Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Dancing Car

In which Aviatrix is frightened by shock absorbers and by a medium pizza

The next day I explore my new environment. The hotel is on a busy boulevard with a high school just down the block and across the street. There's also a restaurant over there, so I'm crossing the road to see if it is anything I want for dinner. There's no sidewalk, but there's a pedestrian light. The traffic in the lane in front of me stops and while I'm waiting for the opposite left turning traffic to stop so I can cross, one of the cars does something very strange.

It's an orange car, not the old 1970s kind of orange, but a new metallic orange. It's the first car in line at the light and I suddenly notice movement, but it hasn't moved forward or backwards. I'm not immediately sure what movement I have seen, but then it moves again. The back right corner of the car suddenly lowers.

Now when I land an airplane, if I land it gently and it isn't heavily loaded, often the main gear oleos will not compress all the way. The airplane will be slightly jacked up. But when I taxi around a corner, one oleo may suddenly compress, making the airplane lopsided until something similar makes the other one compress, too. I had this in mind as I considered what I saw in the car.

As it stopped at the light, presumably it was abrupt, and its weight shifted forward, uncompressing the rear shock absorbers, making the rear end look lifted. Then perhaps a passenger in the back moved around, compressing first one and then the other rear shock absorber.

Good theory, but it didn't hold up. As I stared at the car, the front end popped up. Then the rear. Then it went down on one side. And down on the other side. The car was dancing. I'm staring open-mouthed at this thing. I'm sure everyone in the car was busting a gut laughing at me. But it was insane. Who would want deliberate control over the shock absorbers? Does it have a use other than astonishing Canadian yokels? It wasn't high enough to work like this comic. What do the controls look like inside the car?

I was so busy staring at the car that I didn't make it all the way across the road at the light, and had to wait on the central divider for another cycle of the traffic lights. A lot of cars were coming out of the high school, and while I was watching them I noticed that they were almost all newer cars, made in the last five years and almost all contained a single teenaged occupant. I did see one schoolbus, too. It wasn't until later that I realized that I had just watched school get out and saw not one single student leave on foot or by bicycle. It's only about 3 km from the centre of town, and there are residential areas within a kilometre. I don't know if this is a discovery about how rich the kids are in town, how lazy they are, or how behind the times I am. Maybe all the kids in Canada drive to school now, too. I do know lots of university students who walk or bike to school, but perhaps my friends are poorer or more active than the norm. It's also possible that the local kids who walk or bike used a multi-use path I didn't know about, in order to avoid the busy street.

The restaurant turned out to be an all-you-can-eat fast food buffet. That's not good value for money for me, and I wasn't feeling anthropological enough to want to watch the people who would go to a place like that, so I crossed back to the hotel and surrendered to pizza. In Texas, it turns out, you just can't get away with eating a little bit. The small pizza cost considerably more than the medium, so I ordered a medium. The guy at the counter couldn't explain the price discrepancy, but did recognize it as illogical.

I'm suspecting that no one in town walks anywhere. More evidence supporting that theory in a later blog entry.


Tina Marie said...

It's done with hydraulics, and they're called "jumping cars". A google on that term will get you more information then you've ever wanted.

Unknown said...

Ah. a Low Rider.

I thought people had given up on that. I haven't heard anything of them in some years.

A said...

Man, you airedales are sure missing out on what's going on down here with the mortals.

Any phat whip worth it's paint has switches.

Ain't no one giving up on switches, either. You can get a 124 volt battery bank with a four-pump hydraulic system to bounce a whole '57 Impala right off the ground.

Gives VTOL a whole new look:

dpierce said...

A lot of suburban American is essentially devoid of pedestrian infrastructure (such as the area you are/were in, I'd guess). A relatively recent trend in housing developments is a renewed interest in making them 'pedestrian friendly'. (You know, with sidewalks, and little accessible town square areas -- fancy new age concepts.)

In these areas, you pretty much have to own a car, or be bound to the house. (No joking.)

And you have to be careful in car-oriented suburbs using even well-marked crosswalks with lights. Where I live, for example, people aren't used to pedestrians, aren't expecting them, and aren't looking out for them. Do anticipate who's going to come around the corner and high speed and hit you.

