Thursday, March 31, 2011

Googling My Grandfather

I remember my grandfather fondly (my mother's dad). Of course, he and my grandmother were inseparable, so they were normally referred to in the plural (Nanny and Grampy or, as we got older, Nan and Gramp).

My grandfather came up the other day while I was talking to a friend, and I suggested that she Google him. That phrase sounds a little weird -- creepy even, doesn't it? In any case, my grandfather, who was born in 1902 and died in 1985, wouldn't know a google from a giggle. He did the latter often. He loved puns--especially bad ones, like Marlene Dietrich in the bank ("I want to make a loan.")

My grandfather was an attorney, but he worked for many years doing title searches. This was important work back in the day, and he was a recognized expert. Now, they send out a paralegal with a laptop, but Israel Dautch knew how to do it.

He was the soul of gentility and gentleness. He adored my grandmother, who was a fiery, fundraising little Jewish woman who at one time was recognized by David Ben Gurion himself for all her efforts to help the State of Israel (which came into being during her watch). My grandfather would say, "I wear the pants in this family. I ask my wife where she wants to go and then I TAKE HER THERE!" Always a laugh, but it was true. And it was perfect.

I think about Grampy often, and remember his kindness and humor. Oh--when I googled him, I found one entry--for their house in Buffalo. I contacted the man who posted it and he was excited to hear about their "Vermont Modern" style house (in of all places, Buffalo, New York.)

So, the man died before the Internet was used by anyone and is listed now only for his house. And the latest word is, the house in question may not be theirs after all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Chrysler Looks Good So Far

I am just finishing up a weeklong test of the 2011 Jeep Compass. Like its Chrysler Corporation brethren, it has been significantly improved this year. And the improvements, as far as I can tell, are real.

How do you judge a car? Consumer Reports supplies data on number of defects per 100 cars, but you only have one. It's how the car feels when you're sitting inside it and how it drives. In these two ways, the 2011 Compass is worlds better than the one I tested four years ago.

For one thing, the face is much more attractive. The hood, fenders and fascia resemble those of the new Grand Cherokee, which has been hailed by practically everyone as a milestone vehicle for the brand. It's like getting a nose job from the top surgeon in Beverly Hills.

Inside, the dashboard is not only better looking, but seems to be constructed of significantly upgraded materials. The plastic has a fine sheen to it. The doors are nicely padded. The trim looks great--especially on the steering wheel, which is elegantly presented and contains controls for the audio and trip computer, among other things. The seats are handsome and comfortable. The window control buttons feel nicely rounded. And--it's quiet in there.

Chrysler's Media website claims they've fixed the steering and suspension, and it must be true because the car's a joy to drive--a real surprise for me. Apparently they dialed in a higher spring rate, improved damping, and added rebounding springs, as well as beefing up the sway bar.

I got more than 20 miles per gallon, too, from the 2.4-liter four with continuously variable transmission.

At $26,000, with a bunch of extras, I was impressed. Next: Let's see what they did to the new Dodge Charger!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Homelessness - It Could Happen to You

Imagine for a moment. You're working, living in your apartment, on your own. Then, one day, the company you work for shuts down and you're out of a job. It's not easy to find another one, and your can't pay your rent. You're out on the street. With no relatives or friends to take you in, you're homeless.

Many of us have periods where we need help--but we have a source of funds or a friend or relative with a spare room. Or, we have a range of job skills and can find something quickly. Not everyone is so lucky. It's a slipperier slope than we think.

One organization that's doing something to help homeless people get back their lives is Saffron Strand. Serving Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, it provides training, work opportunities and transitional employment in local communities. Members work toward independent employment and safe, affordable housing. Saffron Strand Center serves as a base during the workday, with a range of programs.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dean of Auto Journalists has Driven Off

David E. Davis, the great editor of Car and Driver and founder of Automobile magazine, died yesterday at age 80. He was one of the great personalities in the auto writing business.

