Quo Vadis, Automobile?

Canoo Pickup Truck

I don’t put a lot of car stuff on the blog, although I still have an academic interest in that world. A long time ago, I used to consider the outside appearance of my car as a direct extension of my persona, while the character of the exhaust note and the loud screeching sound that the tires made on a hot July afternoon when I hit the gas hard from a standing start were an important part of the music of life. Now, I look at a vehicle and I think: “How likely is it that this car will get me from Point A to Point B in one piece and without unnecessary delay?

A totally utilitarian rather than a romantic viewpoint.

And that’s exactly where this Canoo pickup hits me. It’s not your usual macho machine found in that genre, with big engine, big bed, big tires, and a name like Raptor. It is instead a carpenter’s/plumber’s/architects/construction worker’s/rancher’s office on wheels. It’s a workspace that you can drive to the site. Or it’s a vehicle for an ordinary guy who likes to get outside and do his or her own thing.

It’s beautiful in concept. It is also bit bug-like in appearance, though, which won’t appeal to everyone. I don’t see the Confederate flag-flying crowd lining up to buy one, for instance. It will not rip up a peaceful Saturday night into proper cacophonic shreds. But I love what its designers have done, and it all makes me wish, just a little, that I needed this car.

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Flight of Ideas

We are all chattering like actors in Waiting For Godot here in Paradise. Put any two people within earshot of one another and the conversation turns inexorably to Spring. Is it imminent? How close? If a tree foolishly begins to bud in February (like the big maple across the way) is it a stupid tree? Is it showing off and heading for a fall?

If it weren’t such a serious moment in time, it would be more fun watching and listening to my age-contemporaries try to make sense of the planet’s odd weather and climatic happenings, using their life experiences as a guide. I hear phrases all the time like:

  • Did you ever …?
  • Have you ever … ?
  • This is the first time …
  • I can’t make sense of it …
  • When I was a (girl) boy …
  • WTF?

It turns out that when climate change steps in, much of our personal meteorological lore becomes a lot less valuable. Yardsticks have to be continually reset as one after another of those “hundred year events” roars past us.

What yours truly has noted, without ascribing any meaning at all to the observations, is that I no longer look for the peonies to be in full bloom on Memorial Day. In fact, that notable moment keeps inching each year toward April Fool’s Day. While I admit that it still has a ways to go, the direction is pretty clear.

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Here’s an observation about how serious we are as a species about one of the larger issues of our time. The one-percenters are rushing to showrooms to purchase electric vehicles that bear increasingly bigger price tags. And bigger engines. Electric cars of nearly 2000 horsepower are in production that can go from zero to sixty mph in less than two seconds. The planet’s need for cars like these is so obvious that I even hate to bring it up.

But they are zero emission vehicles, correct? Not totally. Not if you live in a country where fossil fuels are still big players in the production of electricity. There are lots of emissions involved in building those cars and in making the batteries for them, and also in producing what comes out of all those shiny new charging stations.

Lotus Evija

A scenario popped into my mind. A geronto-adolescent daydream. Somehow I acquire a couple of million dollars that I really have no special need for and I take myself down to a Lotus dealer and buy one of their 1973 horsepower Evija cars. I drive the vehicle very carefully to a deserted chunk of highway somewhere in rural America and pause the automobile. I look both ways for other cars and for people of the law enforcement persuasion, tighten my seat belt, and then tromp down fully on the accelerator, propelling myself way past my capabilities as an operator and into the nearest boulder, where I produce a mixed carbon-fiber and hemoglobin smear on the rock to mark my passage into eternity.

If that should ever happen, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I will not deserve it.

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The Thursday morning AA meeting at the Anglican church has become really interesting. Four years ago it was a larger group, with average attendance of perhaps 16-20 members. But in this pandemic year it really shrunk, to only four regular members. Other meetings in town have remained unchanged in number, but many of them are seriously flawed in that they ignore Covid precautions.

On our Thursday mornings one is required to be masked and to keep proper distancing in mind. Only four of the original group accepted these restrictions and continued to attend. Two men, two women, all seniors. None of us new to AA. Each week we dutifully follow the prescriptions and proscriptions as to how an AA meeting is to be conducted. Very gradually we have become more comfortable with one another, and new levels of trust have appeared.

It seems that we have done away with many of our pretenses, our usual shape-shifting, and we take part in a leaner and meaner dialog. Cutting to the chase, so to speak. All of this makes the sessions more valuable, at least they do to me.

