The Element of surprise

’83 in stereo.

Keep on truckin’? Nope.

I had four of them once, up in Weirdcliffe, all Toyotas — two 1983 longbeds, a 1998 Tacoma and a 1978 Chinook pop-top camper.

But I gradually untrucked myself and now my only four-wheeler is the Fearsome Furster, a 2005 Subaru Forester XS with 134,000 miles on the odometer.

It’s a midget SUV, reliable, unremarkable, anonymous. Decent fuel economy. Easy to lose in a parking lot full of trucks. Hard to sleep in.

That’s why the Honda Element caught my eye, and kept it. It’s a car, it’s a truck, it’s an RV for people who don’t like RVs (even a 1978 Toyota Chinook pop-top).

And I almost bought one once. OK, twice.

I talk about this and other things on this week’s edition of Radio Free Dogpatch. A tip of the Mad Dog trucker’s cap goes out to Ursa Minor Vehicles and Ralph Spoilsport Motors, the world’s largest new used and used new automobile dealership, Ralph Spoilsport Motors, here in the City of Emphysema. I can’t wait to get away from it all.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with an Audio-Technica AT2035 microphone and a Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. I edited using Apple’s GarageBand on a 2014 MacBook Pro, adding audio acquired via Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack (no profit was taken in a casual approach to copyright). Speaking of which, that’s the late Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley saving some kids from winding up 35 years old, thrice divorced, and streaming “Saturday Night Live” in a van down by the river. The barking dog, speeding auto and background music were liberated from Apple’s iMovie audio library. The atomic wedgie is courtesy of cognitu perceptu at That car starting is the Fearsome Furster its own bad self; the radio is tuned to KUNM-FM and “Performance Today,” specifically “The Lark Ascending,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, as performed by Nurit Bar-Josef. And finally, “Ka-Ching” is performed by the one and only Herself.

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37 Responses to “The Element of surprise”

  1. Carl Duellman Says:

    very timely. i’m in the car shopping mode and the one requirement is ‘can i sleep in it’? the honda odyssey has my eye but they don’t come cheap and the trade in value of a 99 4runner with a blown head gasket is about zero.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I crunched the numbers. If I finagled the cost down to $10K (unlikely) it would be the equivalent of 66.6 motel rooms at $150 per night. For a guy who travels maybe once per annum. And who owns three tents.

      We see a lot of Odysseys around here. They make a pretty nice camper, too.

  2. khal spencer Says:

    Those Elements are really nice little rolling toasters. I borrowed my friend Kate’s Element once when the WRX was in the shop down in Fanta Se and it surprised me with how nicely it drove. Plus, with the low floor and doors, its easy to get dogs in or out or use as a camper. Its a shame that Honda quit making them as from what I hear, people who own them are a cult and tend to keep them.

    I’ve barely used the ’97 Tacoma since moving from Bombtown to Fanta Se. My former post-doc, who now deals with actinide fate and transport down at the Carlsbad lab, is planning on buying it as a funmobile. With 330,000 on the odometer, its still running great but I’ve got more vehicles than I really can justify. For the cost of maintenance and insurance, I can buy another bike. Ca-ching!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Definitely a cult following. They don’t even bother to post pix on the dealer website here, the things come in and go out so fast.

      The one downside, for me, at least, is visibility. The Element has a couple bad blind spots, and that’s an issue in a town where they apparently hand out free drivers’ licenses with every suitcase of Bud. It’s like “Death Race 2000” down here every day.

    • SAO' Says:

      Weird that they discontinued the Element but keep making the Ridgeline.

      Trucks and SUVs are such a weird market. 90% of both are just station wagons for people who think they’re too cool for station wagons.

      Grandpappy told me, never trust a thin chef, a politician whose lips are moving, or a man in a clean pickup truck. Always cracks me up to see the guy in the F350 hauling around a clipboard, laptop, and a travel mug of Dunkins.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I think the big thing was (a) Honda intended the Element for the Youngs, who shunned it (only the Olds bought it), and (2) they feared keeping it around would cannibalize sales of the CR-V, which seems a stretch.

