Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nissan Rogue - Today's Wagon

I'm just winding up a week with the Rogue, Nissan's compact crossover. The verdict? Nice, but the average mileage from the 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine was kind of low--just 20.6 mpg. The EPA gives the car 23 City, 28 Highway (average 25) so maybe I'm being leadfooted--but I don't think so.

With the popularity of this vehicle type, especially from Toyota, Honda and Ford, Nissan needed a competitor, so the Rogue arrived a few years ago. It has surprisingly restrained styling for a Nissan--home of the Cube, Juke and Xterra. But the Rogue takes its looks from the larger Murano--one of the original car-based, laid-back windshield crossovers. It's fluid rather than urban youth oddball or off-road chunky.

Inside, it's plenty roomy, and my car, with the SL package, had heated leather seats among its many upgrades. That's what brought the price to $5 over $29,000. Didn't that used to be the price of a luxury car?

What used to be luxury accommodations are, today, normal car equipment, so maybe that's not unreasonable. The Rogue flies virtually silently along the freeway, darts in and out of traffic with a gentle tug of the steering wheel, and never feels out of breath. The Bose audio system sounds great, but the continuously variable transmission makes that gearless moan that's not sporty sounding.

The window sticker contains this slogan: More than you expect. Everything you deserve. I wonder who crafted that? Other than the disappointing fuel economy, I guess it does sum it up. This is a car to enjoy in the daily haul, and with the rear seats dropped, it can schlep plenty. But it's not an enthusiast's ride.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Give the Gift of Hotrods for Christmas

The season is upon us, and it's time to consider what you might be selecting to give to your family and friends this holiday season. It's handy that I just received yesterday the Genuine Hotrod Hardware, Inc. catalog. This glossy 100-page book is filled to overflowing with every imaginable item for the hotrod auto and motorcycle enthusiast, from a wide range of brightly printed T-shirts to miniature vehicle models to tiny piston and spark plug tree ornaments. But there's more--so much more.

How about an authentic looking sign from a long-gone service station or car brand? A shelf that's an exact replica of the front clip of your favorite Corvette, '57 Chevy or Mustang? An illuminated Santa on a chopper for your front lawn? A sturdy tote bag shaped like the Chevy bowtie or Ford blue oval? How about a hotrod pedal car for that grandchild? A matching MAN CAVE pub table and stools? Historic dragstrip poster replicas? Die-cast engine replicas? The selection is mind boggling!

I'm looking seriously at the Ratfink clocks myself.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Honda Civic Wagon - Old School

I was reading a story on Japanese classic cars in the January 2012 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine and started thinking about Honda Civic wagons. The Japanese Classic Car Show (JCCS) is the big show, and the seventh annual event took place on September 10th in Long Beach, California. Pre-1985 Japanese cars are considered "old school," and there were plenty on display.

I'm looking for an expensive, fun-to-drive little hauler and I remembered that the early Civics came in a five-door version for a while in the U.S. in the late 1970s and 1980s. As an enthusiast of MINI Cooper Clubmans, it's a natural for me. The problem is, Clubmans are still pretty expensive--even the used ones are in the $20,000 range. I'm sure a Civic wagon in decent shape would be a fraction of that (if I can find one).

I Googled Honda Civic Wagon and found, unsurprisingly, - a forum, which I joined. Apparently I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for these little cars. Many owners have done the Civic tuner thing--lowering, different wheels, special aftermarket modifications--but I'd like to find a nicely preserved model with a manual transmission and keep it around. It would combine the old car world with some daily practicality--as long as it didn't become a repair issue.

I remember friends who had one when it it was new in the 1980's and it stood tall on its short wheelbase. My 1986 Civic Si was a sweet car, so surely a wagon version would be, too. I have seen one in the parking lot at work--maybe it's time to do some research. Meanwhile, the JCCS is September 15, 2012, so I'll have to go. Other Old School Japanese car events take place, so there may be one near you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jeffrey Thomas, Fine Bookseller, Remembered

From 1982 to 1985 I had the good fortune and privilege to work for Jeffrey Thomas. I met Jeffrey when we worked together at John Howell-Books, a leading fine and rare antiquarian book dealer in San Francisco (established 1912).

