Friday, September 30, 2011

2014 Chevrolet Corvette is Coming!

The Corvette is America's favorite two-seat sportscar. In it's nearly sixty years of production, it's only in its sixth generation, so there's always a lot of excitement whenever a new one comes out.

Now, there's talk of Generation 7 coming in 2014. I just discovered the latest information in this AutoWeek article online.

As a journalist, my seat time in Corvettes has been pretty limited, but it's always a memorable week. The cars are very low to the ground and when you sink down into that cockpit, you know you're not motoring about in a Malibu. The sound of the V8 engine is smooth and quiet now and the interiors are modern and plastic. I still hear Beach Boys songs in my head when I'm driving one, but I haven't been in one in years.

My favorite has always been the Sting Ray series of Corvette--generation 2, from 1963-67, a relatively short run. The car that followed in 1968, Generation 3, ran for well over a decade, with many small, cumulative changes, to 1982 before the all-new 1984 model debuted. There was no 1983 model--an interesting factoid to remember for your next cocktail party.

Meanwhile, the auto press will bubble over sightings and enthusiast speculation until the new car arrives. I hope I'll get to drive it soon after.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy Jewish New Year--Rosh Hashana Tova

Rosh Hashana is the start (literally the "head") of the Jewish year. Unlike the secular calendar, the Jewish New Year starts in the fall. The dates vary (according to the secular calendar, at least) because the Hebrew Calendar, while around 365 days long, is divided into 13 months.

In any case, the Jewish Year 5772 started last night at sundown. As usual, I didn't do anything about it.

Back when Jews were all pretty much living together in their own communities, the new year was a big deal. Also, following right behind it, was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, when you basically said, "Ok, it's the new year, I'm sorry for the wrong things I did and the mistakes I made and I'm going to do better this year. Oh--and I won't eat today to remind myself."

As an essentially nonobservant Jew living with non-Jews, I will not fast this year. How can I? My band has a gig to play that day and I'd starve. In all seriousness, though, it doesn't feel like I have to.

Judaism is an ancient tradition, but like any practice, it takes daily--or at least regular--observance. I don't do that. But sometimes I wish I did, and it's still a good time to think about my life.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scion xB Release Series 8.0 - Big Blue

I'm finishing up a week with the Scion xB in Voodoo Blue. It's fun to say that color out loud (lots of people commented on it and I had to tell them). It was easy to find the box-bodied car in the parking lot, too.

The xB, in its second generation, is a bigger car than the original box, which we could buy here in the U.S. from 2004 to 2007. This one has the larger 158-horsepower engine from the tC coupe, Scion's bestseller. It's not as shamelessly cute as the first one.

But it's a handy car to have around and turned out to be a nice commuter. You don't get as much wind noise as you might think from driving a brick through the air at 70 mph. The sound system made friends with my iPod, hiding in the center console bin. The rear seats are quite spacious. My nearly six-foot-tall son remarked on it without me asking. Those seats flip down in a second to accommodate cargo, including upright basses, boxes and what have you.

My car came with an automatic, and it looks like that's what Toyota dealers have in stock--I checked at my local auto emporium. This is no sports car, but it does feel zippy at least. I got 24 miles per gallon, which is OK but nothing to get excited about.

The Release Series 8.0 sounds like software, and is presumably meant to appeal to young buyers who are familiar with the nomenclature. My car was one of 2,000 made in the series--and had an illuminated badge on the transmission console to prove it (it was number 1112).

My test car retailed at $23,186, including special 17-inch wheels and tires, upgraded Alpine stereo, carbon fiber window trim, Bluetooth system and Scion Security.

Special editions help a car sell when it's been around awhile. I'll be interested to see where the xB goes in its third generation--if there is one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jimi Hendrix - Crosstown Traffic - Today

I was driving along on the way to work last week and the flow of cars bogged down--again. Commuting 22 miles each way to work every day is a chore, but is also the time I get to listen to music. When you can't do much else (except watch out for other drivers!) listening is the best thing.

Well, sometimes what's happening outside matches what's on the air or on my iPod. Up came Jimi Hendrix's Crosstown Traffic and suddenly my mood about the sluggish pace changed. It all seemed to fit--and everything was OK. Then the traffic cleared--a bonus--and I was into the home stretch.

I listened to Jimi Hendrix as a teenager--when he was still around. He died, way too young, almost exactly 41 years ago.