      And then they come out with the HR-V, which is … which is … what? Beats me. A larval CR-V?

      • SAO' Says:

        The free market always gets it right. Just sometimes it might take 1,000 years to get there.

      • Herb from Michigan Says:

        I owned one of the first Eleemints in Michigan. Bad mistake settling for 2wd. That thing was flat out squirrelly in snow and rain. Even with snow tires. And it was severely underpowered and sluggish. Gas mileage nothing to brag about for sure.Yet, I would still be driving one if Honda had brought in the diesel version used for work in Japan. Mine had the tuff cladding on the body exactly where most metal takes the parking lot beatings. When I traded for the Ridgeline, the Ele was in great shape and for once I got a fair trade.
        The Ridge went 168k of hard miles, often towing trailers all over the Midwest before it sadly had to be put down under freakish circumstances.The AWD turbo CRV has filled in well enough and if I watch myself, it pulls 30mpg. And there is also a 2017 Odyssey in the stable so I really don’t miss having a pick-me-up.
        Why all the Honda’s after years of other rides? They run well, have good resale value but most importantly our Honda dealer is a gem.
        Sleeping inside a vehicle totally blows here in the mitten state. Unless you have window screens the skeeters will gitcha or the humidity if’n you close the windows.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I’ve carried landscape rock in the Furster. And during the extended moving process from Bibleburg to ’Burque I once got two bikes on the roof and four more inside. That ain’t bad for a midget SUV.

        Those Hondas really hold their value, especially the Odyssey. It’s better looking than the Toyota Sienna, too. That thing looks squatty-bodied and satchel-fannied to me.

  3. psobrien Says:

    I am a car salesperson’s dream. I can rationalize all kinds of reasons for a new vehicle, most of which are centered on a one or two imagined requirements, not the 99% of use it will actually get. First time I met Patrick, I drove up in a almost new 2015 Tacoma 4 door. He referred to it as “my manly truck.” They are bloated Americanized beasts now, not the Toyota pickups we used to know and love. The second time I got with him to ride, I drove up in a 2017 Rav4 LE, that I still have. He says, “my sister just bought one of those.” So much for my manly vehicles. Then I decided I needed a second car. So here comes a used 21011 Yaris SE followed by a 2017 Corolla iM. The bottom line is that I now watch about $450 a month, on two paid for vehicles, move into the depreciation bucket, with a black hole in the bottom, never to be seen again. If I was smart like Patrick, I would still have my 2008 Honda Element parked in the garage along with the used Yaris. Then I could sell the Element to Patrick. Here come the blatant plagiarism, I will never be smart.

  4. Dale Says:

    “Ralph Spoilsport Motors”, one of my favorites from the Firesign Theater. I am still driving my 2006 Scion Xb with about 168,000 miles on the OD. It’s the little car that is bigger on the inside than the outside.

  5. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    I got ’em all, pretty near. Surprise, surprise, right? And this is just the vinyl — I have CD and iTunes editions, too.

    I think we're all bozos on this bus.

    Meanwhile, speaking of comedy, I see Mickey “Mouse” Cohen is singing a merry melody. He thought he was Bugsy Siegel, and it turns out he wasn’t even Bugs Bunny.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      It was quite the show. I got a nasty cold and am stuck in the house on a gorgeous day. So, I watched the first hour before I couldn’t take it anymore.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      And we wonder why Jesus keeps not coming back. Would you?

      Meanwhile, the junipers are already making life a living hell around here. Snurk, honk, squeeeeee, etc.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      The junipers are raising hell down here as well. I suspect most of my allergies are indoor related, not outdoor. I do know that ragweed will whip my ass every time.
      The dumpster is on his way back from Hanoi. I heard that McCain left a really nice room there for donny. Too bad they couldn’t convict, I mean convince, him to stay for a few years.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I need to get a couple air filters for the joint. My man Matt Wiebe up in Fanta Se swears by them. His allergies are even worser than mine.

