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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