His sound was loud, but carefully rendered, and with only a bass and drums surrounding his amazing guitar leads, perfect and clean always. His singing was remarkably subtle and tender and the lyrics meant something. Recently, the surprisingly virtuosic John Mayer has covered and replicated that sound with his trio, particularly with Jimi's Bold as Love.

To me, Jimi's sound expressed perfectly the stress and opportunity of being a teenager in the late 1960's.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Gifted Man - Intriguing CBS Pilot

Last night, I spent a couple of hours watching TV. That's a big deal, because I seldom do. But my wife told me about A Gifted Man, a new medical procedural show on CBS, and it sounded interesting.

In brief, New York's finest neurosurgeon (Patrick Wilson) has problems. Despite his wealth and fame (and good looks and charm), his prominent patients won't follow his instructions (fatally) and don't appreciate his work (angrily). Then his ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle) turns up mysteriously after ten years. That's kind of a nice break, until he (and we) discover that she's been dead for two weeks. Her ghost has important business and needs his help.

Since their separation, while he has risen to the top in the city, she has been directing a clinic for the poor on the other side of town. He didn't even know she was around. Her first task for him is to open up her computer at the clinic, which he does in seconds. But his chance meeting with a young patient in need there begins something new for him--or maybe it's just reminding him of his earlier medical life and goals.

If this were a movie, we'd see the man change, with the help of his big-hearted wife's spirit. But as a TV series, we'll have to see how he deals with an inconveniently awakened conscience a piece at a time. Will he give up his Ferrari to go help the needy? Will he become a nicer person? Will his ex-wife ever go away?

The last series I shared with my wife was Monk, another story of a man searching for answers and slowly becoming a "better" man in the process. It kept me interested for years. We'll see how A Gifted Man pans out.

CBS - Fridays, 8 p.m. (7 Central)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two Moms in the Raw - Good for You

I was looking for a healthy snack the other day. I passed on the candy aisle, but near the check-out I found a Two Moms in the Raw Gojiberry Granola bar. Later, back at work, I nibbled at it during the afternoon and it did the trick.

What I learned on their website is that the founder, Shari, was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis in 2004 and decided that a raw food diet would be the best path to healing. She was making great recipes and at some point, it got too expensive to just give it away. So she started her company.

Two Moms in the Raw makes and sells cereal, chia bars, granola, nut bars and sea crackers. All of it is tasty and good for you.

I guess I don't have to give up snacks--just the bad ones.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Zenergo - Online Matchup for Fun

I just had one of my automotive stories appear on Zenergo. It was used (with permission) from this daily blog. Zenergo is a great place to network with other people with similar interests. You connect online and then meet in person.

Like to bike? Play music? Squaredance? Birdwatch? What if you're a single looking for someplace other than a bar to meet someone? Zenergo is designed to be an alternative to that scene. It's free, too.

You can also organize and publicize events there. I just posted an notice for my band, Red Paint, a few minutes ago. We're playing in a couple of weeks and I'm trying to get the word out. Of course, it's localized to where I live, but some activities (game development, writing, etc.) could easily be done from a distance.

Once you sign up, you'll have a profile, email, and the kinds of things you'd expect to have on Facebook.

Check it out.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Red Paint CD - Proof Copy

In my hands I hold a plain silvery CD with a hand-written title: American Tender - Proof. I will listen carefully to this disc and then, when my three bandmates and I give it the OK, it will become a real CD, printed, in its own official packaging with a product scan code and track list and notes and photos. It's a milestone for any band.

Red Paint marks 5 years together this month. The band, a classic two guitars, bass and drums quartet, plays many original songs and some carefully selected covers. You can hear some of the original songs by clicking BandPage in the left column on the group's Facebook page.

What does it mean to be doing what you wanted to do when you were 18? A lot. At that age, I just wanted to play music with other guys, but it was mixed in with the belief that I needed to be a professional musician to do it--and that was too frightening. I didn't know how to meet the other players--and didn't have enough confidence.

Back then, I was playing the guitar, but wanted to play the bass. I traded my rare coins for one in a pawnshop but it was stolen not long after. It took me decades to finally get my instrument. Now, eight years later, five of them playing with the band, it's time to debut the album. Even though our earnings have been small, we are real professionals now, or at least it feels that way.

Be sure to catch Red Paint in Alameda on October 8th. See the Facebook link above for details on this fundraiser where several "dad bands" will compete for a valuable prize.

And see the September-October issue of Alameda Magazine too.