  6. Libby Says:

    Fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency. Car buying, right?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Nobody expects the Spanish Element!

      • Libby Says:

        I really thought you bought it!

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        The temptation is still there, Libby. But the Element is one of those things I might use to its full capabilities maybe twice a year. The rest of that year I’d be running errands around Albuquerque, with maniacs zooming around and about in its blind spots, dinging it in parking lots, and like that there.

        It’s kind of like the Rode Podcaster Pro. What a cool tool! How nice to have! But would I really use it? Mmmm, maybe. And maybe not.

        Here’s my go-to audio setup now. Mic, reflection filter, recorder, headphones, iPad Mini “teleprompter.” It’s the 2005 Subaru Forester XS of podcasting.

        The Radio Free Dogpatch studio

        • JD Dallager Says:

          Definitely not the base model. The hardwood “interior” is a real nice touch there, PO’G.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          That’s a great little desk. I can’t remember where I got it, but it’s convenient as all hell.

          If I replace the iPad Mini with my 11-inch MacBook Air, I can do a Skype or FaceTime interview and record each side of the conversation to its own track. I keep bugging Hal to join me but he’s up to his ass in alligators, editing for Phil Maffetone, raising his kid, and coaching track.

          • Pat O'Brien Says:

            Where’s your mixer?

          • Patrick O'Grady Says:

            The mixer, with a MacBook Pro, mic’ and phones, sits on an old drawing table just to the left of this setup. It’s really overkill for my little one-ring circus, but would be well suited to a Skype/FaceTime deal, or guests in the “studio.”

            I’m experimenting with a bunch of different setups. This podcast actually started on the iPad Pro with a Shure MV88 mic’, but I wasn’t getting the sound I wanted (operator error), so I moved back to Old Faithful — the Zoom H5 and AT2035. As usual, I was in something of a time crunch.

            I’ll have another go at the iPad setup once this week is in the rear-view. Way too much going on around El Rancho Pendejo lately.

        • Libby Says:

          Sweet, neat, and reet!

        • Libby Says:

          Love your setup. Ruthless efficiency, no?

  7. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    As a former car salesman I used to love guys like you guys. Perhaps that’s why I now relate to car and trucks about the same way as a washing machine? I decided long ago cars were Ferraris – everything else was just a transportation appliance. I can easily and cheaply rent one when I need it – kind of like a house or apartment. I’ll leave the owning and maintaining to others.

  8. khal spencer Says:

    On that note, we might be car shopping. Scene at Chez Spencer-Sachdeva yesterday.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yow. Drunk, texting or both?

      I nearly got done from behind on Wednesday. I was northbound in the right lane on Wyoming approaching Spain and saw a bus stopped just past the intersection, with a car behind the bus and no room for me behind that car.

      I was planning a right turn just past the bus stop, and not wanting to block the intersection, I stopped at the corner, though I had the green, because while blocking intersections is a popular New Mexican pasatiempo, I consider it nearly as stupid as flat roofs.

      This arsehole who thinks he’s Juan Manuel Fangio, only without the skill and reaction time, comes screeching to a stop behind me, leaning on the horn. These buttmunches are too busy texting, Facebooking and drinking to look any further down the road than the bumper they’re hugging right that second.

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        Reminds me of my first drive in Italy. I exit the Milan airport rental car lot and ease up onto the superstrada where there’s a stop sign just before you merge. Seems dumb, but I stop….and just about get rear-ended by the Italian behind me who knows that STOP sign really is more like a YIELD.
        Now it’s rare that I ever actually stop, even in the US of A.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        The Duke City is sucking all the joy out of driving for me. These people are all insane. A guy could get into three-four fistfights in traffic every day, and a gunfight or two, if that’s your idea of a good time.

        Why anyone buys a new car here is beyond me. Unless it’s to leave town in.

      • khal spencer Says:

        A witness said speeding. Probably inattention, too. Kinda hard to miss a car.

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