Banger Rallies Explained

Often I’m asked what is this all about.  And I find I struggle for the words to sum it up.  So I invite you instead to read the recounted tale of one automotive journalist and his experience on a banger rally.

Article by Brett Berk

Photos by Ben Lamberton

 

You’re Are Here: BA/BE Rally

 

It’s 7:30 p.m. and broad daylight on “Night 0” of the BA/BE Rally, but the party is already raging in the Staten Island Hotel parking lot, and each team seems to have brought a theme drink that somehow coordinates with their vehicle.  The two Brits in the black K.I.T.T. replica (Shite Rider) have a cooler full of Newcastle Brown Ale.  The blond Ken and Barbie couple in the Fiero (En Fuego)

fierorack up blue shots of something they call Flaming Antifreeze, which they ignite before pounding.  The M.I.L.F.-y suburban ladies in the giant Cadillac (Team AWOL) pour cocktails from aluminum shakers that reside in their purses at all times, even while driving.  And the band of aging Alabama frat boys are clustered near a keg tap that protrudes from the rear taillight of their short bus (North American Drinking Society: NADS) playing a drinking game that involves a four foot high tree stump, six-inch galvanized nails, a ring of participants, and the throwing of a claw hammer.  Two Canadian boys from the golf-ball bedecked Honda (Team Rowdy) hover nearby.  “Usually when you tell people about something crazy you’re doing, they say, Oh yeah.  When I was young, I did that too,” one says, opening another Labatt’s.  “When I tell folks about this rally, they just look at me and say, What the hell?  Why would you want to do something like that?  And what’s it for?”

What’s it for, indeed.   While the premise of the BA/BE Rally is quite clear—purchase a vehicle that costs under $500, and then attempt to drive it from New York City to New Orleans (Big Apple to Big Easy: BA/BE) over five days—its root purpose is much more evasive.  Variants of, “It’s a challenge,” is the most frequent answer, a response that screams of understatement for vehicles in which tape, paint, and expanding insulation foam form structural elements.  The opportunity to redeem the moribund American auto industry also came up; there was even a special category created this year for American Iron, and it was quite popular, prompting former Rally champ Jim Thwaite (MisfitToys Racing) to note, “No car will run shittier for longer than a shitty American car.”  Other core incentives include: the excuse to purchase a longed-for but wholly impractical vehicle, the opportunity to spend a week discussing arcane car facts with other fanatics, the camaraderie of trial-by-fire events, the pride of constructing a personal mobile parade float, the $1500 grand prize, insanity.  Something that’s missing from this list: rivalry.  “Sure, some people really want to win,” Justin Clements, the event’s British organizer said,  “But because the cars are just dreadful—they’re literally failing apart along the way—in order that no one dies, it’s about everyone helping everyone else out.”  Another veteran participant explained, “It’s less like a contest, and more like a big fucked-up family vacation.”

vacation

 

So how do you find a $500 car?  A quick Craigslist search reveals hundreds in every market, from every year and brand.  But for this rally, not just any heap will do.  The BA/BErs are a self-selected group of gear-heads with a near autistic knowledge of automotive ephemera.  (One participant lectured for literally ten minutes about the wheels options available on Honda Odyssey minivans.)  And here, more than in almost any locale—besides perhaps the lot of an L.A. talent agency—your car is you.  So not only is there the challenge of finding the precise obscure vehicle that perfectly reflects your personal ethos, there’s the additional desire to garner an insider’s nod from your cohorts by choosing to drive cross-country in the car everyone knows has a reputation for seizing or catching fire.

Additionally, since teams tend to return each year, there’s the drive to attain, in their vehicular choices, a constantly higher (or lower?) bar.  Some teams try to cover off on crappy brands (Plymouth Horizon to Plymouth Volare), others on impractical body styles (rusty van to rusty sub-compact to rusty convertible).  Many veteran teams actually pass the tedium of the drive trying to come up with the ideal vehicle for next year’s run, a car with such incontrovertibly poor build quality, underperforming parts, and rust prone body panels, that all the other rallyists will bow in worship.  Of course, finding a vehicle like this is akin to locating a mythical being, hence it’s nickname: a Unicorn.  (As in, “A Dodge Dynasty would rule.  But my true Unicorn is a Caravan Turbo 4-speed.”)

