Rental Car Review – Mini Cooper D

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Switching it up

I was encouraged by the fact that I was going to be in the countryside for the majority of my time with the Mini. Not because I was looking forward to the tight turns and roundabouts that would show off the 4-door’s tight suspension, not because there was anything wrong with the expansive greenhouse that allows you to see better out of this car than most which feature larger than life C-pillars, and not even because the “D” in “Cooper D” stands for “Diesel” and the fuel mileage would be amazing without the start/stop common in cities.  No, I was relieved that my time with the Mini would be in the small towns of Kiddeminster and Halesowen UK because this would be my first time driving on the wrong side of the road.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. I know that a decent portion of the world drives on the left hand side of the road, but the automobile was invented in Germany and America and they both drive on the right (also, correct) side of the road, so there.

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But here I was, looking into the “driver’s” side with the wheel and pedals clearly attached to the right-hand side of the car in the back of an Enterprise Rent-A-Car in downtown Birmingham. Despite my never-ending moaning about the complete lack of manual transmissions in US rental lots, I had opted for an automatic as well.  Shut up.  I drive a manual almost every day of my life, but I was so concerned about focusing on keeping the car on the left side of the road and fighting all of the instincts that I had honed over 2 decades of driving aggressively like a fine citizen that I did not want to have to teach my left hand to shift away for first gear.  That’s not natural for me and I could see it leading to a lot of paperwork between me and my insurance agency that the nominal fee I paid for damage protection wasn’t going to cover.

Cast away your spark plugs!

I have to say, first off, that I dug that little Mini’s engine. The kick of the diesel with the torques everywhere was probably one of my favorite aspects of the car.  After I calmed down a little getting out of Birmingham, the highways turned into mostly 4-lane roads with lots of roundabouts to shoot out of with a press of the throttle.  The little puttering picked up and off we went!  I know that diesels are 50% of the fleet in Europe, but in the US they’re almost non-existent, so I’ve driven very few.  The reactiveness and instant power makes me want one.

Know what else makes me want one? Check this out!

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That’s right! Over 50 mpg!  I normally get about half that in my daily driven Miata, so this was a big deal for me.  Granted, I drive the little roadster a bit harder because I’m calibrated for it, but I can’t imagine that once I was acclimated to the Mini that it would be too detrimental to the economy.  The automatic Start/Stop feature also helped, I’m sure, though it was a bit disconcerting the first time I came to a stop and the engine died.  I figured it out, don’t worry.

Classic style

The Mini has a look that I don’t know what BMW is going to do with. It is clearly retro and retro typically backs you into a corner (see: Ford Thunderbird, Chrysler PT Cruiser, VW Beetle), but some companies can overcome it.  The Mini hasn’t significantly changed its look in a VERY long time.  But, there are certainly worse things than driving a classically British-looking car in the classically British-looking countryside.

The interior is paradoxically full of little gadgets and at the same time very basic. Circles are everywhere.  I felt like I was sitting in a black plastic glass of champagne.  There are also LED’s lighting up all kinds of places like door handles, the ignition toggle and, for some reason, two little do-nothing lights on the dome.  More on those monstrosities later.  Aesthetically, I really dug the toggle switches.  They were fun to use, but that seemed to be the extent of their usefulness.  They were a bit troublesome in practice because they don’t really provide feedback.  If you flip them, they don’t stay in that position but rather pop back into center, so you don’t know if you’ve done anything unless you’re looking directly at the thing that you’re trying to affect.  God help you if you don’t know what the toggle switch does.  Been there.  Wasn’t fun.  For a long time.  But that was common for a lot of the controls.  The turn signal stalk didn’t give a lot of feedback and the windshield wiper stalk was based solely on whether it stayed on.  It was just vague and frustrating but would probably be fine with time.

