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Posts Tagged ‘Bad Transportation’

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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The year was 1942. The United States was at war with Germany once again (the last time didn’t take), and an innovative new form of aircraft was desperately needed to help transport troops and materials to the British Isles. Howard Hughes, a dashing young man who liked to wear goggles and who had financed such pictures as The Outlaw and Hell’s Angels, proposed the HK-1, a massive wooden airplane that could land on the water and which would be capable of carrying up to 750 armed troops at once to their destination.

Critics were naturally skeptical. Many believed that an airplane of such size could not make it off the ground, and even if it did, all it would take was a few termites to render the whole thing inoperable. They nicknamed it the “Spruce Goose”, much to Howard Hughes dismay, and the fact that it was actually constructed out of laminated birchwood. There were also numerous concerns about the ever-escalating cost for the aircraft, and he would have to testify before the Senate War Investigating Committee in order to convince them to let him finish the project.

The Spruce Goose would have one, and only one flight. It started off at Long Beach, lifting up into the air and traveling for about a mile over the Pacific Ocean before landing back down again. The plane had managed to make it a full 70 feet into the air, which was admittedly quite a bit more than most people thought it was capable of. Howard Hughes had proved himself right, and that the huge vehicle did work, but by then it was something of a moot point. It was 1947, and the war was long over.

The gigantic wooden airplane would be consigned to a warehouse for several years, until it was purchased by the California Aero Club. They tried to market it as a tourist attraction, but people weren’t interested, and it ended up moving from museum to museum in search of someone who might actually want the thing. Howard Hughes, meanwhile, slowly descended into total insanity over the next few decades and begin collecting jars of his own urine while wearing tissue boxes on his feet. The critics, apparently, truly had taken their toll.

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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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