Crossing the Country in a Lotus Elise – A Story From My Book

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve written a book. I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell are you? And the answer is: that guy who got a Cadillac CTS-V station wagon for the sole purpose of a) reviewing it, and b) getting yelled at for not buying a stick shift.

If you’re among the crew who’s upset about my transmission choice, don’t worry. The book is called Plays With Cars (purchasing details here), and it includes lots of stories about cars, many of which have stick shifts (the cars, not the stories). Among the items in the book:

- Driving a Lotus Elise without air conditioning across the country in the middle of July
- Visiting the Tail of the Dragon in a Porsche and evading the police using a pontoon boat
- Taking my Lotus to an autocross event, and regretting it
- Bringing my E63 AMG wagon on a mountain run with a Carrera GT
- Buying a Cadillac from someone who was hours away from being deported

It also includes reviews of various cars I’ve owned, from a Porsche 911 Turbo to a 2012 Jetta and a first-generation Prius. And when was the last time you read a review of the first-generation Prius? (Answer: hopefully never.)

Crossing the Country in a Lotus Elise – A Story From My Book

If that doesn’t sell you, I plan to post a few selections from the book over the next few weeks. Maybe that will do the trick. Or maybe you’ll just remember me as that asshole with the automatic Cadillac and the book with the yellow cover.

Either way: today’s selection is from Chapter 11, entitled “Elise Across America,” about the time I bought a Lotus Elise in San Francisco and drove it home to Atlanta. Enjoy!

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I arrived at Willow Springs for the tail end of the driver’s meeting. Like all driver meetings at amateur events, it was led by a beer-bellied 60-year-old who probably raced at the same circuit as Colin Chapman, just on different days, a fact which he undoubtedly still brags about to people he meets at gas stations. He had all the drivers gathered around and was screaming things like:

Man: WHICH ONE OF YOU THINKS HE KNOWS WHEN IT’S APPROPRIATE TO PASS?Drivers [Collectively]: Uh…
Man: I THINK COLIN CHAPMAN PUT IT BEST IN 1969…

This lasted roughly 40 minutes. Not the driver’s meeting, I mean this one particular anecdote about Colin Chapman.

That gave me ample time to take the Lotus on a parade lap, which involved keeping to a restricted speed limit until I was over a hill and away from the rotund 60-year-old. Then I could open the car up as if I were racing. I’m glad I did this, because it taught me the Lotus actually was a fun car, and not just a tremendously uncomfortable highway cruiser. I couldn’t wait to get home to Atlanta, where I would enjoy it all the time, except at night.

After the parade lap, I left Dan and began the journey towards Las Vegas, where I would meet my mom. Mom had agreed to accompany me from Vegas to Denver, my birthplace, where she and Dad enjoy a life that’s totally free of thoughts like: No, I can’t take that route home. There’s a dip in the road. Needless to say, Mom would be in for a wake-up call.

I got my own wake-up call when I left Willow Springs and quickly discovered that driving through the Mojave Desert in July is slightly less comfortable than trying to change a light bulb when it’s on. Fortunately, the Touring Package that gifted me the annoying roof also included air-conditioning.

But there was a problem: no matter what setting I pushed, nothing came out of the vents. And I don’t mean nothing like: “You’re in a Lotus so it probably just sucks.” I mean nothing as in it was similar to walking up to a possum and saying: “Please, breathe on me.” Except, of course, I wasn’t going to get bit and infected with some sort of incurable possum virus that would render me incapable of leading a normal life, but highly skilled at partaking in favorite possum activities, such as darting into the road right before a car drives by.

Panicked, I Googled the problem on my phone. Nothing relevant came up. I soon realized it didn’t matter why the air wasn’t working. It just wasn’t. That meant, like thousands of settlers in Conestoga wagons over a century before me, I would soon cross the entire Mojave Desert without climate control. And despite the lingering promise of gold and silver in the west, even they wouldn’t have attempted the trip in the middle of July.

Near Barstow, I pulled over at a gas station and flopped out of the Lotus like a seal climbing onto the shore. I use this comparison, by the way, because the amount of sweat that accompanied me out of the Lotus was similar to water on a harbor seal emerging from San Francisco Bay. Also, because I could no longer feel my legs.

With Vegas still two hours away, I prepared for the rest of my drive with more gas and a climate control system that would make Lewis and Clark proud: one bottle of water to drink, and two to pour on myself. Mom was really in for a wake-up call.

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@DougDeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com and writes for The Truth About Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.