I never thought I’d see this day come. David Tracy, the person I know with the most visceral contempt for comfort, refinement — hell — even a level of cleanliness on par with your average raccoon, has gone Hollywood. Did you read his last article,”Why I Bought My Currently-Broken BMW i3: LA Was Making Me Fall Out Of Love With My Old Cars“? He’s sold out! I wish there were another explanation, but I can’t think of one. Yes, the man who once slept and lived in a filthy, rusty metal cube on wheels optimistically called a “Postal Jeep” for days on end to the point where the authorities got involved — this same man has now used the sacred megaphone of The Autopian to tell the world that he’s too fancy for that mess now that he’s an Angeleno, and needs to drive a less than a decade old BMW, like a King or a sultan or a Pope or something like that. Well, Prince David, I’d just like to remind you that I lived in LA for nearly 20 years, and during that time I daily drove three cars, the newest ones of which were from 1973. So this is where I get to call you a candy-ass, because it’s fun.
Part of why this is so fun is that this is the David Tracy we’re talking about here, a man whose blood type is 10W-30 and whose pores I believe secretes grime when he’s hot, not sweat. This is a man who will happily offer you a fistful of gravel as a snack because they’re cheaper than mixed nuts, or, if he does offer you mixed nuts, be wary, because they’re the screw-on-a-bolt kind that he scraped off his garage floor. This is a guy who could fall asleep in a pile of broken glass and Doritos, and then wake up and complain the Doritos were stale. A beast. He’s a beast who wears pants and cares too much about grammar.
Well, he was a beast. Now he lives in LA in a clean apartment and spends time with a stylish woman and goes to day spas and uses a fork and pees indoors and, yes, has decided that driving half-a-century old deathtraps is no longer what he wants to do. Well lah-dee-fucking-dah. Someone moves to dreamland and all of a sudden decides that discomfort and the near-constant threat of painful, rusty death aren’t appealing anymore. I may be an old, tiny, funny-looking, and, let’s be honest, stupid man, but I never gave up driving slow, smelly, dangerous cars during my entire Los Angeles Experience.
I lived in LA from the late-ish 1990s to 2014, and during that entire period of my life my daily drivers were one of these three cars: a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle, a 1968 Volvo 1800S, and a 1973 Reliant Scimitar. They were all deathtraps, all manual transmissions, none could come close to modern car conveniences (hell, the 1800S had a manual choke), and I loved driving them all.
David gives three reasons in his guilty admission of vehicular capitulation, which he uses as subheads in his article: “LA’s Roads Will Chew You Up And Spit You Out,” “Parking Ain’t Easy,” and “Gas Prices Are Tough.” Okay, I’ll give him the last one, but the other two? Come on! Grow a pair of your preferred genitalia, man.
David’s arguments in the part about LA’s roads “chewing and spitting” is a sort of catchall about the poor condition of LA’s roads, the often strange road patterns and narrow roads of the city, the intense and painful traffic, and the weird and often carelessly aggressive driving behaviors of tightly-wound Angelenos doing dangerous things in cars are absolutely true. But I also know these travails can be braved from behind the wheel of an archaic deathtrap, because I did it. For years and years.
Was it easy inching along in 2.63 mph traffic on the 5 in the middle of summer, in a Beetle with no air conditioning, the calf on my clutch leg three times the size of my other leg from the non-trivial effort of pushing that heavy, spring-loaded, cable-operated near-agricultural-grade clutch in and out? Fuck no! And was it not harrowing as all hell when the road would open up and I’d be doing a buzzy 70 mph, knowing that if that idiot in the BMW weaving between lanes so much as taps me at these speeds I’m going to end up looking like something that belongs inside a burrito? Yes, it was often terrifying.
Sure, my Reliant Scimitar offered more speed, but it was a strange RHD car that more than once deposited its muffler on the road, and its fiberglass body was not exactly an upgrade in safety, if we’re honest. The P1800 was lovely and fun to drive, but its defogger worked about as well as a horny gnome panting against the windshield glass, and it was only about the height of the wheels of most of the huge-ass SUVs that would weave right next to you out of their lanes as their drivers fished in bags for ketamine pills or whatever.
None of them were easy! But I used them all, regularly, and loved it! I took my Beetle to trips out in the desert, I carried things on the roof rack that were far too large, with some significant failures, and I changed fan belts on the shoulder of the 405, an absolutely terrifying and stupid thing to do, as trucks whizzed by inches from my back, every single time causing a small, terrified squirt of urine to leap to freedom in my pants.