olds

Compounding these issues is the need to plan in advance.  Aside from the fact that nearly everyone on the Rally holds a full-time job (not surprisingly, lots of engineers and I.T. guys) and thus requires a load of weekends to get their beaters above rolling deathtrap condition, unexpected market vagaries can emerge.  “Scrap metal prices were really high last fall,” three-time Rally runner Jim Wakemen said from the driver’s seat of his 1973 Lincoln Mark IV (Two More Misfits).

connie  “Which meant that junkyards were paying $400 for non-running piles, driving up prices.  Plus, gas was so expensive that it scared lots of teams off big cars, which tend to be cheaper.”  Jim Thwaite, a four-time participant, noted another wrinkle.  “I have A.D.D. when it comes to cars.  So if I buy a car for the Rally too early, I’ll end up selling it and getting something else.” He pointed at his flat-black, 1969 Oldsmobile convertible, which had a top made of duct tape, and seats covered by cheap Mexican blankets.  “I bought and sold two cars before this one.”  And then there’s the issue of other teams.  It’s not that they compete over specific vehicles, but within the Rally’s very active online forum, there are other forms of exerting pressure.  “People sometimes post Craigslist links to the message board,” Jesse Congdon (MisfitToys Racing) explained.  “But unless you’re posting it for a specific person—someone you know who’s, like, looking for that particular car, and you’re, like, I found one—the first response will usually be, Pussy. Buy it yourself!

Finally, there’s the problem of showing up with too “nice” a beater.   While most teams actively pursue the decrepit, others luck into sweetheart deals.  “Our neighbor had really passed this car through his family—from mother to daughter, to granddaughter, and back again,” said Joe Fillip of his clean-looking 1990 Nissan Maxima (Squadra Idiota).

maxima “By the time I got to him it had been anchored in his driveway for years, so $500 was like a gift.”  But this kind of good fortune can raise the ire of other participants.  “That’s not a $500 car,” Danny Friedman (Powered by Pabst) said to James and Sue Green of their 1991 BMW (TeamGreen).  Having been given a major once over by James—who’s the Automotive Preparation Manager of a Nashville car museum—the Bimmer indeed looked suspiciously good.  But though the Greens described their handiwork, and even offered to show a bill of sale, Friedman stood firm.  “I understand it cost that much, but it’s not a $500 car in the context of this event.”  When Danny walked away, the Greens leaned in.  “Let’s keep the fact that we have working A.C. on the D.L.”

bmw

 

Though how things don’t work is the major focus of the Rally, there’s actually a proscribed method for how each of the event’s five days is meant to run.  Every morning, the teams congregate in the parking lot of the motel in which they’ve all stayed.  Leader Justin Clements, holds up his megaphone and outlines the day’s route, and reminds everyone of the BA/BE mantras:  “This is a rally not a race,” and, “There is no need.  No need for speed.”  His partner Karin Ransdell then sounds an air horn and hands out that day’s challenge sheets—kept shrouded in secrecy until that point—and the cars grumble out onto the road.

Since this isn’t a race, but a 1500-mile scavenger hunt, earning points by completing the photo-based challenges is the key objective.  These challenges range from straightforward tasks, like locating and taking pictures of obscure objects (a hot air balloon, a Ferrari), to being given obscured pictures of straightforward objects (21 mailboxes on a rural road) and tasked with locating the originals.  The challenges can be prurient: snapping photos of a cracked windshield spidered out from a “head plant”, or State Troopers pulled over on traffic stops.  Or they can simply be havoc-wreakingly hilarious, like having to dress your team up like astronauts, visit the smallest town you can find, and pose with local residents in front of City Hall.

Of course, since the route goes mainly through rural areas, and the South, any of these tasks can end up becoming borderline dangerous.  Teams were chased away from the cracked windshields of pick-up trucks by their equally cracked owners.  Teams were chased away from mailboxes by terrorist-fearing local cops.  And teams were threatened by the cops themselves for taking their pictures.  “It’s against the law to photograph a police officer,” a swaggering New Jersey patrolman told the two Brits who made up the duo Shite Rider, enervating team member Rob Bambridge. “It was a bit of a brown pants moment,” he said.  Not wanting to risk deportation, or the loss of his camera, he abided.  “That very well put us out of the running for the win, points-wise.”

shite

Not that the scoring system is all that transparent.  As noted above, points are not awarded for speed of completion, but for meeting and documenting the requisite tasks.  However, the numerical value assigned to each of these missions isn’t included in the instructions—or anywhere else.  It’s determined by the Rally leaders in their hotel room each night, using a process that’s equal parts alchemy, algorithm, and alcohol.  One veteran participant explained.  “Justin likes to keep as many teams feeling like they’re in the running as possible, and this requires some…flexibility during the tabulations.”  Not that folks seem to care; being too competitive isn’t “BA/BE”.  And even if they did, they lacked an outlet for their ambition: no scores were even posted until the third night.