One day, Jeffrey surprised us all by leaving. He then started to accumulate the stock of merchandise he would need to set up his own small book business. He recruited me in February of 1982 to help him run it. He called me his "staff."

Like any new business, it was pretty slow at first. Unlike at Howell's, we were not on ground level and were not established, so we had few visitors. Jeffrey, a Yale grad and U.C. Berkeley Ph.D, loved writing book descriptions, issuing catalogs and acquiring interesting books, so he did that while I took care of producing the catalogs, planning the office layout (and moving us down the hall to new quarters at one point), setting up the computer system, paying bills, shipping the merchandise, and writing some simple book descriptions.

Jeffrey was born on November 27, 1938, which is why I am writing this today. We worked together at Jeffrey Thomas Fine & Rare Books for only three years, but when I left, the business was much more established. I recruited an excellent replacement for myself, who gave Jeffrey two decades of fine service, which only ended when Jeffrey died four years ago.

Every year after I left his employ, I would call Jeffrey on his birthday and we'd have a nice chat. What makes this remarkable, to me at least, is that we had little other contact, and he is the only person that I have ever called without fail on their birthday. It was just a way of keeping in touch.

Jeffrey was a gentleman, brilliant, funny, kind, and he added a lot to the antiquarian book business for many years. Like so many owner-centered businesses, Jeffrey Thomas Fine & Rare Books did not survive his passing.

Happy Birthday, Jeffrey. I miss you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Car Show Leaves Me Exhausted

I attended the 2011 San Francisco Auto Show yesterday. As a huge dealer showroom (plus more), there were lots and lots of cars there, and plenty of people looking at them.

We arrived just when it was opening, hoping to minimize the crowds on Black Friday. We needn't have worried--it never got too bad. Descending the staircase, we saw the Fisker Karma--a remarkable and expensive plug-in Hybrid vehicle--and the powerful and very expensive McClaren.

It was the 1959 Autobianchi near the stairs that really appealed to me, though (a similar car is shown in the photo).

We opted to turn left and start our tour at the Lexus stand. The brand new 2013 GS was on display and a young man was describing its wonders. Looked nice, with its spindle grille, but not particularly exciting.

The Ford/Lincoln display had some new models worth considering, including two important Fords--the 2013 Focus BEV all-electric vehicle and the 2013 Escape compact crossover SUV. The electric Focus, due early in 2012, will give the Nissan Leaf some direct competition with its estimated 100-mile driving range. The all-new Escape replaces an aging bestseller with the more stylish European Kuga.

At the Hyundai stand, the new Equus looked huge and over chromed--and overpriced. It's surely contains all the right stuff, though, so we'll see who goes for it. The new Hyundai Veloster sports sedan/coupe was there with its oddball four-door sedan left side and two-door coupe right side. It looks better than that might sound, and in bright colors, should be another hit for the rising Korean brand. The Hyundai Elantra Touring could be a nice ride. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission and starts at $16,000.

Speaking of Koreans, the new Kia Rio hatchback looked like a shrunken little brother of the remarkably appealing new Optima. So much going on with those two brands now.

GM had some fresh merchandise, with Buick's compact Verano--the smallest Buick in a long time--and the new full-size Cadillac XTS. I think both could be successful, but Buick is still struggling to entice folks used to buying import brands. At least at a car show people can get a feel for the new iron--although these two cars were perched up on stands away from the future buyers to sit in them and check out the interiors. Chevy's new 2013 Malibu sat right next to the 2012 model, showing the big changes--while keeping a smooth, handsome overall shape. This is a volume car and needs to be excellent to battle the dominant Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The 2012 Camry, by the way, was there, ready to check out. The problem is, it's so subtly redone that buyers may not be aware that it's new. As a mainstream midsize (virtually fullsize) sedan, it needs to not upset anybody, but it may not entice anyone either.

