3 min read

This cup made big promises. It practically dared me to give it a try. Forged with some futuristic alloy and a black anodized finish - would it really not spill a drop? Ok, let’s give it a shot on Germany’s Autobahn, where it’s legal to travel at the speed of light.

So I set the cup in the cup holder and headed out from Munich to Ingolstadt on this Bavarian stretch of highway. It’s one of the last parts of the Autobahn where you can literally introduce the pedal to the metal. And hold it there.

But first I had to get permission from the Autobahn Gods up in Valhalla... or traffic control. The overhead display board looking down on the highway flashed the speed limit of the moment. Morning commuters ahead were holding us to a mere 120 kph or about 75 mph.

Suddenly, the numbers went away. We were free to leave the planet.

Here it was, mein Autobahnmoment. I took a sip from the cup. So far so good, not a stray drop dribbling anywhere. I actually had no desire to get all speedy in this loaner car from our client. I just wanted to travel down this iconic road and know that… I could get all speedy if I wanted. Isn’t that where the feeling of freedom comes from?

But that’s the funny thing about the freedom seeking beings that we are. Freedom seeks out more freedom and so did I. Hence, I eased the needle up to 160 kph or about 100 mph. I had never driven this fast. It was seductively smooth.   

I lifted the commuter cup but at this speed thought the better of it, placing it back down in the holder. I glanced at my cameraman, riding shotgun – does one ride shotgun in Germany? He was fast asleep on this, the second day of our morning commute from Munich to the Audi Complex in Ingolstadt. There, we were filming all things Audi – the plant, showroom, the museum and happy customers.

Now, About That Freedom Thing

It’s addicting. You just want to push for more, stretch your boundaries. I suppose it can be summed up in that old punchline: ‘Because you can’. 

So I leaned a bit more on the gaspedal and pushed our Audi up to 200 kph or 125 mph.

It felt solid. Like it was held by a rail.

Yesterday we were on the floor of the plant checking out the massive stacks of steel that would soon be pressed into the car frames and panels. Immense robot arms grabbed the sheets, thrusting them into a giant press. In an instant they were stomped from a mere commodity into the distinctive shape and look of an Audi. Like magic, the steel had gained an identity and probably increased tenfold in value.

Such is the brilliance of illusion. However, with the new bends and folds punched into it, the steel probably gained in tensile strength. This car, traveling at 125 mph, seemed to feel no pain and I flirted with the idea of laying on more speed.

The road was open. The bright German clouds… inviting. I leaned back in my seat and stretched out my ankle to see what would happen.

Beschleunigung - that’s what. Acceleration – slick and silky. We were now sailing to work with a tail wind.    

I easily passed a big Mercedes on the right. He must have been doing at least 130. A glance at the speedometer showed us at over 235 kph. I did some quick American math – 145 mph.

This was a land speed record… at least for me. We were moving fast now but the car wasn’t straining . It was like an obedient thoroughbred. But what if it were to suddenly rebel, seize up… explode? How well were these things built? What would happen if a nut came loose at this speed?

German Engineering

The day before we had sat at a lunch table with some German engineers and plant workers – the assembly line clearly in view. We had sandwiches and… beer. Yes beer, purchased right there in the cafeteria. In the same place men and robots were putting cars together, you could have a couple of cold ones with lunch.

Hell, that could be your entire lunch for all anyone cared. We clearly weren’t in America anymore. No pesky OSHA regulations here. No waiting until the five o’clock whistle to have a brewski – just knock back a few and hand me that innensechskantschlüssel. Or Allen wrench, if you’re American and had a Pepsi with your lunch.  

The road was flying at us and I was thinking about those workers and their beers and how they so beautifully assembled these cars. Maybe the cars were better because their masters had a light buzz on when they were made. Who knows? 

I could feel this steady beast beneath us was ready for still more action. It wasn’t me – I swear. It was the car that wanted to kick up more dust. I almost had no choice. So I gripped the wheel, sucked up some air and pushed through my personal sound barrier.

There it was – 257, 258 kph.  We had arrived at 160 mph. I didn’t even know what that meant. I only knew how it felt. Emotionally…. thrilling. Intellectually, I had instant bragging rights. 160 miles per hour!

But really, aren’t bragging rights kind of stupid? (“Oh, I was into the Beatles when they were just the house band in Hamburg”.) Does anybody even care? Do we ever outgrow the need to obviously self-sooth? Sad…

Where was I? Oh yeah… 160 mph on the Autobahn. Now physiologically things started to get a bit odd. Something was going on. And I wouldn’t quite call it fun. Not exactly.

In this wind tunnel I was creating something primal and instinctual kicked in. I think the instinct was to stay alive. There’s nothing like clocking bullet train speeds to focus the mind. My eyes, my hands, everything was attached to the road ahead. I just hoped the heat shield held. 

About That Cup

Suddenly the idea of taking my hand off the wheel, much less reaching for some shiny commuter cup seemed completely insane. Any such distraction was no longer in my universe. Scratching an itch? At this speed, I no longer itched.                     

My cameraman stirred and looked up. The blurred countryside didn’t even faze him. But he grew up in these parts so he probably raced the Autobahn with his learner’s permit. It was he who grabbed the cup and sipped but I couldn’t even look over. Anyway, I don’t think it spilled a drop. Let’s just say the cup delivered.  

But in truth, at this point I couldn’t have cared less about the cup. I was on a mission to deliver my crew safely to our job in Ingolstadt. I blinked a micro glance in the rear view. There they were, the two other crew members sleeping peacefully in the back seat. So trusting… like kids.

I couldn’t let them down. Which I suppose, in this context meant not getting them killed.

Sure, I had a few quixotic moments of doubt – like if I blinked, I might destroy us all. But that only kept me more focused. And yes, I didn’t have to go this fast, but… here we were on the way to work… with permission to drive like there was no tomorrow. To a place that mixed heavy machinery and alcohol. It all seemed to fit.

At some point the others woke from their dreams and took in the fractured landscape screaming by. They didn’t seem concerned. In fact, they were fascinated by this new world they had woken into. They immediately wanted to know how fast we were going.

They were going to brag to their friends.   

Now I could see the Audi complex coming into view over the horizon – the postmodern tower, the sleek curves of German industry and design. Like an F-18 pilot approaching his carrier deck, I lined up my sights, checked my glide path, flaps full, hook down and then… a ripping touch down. We nailed our spot in the Audi parking lot.

I got out and felt the firm ground beneath my feet. What a relief to flex my tense torso – was this how astronauts, pilots and racecar drivers felt after their ‘mission accomplished’? I have to admit I was feeling rather self-satisfied when I reached back in for the commuter cup and gave it a jaunty fling into the air.

Catching it deftly with one hand, the top popped off, spilling its remaining contents onto my shoes. I stared at the accident. Still, it hadn’t spilled a drop… not at 160 mph. 

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