While all teams agree that the challenges break up the monotony of the daily drives, there are two schools of thought on engaging with them.  One group—roughly a third of the fifty teams—seem serious about attempting every task.  These folks entertain hopes of winning, looking to score high and take home the kitty.  The other group is more or less along for the ride.  They’ll do fun or interesting aspects of the challenges, so long as they don’t require too much effort.  If the former group is predatory, like a wolf, very purposefully stalking their prey, the latter is more opportunistic in its feeding, snapping up whatever happens to wander by, like a gator.

As if these formal challenges weren’t sufficient, some teams conspired to create their own.  The guys in Frankenstein’s Range Rover (British Rust)—one SUV assembled from three rotted shells—attempted to test their vehicle’s legendary off-road capabilities in a National Park, earned a blowout, and nearly plummeted of a cliff. Worse, when they finally limped back roadside to change the tire, they assumed the typical BA/BE posture—beer in one hand, tool in the other—and were set upon by Rangers, enforcing the open container law.  Fortunately, it was determined that the Park began on the road’s opposite side. The local Sheriff pointed at the three drinking team members.  “You, you, and you,” he commanded.  “Don’t drive.”

The guys in the short bus (N.A.D.S.) were more intentional in crafting their extra-credit problems.  In addition to their quest to keep a constant buzz on, they sponsored daily wagers, betting against their own team members’ ability to perform tasks like riding all day atop the aforementioned “party stump”, or spending 24 hours costumed in a floral print dress.  This latter stake drew some unwanted attention when their vehicle broke down just past the Alabama line.  The team was clustered outside the bus when the cops, fire department, and the state Welcome Center manager arrived.  “An old woman come inside,” the manager of the rest area announced, “saying, There’s a bunch of hippies down in the highway, and their bus is on fire.”  No part of this was true.  But while the offers of assistance were appreciated, the boys were anxious for the officials to leave.  “They made us spill out our beers,” one team member complained.  “And I worried they would search the bus.”  Concern over the inquiry skills of Alabama highway workers turned out to be unfounded.  When another team pitted at a nearby rest area later that day, they consulted the local map.  Instead of their location being pinpointed by the usual official red arrow, it was hand-labeled with a piece of masking tape.  In childish lettering, it read, “you’re are here.”

shortbus

 

When checking in for the Rally, participants have to sign a waiver releasing the organizers from responsibility for any mishaps. This is wise, as failure in all its forms is not only an expectation in this event, it’s very nearly a goal.  And while its achievement is worn as a badge, its effects can be both deleterious and lingering.

The cars were the source of most of the disasters.  Before even leaving the parking lot on Day 1, Jim and Jeff Wakemen’s green Lincoln blew up its muffler.  (The fact that this resulted from an effort to “shoot flames” from the tailpipe is irrelevant.)  Barely two miles out of Staten Island, Ben Lamberton and Krikor Panossian were clipped by a Honda and found their truck (Manwall)

manwallfacing north on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike.  A clogged fuel line landed the Misfits Olds convertible in the breakdown lane minutes later.  And just ahead, a dud thermostat gave a tan station wagon (99 Problems but a Babe Ain’t One of Them) crippling hot flashes.

This was minor compared to what ensued. The ‘96 Volvo (Powered by Pabst) stopped in for one tire in Virginia, and found catastrophic failure in all four.  The ‘82 El Camino burned through its wheel bearings, requiring emergency surgery in a Tennessee parking lot. The ‘71 Matador (Hucklebucks) blew two head gaskets, sending its riders hunting for spares in a North Carolina redneck’s backyard.  And the ‘92 Dodge Stratus (Preteen Spirit) discharged its driveshaft in the driveway of an Alabama bar, torquing its front wheel out like the victim of a bad gymnastics dismount.