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Seats and driving position were comfortable with sturdy, race-inspired seats that held my ribs and hips securely. The wheel was a little low and forward for ingress and egress, but I assume that people smarter than me would figure out, after 3 days with a vehicle, that a quick adjustment would allow you to get it into driving v. getting in/out modes.  I am not that smart.  Pedal feel is great with feedback that is steady.  Same goes for steering.  I didn’t feel dead spots.  Overall, I have almost nothing but praise for the actual driving aspects of the car!

There are also some niceties where it is clear that Mini put in some time. Little things like the variegated thread in the exposed seat stitching, the thickness of the steering wheel and the carbon fiber-esqe dash inserts showed an attention to detain that harken back to the more hard scrabble days when the brand was a racing contender.

I really enjoyed the performance, the feel, the handling and the fuel economy of the Cooper D! Mini got everything that is basic in the car correct. However…

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I feel so British!

 

Things that can eat a dick

Alright. Hear me out, because this is a list of things that I was screaming about, primarily (exclusively) to myself, that may or may not have to do with the car, but the Mini was part of it and we’re not getting separate lawyers for this trial.  So here goes.

This was my first time driving in the UK. That being the case, I think I did pretty well in that  I didn’t hit anything.  I only came close to hitting something twice; those right turns are tough to adapt to when you’re used to apexing curbs turning right and there’s a car driving toward you when you normally have open road.  But there are a few things that really pissed me off.

  1. Navigation system – Mini seems to have adopted the BMW iDrive little knob thing in the center console. I hated it. Spinning that damned knob to try and get to “L” from “A” only to find that the street I was looking for didn’t exist in the system caused more than a few curse words to emit from my lips as I was sitting for over 30 minutes trying to get back to London from my office in the West Midlands. Eventually, it took my laptop and mobile phone to figure out where I needed to return my Cooper D in the middle of London. So thanks for nothing, navigation system! Eat a dick.
  2. United Kingdom addresses. I don’t know how they work and I never really figured it out. Sure, I got to where I was going, but that was primarily through sheer chance that Wayz knew what I was talking about. There’s a street number, then a street, then a town, then something else which shows up, Britian! That’s common sense. I don’t know how your address system works. Eat a dick.
  3. Landslides – The only reason I had to drive to London rather than taking a Virgin train from Birmingham was because, bless my luck, the night before I was heading back to the capitol, there was a storm which shut down lines, the lines I needed, and left me with the options of staying where I was or driving back. I guess you can’t do much about that, so… I’m sorry for your loss.
  4. Dome lights – Here’s why I hate those fucking toggle switches: no feedback. At some point during my driving, I had turned on the overhead lighting. Problem was, I had no idea how. None of the toggles were pushed forward and there are 4 switches above my head and two buttons. This didn’t really have a negative effect on my driving except that I would glance up and they would be on and I would think to myself, “Why the fuck are those still on?” and it would take my focus off of staying on the left side of the road. Eventually I found the switch after stopping at a rest area and fiddling with them while I was supposed to be paying attention to a conference call with co-workers. It was at this time that I found out you can customize your LED lighting to about 1000 different Pantone colors. I ended up on “Hatred Red” because that was what I was feeling. Eat a dick, toggle switches without set positions.
  5. Driving in London – I’ve ridden dirt bikes up nearly-vertical hill faces. I’ve gone 4-wide into the old, blind turn 8 at Thunderhill. But I’ve never been more stressed out than I was driving in London. Luckily, my route only took me through the side streets with lots of right-hand turns and through extremely populated districts. Ugh.
  6. Wayz – This is my GPS app of choice and the only one that could find the location to return my rental car, so I want to be fair. But seriously, you could have helped a little, Wayz! Why did you choose the day that I have to drive through half a country and through one of the most walked/biked towns to stop giving audio direction?! Oh, and before you say, “did you check the settings?”, yeah, I fuckin’ checked ALL the settings. I know that American Voice Jane was paying attention but giving me the silent treatment because as I was standing at a urinal in a service station, she told me to “Now turn left.” I may have been a little stressed out because certain lanes switch to turn only lanes with little warning (want to know how I found out?) and the lack of direction caused me to get lost a couple of times. I ended up returning the Mini exactly 3 minutes before the Enterprise closed. Oh, tangent! Put your rental centers somewhere people can get to, Enterprise! Back on track, but not under the tracks like that damn Enterprise office on a one-way street that doesn’t show up on GPS, I tried everything to get American Voice Jane to talk to me, even asking if American Voice Amy would step in. No dice. Silence unless I was walking into a rest stop because I drank too much Tango. Eat a bag of dicks, Wayz.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Mini D! I wish that I would have been more confident in driving on the wrong side of the road to have pushed it a little harder and had more fun.  God, I felt British!

