On June 28, a middle manager at Highner-Coburn, a manufacturer of valves and o-ring seals, went into the parking lot. He locked himself in his late-model Takuro Phantom, at around 10:45 that morning.

Around noon, the fire department responded to a call about a car fire. They arrived to find the Takuro an inferno, utterly consuming the middle manager and three other nearby cars. In the news the following day, it was assumed to be an accident. But an investigation found traces of accelerant, and a reciept for acetone was found in the man’s desk.

It was, apparently, a grisly form of suicide.

And that would have been all, a gruesome sideline for a slow news day. And then on July 4–Independence Day–a woman who worked for a midtown DMV got into her Powell sedan with a can of hairspray and a lighter. The Powell took about half an hour to burn to cinders, and eyewitnesses report that the victim sat placidly behind the wheel as she, and her car, were immolated.

Between the first incident on June 28 and the final one on September 23, a total of 38 people were burned up in their cars. They represented a wide range of occupations, men and women, and all races. But they were predominantly middle-aged, white-collar workers, albeit ones without histories of depression or suicidal thoughts. The only commonality, if it can be called that, was that all of the cars were older models and tended to be from manufacturers that either no longer existed or no longer sold cars in the USA, like Takura or Powell.

The authorities were only able to rescue one victim before they were killed: Gabriel Hernandez, a 41-year-old assistant manager at OfficeSmart. Hernandez was unable to speak due to severe damage to his lungs due to smoke inhalation, and he lingered for three months before dying in November–the last official victim of the Summer of Burning Cars.

Police attempted to interview him using a letter board all the same. In response to their questions, Hernandez spelled out a single word: SPARK.

It’s still unknown what he meant.

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In which we deflate motor vehicle naming practices:

Compacts
Imports – Imported compacts know that they are cheap pieces of crap and attempt to cloud the fact by evoking a quirky sense of civic pride (Civic, Fit, Rio, Cooper) or number it up in an attempt to wear a tissue-paper-thin muscle car disguise (Fiat 500).

Domestics – American compacts try to disguise their cheapness by claiming to be “fun.” How much more fun could you get than a Fiesta? How much more spontaneous could you be than a Spark?

Sedans
Imports – Import sedans all have made up names that make it clear a foreign speaker was playing fast and loose with English phonemes. Corolla. Camry. Integra. All gibberish of the worst sort, yet evoking–especially to foreign ears–the kind of sporty reliability people presumably are looking for in sedans.

Domestics – Domestic sedans tend to have names ported over from grand old cars of old: Impala, New Yorker, Mark X. No one would ever mistake one of the mostly-plastic trinkets on the road today for a genuine lead sled of old, but the names desperately try to make that connection. Original names tend to be meaningful English words with no relation whatsoever to motoring: Cobalt, Taurus, Cavalier, Focus.

Sport Utility Vehicles
Imports – Imports know they are not American, that the closest they have ever been to a cowboy is when TCM was playing classic John Wayne in their Guangzhou assembly plant. So, like an insecure gang member taking on a violent thug name, these foreigners take on hyper-masculine monickers to try and out-American the Americans (or, in some cases, out-Australian the Australians): Tuscon, Outback, Tundra.

Domestics – American SUVs know that they are as American as apple pie and need not revel in the fact. Their names tend to evoke the American landscape without painting themselves red-white-blue and singing the national anthem: Explorer, Suburban, Denali.

Trucks
Imports – As insecure as imports are about their SUVs, they are even moreso about their trucks. So their names are even more inflated and ostentatiously Western, like Hombre or Colt.

Domestics – American trucks don’t have to prove anything to anybody. They therefore rely on raw numbers and the occasional adjective to convey their worth. The F150 evokes a parts catalog more than anything, but it doesn’t need to. S-10 is the same. Only the more insecure lines feel the need to adapt SUV-like names (Silverado, Dakota, Ranger).

Vans
Imports – Anxious to avoid the stigma of their vans being seen as utilitarian or square, importers prefer names like Odyssey or EuroVan to try and seem more hip than they really are.

