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Wednesday, June 03 | The Bleat.

Augh - iTunes just kicked up “Love Will Find a Way” by Pablo Cruise. I know where I was when that song infested the jukebox: working at a Pizza Hut by West Acres shopping center as a summer job. The cook, who fancied himself a musician, praised the production – so clean! So tasteful! 

Tying a particular song to a particular place must be an aspect of the modern era; can’t believe that someone in the middle ages heard a madrigal, heard it again 20 years later and thought I was standing in a field up to my shins in pig offal when first those notes revealed themselves to me. Of course, that goes for most songs, except “Prithee Now We Come To Merrie Tymes,” which I heard somewhere else. Right: the privee. Hah! What a jape we had with that. 

Ah, Pablo Cruise. The thinking man’s K.C. and the Sunshine Band. 

I wonder if I my dad had the same sort of place-song identification. Not from his teen years; they were too poor and rural, and then he was in the War. Afterwards, perhaps. He had a fine selection of early rock 45s, but there was a strain of country that would take over in the early 60s. When the Beatles came along he took a look and said No sir, I don’t like it. And that was it for rock. 

No 80s tunes on the way to work today; finished a five-part Johnny Dollar old-time radio show. They might be my favorites of the entire genre. I barked a laugh out loud when I first heard the show’s tagline – it was many years ago in Washington DC, and I was receiving my weekly instruction in old radio on the public radio station. “America’s Fabulous Free-lance Insurance Investigator, the Man with the Action-Packed Expense Account!” Somehow a guy who came around to see if you really had shingle damage from the hail didn’t seem too dramatic. When I discovered the five-part show, I knew how wrong I’d been. 

Day Two of the Top Secret Thing, which I’ve now retitled to Top Secret Thing, or TST. For some reason – well, no, for obvious reasons – the TST reminded me of the long-forgotten acronym SST, which was a controversial project when I was a young lad reading science magazines. Off the top of my head, it was a government-funded scheme to build a competitor to the Concorde. SuperSonicTransport. The name sounded cool; the acronym sounded fast. The pictures in the magazines looked like silvery visitors from the future. I seem to recall it was cancelled because A) they didn’t want to spend government money on it, O Halcyon Days of Yore, and B) there were concerns it would pollute. This was back when the future was assumed by all to be overly polluted, Woodsy Owl falling from the sky asphyxiated, everyone wearing face-masks to protect them from the choking miasma belched out from factories in stock footage. Let’s do some research . . . 

Yes. Not just ozone-destroying pollution, but noise pollution. Congress killed funding in 1971, and banned the plane from coming into New York. They’re still working on SST engines – the wikipedia article names two cool-sounding programs, the “pulse detonation engine” and the “Reaction Engines Skylon,” the latter being some unholy offspring of the Terminator and Battlestar: Galactica storylines. Then the Skylons would fight the Transformers! Awesome!

Anyway, the TST occupied the filet of the workday. It began with a conference call, moved on to brainstorming, and will eventually result in a Powerpoint presentation. As I said on Twitter, the sudden appearance of Powerpoint in a job where no Powerpoint previously existed is a sign your career has taken a sudden, unexpected, and possibly horrible turn. Not in this case – the TST is much fun, and continues the curious trajectory of my life at the paper. The more trouble the paper’s in, the more I enjoy my job. Crises keep opening up one opportunity after the other. I’m sure the fellow who took the wheel from Captain Smith thought the same, but it’s not that dire. 

Speaking of Captain Smith – there’s another Titanic exhibit coming to down, and this one is called Majestic Titanic. Or so the signs seem to indicate. It’s a bit confusing, since the Majestic was a ship of its own, one of the “Big Three” according to this brochure. The others were the Olympic and the Homeric. The last one was news to me. Obviously a White Star line, since they all ended with “-ic,” including the ill-fated SS Sporadic, which never had a set route or destination. The Brittanic and Olympic were sister ships of the Titanic, the latter sinking four years after the Titanic went down. (There’s the sequel they could have made, but didn’t. Why not? The sinking of the Titanic’s duplicate, refitted as a hospital ship, sunk in wartime – that’s a better story than the original, in many ways, and certainly fresher.) 