Although I never met Mr Davis, I read a lot of his work. He had strong opinions, and apparently wasn't always easy to deal with, but he changed the world of automotive writing, and I'm grateful for that. In my own small way, every time I write a car column, I owe him something.

See the stories in the automotive press for more:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn and David

I just got back from an enjoyable evening of classical music, made all the more special because I shared it with my son. We took in the March concert by the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

The group is made up of 18 string players who play together as an orchestra, presenting a program in four San Francisco Bay Area locations four times a year. This was the last night--and took place in the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center.

We heard Johann Sebastian Bach's Violin Concerto in E major, which is just the kind of pretty, energetic music that anyone would call "classical." The second part was Franz Schubert's Lieder (songs) featuring Melody Moore singing a powerful and gorgeous soprano part. After the intermission we heard Felix Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat major, which was another aural delight.

After the concert, we went off for a fine dining experience at Ristorante La Toscana in San Rafael. The Gnocchi with red meat sauce was rich, and after we shared a chocolate mousse torte, both of us waddled away from the table, stuffed. Thanks, son!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Big Fun at the Tattoo Show

My wife and I had a fine afternoon attending the Body Art Expo in San Francisco this afternoon. The venue was crammed with booths full of people talking about, showing off, and, in some cases, actually applying tattoos to people. The event was friendly, fascinating and definitely worth going to, despite the $8 glasses of Coors. The photo at left shows Stevie, who graciously posed in her booth.

It was my first tattoo event. Since receiving my tattoo last December and January, I have become more interested in the art and industry of skin decoration. There was a wide range to see there--on people's bodies and in the notebooks full of their best work. At many booths, I was offered the chance to get a new tattoo right there! But--not today. I believe that permanent art needs to be thought about a long time, carefully, before an ink-filled needle hits the epidermis.

I picked up a sexy calendar from the H2Ocean company and a huge stack of business cards. You'd expect an artist to have an attractive--or memorable--card, and many of them are (see below).

My wife used the opportunity to do something she's talked about for a while--getting her nose pierced. So now she has a beautiful little sparkly spot on the left side, artfully placed by a man with multiple piercings, earrings and tattoos--who is also the owner of High Class Tattoo in Fresno, California.

A great time, and for my wife, a new adventure.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Work Life, in a Nutshell

Minus the names, dates and locations, here’s the essence of my CV.

Newsboy. Delivered the morning paper—sometimes in the snow. I learned: How to use an alarm clock, that the job must be done—regardless of the weather, collecting and handling money.

Car Detailer. Washed and detailed our neighbor’s car. I learned: How to take the time to do a job right (it leads to satisfaction—and repeat business).

Dishwasher and Busboy. My first fulltime job before college, in a busy downtown lunch place. I learned: Efficiency, organization, routine, commuting and how to polish silverware to perfection.

Bike Messenger. Delivered packages downtown. I learned: Show up daily and work hard and you’ll rise to the top, the layout of the downtown street grid, why they put multiple gears on bicycles and not to overinflate your tires.

Learned from from the previous two jobs: The value of a college education.

College Student. Started in the Music department but ended up with an English degree (summa cum laude). Learned: To support myself (part-time dishwashing, office work), turn in assignments on time, balance work and study, write quickly and clearly. Published a book review.

Kibbutznik. In the middle of college, spent almost a year in Israel feeding animals, driving tractors and learning Hebrew. I learned: A second language, work planning, the ups and downs of farm life, international travel, effective hitchhiking.

Antiquarian Bookseller. After college, worked for a leading rare book dealer. I learned: To wear a suit, tie a tie, work in a team, assist customers and a lot about old books and prints.

Antiquarian Bookseller Startup Staff. Worked for a fellow former employee of above. I learned: How to run an office, relocate an office, set up and use a pc, write book descriptions, design and produce catalogs, manage a mailing list, wrap and ship packages, use a hand truck and a postage meter.

Telephone Salesman. Sold phones, phone systems and answering machines. I learned: How to serve customers with expertise, structure my time and sell on the phone and in person.