And--when the CD comes out--buy one!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Drove the New Beetle Today

I've eagerly awaited a chance to drive the brand new VW Beetle. It represents a major change from the New Beetle of 1998 - 2011, and it did not disappoint. And the dealership had a 1950 model there for "comparison."

The new car looks a little scrunched down, in a good way, compared to the New Beetle. That vehicle, based on a mid 1990s show car, was amazing in reinterpreting the bug, but the 2012 takes it further. The windshield is really more upright, making a flat, longer hood. The window line is much higher--typical of today's cars. The taillamps manage to evoke the old (original) Beetle without copying.

Inside, the exterior-color plastic on the dash and doors recalls the painted metal of the past, and feels very different from pretty much anything else you can buy now. The yellow car I looked at in the showroom had a very bright (too much?) interior with all that yellow!

I had heard about the special retro glovebox, and there it is, on the face of the dash. You push the left side of the narrow lever and the door pops up. Reminds me of the hatch-opening VW logo that leans in to create a handle to pick up the door. The rear cargo space remains handy, with fold-down rear seats that will hold an average sized adult person.

The engines are standard Golf fare--a 2.5-liter four (170 horsepower) and a 2.0-liter turbo four that puts out 200 horses. That's the GTI engine, making the car fairly fast. I drove a white turbo model with the automatic and it felt strong and well-planted. The stats say 6.8 seconds zero to sixty, which is pretty good.

I can't wait for a nice weeklong test, but for now, it looks like a winner to me. I want mine with a manual six-speed, though.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Toyota FJ Cruiser - One Week Enlistment

When they brought me my Toyota FJ Cruiser to test, I was surprised to see that it was Army Green -- nonmetallic, regular old green. The wheels were steel--painted utilitarian flat black. The rest of the trim was blacked out, too. It looked like a mean, fighting machine.

Of course, the FJ, which is essentially Toyota's take on the Hummer, may look blocky and tough, but it's got the modern Toyota guts and interior. The inside panels are upright and some wear body color--there was lots of green inside, including the seat panels--and the controls are blocky--but surprisingly light to move. The ride is firm but smooth and the big SUV is easy to drive. Parking takes care because of a huge blind spot created by the stylish but wide side pillars.

A 4.0-liter V6 with 260 horsepower gives the car plenty of punch, but it's pretty quiet to the ear. The rear door opens horizontally--like the door of your house--and the second row seats fold for maximum utility.

While most FJs wear a bright color and white top--a nod to the old Land Cruiser--you need to order Upgrade Package 3 ($3,650) to get all the Army stuff. That includes more than just green paint--you also receive illuminated round markers on the mirrors, an electronically controlled locking rear differential, active traction control, remote keyless entry, an upgraded JBL 11-speaker audio system (with a monster subwoofer in back), leather steering wheel, privacy glass and more. It all tops out at $31,775 with delivery charges.

I'm not one for big lumbering vehicles, but this one felt like fun--and I thought I saw people looking at me and thinking, "What did that guy do to that car?"

Photo by Chris Kidwell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blood Pressure's Up!

It's probably not just that I'm busy all the time, but I've got high blood pressure. I just bought a handy wrist blood pressure device at Walgreens and it told me so. The numbers are too high. So much for salty treats and candy at 10 p.m. I know what I have to do and now it's time to do it (again). Better eating, here we come.

I wrote about healthy salad eating the other day, but now it has to be EVERY day. It's amazing how dropping 10 pounds lowers your numbers.

High blood pressure is a problem, because it wears out the walls of your arteries and veins and makes it easier for you to have a stroke or a heart attack. It's just plain physics, really. So, I have to start remembering the big goal--live long and healthy--over the short term one--satisfy craving for french fries or candy. Not easy.

There are many ways to eat better, and I'll be exploring them now. The DASH Diet is a leading way to do it. Here goes!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sun Kings Do Beatles Best

I went to see and hear the Sun Kings yesterday at the Lafayette Art & Wine Festival. As I expected, they recreated the Beatles in a way that even Sir Paul can't when he goes on Tour.

There are five members in the Sun Kings, and despite a couple of attempts at early Beatle haircuts and a set or two of round John Lennon glasses, the guys don't try to replicate the look of the Fab Four. But they really do get the sound down perfectly, note for note and vocal nuance for nuance. Whether it's the early Yeah Yeah Yeah sound, the mid period ballads, selections from Sgt. Pepper or, yesterday's show-ender, One after 909, the guys have obviously carefully and meticulously recreated the real deal.

I was standing next to a couple and they were singing along. I joined them. The woman of the couple, like me, knew every word and we sang back and forth through a couple songs.

