I'm not one to COMPLAIN, but being an observant Jew at a car magazine has its challenges. For one, there's one day every week, from sundown on Friday until one hour after sunset on Saturday, during which I do not drive, in honor of the Jewish Sabbath. Even if it's a really, really cool car. I'm also limited in where I go to eat: Michigan may still be the epicenter of the U.S. auto industry, but it's hardly a destination for kosher food.
You can thus imagine my dilemma this past summer when old college friend Max Greenberg told me about Sixth & Rye in Washington, D.C., a mobile kosher deli created by celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn and operated by the city's historic Sixth and I synagogue. I decide instantly that I will not rest until I've eaten there. The catch? The day of rest. The restaurant operates only on Fridays at lunchtime, mere hours before the onset of the Sabbath. Taking off work and going to D.C. for the weekend is out of the question, as I need almost all my vacation time for the yearly fusillade of Jewish holidays. (Passover, four days; Feast of Weeks, two days; Rosh Hashanah, two days; Yom Kippur, one day; Feast of Tabernacles, four days. Again, not that I'm complaining.) Having exceptional access to new cars and being paid to write stories about them is nice, but what about my access to juicy warm corned beef, zesty rye bread, and strong mustard? That's when it hits me. I have access to new cars, and I am paid to write stories about them. Why don't I write a feature story wherein I drive the 525 miles to our nation's capital on Friday, have my delicious lunch, and -- here's the tricky part -- attempt to drive back to Michigan before sunset? You'd want to read about that, right? Amazingly, my superiors go for this. I can even expense the corned beef sandwich!
My excitement infects editorial intern Greg Fink, who has traveled all the way from the University of Florida for the (unpaid) privilege of organizing our office library and putting together Ikea desks for the art staff. Greg is a fellow member of the Tribe of Abraham, but he seems less concerned with the rabbinical supervision of his lunch than with the opportunity to visit friends -- mostly female friends -- in the District. I'm happy to have a partner on this journey and attempt to explain how pressed for time we'll be. No use. He continues flipping through his phone's contact list, reading aloud the names of quarry that might be in town.
Well, I'll need a fast car. That shouldn't be too hard to find, but given the theme of this story, I have to keep in mind the sensitivities of a people with a long history of suffering and a renowned ability to hold a grudge. How could I enjoy a Ferrari 458 Italia, for instance, knowing that the Romans sacked Jerusalem in the year 70? To play it safe, I go for a brand whose kosher certification, so to speak, is unimpeachable: Cadillac. My own grandmother is on her third Cadillac. I even opt for her current car, a CTS. The only differences are that the model I procure is a silver wagon, whereas she drives around South Florida in a cherry red sedan. Also, I have a 556-hp, 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 and a stick shift.
Greg and I meet in front of the Automobile Magazine office at 1:08 a.m. on Friday, 19 hours and 57 minutes before sundown. Greg throws an overnight bag into the V wagon's nicely finished cargo hold. I've packed a cooler containing three loaves of braided challah bread, a bottle of wine, and a large pot of pasta with meat sauce -- provisions for a traditional Sabbath meal should we become stranded on Friday evening. I wrap my hands around the suedelike steering wheel and shove off into the night. As we merge onto the highway, the Cadillac's nav system says we will arrive at our destination at 9:23 a.m. That should give Greg time to visit friends and me time to park and get a few hours of sleep before we eat lunch and then head home. I'm further encouraged by the ability of the CTS's magnetorheological dampers to soak up the stretch of awful highway as we head south out of Michigan.
Crossing into Ohio, though, Greg starts to gripe -- kvetch, my grandmother would say -- about our chariot.
"I hate the way the shiny black center stack contrasts with the shiny dark wood trim," he says, further faulting the quality of the trim itself and expressing discomfort with the Recaro seats. I suspect that some of Greg's nitpicking has less to do with the car than with his growing awareness of the reality of our undertaking. And in Recaro's defense, it's really hard to make a performance seat that also works as a cot. Greg has a point, though -- the interior doesn't quite convey the specialness one expects from a $72,635 high-performance vehicle.
Specialness makes a roaring comeback as I downshift to third gear and lay into the throttle on a desolate stretch of highway. The 551 lb-ft of torque hits you ferociously. Only a select few of the cars I've driven shoot from 60 to 120 mph with such terrifying ease. None of the others was a station wagon. This may sound fun (it is fun), but it's also strategy. Before we left, I figured out that we'd need to average roughly 60 mph. That includes travel in the congested D.C. metro area, so I compensate under cover of darkness.
Unfortunately, my calculations do not account for how repeated full-throttle blasts will impact our cruising range. Around 4 a.m., fewer than 200 miles from our starting point, we need gas. I know these pit stops must be executed with military precision, so we discuss our strategy as we approach the rest area: Greg will refresh himself and buy a caffeinated drink while I pump the gas, then he'll get in the driver's seat and make the necessary adjustments as I run to buy ice to keep my meat pasta cool. I set the stopwatch on my phone and jump out of the car with what I imagine to be an impressive show of hustle. I top off the eighteen-gallon tank and...where's Greg? He's not outside, and when I wander inside the rest area and food court, I don't see him there, either.
I find him, at last, regarding a bay of vending machines with the vacant, faraway stare of a soldier returning from a night patrol on the Mekong Delta. "Ready to drive?" I ask. He says he is, after having just downed a Starbucks Doubleshot along with a McDonald's Egg McMuffin. "I've officially given up being kosher for the day," he proclaims. After some more delays -- my acceleration runs have spilled meat sauce on the carpeted cargo floor -- we finally get back on the road. The stopwatch reads 28 minutes and 18 seconds, and the wagon's onboard computer indicates 13.5 mpg. Not encouraging numbers, those.