Sports Marketing Employee. Worked for an NBA franchise. Started with mailing tickets, but moved on to network administration, ombudsman, editor and publisher. I learned: The power of organized teamwork, top notch customer service, magazine editing and writing, effective interviewing, how to manage people who didn’t report to me.

Automotive Journalist. During this time, I started a weekly newspaper column. Tested cars and wrote about them. Still doing this today. I learned how to work with weekly deadlines, write the essence of a subject quickly, interview experts and network with auto manufacturers, fleet managers and publications. Co-founded the Western Automotive Journalists.

Sports Startup Marketer. I was jack-of-all-writing-trades for a startup hockey team. I learned: To wear many hats, inflate a 60-foot tall mascot, program a freeway-visible electric sign, how the Zamboni machine works.

Newspaper Advertising—Outside Salesperson. Sold ads for the local paper. I learned: To manage a territory, prospect, follow up, more about deadlines, even more about customer service, how not to take rejection personally, that small community newspapers pay less but are much nicer to work for.

Auto Textbook Editor. Edited the work of tech writers. I learned: Enhanced computer skills, coordinating work with writers, how to job search in a pinch.

Technical Writer I. Produced documentation and online help for major software company as a member of a writing team. I learned: How to jump in the deep end of the pool and swim; work effectively with engineers, product managers and quality assurance people; manage constant change; understand and use documentation software of various kinds; how to move to single sourcing; the salvation of “the next release.”

Employee Communications Manager. Wrote and managed stories for a biotech company’s intranet and email. I learned: How to select and refine a story, place it on an intranet site, and edit HTML.

Technical Writer II. Returned to this role for a small company as a sole writer. I learned: How to select and implement a single sourcing program for online help.

What’s next?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Celu and Roger Mesh at Chester's

Last night I enjoyed some live music. Celu Agee and Roger Brown played two sets of folk and blues, with a little pop mixed in, before a small but appreciative crowd at Chester's Bayview Cafe.

According to Celu, the two have not collaborated for very long, but their vocal blend over Celu's smooth strumming and Roger's beautiful lead playing on his Gibson D-175 has what it takes to keep an audience happy.

Chester's Bayview Cafe, located in the Walnut Square area of Berkeley just a block off Shattuck, is a friendly place, made so as much by the no-cover, informal ambiance as by the attentive service by Hugh--who effectively runs the entire place himself. A narrow space, it is divided into a front bar (with TV), middle restaurant section and a rear space that, last night, was dispensing something in small cups for what appeared to be a neighborhood promotion. The narrow venue is greatly relieved by windows along the entire west side so there's no claustrophobia.

Celu and Roger played two sets. The first song was Arlo Guthrie's City of New Orleans, a familiar tune that's accessible and provided a nice warmup to get the harmonies in sync. Celu is the stronger singer, blending a Joan Baez style tremolo with the blues energy of Bessie Smith. Roger's singing style is more mellow; the mix is quite successful. They tease, taking turns at the lead and then working together. In Helplessly Hoping, the Crosby, Stills and Nash tune, they didn't harmonize through the entire song as in the original but judiciously placed it where they wanted it--leaving you eagerly anticipating the next time.

The "intermission" featured three acts: Greg and LaWanda performed a couple of sultry duets with Greg's sophisticated guitar work underlying his clean tenor and LaWanda's smoky vocals. Then, Jude gave a nice rendering of Dylan's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. Finally, I was invited up for a song. I wasn't expecting this. I played I'm Gonna Leave You Alone from the Red Paint catalog.

In a bit of a surprise, the final song of the evening was Bruck Cockburn's Lovers in a Dangerous Time. I'm familiar with the Barenaked Ladies cover of 1991. Nice work through both sets, and the audience would have been happy to sit longer and enjoy the duo longer. But the singers had already started ahead of schedule and run late.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Free REM Song for your iPod at Starbucks

Today's post deserves to be broken down into its various parts:

Free: The music sample is now as easy as picking up a little piece of paper the size of a VISA card and entering a number into your iTunes account. Presto!