But more troubling than major calamities were these bottom-feeders’ chronic issues: the things that were always wrong and getting worse:  The under-hood heat spewed by Tim Hansen’s ‘82 Volvo (Economy Superstar) that caused it to consume spark plug wires every 80 miles.  The unhealthy appetite Felix Folster’s ’86 Audi (Unintended Acceleration) had for alternator belts, which it chewed through with the alacrity of a teething pit-bull puppy.  The dangerous levels of emissions gases that seeped through the spongy floor of Emery Risdall and Tucker Stewart’s ’81 VW (Ginger Kids), pushing them to purchase dual-element respirator masks, like those worn by Terminix workers, or WWI soldiers.

zipties

Even worse was the regular pitting these problems required, which led to scrutiny of the vehicle’s other lurking gremlins.  “Every time you stop to fix something, you notice something else that’s wrong,” Felix said from within the hood of his German menace. “It’s one step forward, two steps back.”  Greg Thibeaux from the ‘78 Plymouth Volare (Mopar F-Body Phanatics) had another diagnosis.  “So many of us are techies and engineers, we’re all into fixing.  Which often ends up just making things worse.”

And these were just the vehicular issues these teams confronted.  Since these cars all had sophisticated tech set-ups—CBs, walkie-talkies, nav systems, and iPhones—no one really got lost.  But because pit-stops turned into parts quests, turned into meal breaks, turned into avoiding the highway because the vehicle can’t go safely over 40 m.p.h., there was a time-warp quality to every day.  Team members were often overheard saying things like, “It’s 2:30 and we’re still technically in the city we started in.” Or, “How can there be 300 miles left?  Wasn’t today’s whole route that long?”  “Days vanish out here,” Clint Montgomery (Mopar F-Body Phanatics) said, pointing at the road. “And you’re like, how’d it get to be dusk?”

A weeklong immersion caused rallyists to lose other forms of perspective as well: namely, forgetting how their cars appear to the outside world.  This fueled, What are you staring at? confrontations with other motorists.  “These cars become normal to us,” Felix said, “whereas if we saw them at a stoplight we’d avoid eye contact and lock our doors.”  Sue Green resignedly concurred.  “Damnit,” she said, as her mud-flap girlie bestickered BMW traversed a mountain road, between a Mercedes wagon decked out like Santa’s sled (Jingle Benz) and a Toyota sporting a shark fin and driven by a fat man in a tie-dye skirt (Draftmasters Motorsports). “I’m in a subculture.  I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

Finally, the constant proximity, the nights spent binge drinking, and the 10:1 male:female ratio presented women—and men who attended the rally with their women—with their own set of challenges.  The three, naïve girls who drove with anti-Lothario Tim Hansen seemed to be constantly trailed by a pair of guys from Ohio, who eyed them salaciously, like lions circling a gazelle.  They didn’t seem to notice the extra attention.  But another, more self-aware single girl, Holly Hossman, did, and sought out various forms of protection, attending a hot-tub party with a gay journalist one night, and leaving the grounds entirely another. “She went to stay with a friend,” said her teammate Jeff Monheit (Jingle Benz).  “I think she got tired of being sexually harassed.”  (Notably, the four gay guys in the BMW 528e (Rainbow Flyer) had no such complaints. “They say we’re about 10% of the population overall, and my experience here so far indicates that ratio to be accurate.”)

The men in stable couples seemed to stick close to their mates as well.  Given the scuttlebutt, this made sense. Apparently, one wedded team had been severed the previous year, based on the wife’s dalliance with a fellow rallyist.  Of course, this didn’t stop these exes from both from returning for this year’s run.  But while the male member of the divorced couple was now paired platonically with a guy pal, his ex-wife rode shotgun with her ’08  hook-up.  “They certainly have every right to be here,” the wounded cuckold said, expressing the generous BA/BE spirit.  “But you have to admit, it’s a little crass.”  Other participants were a bit more irreverent.  “I only wish,” Jesse Congdon (Misfit Toys) said of the new couple, “that I’d come up with the name Team Wife Swap before they’d registered.”

Strangely, but not surprisingly, these mishaps only seemed to add to the Rally’s allure.  This is in part because, as noted above, disaster is pretty much expected: if it didn’t happen, participants would feel ripped off.  The problems also often yield entertaining anecdotes, frequently showcasing the participants’ bravery in the face of adversity—a compelling trait these folks don’t often get a chance to display in their normal lives.  But the core attraction seemed based in the fact that the solutions usually required tenacity and ingenuity, and this is a “subculture” in which inspired inventiveness is prized above all other characteristics.  [See sidebar.] “It’s all about doing things you’re not supposed to,” Felix Folster said.  “It’s about McGyvering things to keep them running.”  Even, apparently, if that thing is your heart.

