July 25, 2007

"Exciting-Looking Volvo" No Longer an Oxymoron

I caught a glimpse of the new Volvo C30 last night, and it is a head-turner. The car was sitting in front of a restaurant here in Southern California. The Volvo had "Vehicle Mfr." license plates from New Jersey, so I suspect that it was sent out here by Volvo North America for promotional purposes, such as test drives and reviews by automotive journalists.

The Volvo C30 successfully harks back to classic Volvo models, especially the P1800ES from the early 1970s. Like the P1800ES, the C70 has a distinctive glass hatchback. It also sits on muscular haunches (meaning that the fenders, especially in the rear, flare out from the passenger compartment). The C30 is built on a compact platform. With its 103.9 inch wheelbase and 167.4 inch overall length, the C30 is only a couple of inches longer than the Volkswagen GTI. In addition to its glass hatchback, the Volvo has two doors and two individual rear seats that fold forward to maximize cargo space. With the rear seats upright and in place, however, storage space is rather limited.

Despite its racy looks, according to at least one review, the C30 does not perform like a true sports car. Rather "the handling falls short of being truly entertaining." Hopefully, higher-performance models will follow soon. Nevertheless, this new Volvo boasts a very modern, very good-looking design, and is such a departure for Volvo (in the U.S., at least) that few people who approach the car without seeing the manufacturer's badge will likely know at first glance that it is even a Volvo. With demand for this beauty likely to be hot, especially among a younger demographic, it is doubtful that Volvo executives will regard this confusion as a problem.

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July 23, 2007

Does this Badge Make My Ass Look Big?

I have already written about how vain and prissy the cops in Southern California are. They fuss over their coiffures and their coffee. They chat on cell phones while on duty. In short, they are just like other Southern Californians. Now we can add one more item to the list: Southern California cops get their police cars hand- washed at commercial car washes. I saw it happen yesterday. One of SoCal's finest got his black-and-white washed and buffed to a high gloss by several of Mexico's finest. The officer gave a cash tip too.

What I want to know is, did the cop submit his car wash bill for reimbursement by me, the taxpayer?

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July 21, 2007

Friday 6 P.M.

My local shopping center has the biggest line I have ever seen there, next to the Barnes and Noble book store. Some people are camped out in beach chairs. What's going on? Is Oprah there? Are they giving away free money? Free drugs? Free porn? Did Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan all show up naked in a Maserati with a half-finished case of Wild Turkey?

No, these people are lined up to buy a book. The new Harry Potter book. I don't know how long they have been waiting already, but I think they have to wait six more hours to buy the new Harry Potter book.

It's a hopeful sign for civilization when this many people line up just to buy a book.

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July 20, 2007

A Cup Runneth Over

Today I involved myself in an incident. I was seated in the courtyard of my local public library, a few steps away fom the libary's indoor/outdoor cafe. Suddenly, I heard a man inside the cafe shouting, "This is a public place! It's a library!" The man behind the counter was arguing with him and was asking him to leave. The shouting man said he would not leave. So the man behind the counter called the police. They arrived within a couple of minutes, whereupon the man behind the counter told them that the shouting man kept "screaming" and would not leave. The police then detained the shouting man, who is black and was wearing a soiled long-sleeve shirt and jeans designed for colder weather. The man explained that he had only asked for a cup of water and was immediately refused and told to leave.

The cop made him stand there a long time. A lot of us were sitting nearby, looking and listening, but no one was doing a thing. This black man, being forced to stand in the midst of a bunch of white people comfortably seated at tables with umbrellas, made for a stark contrast. Ironically, just ten minutes before, I had purchased a bottle of water in the cafe, and had complained that the smallest bottle available -- 24 ounces --- was too big. I still had two-thirds of the bottle left. I felt like I had to do something.

The first thing I did was to walk over to the man, who was standing there quietly, and ask him if he wanted my water. He politely declined, and seemed perfectly coherent. I then asked him what happened when he asked the man in the cafe for water, and he said he was told to get out. So I turned to the cop and said that, if the man's story is true and all he did was ask for water and was told to leave, that really wasn't fair. All the cop would say was, "We don't know yet what happened here."