It was fun, exciting--even a bit emotional to relive that feeling. I also felt a little old, as the vast majority of my fellow audience members looked like they could have gone to high school with me. We love our Beatles, yes we do....

There are tribute and cover bands aplenty out there reproducing the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and others, but somehow the Beatles' music represents something that is timeless and monumental. I don't know if there will be bands like the Sun Kings in 50 years when everyone who grew up with them will be gone, but it's possible that the grandchildren of those original fans may still want to hear the authentic sounds of whoever's reproducing this catalog in 2062 for the Beatles Centennial.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Toyota--an American Car Company

Everybody knows (I think) that Toyota is a huge Japanese company. However, what may be less obvious is how much impact they have on the U.S. economy--and how many people they employ here. According to a little brochure I got with my most recent Toyota vehicle loan, the company has created 365,000 jobs, invested $18 billion, built nearly 1 million vehicles and given away $539 million dollars for philanthropic reasons. Check out their history in the U.S.

There are 1,506 Toyota, Scion and Lexus dealers across the country selling and servicing cars, many of them made in the American midwest. The midsize leader, Camry, has streamed out of the Georgetown, Kentucky plant since 1988, and they've built the Hybrid model there for the last five years. Georgetown also builds the Avalon (since 1994) and Venza crossover (since 2008). It helps that those vehicles share a platform.

They build Tacoma and Tundra pickups in south central Texas, the Sequoia SUV, Highlander SUV and Sienna minivan in Indiana, and will start moving Corollas out of the new Mississippi plant this year (see photo).

Those numerous facilities have a big impact on their communties, both because they order large qualtities of parts and services from regional suppliers but also in providing customers for the businesses in those communities. The new plant in Mississippi will hire about 2,000 workers but will add more than that indirectly in purchases of parts such as suspension components, glass, bumpers, seats and door panels. Think of how many of those factory employees will be shopping the local Walmart, depositing money in local banks, and getting their hair cut at the mall.

Toyota has the Calty Design Center in Southern California that's had a lot of say in how the American Toyotas look and feel since it was established in 1973.

Fifteen states boast major Toyota business and there's still more spread out around the country.

It's pretty impressive.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gotta Eat Better

I've been around long enough to know that everything that happens in your life is a result of something else--usually your own actions (or inactions). Today, I celebrate the sad fact that the better the food you eat the better you feel--and look--and the longer you will probably live, too. Sigh.

About a year and a half ago my doctor found that my blood pressure had risen a little higher than what is accepted as the threshold of prehypertension--120/80. It was more like 140/90. So, I decided to eat better and exercise more. My goal was that when I came in for my next visit, in six months, I'd be able to fit into a size 32 waist pair of pants and my blood pressure would be normal. Well, about a year ago, in August of 2010, I succeeded and strolled into the office in my 32's--and got the results I wanted. I'd lost 15 pounds--and matched the weight that has been on my driver's license for decades.

Well, today, I am tight in the 34s and my wife has decided she needs to eat better too. So, we had a wonderful salad for lunch today (no sarcasm). Then, off we went to Whole Foods. The first thing in the cart was broccoli--a favorite of mine--and spinach--of hers. We got Jonagold and Gala apples--which we sampled at the store when the produce guy cut them open for us right there. Yum! I think he was happy because I complimented the beautiful arrangement of the vegetables.

In any case, here we are, trying to avoid McDonalds and eschew candy. Gotta keep an eye on the big picture and think long term.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Golden State Warriors Try Again

I just read about the Warriors' plans for next season. It's the usual thing, really--introduce the recent new owners and the brand new coach to thousands of fans at an event. Try to whip up excitement. Sadly, it nearly always ends in disappointment. The franchise has had a hard time for a long time.

I worked fulltime at the Warriors office for eight years--1986 - 1994. All of those seasons were good for me, but not all of them went so well for the team. We had a 20-win season and a 55-win season. We went to the playoffs and didn't go to the playoffs. We drafted at 14 and we drafted at 1. But nothing really brought the team into the upper echelons of the NBA.

We did, however, provide a great time and took very good care of our season ticket holders, who repaid us by loyally buying their tickets again each year. I like to think that my work on the season ticket holder magazine and events helped, but what makes franchises function is the fans.

Fan is short for "fanatic" and that's what keeps rational people paying large sums of money to watch other people run back and forth on the hardwood.