Domestics – Suffering from the same fear as importers, domestic manufacturers use the same trick with names like Voyager, Frontier, and Safari. The only difference is that they tend to be very American as opposed the the more classical and international selection favored by their competitors.

Sports Cars
Imports – Import makes know they can’t compete with Americans on car names, to they prefer to fall back on raw numbers as evocative of performance. How many foreign sports cars are named 300, after all, trying desperately to evoke the 300 horsepower that they all wish they had?

Domestics – As a great man once said, American sports cars are all about the vicious animal names: Viper, Mustang, Road Runner. Corvettes, as armed warships, and Thunderbirds, as mythical vicious animals, qualify too. They are not above made-up or self-important names, though, as evinced by the Camaro and the AMX.

Electrics
Imports – Import brands name their electric cars just like they do their sedans, with dartboard English phonemes and an occasional Latin fig leaf like Prius.

Domestics – Americans can’t help but use words related to electricity for electric vehicles, like Volt. Tesla takes this to an extreme with the entire company given a name evocative of electricity for no other reason. This has not yet reached its logical and absurd conclusion, as natural gas vehicles like the Chevrolet Methane and the Ford Phosgene have yet to take off.

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When people are angry, they tend to overlook small details.

The other day, for instance, I was so angry at unannounced road construction making me late for work that I blitzed into the first available spot that I saw without looking, even though it was across campus from where I usually park.

My car was only there for an hour before I got a polite but firm phone call asking me to move it. It had a big fat ticket pasted to the windshield by the downpour I’d had to walk through, too. Ordinarily I’d fight the ticket, or at least try to weasel out of it, but that wasn’t going to work this time.

I’d parked in a space reserved for parking enforcement, after all.

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The FossilCo convenience store (a division of GesteCo) was one of the larger ones in town, full of people at all hours. Mostly people passing through town on I-313 or students at the university across the way buying food to satiate their stoner cravings. I expected to find the usual half-dozen customers inside, shakily recovering from the massive blast of sound I had inadvertently released from GesteCo (as an “experiment”). I was stunned to speechlessness instead.

The interior of the FossilCo convenience store was painted a very bright, cheery yellow. Was shocking in and of itself? No. But it accented the shocking sights I saw within.

Someone was tearing through the stores of snack foods near the window, ceaselessly shoving them down a maw that was already discolored with food additives and leftovers. They tore at the packaging with their teeth, shoveling the quasi-food matter in with both hands despite the pile of wrappers that had already accumulated about their ankles and a noticeable distension of their stomach. Another person was engaged in the same, pounding at an oven at the counter to get the pizza within. Both of them looked terribly…well, jaundiced, would probably be the best word. There was a definite sallow and yellow cast to their skin that all but matched the FossilCo walls.

A bang from behind the counter startled me; I looked over to see someone pounding at the cash register with the same manic energy. It gave way as I watched, and the sallow customer threw themselves on the scattered quarters and dollar bills, shrieking in delight as they shoved low-value coinage into their pockets. The register couldn’t have had more than $20 total in it, but they were howling like they’d won the lottery. Just visible beyond them were a pair of customers, one store employee and one long-haul trucker, both making out furiously. The level of PDA was shocking; I had to turn away as the bile rose in my throat.

Customers seemed to have simply sat down to busy themselves with staring at the imitation linoleum floor, too. They gaped with blank looks on their faces as the others pirouetted about them in their madness. I saw one come up and violently rip a purse from one of their hands, meeting no resistance, only to discard it a moment later in favor of trying to pry a bag of Pork Cracklins from one of the frenzied eaters. When they did so, the customer immediately lost all interest in the item and let it fall, fixing their jaundiced gaze on something else one of their insane fellows held.

Needless to say, I wasn’t going in.

“Were you looking at my car?” I jumped at the sound. A customer who had been outside filling up had come up behind me, beaming from his bizarrely discolored face. “Yes, I can see why. She’s a beaut, best vehicle this site of the state capitol.”

I looked at the rustbucket she was indicating. “Ah…sure?”

“Only the best for thebesttodriveIalwayssayandI’mthebest!” her babbling boasting increased to such a pitch that the words were slurred together.