And it’s not just learning about the others, but about oneself as well. Have you ever had the experience of telling one of your own stories when suddenly a bulb flashes and you your tale in a completely new and different light? An auto-epiphany, if you will. Fascinating when that happens.

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Robin and I are off later this morning for a day’s XC skiing on the Grand Mesa. The snow is good up there (six feet deep), the sun will be shining, and we are rendezvousing with Allyson and Kyle for some pretty safe and much needed socializing. We’ll stay the night in a cabin and come back on Sunday afternoon.

The nice thing about Nordic skiing is that you are rarely cold. You generate enough heat that the problem is what to do with all those clothing layers you started out with. Tie them around your waist? Hang them on bushes and come back for them later? Donate them to passersby? It’s a good problem to have, actually, in a winter activity.

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Peter Piper Picked A Peck … et al

I tried a new recipe this past week for potato soup, and the soup itself was just okay. What was a pleasant surprise was a sub-recipe for making pickled jalapeños, which you then used as a topping when serving the soup. Those jalapeños were v.e.r.y tasty, and could be used on other soups, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc. Here’s how you do it:

Thinly slice two jalapeños, discarding the seeds if you like. Put slices in a bowl and squeeze in enough lime juice (2 limes) to cover them. Add a pinch each of salt and sugar. Let sit at room temperature while you make the soup. (The jalapeños can be prepared up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator; they get softer and more pickle-y as they sit.)

I mean, you can just sit there and eat the darn things right out of the bowl.

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On Saturday I was talking to my brother Bill on the phone as he described how absolutely miserable he was in the sub-zero wind chills of his day there in Faribault MN. Snow was swirling on the highways, discouraging traveling more than necessary distances. Just before we terminated our conversation, he made the mistake of asking how my weather was at that moment.

I told him it was 48 degrees and blue skies here in Paradise, and the closest we ever get to a polar vortex is reading about it in the papers. I swear you could hear his face fall. I wasn’t going to bring it up, not being a man given to gloating, but … he asked.

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Our second dose of Covid vaccine is coming up on Wednesday. Some of the folks who received their first immunization at the same time that we did a month ago are starting to natter about possible side effects of the “booster shot.” Listening to them, it’s like being back in elementary school, where the rumors of what that “booster shot” was going to do to you were rampant. Up to and including your arm falling right off in the classroom, so that you had to pack it home at the close of the school day.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to offer my right arm (I’m left-handed) this time as the injection site, just in case … you know … it falls off.

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Our new Subaru has some technological stuff going on that is amusing. It knows when you are crossing a lane divider and beeps at you unless you have clearly signaled a lane change. It also will not allow you to tailgate, but maintains a safe and predetermined distance between you and the car in front of you.

Now if you put these two together, it means that on the highway you can put the car on cruise control, take your hands off the wheel, and it will drive itself. Now it’s not a “self-driving” car in any real sense. It doesn’t know where you’re going, for instance, and will just keep cruising down that traffic lane forever.

However, when you do take your hands completely off the wheel, the car knows it, and sends you a message to put those damned hands back where they belong. But, like I said, it’s amusing.

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One night a long time ago, during my single period, I was up late watching television when an entertainer came on and stole the show with his performance of I Go To Rio. I hadn’t heard of Peter Allen before that night, and after watching his routine I was a fan. I didn’t know that he was gay at the time, but I do remember thinking that this was a guy who really knew how to wear orange.

Here’s a video of a real showman, from 1978. Died in 1992 of AIDS-related cancer.

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Is Half A Wit Better Than No Wit At All?

Last evening Robin and I revisited an all-time favorite film of both of us. For me, it is at #2 in my lifetime ranking, with Lawrence of Arabia still at #1. What movie is that, you ask? … Stand By Me, I answer.

To me, it is just about a perfect movie. Sweet and sad and funny. A reminder of what it was like to be a twelve year old boy, that is to say, a barely civilized human being. When it was over, and the credits were rolling, it occurred to me that I had never read the source material, which is a novella by Stephen King entitled “The Body.” Hey, I can fix that, says I, and it is now my night-time reading.

Here’s the final scene from the movie. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” What a great line.

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From The New Yorker

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Wednesday morning I spent sitting in the service area of the local Subaru dealership, having a trailer hitch installed on our car. The new vehicle will tow twice as much weight as our old one (and I’m not quite sure why there is such a difference). But one thing that we use the hitch for the most often is to carry a rack for our bikes. We’ve been fans of the platform-type racks for a couple of decades now. Their big advantage for us is that lifting the bikes onto the device is easier. And you can haul basically any bike with these things, no matter what it’s crossbar looks like. Or even if it doesn’t have a crossbar at all.