It's like buying a lottery ticket, really, because you have no control but you're always hoping for a payoff. And it could happen. That's the mindset that keeps fans coming back. Making it a good experience is important too, and I hope that the new ownership takes some lessons from the ownership of the mid '80s to mid '90s, whose enlightened guidance made a lot of a team that was never great but was always fun to watch--and occasionally overachieved and thrilled its loyal fans.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nissan Quest Finally Gets it Right

I just stepped out a week with the newest rendition of the Nissan Quest. One word? Success.

Minivans, a creation of Chrysler in the early to mid 1980's, were meant to combine carlike accommodations and driving quality with the usefulness of the full-size, truck-based "vans." They were very successful, filling a huge need, and Nissan's first Quest was one option on the market.

The Quest was a little smaller than the competition and sold pretty well, but was not the leader. Later Quests, including the version that expired in 2010, went for "weird" and overstyled. Also, the materials didn't feel quite up to the best.

Well, the new, fourth-generation model is not only massive and fully-featured, but it is richly appointed inside--even traditional there--and, other than its expressive face and rakish roofline, matches the big guys (Odyssey/Sienna) point for point. It was an extremely comfortable week of driving, although the 17 miles per gallon -- reasonable for a minivan -- was wasted carrying one person back and forth to work.

I was especially impressed by how perfectly and smoothly the car handled my iPod connection--although the location of the USB port meant I had to put the iPod away each time I left the car.

I have no need for a minivan, but this new Quest would definitely be in the running if I did.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Moody Blues Remain

Forty-four years after the release of Days of Future Past, the Moody Blues--well, three of them--are still touring the world. Known especially for their great series of albums in the 1960s, 70s and even into the 80s, the band explored spiritual and romantic themes with plenty of dramatic background.

The aforementioned iconic album was recorded with a symphony orchestra, but afterwards they still got that sound of sailing through the universe thanks to the Mellotron (artificial orchestra) and the Chamberlain after.

Through the years they've diminished to three old gray guys--Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge--they're still out there--as perennial as the planets and stars that were part of their early songs.

I remember the Moody Blues from my youth and spent a lot of time listening to their early albums when I was in college. They seemed so cool--perfect hair, great music, psychedelic and "meaningful." Nights in White Satin was everywhere--and even got re-released in the early 1970s--a double hit.

I think of the Moodies today because I heard a song that reminded me of them yesterday when my iPod pulled up the song Ghost, from the album Ghost, by the Devin Townsend Project. Six and a half minutes of that choral background with mellow keyboard was relaxing--but I know the project's secret. They can turn 180 degrees and sound like heavy metal, too. More on that fascinating band later.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nissan LEAF Stretch Limo--Empowering

I just read that a limo-building company in Springfield, Missouri is giving the stretch treatment to a Nissan LEAF. Now how about that?

Imperial Coachbuilders has done this to other cars, but the LEAF presented some interesting issues. With that big, expensive battery pack underneath the car, they had to be very careful about how they cut the car apart to add the additional structural panel. They also needed to make sure that they didn't lose all the efficiency of the car by making it unable to handle the extra weight of additional body and four more passengers.

Well, they solved it. See this story in Automobile online for the details.

No word on any stretch Chevrolet Volts yet.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jazz, KCSM, and John Coltrane

I had the pleasure of listening to my ex sing in her latest group the other night. It was a small place right on the main drag, two doors from the local movie theater. Just as you walked in the door you'd practically stumble across the five--two lady singers, the guitarist/leader, upright bass and saxophone. They played three sets of jazz and pop standards impeccably--and with lots of feeling and warmth.

It all made me hungry for some more Jazz, so I turned to KCSM 91.1-- the Bay Area's Jazz Station. KCSM plays all Jazz all the time, and has for years. Taking over the massive record library of KJAZ, its noble predecessor, the station now boasts the third largest Jazz collection in the country--and one of the others is at the Smithsonian!

So, on went the radio and before long I was caught up in a multi-hour special presentation on the great saxophonist John Coltrane. His story is well known to Jazz aficionados. He was huge in the 1950's and 60's, with the up and down life that he led fueled by an intense focus (he practiced all the time), his musical vision and, sadly, some heroin addition too (which he did kick in a spiritual discovery).

At home, I listened to the rest of the special and then put on my copy of Giant Steps, one of his great albums. Man, it sounded good. Then, I called KCSM and renewed my membership. The station, based at the College of San Mateo, a local community college, is commercial free (that means 100 percent music and very deep expertise from its seasoned staff). I rejoined with pleasure. If you're a Jazz enthusiast, you should be a member. If you're not in the area, you can hear them online--so no excuses!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 Ten Years On

September 11, 2001 is the worst event that has happened to the world in one day--in my lifetime. I've lived through assassinations of presidents, presidential candidates and iconic rock musicians. I've experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I can only hope that something worse isn't around the corner.