The Inherent Dangers of Elf on the Shelf

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It started in 2005, not really the “Tradition” that Bing Crosby is.

If you’re like me, then the holidays are a time of elaborate decoration, gift-giving and the hidden look of disappointment in your parents’ eyes as they come to terms with another season that you’ve stood by your decision not to have children. Luckily for my parents, my younger sister has two little boys that love Christmas! My parents adore them and my sister and her husband are heavily involved in their lives and forming nostalgic memories for them to look back fondly on.  One of the “traditions” that my sister introduced is the Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.

For those of you who aren’t in the know as I was not, Elf on the Shelf is a posable elf doll and accompanying book that outlines what this little elf means for the children of the house. The book goes on to tell the children to whom it is read that EOTS is Santa’s eyes and ears. EOTS will position himself in a spot in the house (hence the ability to wrap his spindly little arms and legs around stuff in the house) and, if he spots you being good, then he sprints up to the North Pole during the night, lets the Big Man know that you should be on the Nice List and then hauls ass back to your house to situate himself in a different spot to begin his silent, spying vigil anew. The main rule in the book is that children MUST keep their damn, stinking paws off the elf. They can’t touch the elf or his magic might disappear and he would be driven to life on the streets, most likely killed by an outdoor cat who would first bat him around as a plaything, further removing his magic and ultimately his will to live.

It is a terrible idea to buy this for your children. Here’s the three reasons why.

#3:  You’re asking for your child to develop a complex.

So, you’ve decided that an inanimate bendy doll is the best way to manage your child’s behavior through the promise of rewards. Now your child always has one eye on the smiling little elf that you’ve sat on the china hutch or cleverly hung from the chandelier. He or she does his or her best to always behave, not throw a fit, play nice with their sibling, share their toys and wakes up every morning, anxiously running to the spot where the elf was monitoring the night before. Relieved, the child sees that the elf has run up North and reported their good behavior! Now the child must make it their life’s priority to search out where you’ve devilishly hidden the elf. Your sweet, behaving child cannot rest until they learn where the elf is so that they can make sure that it is in a different spot tomorrow and the game can begin again.

If this were an adult, we would label it extreme paranoia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Do you really want your child to become frantic about finding and pleasing a doll?  And, let’s not forget that you have to be obsessive about this as well, because this is the main reinforcement that your child has now to behave.  However, it should be pointed out that…

 #2: You’re encouraging bad behavior.

If you’re diligent and move the elf every night, you can rest assured that your beautiful snowflake is encouraged to be good and listen to mommy and daddy. But, let’s say that the child does something naughty and he knows it.  He knows he’s been bad, but the next morning, the elf has moved!  The elf didn’t see!  What else can he get away with?  Or, does this mean that what the child considered to be “bad” is not bad at all?  Maybe it is condoned, nay, encouraged by Santa! Eh-gads, man!  Do you know what this means?  We can do anything we want!  As long as the elf moves, then it doesn’t matter what Mom and Dad say!

So, maybe they won’t take it that far, but let’s say that your child does misbehave and the elf doesn’t move. How long can you hold out this game?  Really?  Are you going to keep leaving the elf where it is until the child turns around and changes their ways?  If so, are you willing to deprive them of gifts at Christmas or are you going to continue just as you would have even if you hadn’t had the elf in the first place? 