REM Song: REM, the alternative band that's been around for more than three decades, now offers Oh My Heart to coffee buyers. The Out of Time album is marking its 20th anniversary now!

iPod: When I was a kid, a six-transistor radio with AM reception or a miniature reel-to-reel tape player was an amazing device. I've seen 45 records with a big hole in the middle, cassettes, and CDs. Who'd think you could cram more than 2,400 songs (with plenty of room for more) onto one pocket-sized device? I love my iPod Touch.

Starbucks: Now celebrating it's 40th birthday, the ubiquitous coffee, snack and mug distributor, has its own music publishing business! That's great. However, having already put most neighborhood coffee houses out of business, the company (rumor has it) has its eyes on S.F. Bay Area rival Peet's. Oh, please don't take my Peet's away!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Alex Steinweiss - Album Cover Guru

Alex Steinweiss is credited with creating what we think of as the modern album cover. As art director for Columbia Records during the 1940’s, he revolutionized the way records were packaged and marketed.

There's a new book available on his work called Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover. You can order it from William Stout Books.

His first cover was for a 1939 collection of songs by Rodgers and Hart. It features a theater marquee with the composers’ names spelled out in lights.

Steinweiss was born in 1917 and is still alive and working in Sarasota, Florida.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Next Car - Yeah Right

Well, I thought it was a big deal to drive a $127,000 Mercedes-Benz CL 550 for a week. That's nothing compared to the price of the new Porsche 918 Spyder.

If you want one, hurry, though--they're only making 918 copies over the next two years.

Here's's take on this amazing machine.

The 918 Spyder is a gas-electric hybrid--you choose which fuel you use--a first for the brand.

Now, about that price. How about $845,000? Whew!

I actually am fond of the Boxster, currently Porsche's most "affordable" model. I drove one when they first came out in the late 1990s and loved the look, the feel, the shifter, the engine sound, the top-down cruising--everything, including the Guards Red paint. The Porsche I could afford now is that very car--a 1998 model!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rain Songs as Spring Begins

With some pretty strong precipitation over the last few days, I'm thinking about some of my favorite rain-themed oldies.

Rain by the Beatles comes to mind first, with John's acerbic commentary and Paul's high bass part. Sweet pre-Pepper Fab Four.

Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain.... by the Cascades--a pretty early sixties song of regret that still gets a lot of (oldies station) airplay.

How I Wish it Would Rain by the Temptations is the old story about how men aren't supposed to cry so to avoid cabin fever, the poor guy wishes it would rain so no one would see his tears when he goes outside.

Who'll Stop the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Long as he remembers the rain's been pouring down. With John Fogerty it's all symbolic too, of course. It was the late 1960's--nuff said.

The Rain, the Park and Other Things by the Cowsills is a soft psychedelic song by the talented but pop-oriented family group. I loved it, but the "I knew I knew I knew I knew" part was a little annoying.

Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead. I really like this song but don't really understand it. I heard that Phil Lesh wrote it for his dad. It's one of the rare Dead songs by Phil with him singing lead. This link goes to a much later live performance. Oh--I forgot--Happy Birthday Phil! (3/15).

Yellow Balloon by Yellow Balloon. I love this little 1967 pop hit by the mysterious one hit wonders. It contains "it's raining it's pouring" in the middle. With the vocal harmonies and meter changes, it sounds like Brian Wilson could have written and produced it.

There are many more. How about Don't Let the Rain Come Down by the Serendipity Singers? Group folk music at it's most poppy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not So Groovy--Acid Genius Owsley is Dead at 76

I remember LSD--I lived through the 1960's. Even if you never actually ingested any, "acid" affected the music you heard, from artists such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and even the Beatles. It also was manifest in poster design and fueled much of the energy of the Haight Ashbury--for better and worse.

It worked its way into the literature of the time, too. Owsley supplied the fuel for Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, featured in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. If you're interested in more about drug literature, consult Flashback Books -- they're the experts.

