What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. ​Not hungry. It’s a rare accomplishment but I’ve slid through the last two days being so annoyed that I’m not even hungry. Bowl of cereal for dinner. A cookie and a giant iced tea for lunch. Copious amounts of coffee at all other points on the clock. I’m assuming that’s not one of those healthy diets people keep posting on Facebook but it is what it is.

2. Unity of command. It’s another one of those exciting weeks where I’m not entirely sure which of six people I actually work for. I know who signs my time sheet and who approves my leave requests, those being the most important functions of supervision. Identifying who exactly is supposed to assign and prioritize my work, though, remains a vague bit of prognosticating. If only we had an organizational chart that spelled out clearly who does what to whom.

3. The challenge of being topless. When you climb onto a Jeep with its top and doors removed you leave yourself open to whatever elements come. You also leave yourself exposed to the other people on the road. Cigarettes flicked out of the window of the car in front of you suddenly have a much more present danger than they did when you were buckled up in a sealed, climate controlled machine. It’s also important that the people near you can actually both see every gesture you make and hear whatever it is you’re saying (or singing along with). That’s a helpful bit to remember if you’re prone to criticizing the skills of your fellow motorists in colorful terms… although the guy stopped next to me on the bridge yesterday seemed to particularly enjoy my repeated pleas for the police to just push the mangled vehicles over the side, let the asshats responsible figure out how to fish them out of the Susquehanna, and get traffic moving again.

Doors are overrated…

In a world where automobile manufacturers chase ever more stringent fleet fuel standards and where soccer moms traded the Suburban for the latest “crossover SUV” (i.e. station wagon), I find very little to get excited over in the average production vehicle. There are a few exceptions and most of them don’t start looking particularly interesting until they are approaching the six-figure price point. Across most product lines, one sedan or coupe is pretty much only a few pieces of molding different from the next.

I’ve long suspected that sameness elsewhere is what brings me back around to the Jeep when it’s time to find a new vehicle. Sure, the edges have been softened. There’s a lot of plastic cowling where there used to be just tube steel. It’s got power locks and windows and a staggering amount of electronic toys in the dash. At its heart though, Chrysler has resisted the siren’s song of making the Jeep into just another crossover with a nameplate that use to mean something. Thank God for that.

One of the great joys of a Jeep is that you really can strip it down to the essentials – and engine, four wheels, and someplace to sit. In fact, once you’ve pulled the top away and unbolted the doors, you’re not so much getting into your Jeep as you are riding on top of it. All the while, everything rattles, you notice an unaccounted for whistle of wind crossing some newly exposed surface, every pothole rattles up your spine. You’ll slip out from behind the wheel knowing, feeling, that you were driving the machine instead of just being a passenger who occasionally made minor course corrections.

Man, stripped down and jamming through the gears, it’s a thing of real beauty… and only adds to my firm belief that doors are largely overrated (when the weather is good and you’ve got reasonably secure parking).

Accessorizing…

With temperatures creeping up out of the 50s on a regular basis, it seems it’s the time of year when a boy’s thoughts turn to finding just the right accessories for his fancy new Jeep. At least that’s the kind of thing that catches this boy’s attention. I know my priorities can be a little jenky, but I just go with it. It’s easier that way.

To tell you I’m ready to strip off the top, unbolt the doors, and recapture a bit of the olden days is a rank understatement. I’ve been ready to do that pretty much since the day I sold the old Jeep, so it’s been a long time coming. And yes, before anyone asks, in all likelihood I’ll be the dumbass that has to wear a winter coat on the morning commute for the privilege of enjoying open tub driving on those first good warm spring afternoons. Mercifully I’ve never let fear of looking like a dufus stand in the way of doing what I wanted to do.

I was fortunate to get a few of my accessories early as Christmas presents or thanks to post-Christmas sales. I ordered a few more today – including a good set of bolt-on mirrors so I can stay on the right side of Johnny Law here in the Democratic People’s Republic of Maryland. Mostly it’s now a matter of waiting on the arrival of consistent weather to “summerize” my ride for the year.

There are still plenty of bits I want to add… a stereo capable of overpowering the wind noise without distorting everything to hell and back, some secure storage for those times when you can’t avoid leaving things behind, bigger tires and a touch of a lift to make it a proper mall crawler. Like most of my other lists, this one is just about endless… and for once that isn’t a complaint.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Storage options. Fifteen years later and Jeep still hasn’t designed a good place to stow a cell phone that’s both accessible and not prone to sending your device flying in a random direction when you hit a rough patch or tighten up in a turn. You’d really thinking that during those intervening years that kind of thing would have come up. I mean it’s not like people are toting around fewer electronic devices now than we did way back in the mists of time.