 

Ah, the things a little research reveals: there’s a book about the theory that the Titanic found on the bottom of the ocean was not the Titanic, but was actually the Olympic, which had suffered a collision with another vessel and was too costly to repair. So they switched the identities – change the nameplates, the china, the towels, the stationery – and deliberately sunk the “Titanic” for the insurance money. 

The author of the book also notes that some people believed the Titanic was sunk as part of a Jesuit plot to enable the creation of the Federal Reserve, but he finds those theories absurd

Anyway. I hope I get to do the Powerpoint, because I’ll do it in Keynote. The TST will occupy a fortnight, as noted, so it will soak up much time, but the project is huge, and it’s something I’ve been dreaming about for quite a while. 

Some day I’ll be able to point to something and say: this was the TST. A year, perhaps. 

Yes, it’s amazing what private industry can do when the all-consuming Fire of Doom is lit underneath it. Even when you have debt, bankruptcy, and union problems. But enough about General Motors – unless you want to talk about that P. J. O’Rourke article about how we fell out of love with cars. I grew up in the era of craptacular cars, so there wasn’t much to love in the first place. Then again:

 

pacer

And I loved that car. Closest thing to a Jetson bubble ever made. Remember, everything else was bricky and boxy and thin and apologetic, timid little rattletraps that had the bravado of someone who had been dealt a very swift kick in the groin. Not everything was a tailfinned beauty, though; just a few weeks ago, I saw my friend Wes, and he was driving his ’57 Country Squire. 


car1

 

car2

 

It’s not a lovable machine – it has that Practical Sensible vibe that made so many 50s cars look like something made for sensible thrifty kill-joys who spend their weekends making HeathKit radios, because they weren’t going to pay Mr. Westinghouse one dime, nossir. But compare that car to the later version – my God, Clark Griswold would be happy, but the these machines just sucked the happiness out of the streets. 

I even prefer the transitional model – the ’59 looks totally stoned, in an odd way, and fins look like vestigial arms it’s about to lose after another few go-rounds with evolution, but yes, I’d drive it.

 

I love my Element, but it’s not my favorite car of all time – that would be this one. Used to drive home from the radio station after mignight on the highway, doing unwise speeds; it was a joy to drive. Behind that, the unfortunately named Probe – it had manual transmission and “Turbo.” Wind that baby up, drop it into fourth, and POW. Now I drive a sensible machine, but I do love it; there’s not a day I don’t go out to the street or the lot, see it all shiny, and think “Hello, sweetheart.” 

It responds in the voice of the dog from “UP,” but that’s okay. 

As for the future? Well, the auto industry is in the most capable hands you can imagine.  I wonder what he drives. I wonder what he says he’d like to drive, and what he dreams of driving when no one else is around.

 

Later today: Out of Context Ad Contest, and a fine, fine Minneapolis update you will enjoy. See you soon. (Also, Miscreant Roundup at buzz.mn if I have time between NewsBreak and the TST.)

 

 

 

63 Responses to Wednesday, June 03

  1. Warren says:

    There’s the sequel they could have made, but didn’t. Why not? The sinking of the Titanic’s duplicate, refitted as a hospital ship, sunk in wartime – that’s a better story than the original, in many ways, and certainly fresher.

    Gaah, no. They’d turn it into The English Patient at sea.

    The first car I ever owned was a 1976 Pacer. Got it used for $400. Weird little thing but I liked it — just because it was so weird. The passenger side door was about 6″ longer than the one on the driver side, to make it easier for people to get into the back seat.

    My friends and I used to call it the Cousteau Mini-Sub.

  2. Ed Singel says:

    My first car was a ’66 Ford Custom, with a manual shifter on the steering column. It had the advantage that if the engine needed work, you could climb into the engine compartment and stand next to it while you worked on it.

    I have a fondness for the old VW beetles. I never owned one, but a good friend did, and I spent a lot of time in it. The heater controls were broken, so the only way to turn the heat on/off was to jack the car up and turn a valve under the car. So, this became an annual event, like changing to daylight time.