The only problem with them is that they are among the more expensive racks. More hardware and more engineering equals more expensive. Oh well, nothing’s perfect.

What I keep looking for is a rack and car combination that no matter where I go, my bicycling journey is always downhill, and the car is waiting for me at the bottom.

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The Republicans continue to surprise and entertain me with their seemingly unquenchable appetite for featherheadedness and self-destruction. There is no blather too ridiculous and no position too mean-spirited for them. The crazier the better seems to be the hallmark of today’s GOP.

At present the party is having a lot of trouble distinguishing between Abraham Lincoln and someone like Marjorie Greene (photo at left) as a person to admire and emulate. I would put my money on Greene, if I were a betting person. She’s the farthest away from thoughtful of any member of the present Republican class of half-wits. Which makes her practically a shoo-in.

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A Little To The Left … Ahhh … That’s It …

I realize that there are those among my readers who think that I am making it up when I complain about my confrontations with the physical world. Perhaps you don’t share my animistic beliefs, or think that I am taking life all too personally, and that my small existence is of little matter to the gods. But only listen a moment to an ongoing complaint before you pass judgment.

There is a place between my shoulder blades that is absolutely unreachable with my bare hands. If a major blood vessel were there and opened up I would positively bleed to death in moments, not having the ability to put my finger on the leak. But the Fates didn’t put a big artery there, what they did locate in this completely unattainable space is an itch. Not just any itch, mind you, but the kind that makes one want to scratch it with garden implements or an orbital sander.

My life is now divided into two parts. One is when that spot acts up and drives me mad, and the other is when it is perfectly quiescent. It never flares up when Robin is around to come to my aid. It never blooms when I have access to the tool below, which I call the Brass Defender.

If the itch comes upon me when I am outdoors I must seek out a rough-barked tree and rub against it like any hoary bull in a pasture would do. Or the corner of a building. Or a flagpole. Or a mailbox. Or sometimes a passer-by, which has its own set of risks, as you might imagine. I would think that this all happened by chance but for two things. The almost imperceptible chuckle I can hear at the worst of these times, and the simultaneous soft rustle of one god’s elbow nudging the ribs of another nearby deity.

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On Friday we attended a film opening while sitting in our living room. The Dig, a new Netflix movie, was screened that day for the first time. Whether the rest of the audience liked the movie or not, we don’t know yet, as they were all at home as well. But we loved it. It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re lucky, you get to see once a year.

A film without car crashes, explosions, overacting, or tedious explanations of everything that’s happening. Instead you get acting lessons from two of the best professors out there, Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. You also get thoughtfulness, honesty, subtlety, beautiful cinematography, and a movie that trusts the viewers intelligence, with a fascinating true story at its heart.

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On Friday we retired our Subaru Forester with full honors, trading it in on a Subaru Outback. The Forester had served us well, but it had reached a point only a handful of miles short of 100,000 on the odometer, was making a clanking noise in the steering that boded ill, and we were facing some unavoidable statistics. Even though the newest of vehicles can break down on occasion, the facts are that the higher the mileage on a car the more likely you are to spend some time stranded by the side of the road.

And at this point in life, I would like to do what I can to avoid being put afoot in these mountains in bad (or good, for that matter) weather.

So we have made the leap, and this is what the new vehicle looks like.

Of course it’s blue. We’re Democrats.

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Memento Mori Department

Cicely Tyson’s passing at age 96 reminded me of the debt I owed her for her part in the movie “Sounder.” Here’s a portion of Roger Ebert’s review.

“Sounder” is a story simply told and universally moving. It is one of the most compassionate and truthful of movies, and there’s not a level where it doesn’t succeed completely. It’s one of those rare films that can communicate fully to a child of nine or ten, and yet contains depths and subtleties to engross any adult. The story is so simple because it involves, not so much what people do, but how they change and grow. Not a lot happens on the action level, but there’s tremendous psychological movement in “Sounder,” and hardly ever do movies create characters who are so full and real, and relationships that are so loving.

Roger Ebert.com

If you missed it back in 1972 when it made the rounds, the entire film is available on YouTube, right now, for your viewing pleasure.

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Wow. This nightmare view of California’s Highway 1 near Big Sur could give a person a chill. Friday it washed out during a rainstorm. Whole highway. Gone. Apparently no one was driving on the section at the time that it went where all good roads go when they die.

