A while back, I left a meeting, stepped out the door of the Georgetown Four Seasons hotel, and froze in my tracks. I saw this:
I knew it was a Bugatti Veyron. I knew that it was the fastest car in the world, topping out at 267 MPH. I knew that it cost $70,000 to get the tires changed and that the base model sold for north of $2 million. Most of all, I knew it was a work of art on the same level as a Monet and a feat of engineering on the same level as a spaceship.
I owe it all to Britain’s “Top Gear” and Jeremy Clarkson. Without the entertainment and sheer verve of the BBC’s wildly fun car show, I would neither know nor care about the Bugatti Veyron and my life would be duller.
“Top Gear,” basically, is over. The BBC declined to renew Clarkson’s contract after he had a physical altercation with a producer. It was the final episode in a series of scandals that followed Clarkson. The BBC says the show will go on without him. The status of his co-hosts, the perky Richard Hammond and neo-hippy James May, is unclear. Everything, except Clarkson’s status, is on hiatus.
In any case, the show cannot go on without him because the chemistry of silly rivalry, mocking friendship, and unabashed glee between the three hosts is irreplaceable. Without Clarkson, “Top Gear” ceases to be “Top Gear.”
No-Fear Motoring Shenanigans
The refreshing core of the show was that it was unafraid. Unafraid to bicker like old biddies, unafraid to push the pedal down just a bit further, unafraid to try a crazy idea, unafraid to say what they thought without pausing to think if it would offend.
The “Top Gear” team took on the world with wild abandon, never stopping to ask tentatively if a thing could or should be done, but only if it sounded fun. It led to great TV, like the time they converted cars to try to cross the English Channel.
It took them to places that Westerners don’t go: A road trip through Vietnam, a trip through the lesser-known regions of South America, a crossing of a crocodile-infested African river on a homemade ferry.
“Top Gear” was an adventure show wrapped in a car show. Clarkson, Hammond, and May were three Tom Sawyers setting down the Mississippi, three Lost Boys looking for pirates, three Alices diving headlong into a rabbit hole.
They risked their skins for the glory of bragging rights, raced for the sheer fun of it, squealed tires to just to see rubber burn. The word “responsibility” applied to other people, while these boys lived in a world of dreams and gas fuel. Even after Hammond was seriously injured in an accident, they didn’t slow down.
And they were funny. So. Very. Funny.
Jeremy Clarkson: A True Character in a Flat World
The list of things Clarkson didn’t like was long, but it’s what I liked about him. He railed against speed limits, motorcyclists, environmental regulations, taxes, and busybodies. He didn’t take a poll and then make up his mind. He said what he thought. His powerful personality got him in trouble, but it also felt like a breath of fresh air.
Make no mistake, Clarkson assaulted someone, and he should be held accountable for that crime. But the world has increasingly few people willing to hold strong opinions without giving a fig what others think. Clarkson was a character, and our supply of true characters seems short these days.
Most of all, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May seemed like three little boys who could not believe their good fortune of having the best job in the world. They got to drive supercars and be paid for it. They transmitted that glee to the audience, and it made me want to know what a Bugatti Veyron was. I am grateful.
Then, as gleeful little boys will do, they wondered if it could outrun a jet plane.