Owsley Stanley was the Colonel Sanders of acid. He somehow got the recipe just right (and kept it to himself). You can read a lot more about him in the March 14, 2011 New York Times obituary.

There's something inglorious about his demise--in a car accident in the Australian bush country--but it's not surprising either.

I'm listening to my copy of the Dead's Anthem of the Sun in his memory right now.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Boogie Woogie Virtuoso Carl Sonny Leyland

My friend and Red Paint bandmate Tony and I were looking for a fun place to go for St. Patrick's Day--but were avoiding the likely hysteria of a real Irish pub. So, we ended up at Speisekammer, a fine German restaurant in the heart of Alameda last night. What a great time we had--because we got to hear the incredible Carl Sonny Leyland play the keys off a piano in a stunning and exciting performance. (Note: Photo is from a different show).

For the price of two fine German beers (on tap) in their own uniquely configured mugs, Tony and I heard Carl play and sing Scott Joplin rags, old blues numbers, stride piano in the Fats Waller style and even a couple of his original tunes. We sat close by, and before and between his two sets we got to chat with him. He's very friendly and low key--and looks very cool with his neatly coiffed pompadour, long sideburns and clear plastic glasses.

Carl, who lives in Southern California, makes occasasional visits up north, and plays not only solo, but also with a trio and even has a radio show. See his website for all the information, and some great YouTube clips.

Test Driving Life is about getting out and experiencing something new--musical, automotive and more. I only wish I had sampled some German cuisine while I was there. I'll return to Speisekammer again for dinner soon--and let you know about it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Miscellany

I knew St. Patrick's Day was coming because of all the green candy in Safeway, among other things. I realize that it is a religious holiday for some but here are a few things that I am celebrating today.

THE SAINT HIMSELF. Generally recognized as the Patron Saint of Ireland.

CARS: Choose one of six green wraps for your smart car to honor St. Patrick's Day!

MUSIC: Hear a live version of John Mayer singing St. Patrick's Day.

SPORTS: The Belfast Giants. This inspirational sports team plays ice hockey in a neutral arena for Catholics and Protestants to share. The fans, the team, and even the cheerleaders are made up of both Protestants and Catholics. I read about them in the March 21, 2011 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Strangest Dream... of Peace on Earth

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream... The song evokes the hope for peace in this word. It's one of those songs that leaves me aching and longing for a better world.

I most recently heard Simon & Garfunkel's version on SiriusXM Radio, which has been offering a special station featuring the duo (which, sadly, ends shortly).

What I didn't know until today was that it was written by Ed McCurdy, who was a very popular folk singer in the 1950's and 60's, and died almost exactly 11 years ago.

The song has been recorded in 76 languages and is the official theme song of the Peace Corps, among other things. The lyrics:

Last night I had the strangest dream
I'd ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men*
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

And when the paper was all signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful pray'rs were prayed

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing 'round and 'round
While swords and guns and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I'd never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

*Note: I saw a version that said "It was filled with women and men" for this line--probably an update--and more appropriate for today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck Drummer, Dies at 82

Over the last several years I have gained more awareness of and enthusiasm for Jazz--a music form that surrounds us in America but about which I was fairly ignorant. I now have a stash of CDs and significant iPod space devoted to some high spots. And--I support my local Jazz FM station, KCSM, with a donation every year.

Dave Brubeck is definitely cool, and his longtime drummer, Joe Morello, could really make those skins dance. He now joins the legion of departed Jazz legends. The photo to the left is from 1962.

Take Five was a huge hit in 1959 on the album of the same name. It was in an unusual (Jazzy) 5/4 time, which made it stand out. With its energy and feeling of movement, it's been a favorite for movie and TV soundtracks.

Check out this story and video of Joe and the gang in a French filming of a fast rendition of the tune.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan's Auto Manufacturing Hit by Quake Impact

Besides the obvious terrible tragedy of loss of life and property in Japan, there will be an impact on the automobile manufacturers. According to a story in, the seven major Japanese companies have shut down production for at least a week.

