I Took A Trip Down to L'America
20 December 2017
... to trade some drinks for a pint of gold. Apparently I wasn't very good at discerning lyrics when I was a kid, but this song formed in my mind what the hell America was really about. Could it be true? Could L'America change my luck? Could it teach me how to... find myself?
I'm betting there is not a corner on this earth that has not been influenced by film, or music, or the politics of America. Such is its influence that people from all corners of the globe see fit to comment on its behaviour as if they had some stake it.
The biggest problem is, with 300,000,000 souls, you are bound to have some ...controversial spokespersons, whether you want them or not. That which is preached loudest from the tower, defines those who dwell within, and L'Americas greatest export is preaching. Even worse, most of the stories the rest of the world gets about America, if it's not about picking fights with Kim Jong Un, are the kind of news stories that are played after the weather. For example, elevator footage of Jay-Z getting his ass kicked by his sister in law, or, some kid almost getting hit by a car in the local quicky-mart by a run-away weiner mobile replica.
Accordingly, America wears a kind of stigma: You're noisy, opinionated, rude, pushy, self righteous, crass, deluded and ignorant of anything outside your own border.
All of the above is a stereotype of course, and Australia has one too. Ours is slightly less insulting than the American one, but includes more beers and homicidal animals.
I'm happy to say that stereotypes only last up until the point you test them. More often than not, your first attempt at proof will fail.
Similarly, when I picked up the 2017 Buick Lacrosse premium with my mum [mom] and my son, I had a stereotype in my head which failed the moment I tested it.
I've seen plenty of press shots of course (which I instantly disliked), but face to face the front of the Lacrosse has a very cohesive presence. Everything looks like you would expect. Tastefully proportioned and jeweled active headlamps, straddle a grille adorned with a well presented tri-colour [color] badge. The chrome touches are restrained but present, as are the fog lamps and a fantastic Forest Metallic finish. That paint!
In profile the Lacrosse appears elongated thanks to a pronounced nose, but panning around reveals that classical American coke bottle shape, once again displaying its wares without having to shout about it. The big wheels were familiar, matching the design of the top spec Astra, though the Buick danced on 20 inch hoops. 245/40R20 Bridgestone Potenzas to be precise. From a visual standpoint, again the Lacrosse managed to hit the extremity without appearing gauche. Only the portholes left me a little cold, but I understand the demands of tradition (another trait of America that will play out later).
Overall the Lacrosse comes across lean presentation with a good quality feel. I'll leave a question mark over the tail lights though. They appear unfinished. In this spec, in that colour, as a truck driving tweeker mentioned as he bounced past, "that's a full bodied automobile".
The trunk had no trouble taking luggage for two adults and one kid. If I had bought the whole family, I'm betting a SUV (or gasp, a wagon) would have been more appropriate. Bonus points for the storage under the centre console and a big centre bin.
Nonetheless, I jumped in the wrong [left] hand side and sunk into the beige leather drivers seat. It may have been the fact that We'd just flown 14 hours from Brisbane to LAX, but the seat felt goldilocks good. Presentation of the rest of the interior was intuitive, as was operation of the MyLink system. The woody trim looked pretty grandpa spec but not enough to annoy.
A few adjustments of the all electric seat had me in the best spot I could achieve, but there was the imposition of the A-pillar. Maybe it was simply because normally I'm closer to the other A-pillar, but generally speaking, the Lacrosse has quite a swept back roof line. In time, my concern faded away into an after thought.
There was no such complaints from my passengers. Mum has comfortable enough and my son had already passed out in the capacious rear seat. This was, after all, the first time he'd flown through time and arrived three hours earlier than he departed. He also only slept for 20 minutes.
The 1 hour 20 minute trip from LAX to our hotel in Anaheim was uneventful, that is, if you weren't part of the accident that created the crawling though well mannered jam of traffic.
The funny thing about LA is just how flat it is, and conversely how awful the roads are. Seriously, some parts of the highways in and around LA were so rough, in Australia we would use them as warnings that you are coming to an intersection and needed to stop. The frequency of expansion joints was no doubt accentuated by the 20 inch wheels and low profile rubber which translated to quite a bit of road noise. It's not quite as bad as some of Australias coarse chip bitumen, but even with the active dampers set to comfort, I was reaching for the stereo...
The true test would come when we finally headed towards Arizona and the biggest (literally and figuratively) icon that America has to offer: the Grand Canyon. Our only timeline was to be back in LA to catch a cruise ship in eight days time. That meant we just put Grand Canyon Village into the GPS and hit go. I'll leave the details of the first four days in LA to a story later told, but let me just say that we did both Disneyland Parks in two days.
Blasting east into the desert was like shedding a saccharine cocoon.
Just as we left the outskirts, we touched base with some other icons, such as an hour in Walmart, but it was the hills and landscape that truly made me feel like I was on an American road trip. Well that and the over-sized tourist trap concrete dinosaur towering over a defunct roadside restaurant, not to mention the dishwater that America swears is coffee. But the rawness of the terrain was something new.
It was becoming clear that Kingman would be our first stop, so when reception would allow, mum jumped onto the Buicks internal 4G Wifi network with her ipad to search for hotels. I hadn't mentioned wifi to my son yet as he was happy scary passing motorists on the highway with his Walmart approved halloween mask.
