The Town Service Station and its Consequences

It’s Spa Day for the CX-5 at the local boutique, which means I am ensconced in the upscale embrace of the recently remodeled showroom at the neighborhood Mazda emporium with comfy chairs, free drinks, WiFi, TV, and a scattering of literature on the coffee table to peruse.  Within the hour I will receive a text with attached video of the dealer tech performing a survey of my car’s systems, complete with commentary.  Its vital fluids will be changed and/or topped up, the brakes and tires checked, all done with a smile and cordiality with an eye to the inevitable customer survey that will soon follow asking me the rate the dealer interaction on a scale of one to ten.

Better than Red’s soda machine…

This affable experience stands in stark contrast to the way things used to be, when the typical dealer or local garage regarded its customers with either ambivalent toleration or barely concealed contempt . . . or was that impression simply a reflection of childhood experience?  When I was a kid the only garage in town was Red’s, and it was pretty much what you would imagine should you conjure up the archetypal ’50’s/’60’s service station, only more remote and a few degrees more shabby.  Those were the days when you judged the quality of an auto mechanic by the amount of grease under his fingernails and on his overalls, with extra points for one of those billed caps with a gasoline brand logo on it.

This is the new Red’s Garage, built circa 1970. Missing the old guy bench.

The proprietor in question easily met those standards, and I never had any particular issue with Red, a WWII vet, who, as I found later, most likely suffered from PTSD.  He had a black mustache and dark-framed glasses and was only mildly cranky if you happened to catch him on a day when he’d broken a Snap-On while trying to remove the heads of a ’48 Ford.  Otherwise, we were warned as kids not to bother him, that advice usually coming at the same time we were sent with a five gallon can to get a little gas to tide the tractor over until the tanker truck came to replenish the tank in the barn.  Imagine having to fill up a gas can for a ten year old when you are up to your elbows in the sump of a flathead Ford.  (All this occurred well before the advent of self-service at the gas pump . . . in those days you would never think to touch the nozzle on your own).

At that time Red didn’t have any official help, but there was always a crew of old guys sitting either in the garage office or out on a bench by the gas pumps, shooting the breeze, and therein lay the problem.  No one wanted to run the geezer gauntlet, as they always had something amusing (as they deemed it) to say about your person.  If you were lucky you might get a soda out of the cooler without attracting their gaze, but who wanted to run the risk?  And if Red was busy in the back with some pre-war DeSoto and he’d deputized one of the hangers-on to take care of the paperwork, then you knew you were in for a hazing.  Instant trauma. Then down the road a few years later, when I was actually old enough to drive, I fell under the baleful eye of many a mechanic who would look me up and down to determine whether I was personally responsible for the dire state of the vehicle he was forced to nurse back from near-death.

And so I may have a complex when it comes to garages and proving my worthiness–or at least some acquaintance with common mechanical vocabulary.  In my mind I’m still having to face down the gang at Red’s.  Today, of course, the game has changed entirely.  Everyone calls me, ‘sir,’ and treats me with deference formerly reserved for heads of state, MD’s, and judges, which only makes me wonder what their game is . . .


Back to the present day:  the CX5 in question is actually a few miles premature for its service as a planned snowshoeing trip to Mt. Rainier was abandoned due to unforeseen circumstances, namely a parasite picked up in Hawaii that performed wholesale modifications to my gastrointestinal tract, about which the less said, the better.  Suffice to say the disease and cure ran neck and neck so far as corporal consequences go.  I will say that Giardia, as Samuel Johnson said of the gallows, does concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Laboring under the delusion that waterborne beasties were a freshwater-only feature, I snorkeled with some abandon only to find myself carrying home a little friend(s) that only chose to manifest itself on Christmas Day, a phenomenon which is no doubt some little known and referenced corollary of Murphy’s Law.  I find myself on the mend, thankfully, grateful that the amoeba indicated was not of the flesh-eating variety.  Also, while on the subject, the following week a shark attack occurred only scant yards away from our preferred snorkeling site, resulting in, I’m very sad to say, a fatality.  The same week we were in Maui, over on the Big Island, Kīlauea erupted, so following these events one can only presume that the gods–in this case, Pele, are angry.  Note is taken, and I vow not to to disturb the Isles for some time to come.

For one reason or another we had managed to find ourselves in said Islands for five consecutive years, chiefly as a means to escape the gloom of a Pacific Northwest winter.  Given the distance from airport to condo, not to mention the desire to explore, a rental car on the Islands is deemed a necessity.  Given some of our likely itineraries, an SUV generally seems in order, even though the temptation for a convertible always looms large, and before Covid they were dirt cheap.  Alas, practicality (and an imminent trip to the Kahului Costco for porters and supplies) has always prevented us from taking such a leap.  And so, in chronological order, we ended up with, (1). a vast Ford Explorer, seating eight; (2). a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport that looked like it had been washed in gasoline; (3). a Jeep Cherokee (FWD only, I regret to note); (4). a Mazda CX-30 (zoom-zoom, etc.); and (5). defying SUV tradition, a Nissan Altima four door sedan complete with CVT boat anchor.