And what if your child really does start behaving if the elf stays where he is? They are good all day, but it was a long day at work, you’re tired, maybe had a glass of wine after putting junior to bed and the next morning, the stream of questions reminds you of something you didn’t do.

#1 You’re going to forget.

Back to my sister.  This is her experience with Elf on the Shelf in her actual Facebook feed.

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Two days.  She lasted TWO DAYS!  My sister’s no dummy and she lasted two days. This means that she got Elf on the Shelf, showed her boys, moved it once and then forgot. 

Why set yourself up for failure?  Just give the kids some presents, sing some songs and eat a bunch of food with family.  Leave the Elf on the Shelf.

“That Looks Healthy”

I don’t care for hot drinks, so I need a substitute for the coffee that most of my co-workers drink.  I have been going for high-caffeine energy drinks lately.

On the way to work is a Walgreen’s that typically has Rockstar Zero Carb on sale, 2 for $3.  So, I stop there, grab two (one for tomorrow) and a bag of chips.  I get to the counter and the checkout girl says, “Well, that looks healthy.”

“Yeah, your produce section was sorely lacking,” I reply.  Really?  Do you know what they sell here?  None of it has nutritional value unless you really stretch the definition of healthy.  I’ll still go back because I can’t find cold drinks anywhere cheaper though.

And another thing, judgemental cashier!  I’m here at 7:40 a.m. right after running two miles and lifting weights for 40 minutes.  What have you done to stay healthy this morning?!

Bane needs a hug and a sandwich.

Caution, Minor Spoilers.

I’m not really a comic book guy.  I don’t think I’ve ever purchased one.  I may have read 3 from cover to cover.  I just don’t understand the obsession.  I do, however, seemingly love comic book movies; particularly the latest batch that have been released with accessible stories, solid acting, big budgets and amazing effects.

When I was reading about The Avengers in preparation to see it, I noticed how so many people were looking forward to seeing their childhood fantasy questions answered on the big screen.  Thing like “Who would win in a fight, Thor or Iron Man?”  That’s all well and good, but for some reason, I like to think of people with extraordinary abilities doing mundane things. Particularly villains since we get more of a glimpse into the hero’s life and usually there is a secret identity which is filled with everyday activities.  The villain, however, sometimes does not have a secret identity and can often times just be as evil as their day allows.  What consumes the majority of Megatron’s time when he isn’t on screen?  Do you think The Joker read “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and wrote little notes in the margins about how it could be nefariously implemented?

This penchant for banality leads me to what I see as a major plot hole in one of the summer’s biggest movies.  I went to see The Dark Knight Rises for the second time last weekend.  There was quite a bit I didn’t catch the first time around because I was busy peeing myself with boyish excitement to see how the trilogy Christopher Nolan has magnificently pieced together would end.  Regardless, I was driving home, practicing my Bane impression (the voice is really just a lazy and more fluctuating Sean Connery) and it came to me as I was working out a bit where Bane goes to a karaoke bar and sings Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT”.  Some background: the respirator that Bane wears (as explained in the movie) is the only thing keeping him from suffering unimaginable pain due to a torturous injury incurred at the hands of a pit prison mob. The prison doctor mended Bane, but the daughter of Raz Al Gul has the respirator made.

Side note: The doctors in the prison have to be the most amazing physicians in the world. These guys heal Bruce Wayne after a broken back and get him back to fighting weight in under 3 months using only a rope, a well-placed back punch and the sage words of a morphine addict.  These guys could cut recovery wards roughly by 2/3.  I’m sure that prior to their arrival, everyone in the prison had heart cancer.  Now, they’re all healthy as horses.

Back to it: Bane can’t remove the respirator or he get’s facial pain explosions.  So, how does he eat?  Wouldn’t each bite mean excruciating pain that would act as negative reinforcement to consuming a meal.  And, let’s look at this guy.  He doesn’t look like he’s missing any meals.  The only option I can think of would be protein milkshakes through tiny straws that can fit through the holes in the metal at the front.  I know that this is the meal of choice when someone breaks their jaw and has to have it wired shut.  Any other ideas?

