexiest current production cars on Earth, didn’t blow me away- but only because I had seen three on the street between the airport and the convention center.
Where were the Spykers? Moslers? Gumperts? Even Tesla was noticeably absent. I come to car shows to see the wacky shit you can’t see on the street anywhere, no matter how many rich people live there… and am disappointed to report that most of the coolest stuff at LAAS this year could have easily been in the parking lot.
My friend speculated hard times had hit these independents. Perhaps true, but if so I think these small shops are losing out in the long run by skipping the show. Mega-marquees like like Toyota will never have a problem getting the word out about a new sedan; it’s a well-known brand selling a mass-appeal product.
But companies like Weismann, Noble, and other great automakers you’ve never heard of rely on buzz and interest generated by having a presence at shows like this to make names for themselves. After all, their target audience; the automotive press and hardcore enthusiasts, are pretty much the only people at such events.
Three badges that did make use of the soapbox were Land Rover, Subaru and surprisingly- Kia. Rover has a concept off-roader they’re calling the DC100, and they flossed a pair at LAAS complete with pastel-colored paint and, TV screens and a Barbie-house interior.
I hate to admit I’ve been loosing faith in Land Rover as their offerings get softer and softer… And these two over-sized PowerWheels cars aren’t helping their case. The Range Rover and RR Sport are getting glitzier themselves, seems like they drop another centimeter with every revision since the Classic. At least the Defender is still with us, for now.
Subaru, on the other hand, came up huge with the world debut of the BRZ sports coupe. They’ve teamed up with Toyota to collaborate on engine and suspension technology to build an entirely new car.
The BRZ caught my eye from across the room and nabbed my attention like a hot chick walking into Stats class. That signature STI blue on such a sexy shape was a beacon of hope parked between some Hyundais and a weird art fixture made of Mini Coopers.
Since this is a concept, I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to test-drive it. The real version, which the Subaru rep told me I wouldn’t be allowed to drive either, will be revealed at the end of the month at the Tokyo Auto Show.
It’s being released in conjunction with the Toyota-branded version; the Scion FR-S, and I have to say I’m joining import enthusiasts everywhere in being very pleased at this news.
As a Scion you can bet the FR-S will be reasonably priced, as a Toyota/Subaru you know it will be reliable, it’s sexy as hell and best of all- it’s rear wheel drive.
The birth of a car like this gives us hope that economy-centered automakers are still capable of building something exciting.
Unfortunately for me, they will probably hold their value well enough to stay expensive for awhile. Guess I’ll just have to hang around an L.A. Scion Dealer and try to con my way into a test drive after Thanksgiving.
But Kia might have pulled the biggest coup of the event by showing up with a spectacularly svelte sedan rocking a 395 horsepower noisemaker and rear-wheel-drive eight-speed automatic transmission.
Will we see this car on Kia showrooms next year? Probably not… while the company is planning on moving forward with development, an LA Times interview with Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer seemed to hint that the strategy surrounding the GT was more to boost the company’s image than to build a mass-production model. Vehicles like this, referred to as “halo cars”, revel in long stages of concept development since the car’s working nearly as hard for a brand’s image as a concept as it would an available model.
In any case, do a double-take next time you see and Aston Martin Rapide… it just might be the Korean doppelganger.
Photos provided by LA Auto Show.