MacGuyvering 101

Your biggest problem when traveling long distance in a rotted shitbox is leaks. Many of these can be repaired, at least temporarily, by the strategic application of zip-ties and duct tape. But fixing leaks on the fly requires not only the ability to immediately identify the effluent, to determine what the location of this drip signifies about the component, and to know what one can get away with in terms of ignoring or attending to it.  It also requires a pharmaceutical knowledge of off the shelf remedies. Like the way a pro can produce meth from any three common household goods—cat food, Gatorade, and Dramamine, for example—a master will know that a radiator can be plugged by dumping in a can of Bar’s Leak, adding a raw egg, and spackling on some Tite-Seal.

 

Eric Phipps (Misfit Toys) is just such a man. Employed as a mechanic on an Army base, he is frequently called upon to repair things like Vietnam era tanks, or South African amphibious transport vehicles. “Parts might take five weeks to get there, but the Army doesn’t have that kind of time,” Ben Lamberton (Manwall) explained. “They’ll come to Eric and say, We need it in a week. Figure something out.” And figure he does—and did: all through the Rally. Brakes blown out and without enough fresh line to fix them? Eric crimp-folds the end, clamps on a pair of vice-grips, and zip-ties them closed. Have an air-sucking vacuum line that needs capping?  Eric grabs a piece of Gorilla Tape—like mutant duct tape; it will stick to a pile of sand—and slaps it over the end. Having difficulty bleeding your new master cylinder without access to your Craftsman tool set? Eric sticks a landscaping woodchip from a Burger King parking lot in one end, and his finger in the other, and pumps the fluid through that way. Stripped a bolt on your torque converter and can’t get it to hold?  Eric attaches a set of jumper cables to a live car battery, gets a coat hangar, and uses the uncontrolled spark to “weld” the hangar, nut, and bolt together.

 

Eric himself is a man of few words, but there wasn’t a person on the rally who didn’t effuse about his talents. “He is hands-down the fastest and best mechanic I’ve ever seen.” “A job that would take me all day—and I’d still fuck it up—he can do perfectly in two hours.” “I bought a DeWalt right-angle drill for my dad for Father’s Day,” Tim Hansen (Economy Superstar) said.  But after watching Eric use it to machine out the bolts on his exhaust header, he had to give it to him. “He was like a surgeon with that tool.”

 

All these challenges, whether assigned, endemic, or self-created, are really just a distraction: a means of making the time and miles pass until the night’s motel can be reached.  For the parties in the parking lots seemed to be the apex, if not the entire point, of the Rally.  Things didn’t go all Burning Man.  No one was given ipecac or rushed to the emergency room. (Well, one guy needed stitches in his foot: something about climbing a barbed-wire fence, barefoot.)  There didn’t even seem to be much in the way of illegal drug use, unless one counts bringing alcohol over the lines of a dry Southern county, or the major crack traffic witnessed amongst the residents of the Medical Center Inn, where the rally unwittingly staged its night in the ghetto of Birmingham, Alabama.

What there was, was a roiling, lot-wide, fifty-car, tailgate bash. But unlike the similar parties that precede a sporting event—where the point seems to be to get blitzed enough to forget the fact that you’re going to spend the next handful of hours sitting in a hideously uncomfortable seat, needing to pee, and watching your team fail—these gatherings were about gleefully re-living the fact that you just spend the past handful of hours sitting in a hideously uncomfortable seat, needing to pee, and watching your team fail.  (There was also the head rush that comes with breathing air not laden with carbon monoxide.)  People opened their trunks, placed bags of Chex Mix on their hoods, and moved from car to car, drinking, laughing, and sharing that day’s disasters.  But the recounting seemed to lack the one-upmanship that’s usually associated with these kinds of gatherings.  Part of this may have been the weird release from peacocking that comes with being a straight guy in a nearly female-free audience.  Part of it may have been the glorious relief, after taunting fate in a rotted jalopy, of simply being allowed to remain alive for another day.  But more than this, the Rallyists seemed to genuinely enjoy the sense of unified togetherness: the opportunity to share time and tales with the people with whom they were sharing this experience.