Thar she blows!

Renting a car in the islands has become somewhat easier over the years, at least on Maui, as they opened a dedicated rental car complex adjacent to the airport in 2020.  This streamlines the process of both picking up and dropping off a car; on our recent trip it took all of ten minutes after exiting the airport to select a car, load the luggage, and be on our way.  Usually, we are allowed some choice in vehicles:  this trip we had around twenty sedans to choose from (a fraught few days of changes and economic considerations had limited us to actual sedans).  Unfortunately, ninety-five percent of them were the aforementioned Nissans, the sole exception being and a rather tired and battered Dodge Charger.  We lingered for a few minutes before the Dodge until I realized that it would take several minutes to document all its dings and scratches so we moved on to a relatively unscathed late-model Altima, which I observed came with such features as heated seats and steering wheel (given the 90 degree temps, I am unable to report on their effectiveness).  Interestingly enough, our son was dealt a Maxima, but neither of us noticed the difference until some days later when its V-6 grunt became apparent and we put two and two together.

Santa Fe Sport not washed separately; one size smaller than the rest of the line.

Choosing the best of the lot for exploration of a tropical paradise would most likely result in a battle between the Jeep and the Mazda, but the actual vehicle the lottery dealt us for the Road to Hana was the Hyundai, which did the job with little drama, although something more wieldy would have been appreciated.  The Ford, the Hyundai and the Jeep all ended up at the summit of Haleakala, a drive less challenging than the infamous Road to Hana, but still demanding enough due to the ten thousand feet of elevation gain.  Of these, the Jeep was most suited, and on that occasion we actually had two Cherokees and were able to leave one down the road and use the other to reach the summit.  Four of us then hiked rim to rim through Haleakala’s crater, a process that took the better part of a twelve hour day and was one of the epic treks of my lifetime.

Jeep by way of Torino.

The Ford mentioned above was simply too large and aside from the novelty of the power folding rear seat and extended seating capacity had little to recommend it, even though it was a serviceable vehicle that likely suits the needs and tastes of someone.  On narrow tropical roads, the Ford seemed like a cat in a shoe box.  The Hyundai, an earlier iteration Santa Fe, seemed very used up for its indicated mileage, and although mechanically it appeared sound and never presented us with the least bit of trouble, it did give me pause.

The looker of the bunch.

The Jeep was right-sized for the task of exploration:  we drove it all around the West Maui peninsula, which rivaled the Road to Hana for twistiness and narrowness, although it seemed much less traveled, and thus a little less anxiety inducing, but connecting to Apple Car Play proved to be more opaque than with any of the other vehicles.  The Mazda, of course, was in its own class, as per custom, but I found it not up to the standard of our CX-5 as far as qualities of interior materials as it apparently was a base model with few amenities and sparse furnishings.  Given the price similarities and same basic powertrain, I didn’t find enough singular virtues to recommend it over it’s larger stablemate unless reduced size and parking handiness are primary considerations.  As for the Nissan, it seemed several steps up from those I have tried in the recent past, and although it wasn’t my cup of tea I can understand its appeal.  Unfortunately, the installed CVT does its job in familiar droning fashion, and sucks the joy right out of the car.

Not a bad car…too bad about the CVT.

The whole topic of rental cars in Hawaii is fraught with difficult questions, one of which is, on paper, the doubling of prices over the last two years.  It would seem that when the pandemic hit and tourism in the Islands was laid to waste, the rental car companies responded by selling off their fleets.  This presented a problem once the tourists, as if on cue, re-appeared; at one point savvy visitors were reduced to renting U-Haul vans and trucks in order to have a serviceable vehicle.  The predictable response on the part of the rental car establishments was to jack the prices into the stratosphere.  When I first checked rates last winter, they had doubled from a few months previous.  Patiently, I bided my time, waiting for prices to drop, which eventually they did.  Things seemed to have stabilized in the meantime, as well as fleet numbers as I could detect little sign of car shortages in December.

The larger issues remain ecological:  the weeks we’ve spent in the Islands have shifted my view dramatically, especially after conversations with Native Hawaiians.  Long story short, the influx of tourists has resulted in widespread trouble, environmentally speaking, and of course the rental car fleets lead the charge.  The wider issue of land expropriation aside, the fragile tropical biosystem cannot long support the intrusion of such a mass audience.  Restricting those numbers, however, is a double-edged sword, as the Island economy has come to be based on tourism, which became readily apparent during the Covid high water mark.  We were some of the few who were brave and/or foolish enough to negotiate the red tape in 2020.  Deserted beaches and extremely light traffic were a revelation, but so were the closed restaurants and deserted shops.  The locals were clearly hurting.