I understand that there are some things that are not sudden incidents, but take years or even decades to do their work--think of Nazis or global climate change--and those can be much more dangerous and horrible. But sudden horrors can wreak havoc on your psyche.

Ten years later, I'm doing well. I think that's what I have to do--to live my life and not be defeated by terrorism, especially since I, as an individual, can't keep terrorists out of the U.S.

The terrible images of the twin towers being attacked and falling, which I saw on TV before going to work, are permanently seared into my brain. Since then, I've had to put up with the racheted-up security measures we all endure routinely now--especially in airports. I now need a passport to visit Canada or Mexico! Every time I drive over the San Francisco Bay Bridge I look at those tall buildings and can't help but think they now seem like vulnerable targets, despite whatever security measures are being taken (that I, of course know nothing about).

I've had my own personal crises this last ten years. I lost a parent and have been unemployed--twice. I've had aches and pains now and then. But overall, it's been a time of growth for my musical and writing activities. Now that I think of it, the timing may be related. In April of 2003, I decided that there was no time to waste, both because it was my 50th birthday and because of the sense that life is precious and limited. I started playing the bass. That's an important part of my life now.

I'm glad that we're rebuilding in Manhattan--and that the new 1 World Trade Center is a fresh building. We've preserved the footprints of the towers as memorials. Their absence says it all, and the loss of thousands of innocent people resonates forever in our memories. But we are rebuilding and renewing ourselves every day. It's an antiterrorist activity.

I really hope there won't ever be another 9-11, but, of course, I can't help worrying about it sometimes. I just don't want to overdo it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hayward California Murals Astound--Again

Andrew Kong Knight is at it again. After months of meticulous work, the scaffolds have come down and the new "Hayward Meets Hollywood" murals are now on display. Each stunning mural is approximately 30' by 50' in scale and features original designs based on vintage art deco motifs and architecture.

I previously mentioned other murals in Hayward. The city seems to have a real mission in beautifying itself. The next thing is a major new road and traffic project that has been tying up the intersection at Mission and Jackson Streets but will ease congestion when it's done. After that, it would be great to fill in the empty storefronts along Foothill Blvd. A city's work is never done, especially in hard economic times.

For those of you who are not locals, just enjoy the photos.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Love Train - The O'Jays Sing of Hope

It was 1973. The long war in Viet Nam was drawing to a painful and unsuccessful close and everyone was REALLY ready for some peace. The Yom Kippur War had just concluded in Israel and it hadn't gone so well for the Israelis as it had in 1967. There was still plenty of trouble around the world, as usual.

The O'Jays sang Love Train--wishing for us to all "climb on board." Motown had discovered a new genre now. Think about Edwin Starr's "War" ("good god y'all, what is it good for? -- Absolutely NUTHIN! say it again".... Think back further to Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On." Much more than a love song or a "life's hard but we'll survive somehow" theme, this is one of hope.

We can still use this kind of song today. The Love Train hasn't pulled in the station yet, it appears.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Happened to my Files?

Yesterday, as I was working on my blog, I went to link to a website that looked like it would be a good place for useful information. I put the link in and published the post. Then, when I went to check the link, up popped something unexpected--I remember it was a location ending in .ru, and my screen displayed two rows of rotating "waiting" images.

I closed the website quickly, but some program or file remained in my tray at the bottom. It wouldn't close, so I left it alone and went and replaced the crazy link with something more reliable from wikipedia. Then I turned off my computer and went on my way.

However, last night, when I opened up my computer, I got a black screen and an error message:

"Catalyst Control Centre: Host Application has stopped working...."

What does THAT mean?

In order to try to get something back I performed a System Restore to two days ago, and up came my familiar screens. BUT! Not only did the stupid message above reappear, but all my files were gone!

Is this a virus? A worm? Malware? It's a major pain, that's for sure. I have updated virus protection and thought all was well. Luckily, many of my important files are backed up to a memory stick but some aren't. If the computer repair place can't bring them back, I'm going to have to regroup.

So, my message to you today: perform regular, systematic backups! And beware when you're online. Of course, I had no reason to suspect anything, and nothing looked weird, but someone apparently cooked up an anonymous "gift" for me.