My, my, that would have been a ride, though.

In this photo provided by Caltrans, a section of Highway 1 is collapsed following a heavy rainstorm near Big Sur, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. A drenching storm that brought California much-needed rain in what had been a dry winter wound down Friday after washing out Highway 1 near Big Sur, burying the Sierra Nevada in snow and causing muddy flows from slopes burned bare by wildfires. (Caltrans via AP)

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Redemption

We’ve started the process of talking ourselves into getting a different car. Our Forester has around 90,000 miles and is making some of those noises that indicate things are wearing. Not broken yet, but wearing.

Small clunks and clanks, the kind of noises that disappear when you try to show them to the guy in the service department, but sound like the anvil chorus as soon as you drive away.

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We’ve been mostly Subaru people during our lives together, with brief forays into Honda-land and Volkswagen-ness. And the Forester is still doing everything we want it to do, but there are those noises … .

Robin believes we need to go electric, for the planet’s sake. Or, as a compromise, get a hybrid of some sort. Either way, a car that will damage the environment less than the one we are driving. I want a vehicle that will safely and reliably get me from here to there, especially when road conditions are poor, as in storms or snow. Really, we both want the same things, we’ve just ranked them in different orders.

My ranking method is better, of course, since it’s mine. I would like, if possible, to spend the rest of my life without ever again having to walk to the nearest farmhouse to call for help when my car has broken down or is stuck in snow or mud. And Colorado has plenty of both mud and snow to offer. My tolerance for unscheduled trudging across frozen wastelands has diminished over time to … well … nothing at all.

All-electric still seems awkward to me. The cars themselves are generally more costly, and manufacturers get excited when they can brag about a 300 mile range before the lights go out. That means that visiting family members 900 miles away will take at least three charges. Unless you can find fast-charging stations at exactly those intervals, it probably means more stops than three, and perhaps a couple of overnights plugged into a 220 line somewhere in Nebraska.

(Of course, a person could fly when traveling such distances, if there are flights available. And if you don’t mind being ignored, insulted, patronized, strip-searched, and then crammed into the sort of space which requires exchanging microflora with everyone in your row.)

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From The New Yorker

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(John Lewis wrote the following essay, entitled Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation, shortly before he died. It was published today in the Times of New York. Lewis was a giant among ordinary men, when you measure them by integrity and strength of purpose.)

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Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

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Counting Down

I’ve started a mental countdown to election day 2020, which is November 3. We’re hearing from the chattering classes that no matter what happens on that date, the Cluckmeister and his minions will claim fraud, and may not leave the building on the appointed date so that it can be fumigated properly in preparation for the next occupants.

Who knows? Maybe in those contentious days ahead there will emerge a brand new political class of creatures, let’s call them Republicans with Consciences, and that the transition period will go more smoothly than some predictions would have it.

Maybe.

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On our return trip from Denver, we stopped in a remnant of a town called Bailey, at what might best be called The Deliverance Cafe. The cafe itself was unpretentious and homey in a slapdash way, the proprietor couldn’t have been more cheerful, and the waitress was a credit to her corps.

But the other patrons were like citizens from the famous movie about four men taking a canoe down the Cahulawassee River, and the interesting people they met along the way. Our fellow diners would have been among those interesting people.

For instance, the table just behind Robin and I contained two older couples who spent the entire time discussing how many squirrels they had in their yards this year and what was the best way to prepare them as entrees. At one point the taller of the two women, apropos of nothing that was being said, blinked her eyes and burst out with “I don’t trust that Dr. Fauci one little bit,” before she lapsed back into silence and continued toying with her napkin.

Her escort was wearing a brand new cap, exactly as in the photo at right. I wasn’t sure whether the motto was an aspirational one for him personally, in that a shithole was something to be hoped for as an improvement in his life situation, or whether it was an anti-Democrat slogan.

Could have gone either way.

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Let’s see, where would this item fit? Perhaps best in the Nothing Succeeds Like Excess Department.

And yes, I do know better than to idolize power for power’s sake alone, I really do. But this critter is a whole ‘nother thing. It has 1,230 more horsepower than my Subaru Forester, which as everybody knows, is greased lightning. If I’d had this Mustang Mach-E 1400 in 1956, I would have owned the town of West St. Paul, consigned my high school classmates to eating my Mach-E-dust, and been deemed worthy of taking Sondra S. (possessor of 1000 sweaters) to the Prom.

We were quite the shallow bunch in 1956.

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