    I do remember once climbing an icy snowy steep western Pennsylvania hill in it, passing all the stuck cars and semis. It always got us there.

  3. Patrick says:

    My first car was a 1976 Mercury Grand Marquis. It was yellow with brown interior, so my friends called it the replacement school bus. It drank power steering fluid like it was going out of style.

    I sold it, and bought a 1981 Ford Fairmont sedan from a friend’s dad. It was white with blue interior, and I called it Moby Dick. Had a few problems with it, and hardly drove it.

    When my parents and I moved to my great-granddad’s old farm after I graduated high school, I took on a 1977 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, Regency Class. It had red paint, red interior, PLUSH interior, power windows, power doors, power seats, faux wood panels on the door handles, but no antenna (broke off in a car wash), and had a leak in the radiator. Never bothered to replace the antenna, and it cost me over $600 to replace the alternator. I’d had it overheat on me twice. Due to its redness, size, and luxury-ness, I called it The Big Red Boat.

    After I sunk (read: crashed) the boat, I drove a small red Toyota pickup. My dad took that one, and gave me a Nissan pickup, also red. I wrecked it (about five months after I wrecked the Olds), and he gave me a large, yellow 1978 Chevy Scottsdale pickup. Had tan interior, which I covered with a Southwestern-style seat cover. Had two gas tanks that were meant for diesel, but the truck took Regular. This was because the original engine had been taken out, and replaced with a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass engine.

    I traded trucks with my dad, and I ended up with a large, white, Ford F-250. I hated that truck. I missed the yellow Chevy, which I called Yellow Submarine.

    Last vehicle I traded my dad for was a small, green Nissan XE pickup. It was a great little truck, got decent gas mileage, everything. I traded it for a white Nissan Sentra my grandma had after she passed away, and I regretted it ever since. The truck ran better than the car, but I thought the car would get better gas mileage. I was wrong. It had more problems than I could afford to fix. Had to replace the alternator twice. It had more oil leaks than the Exxon Valdez. Finally traded it in for the car I have now, a 2005 Ford Focus ZX4. I think once everything picks back up I may trade it in for something in a hybrid. I drive 70-some miles one-way to and from work, so I could use something with very good gas mileage.

  4. Aleta says:

    Research continues into supersonic airplanes. The noise footprint can be configured to just about zero, and tests are underway at Edwards AFB, just down the road from here. But the use of pulse-detonation engines is probably Right Out. An experimental PDE was operating here on the Mojave Air and Space Port a few years ago. When it started, three miles away, I could see the windows in our hangar pulsing in and out. The overpressure was astonishing and the noise deaf-making. The cat hid under the desk. Even our rocket engines are not as loud as the PDE.

  5. Shelley says:

    James, you just took me to car hell. That looks like a Pacer, but also could be an unholy spawn of a Pinto and a Gremlin.

    My aunt had a huge 1970s station wagon. We used to lay in the back with our feet sticking out the window … that or us hanging out the back window going down the freeway.

    My first car was a Ford Gran Torino. it would have been cool except for the 1970s bird shit brown color and vinyl top. I wanted a 1969 Camaro, but my dad said the Camaro was too much car for me.

    Yeah, right a 351 is just tame, right dad?

  6. cnyguy says:

    Love the two-tone color combination on our host’s beloved old Pacer! I remember one of the car magazines described the Pacer as looking like a “pregnant egg.” Its styling was rather– uh– unique in its time. I suppose it still is.
    My own all-time favorite car is the ’83 Firebird L/E I had for a few years. Just touch the accelerator and it took off like a rocket. Lots of fun to drive, and loaded with luxury features. My least favorite car? No question: the ’77 Subaru station wagon that started disintegrating the minute I drove it off the dealer’s lot. It had a long list of annoying quirks, and was remarkably unreliable– not to mention homely.

  7. Jan says:

    First and favorite car: 1972 Ford Maverick – I have no recollection of the car’s performance but I know I liked the little upturned tail and was grateful just to have a vehicle. It being bright red didn’t hurt either. http://freerevs.com/pictures/348378.jpg

    And on radio detectives, “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” is a favorite for fabulously cheesy lines that were certainly delivered with a wink. It’s funny how the writers of shows like CSI (insert whatever city) or Law & Order try to mimic the the style in their opening sequences and fail completely.

