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Archive for the ‘Bad Transportation’ Category

Hummer
The Hummer stretch limousine is what happens when you take something that is already a symbol of conspicuous consumption (the Hummer) and multiply it by a factor of ten thousand.

It’s massive. It’s armored. It has a full bar and satellite TV inside.

This might make it sound like a good form of transportation, but the Hummer stretch limousine is anything but. It’s widely understood that large cars are used by men to compensate for certain physical… deficiencies, if you know what I mean, wink wink, nudge nudge, so the person who owns this vehicle must truly be lacking in that department. That, and have $260,000 to spare.

There’s also the small problem of gas consumption. Normal hummers already get absolutely horrible mileage, and when you increase the length of that vehicle by four city blocks, you basically need a portable gas station to drive alongside you in order to keep the tank filled. Rest assured that it’s all worth it, though, when you drive down the street and everyone sees who totally awesome you are, not for a moment thinking you’re a complete tool who sideswipes everyone when you try to make a right turn.

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pinto
There were lots of tiny cars to be found on the streets of American cities during the 1970’s, but the Ford Pinto is probably the most notable. This was not due to its body design; it was fairly pedestrian, with unibody styles and simple bench seats. Not exactly something to take your date to the prom with. The engine was four-cylinder, and most Pintos had only two-doors, though a three-door hatchback was available in certain areas. Oh, and the car possessed a minor defect which caused the gas tank to violently explode if a rear-end collision occurred.

Ford was supposedly aware of this flaw (as indicated by a secret memo which circulated throughout the company), but decided that it would be cheaper to pay off the inevitable lawsuits rather then spend a whopping $11 repair bill on each car. Considering this was the cost of a pretty good meal at Mel’s in those days, it was entirely understandable. Not so sympathetic were the families of the victims, who decided to sue Ford for their culpability. Most of the cases were settled out of court, but several of the lawsuits resulted in multi-million dollar awards.

In 1977, the United States government finally instituted Standard 301, a special rear end provision which stated that cars now had to be designed so they didn’t blow up in a fiery inferno should someone accidentally lean against the back bumper. As a result, Ford Pintos that were built over the next three years each had a one pound plastic baffle (don’t ask) placed on the gas tanks. This allowed them to pass safety tests, but the damage was already done. In the public’s mind, the vehicles were deathtraps, and they would eventually be discontinued a few years later due to poor sales.

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One of the earliest forms of air travel was the zeppelin. These gigantic football-shaped airships possessed a metallic skeleton which allowed them to be built at enormous sizes, and were filled with hydrogen, the most common of elements. They could be used for passenger transport (this was, in fact, their primary use), but they had military applications as well, such as aerial bombardment and reconnaissance. Best of all, they were completely 100% safe. At least, that was the prevailing wisdom until the Hindenburg disaster.

You see, it turns out that hydrogen is flammable. Really flammable. Even more flammable than a bunch of dried kindling wrapped in old newspapers and doused in twenty gallons of gasoline. This basic scientific fact apparently eluded the original designers, who pumped more than seven million cubic feet of the gas into the ill-fated balloon. They then invited the world’s most rich and finest to travel on board, seemingly oblivious to the ticking time bomb that the floating zeppelin represented.

The disaster occurred on May 6, 1937. The Hindenburg had voyaged all the way from Frankfurt to Lakefurst, and was preparing to land at the local Naval station. One witness described seeing the upper fabric flutter, which suggests a gas leak, while another noticed numerous few arcs of static electricity moving along the side. It would seem that the proprietors had neglected to confiscate all shoes with rubber soles before starting their long journey across the Atlantic. The result was a fiery inferno in which thirty-six people perished.

Herbert Morrison, a radio announcer, was there to announce the Hindenburg’s landing. While normally a cool-headed fellow, the sight of the tragic conflagration caused his mind to snap, prompting one of the most famous broadcasts of all time. Despite common belief, his report was not aired live, and did not get released until the following day. His impassioned response struck a chord with the nation, shattering people’s faith in the safety of zeppelins. Within a year, their function as transport had come to an abrupt halt, and they would eventually be relegated to floating over the Superbowl to advertise shoe sales. Oh, the humanity.

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Whispers started to emerge during the spring of 2001 about a revolutionary new mode of transportation that was going to bring the automotive industry to its knees. Codenamed “IT”, the actual product was a bit of a mystery, maybe it was a hoverbike, or a jetpack, but investors were assured that it was destined to utterly smash the competition. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said that “IT” was as big as the personal computer. We were going to have to rethink cities!

Six months later, the Segway was revealed to the public. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out to be a two-wheel ambulation device with gyroscopic sensors that allowed you to ride while standing up, and spin around really fast if you wanted to. They cost around five and six thousand dollars, approximately the price of a used car, but in spite of the low price the company would only sell a few thousand vehicles over the next few months. The designers had overlooked one crucial fact – it looked stupid.

Even worse, people who rode Segways looked really stupid. Pedestrians pointed and laughed whenever they drove by on the street. Women left their husbands of twenty years after learning that they had purchased one. Fourth graders regularly beat up the riders for their lunch money. It was bad.

Despite their inherently mockable appearance, you can still find “IT” in several cities across the world today. You can usually spot the owner as the gawky person in the crowd wearing socks with sandals (see previous entry). A few police departments even have a Segway division, with officers who ride upon them and chase after criminals as long as they don’t run faster than a brisque jog. They may not be the wave of the future, but as long as bad taste exists, they’re here to stay.

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