Of course, it could just be Windows having a breakdown, but the timing makes me believe otherwise.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Saab Bankruptcy - Is this the End?

My friend Fred at work loved his Saab. He says he liked the "Quirkiness" factor. You have to admit that Saab has not been mainstream, although after two decades of ownership by General Motors most of its "Saabness" was filtered out. And, sadly, GM never managed to make the brand profitable.

Saab was shed by GM in its own bankruptcy proceedings two years ago and it looked like the end then. But Spyker, a small Danish specialty sportcar manufacturer, bought the brand. Almost immediately, they saw what they were facing and started looking for help. After selling their original sportcar business and renaming themselves Saab, they went looking for money from Chinese manufacturers, much in the way that the other Swedish brand, Volvo, was saved through a sale to Geely by Ford.

In any case, sales volumes have been slim, consumer confidence is surely low, and what's going to happen to Saab is anyone's guess.

I've driven a few Saabs over the years and they were fun, especially the turbo convertibles. My experience is not with the older, "original" cars however, so we'll have to trust Fred on that one.

Read more about Saab's history here. The latest information on the new models is better found at the manufacturer's website. I've linked to the U.S. models, but Saabs are available worldwide--at least for now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chrysler 200 - Imported from Detroit Indeed

During the last Super Bowl, Chrysler got a lot of attention for its bold "Imported from Detroit" ad for the Chrysler 200. It featured stark Detroit photography and images of (and a short statement by) of rapper Eminem, with a gritty narrator telling the tale of a tough, hardworking city. All this for a car that used to be called the Chrysler Sebring -- and which was considered barely mediocre.

As artistically produced as they may be, ads are not facts, so I was eager to see what a 200 was actually like. Now I know. I've spend nearly a week so far with a Blackberry Pearl Coat 200 Touring. I've had to make several freeway trips of an hour or two and they have been very pleasant.

To move the Sebring to a 200, the engineers and designers upgraded the suspension and sound insulation for a smoother and quieter ride. Then, they turned their modest budget to upgrading the interior, long an area of complaint from folks like Consumer Reports and the car buff magazines. Here, they've added padding where formerly there was none, put a pretty clock and some chrome (plastic) on the dash, and tightened up everything. So--smooth, quiet, attractive.

The outside of the car received some attention too, with a new clean chrome look up front (see photo) and a completely revised tail, with much more sophisticated taillamp designs, trunk proportions and more chrome, almost Jaguarlike trim. It makes the formerly awkward design seem much more sure of itself--like Eminem himself.

Under the hood lives the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, which not only moves the car along with ease, but earns an EPA average of 22 miles per gallon--and I achieved that in my driving. Granted, much of it was on freeways, but this is no gas hog. And well equipped, my tester came in under $25,000.

The all-American 200, built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, is a transitional vehicle, sold until new models come along based on Fiat platforms, but with its multitude of upgrades it now has become a car worth considering.

Photo by Chris Kidwell.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day - Sunday No. 2

It's just past dinnertime on Labor Day. Yes, I was lucky enough to have the day off, but my son is working. That's retail for you. If Labor Day honors workers, then someone has to serve the workers who have the day off. The Italian restaurant is open, too, so I was able to secure three generous servings of lasagna.

Not a religious observation, the holiday started in 1882 and has always been associated with parties and rest--and it's the symbolic end of Summer, especially for schoolkids. I remember starting school immediately following Labor Day, but these days they seem to be beginning in late August. Must be those extra teacher in service days.

It's the start of college and NFL football, something that interests me exactly zero. However, I think I'm in the minority. This also is the time of year when the new cars normally are introduced--something much more interesting to me. I still recall going to the dealers' back lots on my bicycle right about the time school started to see if I could glimpse a dusty, just-off-the-truck Ford Galaxie or Chevrolet Impala.

I played three hours of Beatles songs with my friend Frank today. That seem like a great way to celebrate Labor Day.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Jack Casady Epiphone Signature Bass--Tested

I saw the ad for the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass in Bass Player magazine months ago. That motivated me to post on Jack. I finally found a music store within driving distance that had one, so I went there today.

On the one hour drive there, I listened to the Jefferson Airplane's 1969 Fillmore East concert Sweeping Up the Spotlight. On the way home, it was Steady as she Goes, the recent Hot Tuna CD. That's the past and present of Jack's playing--all great.