As I kept moving through the show, I realized that I was getting tired. There were lots more cars there but they didn't move me. The new Subaru Impreza looked good but they still don't know how to draw a pretty face at that company. VW had a couple of new Beetles there, and that was fun. I've already driven one for a few minutes so it wasn't my first look, but the future of that model is probably in good hands with the new, sharper, lower, modern interpretation. With it's hatchback and drop down 2nd row seats, it could be a practical choice too.

There were loads of classic cars from the Academy of Art University collection and you could drive the Nissan Leaf in a short loop.

Oddly missing--Mercedes-Benz.

What to buy? I need a small wagon or hatchback with a folding rear seat. There were numerous options, with the Mazda3 with SKYACTIV technology looks promising, especially in bright blue paint. The grin up front is a little toned down now.

Exhausted, now I'll review my hoard of brochures and think about my favorites.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25 - The Day I Met My Wife

Every year, right around Thanksgiving, I celebrate the day I met my wife. It was on November 25, 1987 that we were introduced, semi-accidentally, at a restaurant dinner put on by the cousin of a woman I had met at work. Thus began what is today a 24-year relationship that keeps going--and makes my life worth living.

Every year we talk about "meeting day" as one of our anniversaries, like our wedding date, halfway around the calendar, two years later. It's not often that one particular day stands out in your life, but this is one of them. The birth of our son in 1992 is another.

In a world where there are negative anniversaries (9/11/2001 or 12/8/1980, for example) it's great to celebrate the positive too. Actually, that's what holidays and birthdays are for, right? Every year at Thanksgiving, besides being grateful for the abundance that my life has given me, I give special thanks for finding my sweetheart too.

Today, we spent time together at the San Francisco Auto Show, which is an annual ritual for us. We wandered through the sprawling underground rooms of the Moscone Center looking at this year's crop of cars and wondering what we'd want to own. So few really make the cut--too expensive, unappealing styling, gas hogs or just plain boring. Maybe a few gems. See tomorrow's post for more about this car show and my shifting sentiments on cars in general.

Next year, we'll celebrate the quarter century anniversary of meeting day. Maybe we'll do something special--go somewhere--but just hanging out together on November 25 is fine with me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Infiniti M Hybrid - Save Gas in Style

I just stepped out of a week with one of the most luxurious hybrids I've ever driven. Yes, I did spend time with the Lexus LS 600h L a couple of years ago ($112,000) but this new Infiniti M Hybrid coddles while it sips the fuel. An EPA rating of 27 City, 32 Highway (I averaged 25.8 miles per gallon) is excellent--for a 4,200-pound luxury sedan.

The standard M35 without the hybrid is rated at 18 City, 26 Highway, so there's a significant difference in economy. The price is about $6,000 more for the M Hybrid, so it could take quite a while to make up the difference on cost alone.

The M Hybrid uses a powerful 3.5-liter V6 plus an electric motor to generate 360 horsepower (a lot) and 457 lb.-ft. of torque (huge), all through a 7-speed automatic. So, you can at one hand be rolling slowly through a parking lot or in commute traffic using no fuel at all--electric motor only--or be accelerating onto the freeway like a rocket with the engine.

There are simple, understandable graphic displays to understand where the power is coming from and when the battery is being used or charged, so you can monitor your consumption and behavior.

Being the Infiniti flagship, the car is loaded with comforts, starting with the leather-wrapped seats and continuing with silvered Japanese Ash trim (see photo). The design of the car is soft and voluptuous, from the sweep of trim across the doors and twin-cupped "bustier" over the gauges to the Jaguaresque curve of the fenders--visible through the windshield as you drive.

At $67,565, my fully loaded car was much more expensive than anything I'm every likely to buy--you could get two 50-mile-per gallon Prii for that. If you hold off on the extra fancy options you can get it down to $53,700 (base price). But then you'd miss out on the Bose 10-speaker premium audio system and the gorgeous wood.