But it was the other driver who had been filling up that posed the real problem. He charged at me, screaming like a banshee and wielding a tire iron in once jaundiced hand.

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The car came screeching into Manuel’s garage pockmarked with bullet holes and leaking fluid.

“Hey!” he cried. “Hey, you can’t drive in here like that! I’m not that kind of mechanic!”

The driver’s side door flew open to reveal a woman cradling a man’s head on her lap. He had clearly been shot several times and was not breathing.

“H-holy shit!” Manual gasped.

“You’ve got to help us…please…” the woman wheezed.

“I’ll…I’ll call 911,” Manuel said, fumbling for his cell.

“No time, no time!” the woman said. “I need you to do it yourself. Fix him yourself.”

“What? I don’t know any first aid…I don’t even know CPR!”

The woman grasped at her companion’s chest…and opened it, revealing a whirring array of planetary gears and pistons not unlike a sophisticated Northstar V8. “Fix him…please…”

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One of the toughest things about taking to the open road is that there’s often no way to tell who is a safe and responsible driver and who is a dangerous loon with a 2-ton hunk of steel at their beck and call. As such, I’ve prepared the following guide for public service purposes. Make sure you stay well clear of…

Cars Obviously Bought For Teenagers By Their Parents
You see these a lot in college towns–Mommy and Daddy couldn’t possibly send little Krissy Mae to school without a car, so they bought her a Chevy Silverado with a custom pink pain job. Or maybe Daddy, thinking back to the rustbucket he had to drive before making his bones at the firm, buys his son Brayden his own hot rod red or mustard yellow sports car. The key here isn’t just that teenagers are bad drivers; it’s that teens who are privileged and never had to deal with the consequences of their actions are such bad drivers they make the rest of their species look safe. A young kid in a car they obviously couldn’t afford is the sign to watch for, but custom paint jobs are a good shortcut. All those teen-driven pink cars on the road have a Daddy’s Girl behind the wheel, since they aren’t old enough to have earned it through Mary Kay.

Cars With More Bumper Stickers Than Bumper
People who like to inflict their views on random passersby are not always shy about inflicting other things on them as well. Like vehicular manslaughter. This one cuts across all political spectrums and belief systems. People with hippie leftist communist Maoist stickers about saving the extinct Tasmanian tiger and whatnot are statistically speaking more likely to be high while driving, which results in impairment as well as questionable music choices. And the right-wing stickers, the ones with gun-toting eagles bursting through Confederate flags…well, they’re probably drunk, which is the rough equivalent of being stoned in terms of impaired judgement. And they’re heavily armed, which means perceived roadside slights might be met with deadly force, where the lefties can only hurl their bong at you.

Cars With Dealer Stickers
Either the person is test driving or they just bought the dang thing. Even if they didn’t total their last ride, they still have no idea how much brake pressure there is between “hard stop” and “gentle slowing.”

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[Sad music plays. SPOKESMAN looks mournfully at the camera.]

SPOKESMAN: I thought it was safe. I mean, I did it behind the wheel and all my friends did. But then came the accident.

[SPOKESMAN holds up a used kleenex.]

SPOKEMAN: This is the booger I was picking when I got in the crash that changed my life. My legs had to be amputated below the butt, there’s a steel rod where my spine used to be, and I sent a bus full of Roman Catholic nuns into the gulch off Sharkwater Bay.

NARRATOR: Drivers picking their noses are 1 billion times more likely to get in an automobile accident, and drivers looking for someplace inconspicuous to wipe boogers are 1 trillion times more likely to cause murder and mayhem on a Michael Bay scale.

SPOKESMAN: Pull off the road if you have to, or just wait. No booger is worth mass slaughter and alien leg syndrome.

[Camera zooms in on used kleenex.]

NARRATOR: Your life is worth more than a bucket of warn snot. Don’t pick and drive.

This post is parody, but the campaign against texting and driving is a good thing and deserves your support.

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“And why should I care?”

“It’s an Oswald, man. An Oswald OS-1. They only made like 100 of these cars.”

“Then it can’t have been that good.”

