As we make our way out of the sinuous roads of the Hill Country and settle in on the highway to Houston, some of the Elise's ergonomic idiosyncrasies begin to emerge. For instance, the dead pedal is only about half as wide as my size-13 hoof, and the left half of my foot is asleep. I keep switching my left arm from the unpadded chassis sill to my lap, neither of which is a terribly comfortable place to leave it for miles on end. And the lack of cruise control means that my right foot stays jammed against the floor at a constant angle, inciting a dull, constant ache in my heel-I'm wearing Pumas with very little padding, because my running shoes are slightly wider than the space allotted to the gas pedal.
Still, even on the highway, I'm wearing a grin more often than not. The Lotus squirts through gaps in traffic like LeBron James driving the lane, and acceleration in sixth gear is strong despite the peaky motor. The Elise's go-to gear, however, is third, and occasionally I drop it down to put some serious emphasis on a pass. The Toyota four's two-stage cams go into banshee power mode at about 6000 rpm, so first and second gears give only a split-second taste of the engine's full juice before it's time to upshift. In fourth, you're going too fast. In third, however, the hit of power comes on at 60 mph or so, and the Elise feels as if it does 60 to 90 mph faster than it does 0 to 30.
The Elise tops out in the neighborhood of 150 mph, and I can vouch that it officially does at least 85 mph. Just before we get to Houston, a state trooper heading in the other direction suddenly barrels across the median and pulls out behind us, lights ablaze. We're keeping pace with minivans and semis in a 70-mph zone, but I have a feeling he's not after anything wearing mud flaps. Unfortunately, I'm right.
What are the chances a Texas trooper would give us a warning? I put myself in his cowboy hat, and the conclusion isn't promising. Two guys in a British sports car wearing Red Sox and Yankees hats. Probably support gay marriage and don't like Toby Keith. Possibly vegetarians. And definitely getting a ticket.
The cop hands me my first speeding ticket in nine years. I console myself with the thought that my streak was broken with a worthy car, something like getting an STD from a supermodel. But I should have heeded the warning emblazoned on many a T-shirt and never have messed with Texas.
A quilting conference in Houston means the city is overrun with drunken grandmas, so we're exiled to a hotel on the fringes of town. Besides tipsy quilters, Houston has the sharpest division between good neighborhood and bad neighborhood that I've ever seen. In a one-block span, we see both a trendy sushi restaurant with a yellow Ferrari 360 Modena parked out front and a house straight out of The 'Burbs, with boarded-up windows and rats running around on the roof. Socioeconomic schism, thy name is Houston.
The next day, I'm happy to get out of Texas and head for the bayou of Louisiana. Route 82 runs along the coast, and traffic doesn't move much slower than it does on the interstate, which is important, because I'm in a hurry to get to our destination, New Orleans. Technically, New Orleans isn't really on the way from London to Rome, but after spending a day with the cops and quilters of Texas, we're ready for some Big Easy-style debauchery.
Crawling down Bourbon Street, I have ample time to consider the Elise's exhaust note. It's got a nice, bassy burble and it certainly doesn't sound like anything made by Toyota. But it doesn't sound exotic. If I owned this car, I'd put in more aggressive cams and crank the idle up to about 2000 rpm, so it would play a frenetic staccato tune at all times. And I'd rip out the passenger seat and replace it with another fuel tank so you wouldn't have to stop every ten minutes. And I'd airbrush a portrait of a ninja on the hood, but that's, like, stage three.