Years ago I read the autobiography of British actor Sir Alec Guinness. His story was a marvel for the peculiar reason that unlike the other autobiographies I had read (that of Vladimir Horowitz for example) it was less about him and more about those with whom he mingled. One of the many entertaining accounts involved the singular adventure of flying in a small plane which because it encountered a strong head wind was propelled backwards. The plane had a difficult landing but all were safe. Presumably the passengers were protected by their chrysalis – that is, the fuselage of the plane.  By no coincidence the word fuselage derives from the French fuselé “spindle-shaped”, the main body section to which the wings are attached.

It is common knowledge that the chrysalis is a transitional state. It temporarily protects its occupant. What I did not know is that the term is derived from the metallic gold-colouration found in the pupae of many butterflies referred to by the Greek term chrysós for gold or its more recognizable synonym aurelia meaning “golden”. In its caterpillar stage this exotic creature has the further distinction of using a button of silk to fasten itself to a leaf or twig. Then the caterpillar’s skin comes off for the final time.  Under the old skin is a hard skin called a chrysalis.

In short the chrysalis is the magical and protective outer case for a burgeoning animation. In those instances where nature does not immediately afford the privilege of this evolution, there are consolations. Who among us hasn’t sought to shelter themselves within a chrysalis of one description or another? The metaphor certainly extends to an improving restorative or even nefarious combustibles. Perhaps a cigar on the beach? Or the pleasures of the festive board? Dare I mention the sins of the flesh! Maybe just a riveting novel.

For those of us – such as I – who are bound to restrict their indulgences out of duty or necessity, the less provocative acquaintance in the mode of confined rapture is the passenger automobile.  The automobile fulfills the prerequisites of isolation, ephemeral iteration and undeniable euphoria. It too faces the inescapable violations of nature – those pervasive obstructions of mechanics, appearance and power. But if one succeeds to rise above a breach of purity then the resource is the nec plus ultra!

2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve

Given the unforgivable narrowness of my agenda (essentially bicycling, eating and sleeping) the diversion to an automobile is by design one of my more earnest calculations. In order to derive maximum return from each occasion it is first necessary to observe certain customs. Strangely each adventure is aligned with repetitive obsessions. Those include such obvious imperatives as fuel and windshield wiper fluid. Ultimately there is the purgative car wash.  Before enabling the car wash however there are mandatory preliminaries such as cleaning the floor mats, dabbing any scuff marks, verifying the contents of the glove compartment (a status which seldom changes but which nicely captures the mania of the absorption), lifting the trunk to inspect what is there (another idée fixe), checking the Petro-Canada points with a view to a free lottery ticket for 1,000 points, tightening the air caps on the tyres and generally conducting an overview of the aircraft. When that is accomplished, one is prepared for take-off!

Knowing where to venture after launch is as much a compelling detail as the cleanliness of the floor mats.  The adage holds true that it is as important to know not only where to go but also where not to go. Gravel roads for example are right out.  Four-lane highways are preferable.  They are normally well maintained and one can avoid those in haste by remaining in the right-hand lane. My common preferences are along Highway #417 northward through Renfrew County; or along Highway #416 southward to the St. Lawrence Seaway. It helps to familiarize oneself with those venues where one can use a “facility” – such as at Antrim Truck Stop in Arnprior (where Nanaimo bars and date squares are also at hand if desired, I’m just saying).

Once having reached cruising altitude – assuming all mechanical and biological systems are flushed and ready to go – it is time to put the vehicle in a semblance of auto-pilot and enjoy the assembly in the cockpit. The devices involve ventilation, music and a myriad of mechanical settings which adjust the operation of the car, its lights, windows and climate control. The sound system is connected by Bluetooth to the music library on iPhone.  We’ve also managed to enable our respective phones to open and lock the car doors through the Lincoln Way app. Sailing upon the ribbon of highway through the vast open fields is an unparalleled satisfaction especially on a sunny day but really no less when raining. Manifestly the experience in an SUV is different than in a sedan. What ultimately matters however is not the height, width or length but merely the purity of the engine, the power of the thrust, the tranquillity of the interior, the comfort of the seats and the appeal of the sound system. No question these modern stage coaches are beasts that have a spirit of their own. I never allow myself to become amused by the settings; rather I content myself to enjoy the ride – the fruition of those seemingly silly phobia, the settled fulfillment of examinations, the conviction of mechanical operations.

On a limited level the mechanics of the automobile match the technical curiosity which visits any other device, whether a new cruising bicycle or a complicated watch. With its vastly more profuse intricacies the automobile does however constitute the greatest theme of engineering which the uninitiated layman is likely to encounter. The substance of a well-tuned motor vehicle is as incomparable as a summer breeze.

Coincidentally I have lately been reading the “Letters of Jane Austen” written in or about 1796. Transport was by coach and horse or horses. The only competitive improvement was the railroad. Frequently Miss Austen alludes to travel by coach. The event was undoubtedly confined to personal comfort and not so much the vehicle itself – though on occasion she referred glowingly to the strength and assiduity of the horses. To be clear my personal ambition is always to drive the automobile, not to be driven; and always my own vehicle.  I am as well horribly possessive about my machine. Shares-ees are right out! I would no more consider putting my car into the hands of another than I would deliver a watch or personal jewellery to another! The ruling priority is the individuality of the experience.

Summer Breeze

See the curtains hangin’ in the window, in the evenin’ on a Friday night
A little light a-shinin’ through the window, lets me know everything is alright

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Songwriters: Jim Seals/Darrell Crofts (1972)