“It was great! Ahead of its time in just about everything. Look: power windows, power locks, power steering…all before that stuff was standard or in some cases even invented by the Big Three.”

“So why’d it fail?”

“Why does anything that’s ahead of its time fail? The world wasn’t ready and no one wanted to buy one.”

“Mmm.”

“Come on, you’ve got to let me buy it.”

“Look, the junkyard regulations don’t allow it, okay?”

“But you’ve got to! You can’t just consign what might be the very last Oswald to the crusher!”

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This post is part of the January 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “the number 13”.

They were there almost every time Dr. Rajab Sizdah drove by: an overweight couple, shabbily dressed, behind the wheel of an old van parked on the corner of 13th Street and Cambridge Drive. Dr. Sizdah, in his immaculate Mercedes, couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose at the piles of used tissues and fast food wrappers accumulated on their dash.

The fact that the pair was parked in a narrow street just before the entrance to the doctor’s gated community was another annoyance. Sizdah would have to inch by them every time, and if there was another car coming he’d have to stop, often in mid-turn, to let them by. He’d stare daggers at every inch of the filthy old Fiat Tredici van when that happened, from the peeling roof paint to the THR 1313 license plate, even as the pockmarked occupants looked past him as if they were staking out the veterinarian across the street.

When he complained about it to his receptionist at the ophthalmology clinic, or the doorman at the community gate, Dr. Sizdah would always become irate when his listener fixated on the unluckiness of a car with a 13 license plate parked on 13th Street. Sizdah didn’t have the patience for such superstitious nonsense; his family had left Persia in 1980 to escape that sort of ignorance. But on the few times he’d been irritated enough to report the slovenly Tredici for illegal parking, the police could never locate it.

On the second Sunday in January, Dr. Sizdah was returning late from an emergency surgery when, much to his annoyance, the van and its unsavory occupants were in their usual position. The doctor idly reflected that they must have a serious grudge against the veterinarian before he began his turn; too late he noticed that there was a Lincoln coming the other way, forcing him to once again stop halfway out of his lane and glare at the obstructive Fiat while the other car lazily glided by.

Dr. Sizdah didn’t see the black Silverado coming around the bend ahead of him, and it’s safe to say that the Silverado didn’t see him.

After the collision, when the doctor was lying bloodied on the pavement surrounded by broken glass, he was surprised to see the ugly, fat man and woman leaning their greasy heads over him instead of the hoped-for paramedics.

“We’ve been waiting for you for a long time,” the man said.

“A very long time,” added the woman. They took Dr. Sizdah by the shoulders and began to drag him away.

The good doctor was never seen again.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
SRHowen
areteus
bmadsen
pyrosama
Angyl78
gell214
randi.lee
ConnieBDowell
writingismypassion
Aranenvo
MsLaylaCakes
Amanda R

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The accident victim was by the side of the road, dazed, when the office found him.

“Are you the one who was calling?”

“Yes. Yes, officer, yes.” The victim was clearly disoriented, possibly in shock.

“Calm down, calm down. Are you all right?”

“I…I think so,” said the victim, his breath misting the late fall air.

Close inspection showed a possible broken leg and a bit of foamy blood near the mouth. “No, you took a good hit, son,” said the officer. “Stay calm while we wait for help to get here. Did you get a look at what did it?”

“No, not really,” the victim said. “It came out of nowhere, so fast, there wasn’t time to do anything…”

The officer looked down the road. The signs were all there, telltale marks of a deer-car collision. “Did you see where it ended up?”

Wincing, the victim seemed to think deeply. “I think…I think it ran away.”

From down the road the officer could hear his compatriots arriving. He left the delirious victim for a moment to speak to them.

“Is it another…?” one began.

“Yes,” the officer said. “Another collision. Car came out of nowhere and hit the poor boy.”

“Well, we’ll see what we can do for him,” the officers of the Deer Police EMS Unit said. “But if the car comes back for us, we’ll have to scatter into the woods or freeze so it can’t see us.”

The responding officer nodded wearily, his horns dipping with his head. “Rules of the game,” he sighed. “Rules of the game.