Tall Toad Music in Petaluma (California), is an inviting, old-fashioned full-service store right in the heart of the small downtown, staffed by helpful and friendly employees. I plucked the golden instrument from its high-mounted rack and sat down to enjoy it. It looked even better than the photo, which makes the surface look kind of matte-finished. Actually, it glows. The neck felt familiar--about the same shape and length as my usual Fender P Special--and through one of Fender's new tube amps the bass put out a nice warm sound. It has just one pickup, but the literature says that Jack worked with the Gibson/Epiphone folks to fine tune it to his demanding specs.

The varitone knob, looking like an old-fashioned stove knob, varies the output at a touch for a sharper or mellower sound. I didn't play very loud, and I didn't play in my usual group, so it's hard to say if it would make my band sound better, but the semi-hollow body instrument feels good to the touch and not too heavy.

The big question becomes, after the search and the fun--do I need this bass today? Of course, the answer is, No. But, kidding around with the sales guys, one of them asked, "How many basses does a guy need?" I answered, to laughs, "one more than you have right now." Ha ha.

Considering the amount of dust on the Jack Casady bass I'm guessing it's been sitting around for a while. I wonder how much they'd take off that price to move it. But, remember, I don't need it, right?


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Audi A2 May Return--Hooray

In Europe, they get lots of cars that we don't--and sometimes that's a darned shame. One car I've always liked and never gotten to experience is Audi's diminutive A2. But that could change soon.

At the Frankfurt Auto Show, Audi will debut a new A2, bringing back a car that's been out of production for six years. Like the old one (above left), it will be a five-door hatchback, but this time they plan to make it an electric or electric hybrid.

The reason you're seeing these small cars from the luxury manufacturers is the upcoming increase in the fuel economy standards. You won't get to 54.5 mpg with the lineups these brands currently market in the United States. Look for BMW's i-series cars to give this new A2 competition if it shows up here.

I am still pining for the Audi A1--a MINI-sized car that I know would be popular in the States--but it would probably not be profitable, which is why you and I have not seen one on the roads (yet).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lucky Man

I have a friend who has just been diagnosed with a serious degenerative illness. More than one friend is looking for a job--and not finding one. I know people who have a job but hate going to it. I hear about ungrateful adult children who take advantage, significant others with serious health problems, and people who live in bad neighborhoods. I know of several bad marriages and at least a few folks who would love to be married--if they could just find the right person.

Some people live in war zones or in the path of Hurricane Irene. Some Texans haven't had a day under 100 degrees in three months. There are a lot of people living in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan who haven't had a break in a long time. How many millions of people don't have enough to eat today?

I am currently experiencing NONE of these things.

I'm healthy, happily married, have two grown children doing fine, own my own roomy home in the greatest place in the world -- the San Francisco Bay Area (California, U.S.A.). I have a good job with a great company (with benefits). I have two wonderful Boston Terriers living with me.

I've got lots of fun stuff to do. I get to drive a new car every week and write about it. I belong to several groups, including a band, an orchestra and a chamber music organization as well as automotive associations. I blog daily and readership is growing steadily. I have enough money to live comfortably.

So what do I have to complain about? Well, my hair is getting gray and thin on the top. My foot hurts when I get out of bed (plantar fascitis) and sometimes my lower back is a little sore. I could lose 10 pounds. Sometimes Windows crashes on my laptop. I have to put up with slow drivers during my daily commute. One of my showers leaks and my lawn is dead.

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I'm feeling very grateful today.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jeep is 70 - And Has Come a Long Way

I just spent a week motoring around in the Jeep Liberty 70th Anniversary Edition. Now there was no Liberty Model in 1941, of course, but that's when the iconic Jeep military four-wheel-drive vehicle arrived to help win World War II.

I'm not sure the 70th anniversary of anything is usually a big deal, but it's a great time to highlight anything positive in the new Chrysler regime. After the trauma of its bankruptcy and subsequent takeover by FIAT, the brand needs all the good vibes it can get, and the Jeep is certainly worth celebrating.

The thing is, this Liberty, a midsize SUV built in Toledo, Ohio, is a far cry from the basic, hard, utilitarian ancestor. That's probably for the best, because for the lives we live today, the Liberty is about right. Roomy, comfortable, even beautiful, in a chiseled way, my tester was very pleasant to drive, yet still felt firm on the road and with its upright windshield, flat, shallow dashboard, and chair-height seating, it still didn't feel like any of those new-fangled crossover vehicles, which are more like tall cars.

New, FIAT-based Jeeps are in our future, but for now, we can celebrate the all-American seven-slat grille, twin round lights, and victory on wheels.