No matter how contrived the Rally’s limitations were, they fostered this collective feeling.  Everyone was on a budget, under time constraints, and reliant on a dying car.  But more than this, everyone reveled in the guaranteed safety net their fellow teammates provided, an active and supportive fraternity they could call on if something went wrong: kind of like an anti-Minutemen.  If you saw another BABEr on the side of the road in a downpour, you stopped and helped.  If you saw another BABEr without an eleventh drink, you offered one.  If a BABEr burned their arm trying to repair your engine, you brought them ice.  When was the last time you felt that unconditionally protected, and generous?  The Rally makes people happy, like most trips do, because it’s a break from their regular life.  But it isn’t a traditional escapist vacation.  It’s an integrated mobile social utopia, fueled by beer.

Of course, as with any paradise, it drew the ire of haters who couldn’t stand to see true happiness.  Strivers in Acuras scrunched up their noses.  Small-town rednecks said things like, “Your car’s broke.”  But the most ardent example of down-bringing came from desk clerk at a Kentucky motel.  Though the Rallyists had probably rented 90% of the place’s rooms, and had conformed to the local cops’ first request to keep things down, this guy could not abide all this unadulterated fun.  Not only did he call the police out a second time—explaining that it was after midnight and the participants should be in bed (“Okay, dad.”)—he was overheard telling the dispatcher, “If they get out of hand, I’ve got a gun, and I’m not afraid to use it.”  In some legal circles, this is called Criminal Threatening Behavior.  BA/BE co-leader Karin had him fired the next morning.  When this was announced, air-horns sounded and people whooped.  Downers be damned; the Rally triumphed.

 

The BE-all in the BABE Rally is the Big Easy, New Orleans.  And while getting there is the ostensible goal of the event, there was a palpable sense of disappointment that accompanied the teams’ arrival.  This could have been a result of the final day’s slog: a long, bland stretch of interstate.  Or fact that the hotel at which the group was staying was an urban one, a high rise without doors that opened onto the cars and parking lot.  Or that it was that the end of the line, and thus announced the terminus of vacation time and the start of the return to real life.  But it was also the fact that in a trip that’s all about the trip, getting to the end signals the cessation of travel and the death of the adventure—and the mobile camaraderie, hilarity, and stream of incidents—that could only be sustained while en route.  When you run out of road, you run out of material.

Folks tried to jump-start things back into Rally mode, by walking in groups up and down Bourbon Street.  And while this slow stumble through a landscape filled with unusual obstacles and opportunities for pit-stops was about as close to the spirit of the event as possible without driving, there was still something desperate about the effort.  People threw cheap beads, they convinced trashy sluts to flash their breasts, they drank test tubes of neon shooters from the breasts of other trashy sluts, they whooped and sang.  But, unlike their experience on the rally, what they were doing was no different from what literally every other person on Bourbon Street was up to.  They had lost their uniqueness.  Clint Montogmery surveyed the interior of a western-themed bar—Bourbon Cowboy—where a drunken frat boy repeatedly fell off a near-motionless mechanical bull, and revelers stumbled around to Kenny Chesney in an attempt at line dancing that resembled epilepsy. “This place makes me sad.”

The only way to attempt to reclaim the Rally’s glory was to get back into the car, either literally or figuratively.  Some teams immediately began the perilous trek home.  Some drove their vehicles to the nearby No Problem Raceway, to compete in drag races with other $500 cars.  Some watched gleefully as bids on the eBay auctions for their rally cars climbed above the $500 reserve.  But mostly, they talked about what car they were going to run next year.  A Lincoln Versailles. A Chrysler Imperial.  A Chevy Citation. (No! A Pontiac Phoenix! A Buick Skylark!)  An Ambulance.

And this immersion continued in the weeks that followed, once folks were back home.  The online BA/BE forums buzzed with photo dumps, as well as untold—and many times re-told—tales from this year’s trek.  People discussed the difficulty of adjusting to normal life.  “Almost died getting back into the daily driver,” Jesse Congdon wrote.  “It’ll take a while to get re-acclimated to a car that actually responds to steering input.”  But even more popular were the initial discussions of 2010.  Rumors buzzed regarding changes in the rules, meant to encourage the inclusion of more old American cars.  People made requests to ban certain hotels (the crack-y Medical Center Inn foremost among them).  Folks decried the hoopty-stealing folly of Obama’s Cash-For-Clunkers bill.  But perhaps the most poignant and telling note came from Ben Lamberton, one of the winners of this year’s Rally.  Though he’d been claiming that he might not participate in the following year’s event—he had to save for his wedding and honeymoon—once home, he detailed his misery at being stuck in his day job, doing IT work for a snack food company.  Three days back, his Facebook status read, “T-minus 353 days until BA/BE 2010.”