I went back to my seat a few feet away, and thought that, if I had asked the man behind the counter for a cup of water and was refused and told to leave, might I not have yelled at them too? Would they have called the police on me? I don't look homeless, but I was wearing shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, and sandals. Where do they draw the line on calling the cops?

After a few minutes, the police officer quietly escorted the man away. I think, I hope, that the situation was diffused and that the police were merely going to ask the man to leave. But I had to wonder: was that cup of water really so precious as to be worth robbing a man of his dignity?

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July 18, 2007

Heavy Metal Parking Lot

On a warm evening in May 1986, a couple of young videographers borrowed some equipment from their local cable television system and headed to the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, then the home of the NBA Washington Bullets and the NHL Washington Capitals, to film the goings-on in the parking lot. The reason was that Judas Priest was playing the Cap Centre later that evening. "The Priest" had recently released their album "Turbo," which became another platinum seller for the band.

The resulting film, "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," was recently released on dvd. Although it is only about 20 minutes long, "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" is an important time capsule of the mulleted, spandexed, Busch beered, stoned, Camaroed heavy metal music fans of suburban 1980s America. That is because, while many of the bands of the 1980s can be seen on VH-1 and elsewhere, and a direct line can be drawn from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, co-leaders in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, to the mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap," there are scant few documented memories of the fans themselves. "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" fills this void. The filmmakers interview scores of fans who came to see Judas Priest and their warmup band, Dokken, and, more importantly, to party in the Cap Center's massive parking lot beforehand. These fans sport clothes and hairstyles that today make one wince. Beavis and Butthead themselves might have been hanging out behind their Camaro in Landover that day.

Many of the fans in "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" are also soaked in alcohol and drugs, enthusiastically imbibing and rambling incoherently on camera, even while cops stand on the Cap Centre's roof and peer at them through binoculars. A lone exception is a tall, blonde, pure-looking, sober-sounding girl who says that this is her first heavy metal concert. She looks like Marilyn in a house full of Munsters. Her less innocent-looking friend standing nearby says, "She's in for a treat." A few minutes later, Miss Marilyn, trying to fend off some rowdy fans, says, "Don't drink and drive." No doubt, her message was largely unheeded that night.

"Heavy Metal Parking Lot" has a special significance for me. I moved to suburban Maryland, not far from the Cap Centre, a little over a year after the film was made. I was around the same age as many of the concertgoers. If I had gotten there sooner or if Priest had arrived a bit later, I might have been in the parking lot that evening. I wonder what became of the fans who were captured in the film, and who are now in their late thirties and forties. Are they embarrassed to death by their portrayal, frozen in time in perhaps their least flattering pose? Are they now the government officials, bankers, stockbrokers and corporate chieftains who are running the country? Did they even survive?

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July 17, 2007

House Banner of the Day


As this large, prominently displayed banner indicates, it seems like folks are becoming less shy about pushing for impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

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July 15, 2007

Sunday's Saddest Statement

Republican columnist and old White man Robert Novak on "Meet the Press" yesterday:

"Republicans are very pessimistic about 2008. When you talk to them off the record, they don't see how they can win this thing. And then they think for a minute, and only the Democratic Party, with everything in their favor, would say that, 'OK, this is the year either to have a woman or an African-American to break precedent, to do things the country has never done before.' And it gives the Republicans hope."

So, Republicans (other than Elizabeth Dole, presumably) take hope when a woman and a half-Black man run for President in the Democratic Party and take the early lead. I guess that's the same hope Republicans took when Susan B. Anthony marched to give women the right to vote. When Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus. When Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial and said that he had a dream. When, time and time again, bold people asked Americans to open their minds and "to do things the country has never done before."

The party of Lincoln, slipping backwards into the past. How very sad.

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July 12, 2007

Driving in 2007, Western Style

Westerners are nuts. That is my conclusion after returning from a driving trip across a couple of Western states. First, the amount of giant SUVs on the interstates seems to grow each month. As a passenger car driver, I was often in the minority. Are people having more babies? Are they taking parishioners on church trips in these SUVs? Are monster trucks the only things that can accommodate our huge American asses?