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I need an efficient way to eat this hamburger!

Side note #2:  How dumb is Batman in his first fight with Bane?  If a guy has a respirator and you’re wearing a Kevlar fist, try punching the respirator!  You would think that this would be his weak point, particularly after every other one of your punches has been met with indifference and manly badassery.

A simple misinterpretation

The weather was perfect for open top driving.  The sky was clear and didn’t play host to a single cloud. The temperature was hovering in the low 70’s and the humidity was tolerable.  It was the sort of day that we’ve been having in the Midwest for the last few months and has made the transition from Los Angeles much easier. 

Ms. Kitty rode alongside in the passenger’s seat, her elbow rested on the top of the door and the wisps of hair that had not been wrangled into the imprisonment of her pony tail holder bounced happily in the open air. 

The Miata sat happily at a red light, waiting to cross the overpass across I-265 when a white, 2nd gen Prelude with HID headlights and a fart can muffler pulled up in the left lane.  As the light went green, I accelerated as I normally do, but the Lude barked and sounded like it was drag racing.  Perhaps it is the roll bar mounted on the back of my little roadster that brings this out in people.  I don’t know.

My Miata easily kept up with the growling Prelude up to the next red light.  I looked over at Ms. Kitty and I said, “Really?”  She looked back, eye brows up and replied, “Really.”

Her “Really” was implying that it was ridiculous for grown men to drag race from stoplight to stoplight in broad daylight where police often pull onto and off of the highway.  Endangering other people’s lives for absolutely no purpose is a foolish, irresponsible and reckless thing to do that people over the age of 30 should certainly know better than to do.

Then the light went green and I immediately learned that she and I had absolutely different interpretations of what “Really” meant in this context. 

My “Really” had been in amazement that I hadn’t been blown off the line if he actually had anything under the hood and that only a fool would try to drag race with such a low weight-to-power ratio.  (I know most people say it the other way around and they are wrong.  Think about it.)  The fact that I didn’t have to launch or take it to redline and still be ahead meant that I could surely destroy this Prelude if I tried. 

I should have meant it the way she did because my victory (AND IT WAS A VICTORY) was short lived as I was quickly informed that I was incorrect in my definition.  And I apologized.

Benefits of Living in a Small Town

Last night, around 9:15, our neighbors started plodding into the night from the relative safety of their homes.  One jumped into his car and raced off.  He was in pursuit of a large, white, American sedan of Malaise vintage that had, just moments before, slammed into the back of my wife’s silver Toyota Matrix parked on the street in front of our house.  No glancing blow, the wagon had been shoved approximately a foot forward due to the large car’s impact into the rear driver’s side quarter panel which disfigured the sheet metal, pounded the plastics and tore the rear wheel from its suspension bits. The car then swerved around my little Miata and completely side swiped the Crown Vic parked at the head of our automotive conga line.

The police were called and arrived quickly.  Having been involved with the Indiana Highway Patrol, State Troopers and the Long Beach Police Department, I didn’t expect much to come from the report.  Usually, they take the information and say that the perpetrator is long-gone, but they’ll do what they can.  This was exactly what a State Trooper told the driver of another hit-and-run I was involved in just a couple of months earlier.  My hopes were low.

Based only on the description of “a white 80’s Caprice”, the officer asked a follow-up of, “Did it sound like it had a cowbell attached?”

I thought this was a curious question, but the officer went on to explain that there was a car in a nearby neighborhood that had a problem with the brakes that the owner never got around to fixing.  This owner was also well-known in the badge-wearing community as a bit of an imbiber.

I would imagine that cops with a large jurisdiction don’t have this kind of granularity.  The police picked up the guy and got a confession within two hours.

There are benefits of living in a small town.