"I'm gonna kick your ass," the guy yells out the window.
"Go ahead. Kick my ass."
"I'm calling the police."
"Great. I've already called them, that should speed things along even more." In the defender's corner, perched in a black Ford Excursion as big as a tank car, weighing in at 7,725 pounds, is this idiot dressed in a typically moronic T-shirt and ball cap, high on coke, looks like to me.
In the challenger's corner, your old pal astride the doughty 34-pound Sears three-speed, blocking the idiot's escape.
The back-up lights come on.
"I'm gonna run your ass over."
"Hmmm. Bike. Excursion. Tell you what, jerky-boy, why don't you just go ahead and try. That should be funny to watch," I snarl, moving the Sears out of the way.
I'm a reasonable man. But I am just about fit to be tied over morons who exit their vehicle and go wandering off without bothering to turn the cars off.
The first time I went off, I was sipping coffee curbside at this joint. Nice day. This kid comes up in a Bronco II (for starters, one of the sorriest, deadliest SUVs ever produced, a vehicle so dangerous that Ford would not allow its test drivers to operate the thing: www.ewg.org/reports/upsidedown/index3.php), gets out and wanders off inside, blowing that nasty, chemically catalytic converter rotten eggy smell. So I write a nice note and put it on the Bronco. Five or so minutes later he's reading it.
"Who wrote this?" he asked angrily. I admitted it was me. For a second I thought he was going to attack me. He balled it up tossed it in my direction. We snarled at each other for a while and he finally roared off, the Bronco almost on three wheels.
The next time I intervened, it was a first generation Explorer (another fine piece of tippy FoMoCo junk: www.renfroe.com/cases/explorerrollovers.html).
It was only after the woman went in and I examined the vehicle that I realized to my horror that the thing had a Sierra Club sticker on one of the windows. I realized I had far to go.
This gal spent at least 10 minutes inside, me breathing that funky reek. Finally, she emerged.
"Ma'am," I started, "don't you find the juxtaposition of a Sierra Club sticker on an idling, untended 4x4 to be the purest distilled essence of irony?"
Then there was this pickup, just sitting at the curb. I rode past it on my way to hang out with a friend. I rode by it again and there it was, just sitting there empty and running. I reached in and turned off the motor and went off. Several hours later I am on Hillsborough Street and I run into a pal I'd told earlier that day about the truck.
"You know that truck you told me about?" he says.
He reached in his pocket and showed me a set of keys.
"No. You're joking."
Yes. He'd just ridden by the same truck and there it was, idling, windows open hours later. So he just reached in and plucked them from the ignition.
"Hilarious, but not cool," I told him. I made him give them to me, and I carried them back at 3 a.m. wrapped in the Washington State Department of Ecology Idling Fact Sheet (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/NO_IDLE/Anti_Idle_FactSheet_long.html) with an attached note informing the driver I would fix his car, buy him a battery, whatever it took to get the vehicle right.
But the knucklehead in the Excursion had to be the purple-ribbon winning dipshit of the contest. Not only did he leave this disgusting dinosaur fouling the neighborhood I grew up in, when I rode by the idling $44,000 beast was just begging to be stolen.
"Hi," a little voice said--an adorable tow-head boy about 2 smiled at me though the open window.
I braked, did a slow, lazy circle and returned to the abomination. "Well, hello little man. Where's your mommy and daddy?" I asked, looking around.
I backed away from the vehicle and called 911. When all the harsh words and volleyed accusations were over, the police thanked me for my civic involvement. I thanked them for their prompt response, and an investigation commenced.
So this is really two versions of brains-boiled-in-lard idiocy, N.C.-style. Whether leaving a vehicle idling or abandoning a small child in an idling car, both emerge from some grossly distorted view of reality that goes something like, "It's my world. I can do whatever I want. The rules don't apply to me," with an arrogant conviction that seems to grow with the size of the vehicle.