Even though only Toyota has a plant in the affected areas, there are other issues, such as parts suppliers in the quake areas that are lost and problems with access to damaged ports. And, of course, the companies are giving families a chance to make sure their loved ones are OK or if they are lost, to make arrangements.
Even American plants that produce Japanese vehicles could be affected if they are unable to assemble cars because of missing parts.

It shows that a tragedy in one place affects many other places in the world today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Playing Music--it's Good for You

Last night, my band, Red Paint, played a party for a friend of our lead singer's friend. Free food and drink, interesting company, and an OK, if not inspired set.

We played between two sets by a tight blues band called Grease, Grit & Grime. They set up a fine background for the party, which featured beers on tap and a pig on a spit among other attractions.

Today, Sunday, I played my Spring concert with the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra. It included beautiful music by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Chopin. The Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 featured Lois Brandwynne, a brilliant pianist. What a joy to play along with her.

All of my adult music playing began in 2003, when I picked up my electric Fender bass. It was reinforced by starting the upright bass in 2004. Finding bandmates was great, but to play in an orchestra you need help. I found my community orchestra through the Adult School, but there is another way to do it--the New Horizons International Music Association.

I learned about this group in the AARP Bulletin. If you're 50 or over, you can attend one of the sessions and start playing a new instrument--or resume playing the one you gave up after high school. There are about 7,000 members in 182 orchestras, bands and choruses in 41 states and overseas.

Groups meet once a week for an hour lesson followed by playing together for another hour. I have found my two-hour weekly orchestra rehearsals, with concerts every three months or so, to work out perfectly. However, with an orchestra you may need some experience to join, but with New Horizons, you can start whenever you're ready, at whatever level you're at.

It can make all the difference in your life. I know it has in mine.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Off to Israel--37 Years Ago Today

On March 12, 1974, I landed in Israel to begin what would become a ten-month stay on Kibbutz Hulda, an agricultural community in central Israel. I was taking a break from college, where I was stagnating and having trouble choosing a major.

The Kibbutz Movement was a socialist experiment that was vital to settling the region in the early 20th Century and after statehood in 1947. A kibbutz is a community operation, so personal property isn't much in evidence or encouraged. You eat in a cafeteria, work together at various jobs, and run things as a group. In its pure state, even children live separately from their parents and are raised together.

This community idealism is apparent, and works under some conditions, but as the modern world has changed, many kibbutzim (plural) now specialize in industrial activities too. Mine was old fashioned. We had animals, cotton fields, orchards, vineyards and other farm features. I fed cows and also spent some time weeding the vineyards, and, for the first six months, studied Hebrew half of each day.

It was a great experience, but as fall turned to winter I was ready to come home and resume my college studies. It was fascinating to live in another place that spoke a different language and to meet people from so many different places. I never felt more American.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquakes Really Shake You Up

Like many people, I discovered the horrible events in Japan last night on TV. The scenes of devastation are shocking and my heart goes out to the families who lost relatives, friends and property in the sudden tsunami waves.

As a Californian, I am used to earthquakes but not to tsunamis (at least the kind that have been ravaging the Japanese coast). I felt my first earthquake when I was in the 8th grade and we were, strangely enough, discussing earthquakes in Science class. I had lived in California for about a month then and it was quite upsetting.

I remember numerous quakes in the late 1970s that moved the hanging lamps and created news for a day or two. The big one was, of course, the Loma Prieta Earthquake of October 17, 1989. I was working at the Oakland Coliseum and when I felt the earth move, I ducked under my desk like a well-trained citizen. Nothing fell on me, but a thick fog of dust was shaken loose from the building's rafters. I later learned that 24 of the more than 800 windows in the circular building had broken.

At home, all of my bookcases lay flat on the floor, their contents spread around the room (along with the shards of the glass bowls that had rested atop them that morning). I recall lights out in big areas and taking a wild ride to get my new bride at her co-worker's house across the bay.

