Sunday, April 26, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
(post by Evan)
I bought a MINI Cooper for commuting purposes a little over a year ago. It’s a fun little car and when last year’s gas crunch hit I was feeling pretty smug when I was pulling off 45 miles per gallon per tank of gas. While it has its quirks, which I’m told are due to the fact that it’s British, I like my car a lot. One quirk, though, nearly got the best of me.
The Cooper is actually classified as a sports car. It has a low center of gravity and corners extremely well. Being such a light (in weight) car, it doesn’t take much engine to propel it at a good clip. What completes the “sport” part is the inclusion of a manual transmission. I think it really connects the driver to the vehicle. I also think it a shame to see a nice sports car without one.
While generally a conservative driver, there are times where I like to take advantage the sportiness and channel my inner Speed Racer. There’s a portion of my evening commute in the Bronx where the two-lane road is narrow, has lots of hills, and includes lots of twisting turns. This provides plenty of opportunity to exercise the clutch and gear shift. The speed limit on the Henry Hudson Parkway is only 50 MPH, but feels fast due to the tightness of the road. Quick upshifts and downshifts and frequent lane changes are employed in an attempt to maintain velocity.
There is one point where the Henry Hudson Parkway has an exit for the Mosholu Parkway and simultaneously becomes the Saw Mill River Parkway where you leave the Bronx and enter Westchester county. The topography includes some nice hills at this point as well. Coupled with a nice curve in the road this all makes for a potential bottleneck for through traffic.
As I came down the hill in the right lane, the exit ramp to the Mosholu was backing up. I wanted to change lanes to avoid the slowdown, but was blocked by a car. I braked a little and allowed it to pass. By the time I got into the left lane, the uphill had started and since I had lost some speed, I did a quick downshift from 5th to 4th gear. Imagine my surprise when the gearshift seemed to pop out of its socket and rise up into my hand!
For a brief second I was at a complete loss for what to do. My mind quickly fast-forwarded to me being the one car that was forced to stop in the lane (since there is no shoulder at that point) and become the source of the evening’s traffic jam. I could picture all the angry drivers shaking their fists at me as they were forced to merge and go around. Then it was to the part where the tow truck had to come bail me out. Then it was thinking about the outrageous towing bill I was going to get slapped with. (It’s really amazing how much thought your brain is capable is just a short span of time!) Reality came back when I realized I had actually made it into 4th gear and was motoring just fine up the ramp.
My exit strategy became my next topic of thought. There were no exits until the Cross County Parkway. As long as I didn’t have to slow down (about a 50% probability based on previous traffic experience), I could make it easily to that ramp. There was still nowhere to really get off there either. It was mostly just exits to other parkways and highways. I realized that as long as traffic was good, I could make it to my normal exit which puts me in a slightly more quiet residential area. My hopes were raised slightly at this prospect.
As I cruised the highway I next contemplated what to do with the shifter in my hand. It was then I realized the true nature of my problem. The gearshift was actually still connected to the transmission. It was only the shifter knob that had come off into my hand. Since the base of the knob and actual lever are convered by a leather boot, it wasn’t entirely obvious to me at the moment. My worries fled as I managed to shove the knob back onto the lever. My cortisol levels returned to normal as I finished my commute.
I don’t know if a detachable gearshift knob truly counts as a quirk. It continued to pop off every so often during aggressive shifting. But the MINI dealership in Manhattan (a finely run organization, by the way) saw it as a defect. They happily replaced it as a warranty item during its first scheduled maintenance.
With my new shifter in place I continue to act out my Speed Racer fantasy every now and then.