To turn a vehicle off and remove the keys while not actually driving it would seem to emerge from the basest sort of common sense. But not here in Wake County/Raleigh, home of some of the worst air in the nation. Let me break it down simply: Leaving an unattended, unlocked vehicle idling at the curb is one of the most selfish, wasteful, laziest, dumb-as-a-bag-of hammers, downright rudest thing a motorist can do; to the pedestrian, it's akin to throwing dog-poop in their faces, and for children and their delicate, pink lungs equivalent to criminal assault. I know there are utterly ignorant people (some of them actually well-intentioned) out there who engage in this selfish, disgusting practice for a variety of reasons (all of them wrong), so I'm going to do a public service and pick some of them to pieces like a sniper.
"It takes more gas to start a car than it takes it to idle."
Since we are starting a list of dumb reasons, it is only correct to start with the dumbest of all. I have no idea how this hallucination got ingrained in the American mind, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong. I can speak from authority, having been a mechanic for years, but since some won't believe me, I quote from the Hamilton County (Ohio) Air Quality Management Division:
"Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. If you are stopped for more than 10 seconds--except in traffic--turn off your engine." So there you go, boom, first reason wrecked.
"It is better on the car to leave it running than having to start it."
Another flat-wrong delusion. Assuming the battery and starter are in serviceable condition, there is no adverse effect using starting systems as the manufacturer suggests. However, idling a car for minute after minute creates a fuel-rich situation in automotive engines. Excessive fuel builds up in the combustion chambers, leaks down past the piston rings and eventually begins to combine with the lubricating oil. This contamination leads to reduced viscosity and lubricity. Residual acids left by the process of incomplete combustion further contaminate the oil and, along with the extra heat produced by idling, begin to slowly erode the internals, the cylinder walls, bearings, cams and lifters, piston rings and skirts, valves and valve guides--in other words, all those expensive engine internals that are going to make your hair catch on fire when you finally get the estimate from your friendly grease monkey, a case of paying now and paying later. Boom. Next.
"I'm only going in for just a minute."
No one goes anywhere "for just a minute." Let's use a more realistic, nice, round figure. The figures vary from expert to expert, but a reasonable estimate would suggest that idling for 10 minutes burns around 0.025 to 0.040 gallon of gasoline--worth five to seven cents, maybe 10. That doesn't sound like much, but like other small accumulations, it adds up. Idling for 10 minutes a day uses an average of 26 gallons of gas a year. At $2 a gallon, a driver could save up to $50 a year in gasoline costs just by turning off the engine.
But more importantly, emissions from idling vehicles can be as much as 20 times greater than those from ones traveling at 32 mph. Gasoline is wicked stuff, containing benzene, xylene, toluene and many other additives, which when exposed to high heat and pressure in the engine combustion process form a number of new, very toxic chemicals including "furans" and "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons." Fumes from gasoline exhaust are deadly, deadly stuff, containing soot, CO and a vicious array of petrochemical substances that can lead to emphysema, reduced breathing ability, asthma and, yes, cancer.
One paper (www.chem-tox.com/immunesystem/vehicleexhaust/vehicle_exhaust.htm) stated that "a 1983 symposium in Sweden attended by 40 scientists from around the world agreed that about 10 percent of all lung cancers were caused by fossil fuel combustion such as that found in vehicle exhaust."
And where does this magic fog go? It basically hangs around, especially in summer. So in operating a vehicle more than you should you are killing your children and yourself, not to mention the natural world. So stop it.
"The car will be hot when I get in."
Boo hoo. Waaah and all that. How did we manage to become such a whiney, complaining, spineless, soft as banana puddin' tribe? This comment would have some substance, except everyone I see usually has the windows down. And since when did your comfort become more important than another's, yuh selfish crybaby? See above.
This is becoming an epidemic. Besides the obvious, there is also the chance that someone might jump in it and drive off. Then you've lost the car and if the thief crashes into and kills someone, you could even get sued--attractive nuisance, negligence and all that unpleasantness.
Many cities in the nation are finally grasping that idling vehicles are a huge source of pollution, one that can be ended by letting go of foolish ideas and simply turning a key. Others are more resistant to the obvious and may require an external nudge--like a law that is actually enforced. I hate to be cynical, but in a place where parents routinely ditch their kids rather than go through the tiresome ritual of actually taking them into the coffee shop, I see no chance of people figuring it out for themselves.
Contact Peter Eichenberger at email@example.com.