We recovered quickly, except for having a piece of the Bay Bridge broken (and the bridge closed for a month to fix it) and much worse, the Cypress Freeway structure that pancaked. I normally drove to work on that freeway (and had that very morning) but I excaped being flattened.

In California we all live with the reality that another big one could come at any time. Hope it's not anytime soon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Here Comes the Spider-Man!

I just read in USA Today that a nearly mint copy of Amazing Fantasy No. 15--the comic that introduced Spider-Man to the world--sold for $1.1 million dollars. It came out in 1962 and somehow escaped the fate of the comics I used to read and collect, which got rolled up and stuck in a back pocket or piled under the bed in a heap. It's the highest price ever paid for a comic from what's known as the "Silver Age" of comics--the mid-1950's to around 1970.

I read comics from 1964 to the early 1970's and loved Spider-Man. My first issue was number 8. My mom got it for me along with several other now forgotten comics when I was home from school sick.

I loved the story of Peter Parker, the nerd with glasses who suddenly, with the bite of a radioactive spider, acquired super powers. I would have loved to have had super powers in the 7th grade.

I started buying Spider-Man and other Marvel comics off the newsstand myself with issue 25 and was able to fill in most of the gaps from guys in the neighborhood. My oldest one was number 2, featuring the Vulture--a popular and recurring Spider-Man villian.

Starting with issue number 39 the artist changed from the classic Steve Ditko to the sleeker renderings of Johnny Romita. I still treasure those original 38 issues--but don't own any comics now. I gave it up as an adult--but now I wish I had those slim little Marvel 12-cent classics back.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WAJ Media Days--Great Fun

From Monday night to Wednesday afternoon, I spent many happy hours in Monterey at the 19th Annual Western Automotive Journalists Media Days.

Besides the great opportunity to drive a wide selection of the latest cars on local roads and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it was a chance to reconnect with with my automotive colleagues and favorite industry representatives.

Highlights for me this year included:

  • A special presentation from Chrysler, who brought samples of all of their revamped products as well as the new Dodges, Jeeps and Fiat.

  • A chance to drive local roads, some winding and scenic, in the long-awaited new Fiat 500 (pictured) as well as the Volvo S60, 2012 Ford Focus, Cadillac CTS Coupe--with a manual six-speed, BMW 335is, Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, Honda CR-Z manual-equipped hybrid, and the Mitsubishi i-MIEV and smart battery electric vehicles.

  • A busy track day with a selection of great vehicles including the MAZDASPEED3--which was just as much fun as it is on the road--and the surprising Buick Regal Turbo--with a manual six-speed! The Subaru WRX STi was marvelously tenacious on the curving racetrack. Even the Volt was OK on the track--running only on electricity.

  • There was an impromptu drag race between the smart and the i-MIEV to see who the best electric was--the i-MIEV won.
  • The Hyundai Equus impressed me with its amazing luxury--like a Lexus for less money--incredible.

  • Many tasty meals, including the usual banquet on Tuesday night.

The weather was incredibly good, considering the date. I wore a T-shirt outside both days.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Best Things in Life are Free

Armed only with a smart phone containing a camera, you can capture a world of beauty--and it doesn't cost a thing. The sunrise is at about 6:20 a.m. on Monday, March 7, 2011.

These flowers are from a walk on Saturday, March 5 in my neighborhood.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mercedes-Benz Club Fun--Saved by Roadside Assistance

Thanks to Adam at my friendly and helpful press fleet, I was able to secure a Mercedes-Benz CL 550 this week so I could attend the Mercedes-Benz Club of America San Francisco chapter's First Sunday Drive yesterday.

We drove a convoy of vehicles, ranging from a couple of early 70's 280 SE sedans to a couple pretty little silver SLKs to my brand new car. We were undeterred by drizzle--we even took two very short ferry rides out in the S.F. Bay Delta area.

Appealingly curving roads with nobody on them, great conversations, a nice brunch at the Ryde Hotel in Walnut Grove, and, then, a small Mercedes adventure.