I remember I bought the 1800S initially to be the car for my girlfriend at the time, and she found it such a pain to deal with she left it in the middle of an intersection on Wilshire Boulevard one day, forcing me to scramble out there and get it going and out of the way before the cops impounded it. She ended up getting a new Civic because the demands of a beautiful old car from the late 1960s were too much for her. Sound familiar, David?
As far as parking goes, okay, the Beetle is pretty small, but the Volvo had no power steering, making parallel parking a genuine chore, and the Scimitar, well, maybe that one was fine, too. So I can’t gripe about that.
Were any of these old cars good in the rainy season in LA? Hell no. The Beetle has two speed wipers – really slow, and still not fast enough, and if the Volvo’s defogger was the panting breath of a horny gnome, this gnome wasn’t even aroused. LA panics in any sort of rain, and it’s not a great time to be in a literal deathtrap. I get that David’s Mustang is a mess in rain as well, but, dude, just keep a rag under your seat! That’s how you keep seeing out the windshield! Have you turned you back on rags, too, David? Do you only use fresh slices of Nova Scotia salmon to wipe your nose and other valuables now? Jeezis.
It’s not like I didn’t have commutes, either, because I sure as hell did, commutes that make David’s little Valley-contained jaunts from his place to Galpin seem like a joke. Yes, David, a joke, a silly little joke, compared to me hauling my Eastside/Los Feliz ass all the way across town to Culver City or Westwood, which I had to do daily for years. I had commutes into the Valley, to Midwilshire, to downtown, to Santa Monica, hell, often to Irvine or other godless places in Orange County, I did all of these, often, in cramped little underpowered cars from the era when people were still worried about Soviets but Walkmen weren’t even thought of yet and Pong was bleeding edge tech.
Hell, I took my child, my only son Otto, all over LA in the Beetle! A human child! In Los Angeles, in an old car! And he loved it! The heat, the noise, the excitement of possible breakdowns, the adventure of it all!
Yes, David, a child thrived in LA in an old, archaic car. Sure, he had no choice, and to many, this is terrible parenting, but still. My point, whatever it is, stands.
So, yes, sweet, sweet David, as much as I adore you – which I absolutely do– I’m going to relish this rare, beautiful moment where I get to call you a candy-ass. A candy-ass who left Detroit winters in creaky Plymouth Valiants and J10 pickups and other shitboxes, came to LA and not even, what three months (!?) into his new Los Angeles life abandons all of his old car principles, and has been seduced by the considerable and enticing comfort and safety of a 2014 BMW i3.
As you drive that thing, David, gliding along in your cushy electrical carriage, the hum of the electric motor drowned out by the languid vocals of Enya or Enigma or whatever, drinking electrolyte water from one of those water bottles with a big crystal inside it you probably got from Goop or something, just remember that some of us happily trundled around LA in old-ass, noisy, clunky, uncomfortable shitboxes, and did so happily.
[Editor’s Note: The truth is, I took ownership of my free 1959 Nash Metropolitan specifically so I could daily-drive it in LA, so I was willing to drive an old junker when I first go here.
My J10 and Mustang are too valuable for me to want to daily around the city (So convenient, JT, that you forgot to mention that your car literally got stolen in LA! And that thing wasn’t even valuable — none of your cars were back when you drove them!), one is technically not SMOG legal, they both suck gas like you wouldn’t believe, the other is my brother’s (I want it well-preserved). The rest of my fleet is broken.
Fixing the Nash is going to take a while, and though I could just drive the big, thirsty J10 for now, I’m curious about EVs! I run a car website in 2023 and have no EV experience; that’s not ideal! Also, the i3 is a fascinating carbon-fiber car that I can top up in my apartment’s parking garage. Have I gone soft for buying a fascinating machine that runs on a different fuel source? I don’t know. Even if I have gone soft, I deserve it — have you seen the shit I’ve done. Trenchfoot! Bathing in the freezing Baltic Sea! Leave me alone.
Who knows, maybe the i3 will bore me like the last sensible car I bought did and I’ll be back to my old ways. We’ll see. But even if not, I’ve built up more shitbox cred than I need to get away with this, Torch. -DT].
I was happy because I genuinely loved each of those cars, and despite the discomfort and inconvenience of it all, LA is a city that appreciates old and weird and interesting cars, and there’s so much joy and fulfillment that comes with the bit of extra effort. Sure, David will still have a fleet of old, interesting cars to trot out, and everyone will be delighted and fawn over them and all that, but when I look deep into David’s eyes, perhaps during one of our business-embraces at staff meetings, I’ll know that he’s taking the easy way out.
Well, maybe driving those things wasn’t always happy, but it sure is fun to gloat about it now, in hindsight. So there.
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