Looking down at the clouds from Haleakala.

If there is a solution to this conundrum, it isn’t apparent to me, or likely even to those better-versed and more responsible for the actual affairs of state.  I do know that we will give the Islands a wide berth for a time, as difficult as that decision might be when we are faced with the bleak midwinter of Dismal Niche, Warshington (sic).


Which brings us back full circle to our comfortable Mazda showroom.  Looking about me, I find cars on display include the predicted CX-5 and CX-50, as well as two 3 sedans and a Soul Red MX-5 Miata, with a prominent ‘sold’ sign in the window.  In the background is the simmering expectation of an onslaught of new models in the coming months.  A CX-60 PHEV is already on sale in Europe and other locales, but apparently it isn’t intended for the USA.  Instead, we get the CX-70 and the next level up CX-90, replacing the CX-9, which are based on the same new north-south architecture as the CX-60.   Yes, Mazda is going to a rear wheel drive platform.  Coinciding with the introduction of the new chassis is a totally new I-6, so it seems the Hiroshima crew has been drinking from the BMW trough.

Oh, my Soul (Red)!

I have mixed feelings about the new direction, mostly because I worry about being priced out of the market, but also because BMW has lost the plot and I fear that Mazda could ultimately do the same.  I’ve been taking a closer look at the CX-50, which is essentially in the same class as the CX-5, but butched-up to appear more off-roadish.  Adjustments have been made to the drivetrain, ostensibly to enhance capabilities when something other than a mall parking lot appears on the horizon.  This is all well and good and I might even be attracted to the result as off-road capability is on my list of essentials, but there is a fly in the ointment.  The latest models, the new 3, CX-30, and CX-50 have adopted a solid rear beam axle in lieu of the previous multi-link independent set-up.  This seems to work well enough on paved roads, at least, but it tastes like a cost-cutting measure rather having been chosen for its functional benefits.  This seems like a regressive move when Mazda is making a push up-market into BMW territory.

Double decker Mazda history primer.

Also, the CX-50, while obviously of the same styling school as the CX-5, has resorted to current fashion trends to some degree by adding faux scoops on front and rear as well as matte black inserts on the hood on at least one model.  Mazda has in the past decade distinguished itself by the purity of its design aesthetic, separating itself from the baroque excesses of its Japanese and (sometimes) European brethren.  Now is not the time to dilute that excellence by hewing to standard styling cliches.  And, on that note, neither is it a good plan to cheap out on the engineering by bolting on a less sophisticated suspension system.

Why do I want this?

In other, more encouraging Mazda news is the notice that the MX-30 R-EV will debut in Brussels this week.  This is a new iteration of the much maligned MX-30 with its extremely limited 100 mile range that has sold in minuscule numbers in California for the past year or so.  This new version has a rotary range extender, a small Wankel engine that isn’t attached to the drive wheels but whose sole purpose is to top up the batteries.  This is good news for two reason, first, because it would indicate that the rotary isn’t as dead as prophesied, and second, because it addresses the inherent Achilles heel of the wee MX-30, it’s abbreviated range.  Details are scarce at the moment, but range is said to double.  Unfortunately, 200 miles is still very much the short end of the stick in the mileage sweepstakes.  We will wait for further details, but can come away with good cheer knowing that the Mazda has not kicked the rotary to the side of the road.

MX-30 EV–suicide doors!

And so, that’s all the news from Hiroshima by way of Tapioca Beach.  Fortunately, the CX-5 returned from the spotless service center with a clean bill of health:  no leaks, no overly worn items, tires and brakes are still in the green, and the battery as well.  Stock Yokohamas are holding up like champs, although they may be eventually replaced with something that has a more aggressive tread design.  The interior still looks new, and ditto the exterior.  No competitor released in the interim has proved to be overly tempting.  Only the new VW’s and Hyundai/Kia roommates have resulted in a backward glance.

Life sized Mazda prototype poster…impressive.

Attending todays’s service at la Chapelle aux Mazda has been an agreeable task, and I take heart from photo displays of the most recent Mazda racing prototype, together with an actual second generation RX-7 and an original Rotary Pickup (!).  Apparently, the automaker isn’t neglecting its roots even in its elegant new upmarket showrooms, which seems encouraging.  It strikes me that this year may be crucial for Mazda as it introduces that first PHEV in the U.S., together with the new RWD platform, inline six, and, possibly, the rotary/electric MX-30 (rotary) spin of the roulette wheel.  By this time next year we may have a better sense whether or not the push into BMW territory is tenable, or only a fool’s errand.