I am also continually astounded that the increasing price of gasoline since 2005's Hurricane Katrina, rather than causing Americans to downsize their vehicles, as has been the case in Europe for decades, seems to have had no effect. I recently heard that it can cost $150 to fill up a Chevy Suburban. No wonder the Mexicans are jumping over and tunneling under our border fences to get here -- we must all be filthy rich!

I also noticed that the drivers rushed up on slower moving cars and trucks in the right lane to try to pass cars in the crowded left lane, only to have to jam on their brakes, swerve left and cut off said cars. It is obvious from hundreds of yards away that there is nowhere to go in the right lane, yet they do it anyway. Isn't that the definition of insanity?

I exited before finding out whether all these drivers were following each other off a cliff.

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July 05, 2007

The Long and Short of It

Thursday was the best weird day since I moved to California. I was having a quiet post-Indpendence Day, first the gym and then some errands. At the car wash, I saw a mom with her daughter, and, and at the counter with her back to me, what looked like another daughter, about three feet tall, as well as a pixie-cute puppy with dark eyes that looked like a stuffed animal. The girl at the counter was talking to the dog in a high-pitched voice. She seemed to have thick legs for a girl that young. Then I got to the counter and turned, and saw that it was Debbie Lee Carrington, a fortysomething "little person" actress with sparkling blue eyes who has appeared in the Seinfeld episode "The Stand-In," as well as many other films and television programs. We spoke, and I asked her about her puppy. She said that the "puppy" was 14 years old. They say that dog owners tend to look like their pets, and in this case, looks were deceiving as to both.

Then, I went to the bank, which was not too close to the car wash. They are barely in the same neighborhood. As I pulled into a parking space, a very sexy-looking woman in a cowboy hat started directing me in. She was getting into the back seat of the car next to mine, but stood by my door. When I exited, she grabbed my arm very flirtatiously and told me that I should have trusted her to pull in closer. Then I saw a familiar car with a familiar puppy-looking dog in the parking lot. There in the bank was Debbie again. I began to laugh at the weird but good energy that was starting to pile up.

Then I went to the next errand, at another store. While I was holding up drinking glasses to the store window to check their condition, I saw a very tall, thin guy wandering around outside, talking on a hands-free cell phone. He turned, and I saw that it was David Hasselhoff. Fortunately, there were no burgers or beers in sight.

I decided to stay out a bit longer, just to see what other weird, funny thing might happen. And another one did. At the gas station, the woman at the pump next to mine began talking to me. There was something odd about her, especially in the way she started in mid-conversation rather than exchanging some kind of introductions or pleasantries first. She looked a bit disheveled, but I have made that mistake before. Sure enough, I took a look at her car, and it was a late model Audi. Then, just a few minutes after meeting her and without exchanging names or any other personal information, she invited me to take a train trip with her. She said that she was putting together a train journey to New Orleans to help build homes there, and that she had already spoken to "the money people" and the project was a go. I wished her good luck and finally headed home.

It was one of those days where either I or the universe, or both, put out some strange energy in a successful plot to make me shake my head and smile.

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Car of the Day

Sir, your car needs to be mowed.

Kids, don't take pictures while driving. It will distract you from talking on your cell phones.

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July 03, 2007

Have a Happy July 4

Tomorrow while you are enjoying hot dogs, Coca-Cola (and apparently, for some, Kool-Aid), take a minute to remember what we are celebrating on July 4. We are celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, and the establishment of a nation of our own.

According to the Declaration of Independence, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". The American patriots felt it necessary to "throw off" the government of King George III due to a long list of "oppressions" and "usurpations" by the King. Among these: "He has refused to Assent to Laws," "He has obstructed the Administration of Justice," "He has made judges dependent on his Will alone," "He has ... sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people," "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power, " he has "depriv[ed] us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury," he has "transport[ed] us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences," and "He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation."

So have yourself a great July 4, and remember, irony is a bitch.

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