On the way home, I got a message on my instrument panel that my right rear tire was losing pressure. New cars do this--they inform you of things. I pulled off into a Chevron station and was able to contact Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance. That's one benefit of driving an expensive car.
A polite young man called me and came out just a few minutes later with his ML 350 crossover with Mercedes emblazoned on it. In a few minutes (and in the rain) he applied the spare for me. He also showed me the big nail that was stuck in my tire!
The day was saved!

I wonder where the club is going on April 3?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Simon & Garfunkel Radio

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were a hugely successful folk duo in the 1960's and early 1970's. From The Sound of Silence to A Bridge Over Troubled Water, their tight vocal harmonies and compelling lyrics meant a lot to folks back then--me included--and still do.

The two occasionally perform together today, and of course Paul Simon has had a long and busy solo career.

The music from the movie, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, is particularly familiar. That was the vehicle that launched Hoffman's film career.

Now, I have learned that satellite radio provider Sirius XM is giving us a special Simon & Garfunkel channel. If you're a subscriber, you will find Paul and Art at 113 on Sirius and 38 on XM until March 18th.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Famous Motorcycle Journey Comes to an End

I read Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries a few years ago because my son was assigned the book in English class and he had to write a paper. I enjoyed Che's adventures, and then went on to read a biography of him.

A movie was made recently that was also enjoyable and followed the book pretty closely.

Che Guevara posters were around when I was a teenager. He helped Fidel Castro in his takeover in the Cuban revolution in 1959 and with his beard and beret, was very cool to many in that tumultuous time.

His compadre on the journey, Alberto Granado, just died today, at the age of 88. Che died in 1967 while trying to stir up revolution in Bolivia.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Another Reason to Lay Awake at Night

It used to be the bomb. I had thought that climate change was the current nightmare. Now we hear that we may be causing mass extinction of species.

I guess that's not a complete surprise, really.

Researchers found that species are going extinct three to 12 times faster than would be expected if there were no crisis.

That gives Earth between three and 22 centuries to reach the point of mass extinction if nothing is done to stop the problem.

It would be the sixth time in Earth's history that this has happened--none of them recent.

We'll have to keep an eye on this one.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Uh Oh--Four Dollar Gas is Here

I drove past my neighborhood Chevron today and there it was--four dollar gas. I've found that filling my premium-ingesting Audi and BMW is already costing an extra $10 a tank.

As it happened last time, we are likely to see a move to people buying more economical cars. This time, the manufacturers are more ready than they were. Here are some suggestions:

Electric: Nissan Leaf

Plug-in Hybrid: Chevrolet Volt

Hybrids: Toyota Prius, Honda Insight

Economical small cars: Mazda3, MINI Cooper, Scion XD, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Elantra

Midsize: Four-cylinder Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata

There are many other options, and many more electric and hybrid vehicles coming soon.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The VW Microbus Returns

I have driven two different VW Microbuses in the past--my mom's 1971 Camper and a working bus in 1973 to make early morning deliveries. They were fun--but slow--and very cool.

Now, VW is showing a concept of a new model for today's world. It's smaller, and has an electric motor doing the work -- in front. The concept car's electric motor puts out 85 kW of power and an impressive 199 lb.-ft of torque. The Bulli (as the Germans have always called the Microbus), is said to be able to travel 186 miles on a charge. That would be plenty for most people.

And how about 0 to 62 mph in just 11.5 seconds and a top speed of 87 mph? That's a new one for me.

Let's hope they make it and start selling it soon. Groovy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Christina Perri--Jar of Hearts

I was listening to the oldies channel on Sirius today and got bored so I switched over to The Pulse--"Two Thousands and Today." I listened to a few fine tracks by recent artists and then Christina Perri's Jar of Hearts came on. What a song! Despite its mood, it has a freshness that's at once familiar but also new--certainly to me.

It turns out that 23-year-old Christina is just getting started. Jar of Hearts, a beautiful but bitter song about her ex-husband, is her first "hit."

I think I'll leave it on The Pulse for a while longer--maybe catch some more exciting new artists like Christina.