2. National polls. Can you please for the love of God stop citing national polls in talking about which candidate is up and which is down? National polls are worth less than the paper they’re printed on. Since we’re a federal republic consisting of 50 sovereign states, a district, and a handful of territories who are all responsible for holding their own elections, we don’t have a “national election” so much as we have 50+ smaller regional elections for national offices. Those are the results that matter. If you want a sense of who’s up or down, tell me what the breakdown of the states looks like. Otherwise I’ve got a solid recommendation for where you can stick your poll.

3. Kitten energy. It’s been a little more than eight years now since I’ve lived with a young critter in the house. The intervening years have left me with many pictures that remind me how utterly adorable they can be, but somehow my memory blocked out just how much energy they have… and the fact that they want to burn off all of it between midnight and 5AM. Even with two infinitely understanding dogs taking the brunt of it, the wake up calls as 12:30, 2:00, 3:15, and 4:15 are something of a struggle. It’s an awfully good thing the little bastards are so cute, because no one would tolerate them otherwise.

The rare bit of social interaction…

Honestly it had been so long since I’d gotten rid of my old Wrangler that I’d forgotten about the propensity of other Jeep drivers to wave to one another in passing. I know motorcyclists follow a similar protocol when passing each other and maybe there are other vehicle brands that do the same. I certainly never experienced it in my wide range of other vehicles. Drivers of Cavaliers, Corsicas, Grands Prix, Mustangs, and Tundras certainly don’t engage in this behavior. If I’m honest, I should be calling it the “Wrangler Wave,” since the Cherokee, Renegade, et al, don’t participate… but let’s be honest, when someone says Jeep it’s the round-eyed icon from the days of the world at war that everyone’s mind conjures up.

While being reminded of the “Jeep Wave,” I’ve also noticed a few trends in the last few weeks. Your most consistent group of wavers are the drivers of “old fashioned” two door Jeeps. It’s even more likely if they’re lifted or kitted out for the trail. The Unlimited 4-door drivers seem less likely to lift their fingers from the wheel. I have no idea if that’s circumstantial or if it has something to do with the type of people who buy hard riding, wind-noise and leak prone, impractical 2-door vehicles versus those who want the same experience but in the more suburban, practical 4-door variety. There are definitely “two-door people” and “four-dour people,” but we can leave that discussion for another day because I’m mostly focused at the moment on “Jeep people” in general, because someone willing to put up with the ride, the noise, the leaks, and the fuel economy that hasn’t budged since 1986 are a different breed altogether.

In any case, it’s real thing that people do… and it’s a rare bit of social interaction of which I cheerfully approve and engage in.

Now and then…

My first Jeep was a 2001 TJ model in firecracker red with a “spice” soft top (that’s tan to normal people). It came standard with plastic zip-down front windows, a few squares of carpet in the foot well, a 5-speed manual transmission, and an in-line 4-cylinder engine turning 150 horsepower. The only “upgrade” on that long ago Jeep was the factory installed air conditioner. She was profoundly underpowered from the day she rolled off the assembly line. The top leaked around the top left corner of the windshield. Everything rattled and it rode like a cinderblock. From old logging roads, to open fields, to mud holes, to snow drifts, to the beaches north of Corolla Light that old Jeep never once failed to go through anything I pointed its nose towards. It would beat the hell out of you for the privilege, but it was hands down more fun to drive than any other vehicle I’ve ever owned.

In what some might consider a misguided effort to recapture my early 20s, I find myself back in a Wrangler – my way of indefinitely extending the life of a pickup truck running towards 110,000 miles on the odometer. That’s the justification I used in my own head anyway. The truth is I’ve wanted another Jeep almost since the day I sold the last one. There’s just something about that wind-burnt, sun burned, ride that gets under your skin if you’re the right kind of personality.

If you were never around one of the old models, you’d be hard pressed to realize that the JK’s are quite a leap ahead from their predecessors. Hard doors and power windows, a top that can be dropped in segments, almost twice the old horsepower, plastic molding covering what use to be bare metal interiors. It’s downright civilized by comparison.

Fortunately it still has the aerodynamics of a brick. On the right road the suspension will still rattle your fillings. The soft top is still noisy as hell and the whole contraption still does some kind of strange pitch and yaw movement when taking corners faster than 20 miles an hour. It’s almost exactly what I want in a vehicle that nominally traces its lineage back to 1941 and the war to save Europe.

The Jeep is a throwback – and I love it for that.

Gone…

Surprisingly, it wasn’t seeing the Mustang sitting on the dealer’s lot that bothered me. True enough, it was a great car, but we never bonded the way the Jeep and I did. It sounds totally asinine, but I would actually drive out of my way in the mornings just to avoid seeing the Jeep on my way to work. I guess it’s sort of the same feeling as seeing the ex out with someone new. Theoretically, you know it’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean you want to see it. It’s funny the attachment you form with your vehicle, especially one that’s been around for a while. It must be a little bit like what the cavalry felt like when they handed over the reins to their horses in exchange for the levers of the early tanks. You know it’s a far superior bit of equipment in every way, but you can’t quite shake the nostalgia.