    For hard-boiled cop humor, you can’t beat Jack Webb in “Pat Novak for Hire,” a series that had too short of a run. The insults exhanged by the police and Novak are terrific. Some episodes are available at Old Time Radio Network archives, http://www.otr.net, where you can also find lots of Johnny Dollar episodes.

  8. steveH says:

    The Boeing B2707 fuselage mockup lives just up the road from here at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, just south of San Francisco airport. Full size, but no wings.

    My first car was a ’72 Super Beetle with a sunroof. Pumpkin orange. Shoulda kept it and skipped the two Fiats that followed. Also a better car than the Rambler American we had when it was time to go to the hospital to deliver our first child. Ran out of gas in the driveway. Fortunately, I always carried a can of gas in its trunk. Nowadays it’s a ’97 Ford Ranger for me. Pickups are just too useful.

    Never too fond of cars, perhaps because as a 5-year old pedestrian I was hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light. I think it was a late-40s Plymouth.

    On the other hand, when I was around 4, we had a ’49 or ’50 Ford. I was fascinated by a chrome switch installed low on the middle of the dash. Asked my Dad what it was for, and he said it would blow up the car. Talk about mixed feelings; “…don’t touch the switch … I *really* want to flip that switch”. Never did, still don’t know what it was for.

    The car we had longest was a ’56 Chevy 4-door station wagon, maroon and white, with the 235 c.i.d. “Blue Flame” straight 6 engine. Put in gas, check the oil, it just ran for 18 years. Traded in for a ’67 VW bug. (But what my Dad really wanted was a ’67 Chevelle Malibu SS 396. Which he told us about many years later.)

  9. Lileks says:

    Pat Novak is hilarious, really – from what I understand it was intentionally over the top, but not so much that it sounded like parody. Every single episode is the same; every single episode is almost impossible to figure out. They all have the rummy doc who concludes his segment with the same mocking line: “Good Night, Lover.” And yes, the banter between Webb and the cop is sharp and nasty – all the more amusing when you realize who the cop is. (Hint: friends called him Bunny. Later made a name for himself as some lawyer named Mason.)

  10. Loge says:

    I guess I thought the article about Hunt and Gather for the in-flight magazine was the TST. When I read “SST” I thought immediately of SSP racers, remember those?

    http://www.feelingretro.com/toys/Boy-Toys/ssp-racers.php

    I had the Smash-Up Derby Bicentennial Edition.

    My worst car was a ’71 Dodge Polara. Everything that could go wrong with the cooling system did, one thing after another. It overheated so many times that the outflow tube from the radiator partially melted and made a sound like a bagpipe whenever the engine got hot.

  11. Carter says:

    WAMU and Ed Walker, still playing five-part Johnny Dollars 20 years after you left, Lileks. Just finished the Indestructible Mike series, with Howard McNeer as the happy Bowery drunk.

    http://wamu.org/programs/bb/09/05/#2009-05-31

  12. Lileks says:

    Bless ‘em – that was my introduction to OTR. Lum ‘n’ Abner, X-Minus One, and Gunsmoke. I loved Sunday nights.

  13. Neil Russell says:

    AMC’s advertising for the 1975 introduction of the Pacer was; “Suddenly it’s 1980!”
    And they were right, if you shave the hood down and put on square headlights, stretch it out to 4 doors, and of course get rid of the real metal and make it plastic, you have a Ford Taurus. Oh that’s right, it took Ford an extra five years to make it to the future AMC already had brought to market.

    I’m an unashamed AMC apologist, I think anything that bears the mark of Richard Teague is a rolling work of art, and considering what their style department did with less than 60 people and no budget, it was worthy of any valiant effort of the DuMont network.

    For anyone that grouses about the quality of cars from the 70s, don’t forget that most of the problems are related to all that federally mandated plumbing that just about put the Big 4 out of business back then.
    And those stupid trolley bumpers that appeared in 1973 too.

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