Immigrants who come into these areas often don't have cars and thus introduce pedestrians into areas where they were seldom seen in the past. The accident rate can be high.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, there's a good chance the occupants of the car were actually trying to "impress the lady."

It'd probably crush them to know that that you didn't get that bit.

Low riders aren't exactly mainstream, but they've been around for years. For some reason they seem more popular among the Hispanic/Chicano community, but really it's just one more way to trick your ride.

Somebody ought to do a study to see what causes different groups to do different things to cars... "Rice Rockets,", Low Riders, Hi-Risers, the list goes on.

Anonymous said...

There are some practical reasons for that kind of thing (don't think that this was one of them)

I have an active air shock system installed on my Jeep, but strictly for offroad use - allows me to drop to normal height on the road, or raise 8" if I need the ground clearance.

Lord Hutton said...

Older Citroens have adjustable hydraulics. But a dancing car? Ridiculous.
The comment about pedestrian (and cycle) infrastructure is no doubt true. I still find it vaguely unsettling when I see 17 year olds driving to school, when they could easily walk, cycle or catch the bus. UK infrastructure must be light years ahead of Texas, in that respect.

Anonymous said...

I was vacationing with my family in Daytona Beach last year during the time of a custom car show. We were walking on the sidewalk along A1A and a car driving by suddenly dropped its body so that the chassis was dragging along the pavement on skid plates showering sparks.

I thought it was great! My wife jumped out of her shoes and was not so amused. Little did she know this was done on purpose.

Anonymous said...

Anyone with an 'n'-year-old, where 'n' is about 12 or less, learned about and/or saw the jumping car phenomenon personified by "Ramone" in the movie "Cars"--right down to dropping the chassis to show sparks while cruising.

Keep up the great blog!


Anonymous said...

@lord hutton: Not only older Citroens. Their current top-model, the C6, has hydro-pneumatic suspension (see Wikipedia).

E.g., if you load the boot with heavy stuff, an electro-hydraulic pump will keep it always level, even when the engine is switched off.

During the ride, at low speeds, you can raise or lower it in order to give you more ground clearance or lower the profile.

Anonymous said...

Re the dancing car:

Aviatrix, you didn't immediately want to expose yourself to them? Or bear their children?

Re the car-centric travel to high school:

That's one unique aspect of American culture - extremely car-centric, especially in the burbs. As soon as a kid turns 16, they want a car, and really really don't want to ride the cheese truck to school.

Aviatrix said...

Umm, no, anonymous, neither of those thoughts crossed my mind, that's right.

I understand wanting a car as soon as you turn sixteen, but the remarkable thing about American culture is that they can get a car. These were newish $15-20k vehicles, insured and fuelled and in good repair. Where does a teenager get that kind of cash? And their parents okay it? Don't they have to save it for their education? I think my life savings when I was sixteen would have barely covered the insurance on a teenager-driven car.

Anonymous said...

Oh the kids don't have the money... Their parents BUY THE CARS FOR THEM. That and Playstations.

Likely the root cause of much that is wrong in the world (I'd say the U.S. but friends living here tell me their home countries have gotten just as bad). Too many kids have things just given to them.

I'm sure my grand parents probably said the same thing about my parent's generation, but I can't imagine the magnitude was as great. Or perhaps it was, but now we're seeing the cumulative effect.

The blame for this current economic mess (government housing issues aside) lies with folks that have the "I want/deserve it all." mind set. The same ones that bought those kids the shiny new cars.

I feel fortunate that my parents co-signed the loan so that I could make payments on a USED car. I certainly learned what it took to keep up the payments for 60 months. Of course that lead to this learning point: constantly paying for a car sucks. Ergo, my current car is has been paid off for 8 years now...

Aviatrix said...

Their parents BUY THE CARS FOR THEM.

Wow. Extravagant purchase. When I was a teenager, I had to make a strong case to upgrade my parent-provided transportation from the ordinary canvas running shoes to the fancy ones with the stripes and padded soles.

Anonymous said...

Two words: Napoleon Dynamite.