As we hit some way point on the GPS and started heading North, it was clear we were becoming more secluded. We paused and got out to stretch our legs at an intersection somewhere that I don't quite recall, and only one solitary vehicle passed us by. A sense of liberation washed over me and the fairy floss [cotton candy] encased deep-fried sensation of Disneyland had passed.
I had miles of open road ahead of me, and a willing 310 HP V6 American sedan seemingly built exactly for this purpose.
As with driving in any new country, your capacity for risk analysis doesn't change. Judging of speed, handling and exploitation of what you have under the bonnet (and the right foot) all meet with the same driver. What does change is law enforcement. In Australia, if you are caught by the Police exceeding the speed limit by say 10 miles an hour, that's a couple of hundred dollars down the toilet. If you are caught doing that more than 4 times in 5 years, that's your license gone. Meanwhile in the desert, everyone (noting the infrequency we actually encountered people) is doing 80-90 mph, where it's posted at ~65.
We sat on 70 when mum was awake and between 80-90... when she wasn't. However, her slumber (and therefore my comfort) has disturbed when we wafted across a country sweeper with something less than absolute confidence. With the Lacrosse active dampers set to comfort, the sedan doesn't give the me the feedback I am used to. Neither the tiller, nor the seat really keep you up to date, and as with any vehicle where comfort is the priority, driver inputs can often require more corrections.
I dialled up the dampers to sport, which allowed more road noise in to accompany the increased confidence. It mustn't have been too much of an imposition, because mum went back to sleep, and I went back to chasing the now fading horizon.
Once again the environment evolved as the sun went down. Surrounding hills changed colours and shapes until they become silhouettes and blended into a single mass, contrasting against the now properly lit country night sky. Dead ahead, the projector headlights are on the straight and narrow illuminating afar, but still not enough to see the end of the road. To either side, you can see the pale blue of the star light on the plant pocked desert sand. Straight up, through the panoramic sunroof, is a depth of stars that warrants inspection. But I am on a mission... dinner. So it's right foot pushed a little harder. The Lacrosse is flying just a little above cruising speed. I get the sense that this is where it does it's best work.
Long Term Relationship
The next day we travelled along route 66 and ran into some awfully tacky tourism. Route 66 is an icon on its own, though I doubt many realise [realize] the reality of it until they arrive. It's a long and at times winding road, which in a land yacht from 1959 would be a pretty taxing affair. Folks must have arrived at their destination in need of sustenance. Cracking the lid off a Coke bottle would truly have been quite a relief. In a modern car like the Lacrosse, motorists need to lured in by overt signage and attribution to days gone by. Mostly it was overdone and some towns were more desperate than others. There is the danger of lost romance, but you just need to remind yourself, it's about the road, not the the never ending line of shot glasses that are technically the same as the ones you see in the next town, just with a different name on them.
I needed encouragement to pull over. In all honesty I probably could have driven 75% more each day than we did. It was more to do with passenger comfort (read: boredom) which defined where we bedded each night, until we hit the Grand Canyon.
What an amazing sight.....whelp, get back in the car. Let's do some more touring.
Okay it didn't quite pan out that way, but I think you are getting my point. I never tired of the Lacrosse. In fact as my familiarity grew , the more drawn I became. If the Grand Canyon wasn't so grand, we probably would have only stayed for the afternoon, such was my eagerness to get back behind the wheel. We actually came back the next day, then stopped in at the West Rim on the way to Vegas. (again, see more of this in a later story)
In the end I spent 10 days with the Lacrosse and 21 days in just that little south west corner of the US. What did I learn? Y'all like to say y'all, but more than that, y'all have a clear expectation about how everything should be, then execute the **** out of that thing until it's bigger than anyone else could possibly imagine or sustain. The same goes for the adherence to societal conventions. Crossing the street needs to be performed in accordance with the counter that says how long you can take, lest you experience the wrath of thy horn. There are burgers everywhere and franchises are distributed like health clinics: one on every corner. And they all basically make the same thing.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as you are looking for something that's already on the menu. My mum asked for a cup of tea at Universal Studios and the server had to call for assistance!
Australia is on a similar tangent, but with less resources, we end up weeding offerings down to the lowest common denominator. The Lacrosse inadvertently is the personification of this concept. It is executed as well as a mid-large size V6 Buick sedan could be expected to be executed. It dots all the 'i's and crosses all the 't's, achieving standards but not pushing any of them. It's a solid car that wont set the world on fire.
Ultimately though,I measure the success of a product by its ability to enable the driver to achieve their objective, irrespective of whether that objective is daily commuting or transiting the South West corner of a desert.
The Lacrosse kicked all the goals I aimed it at, with a well mannered growl under the boot, and a comfortable suite to relax in during the LA crawl. It drank a little more than a Turbo 4 or a hybrid, sitting around 8.7 L/100kms [27USMPG] but it tickled my fancy for normally aspirated conveyance.
It's not the kind of car to move markets, but it is the type of car to attract traditionalists. And it was the type of car which showed me that sticking to the script allows you enough time to... find yourself, on the remote highways of America. Despite the sedan market rapidly getting crushed by the #SUVKULT, the Lacrosse was the perfect weapon for the job.
Its clean execution of what a US highway road tripper should be, is just part of the reason why I already want to go back.
P.S. Big thanks to Buick and Michael Accardi for sorting out a little piece of America to come with us on our holiday.