Now that I'm back in a "normal" Nissan Rogue I remember the way the Infiniti transported me. Now, if it could get 40 mpg...

Photo by Chris Kidwell.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Buffalo - For Real

I just received a video on the City of Buffalo, New York from my aunt. In five gently narrated, beautifully filmed minutes, it imparts a glow and polish on an often maligned rust belt city that also happens to be my home town.

I left Buffalo just before I turned 7, so my early childhood memories are made up of time spent with my family in a modest house in suburban Kenmore and visits to my grandparents' place closer to downtown.

As a kid, I knew nothing of the history of the city, but Buffalo at one time was filled with wealth from its strategic location on the Erie Canal and Lake Erie, fueled by plentiful electricity generated at nearby Niagara Falls. Before so many Americans went west, Buffalo was a real place to be, and the wealthy businessmen and civic leaders built some amazing monuments to the city's prosperity.

The video celebrates Buffalo's "good bones" -- the infrastructure and cultural treasures that make it actually a pretty nice place to live if you like those kinds of urban amenities. There are Frank Lloyd Wright houses (Darwin Martin House in photo), a world-class symphony, an internationally recognized art gallery, beautiful parks, rows of century-old houses and other historic treasures. It looks picturesque and desirable on film.

It's also quite cold in Buffalo, but the video touches on it at the end, showing people playing in the snow, making snowmen, and hinting about being "lucky to be snowed in."

Between the images, the story and the compelling soundtrack, it certainly makes you want to visit. Maybe it's time to go catch up with some family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Little Boxes

You never know what song might pop into your mind at any time. Today, as I was about to step into the shower, I was picturing my community from above and recalled the song, Little Boxes, by Malvina Reynolds. She wrote the song as she was riding south from San Francisco and saw the neat rows of tract homes in Daly City. It could have been any suburban tract at the time.

The song was a hit for folksinger Pete Seeger in 1963, and entered the public consciousness as part of the 1960's revolt against conformity. It's been recorded by other folks more recently, including Death Cab for Cutie.

...and they're all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same..."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alpha Rev Bursts out of Texas

I remember hearing the Beatles when they first appeared on American AM radio, so I've got decades of music inside my brain. The is nobody quite like the Fab Four, but sometimes, I hear a band that has energy, excitement and something that draws me in. I remember the Police doing that in the 1980's, for example.

Alpha Rev is one of the bands doing it for me today. The group was started in 2005 and went through some recording dead ends before starting on their international debut album.

That album, New Morning, was ranked #3 in 2010 and their video made into the top 10 rotation on VH1. Not bad.

I like the tight harmonies and strong guitars in Heaven and the beauty of the title cut. I haven't heard the whole album through, but they surely need more focused attention--sitting in the chair with the headphones--more than just an occasional visit with the iPod on the road.

I thank to my wife, who discovered these guys somewhere and shared them with me.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Science Tattoos - Wear What You Love

I'm used to thinking of tattoos as having more "artistic" or "aesthetic" or even "creepy" themes, but I stumbled across the book, Science Ink, by Carl Zimmer, yesterday and I have learned something new. Apparently a lot of scientists wear their enthusiasms on the sleeve--or arm--or back--or leg.

Carl Zimmer saw a scientist he respected relaxing at a pool one time and noted his tattoo. With his scientific mind, Zimmer began researching this phenomenon, and turned up a range of skin art.

There are animals represented, some living, some extinct. Some formulas, from E=mc2 and on, are gracing scientist skin. There are neurons and Tesla motors (not the car company), mass spectrometers, frog skeletons, trees of life--you name it and someone out there is wearing it.

The book is beautifully presented, and actually explains what the tattoos mean--both to the wearer and to science itself, so it's kind of an education, too. Zimmer writes the blog, The Loom, for Discover magazine online, so he knows of what he speaks, and he speaks clearly to laymen.

An extra treat is the Foreword by Mary Roach, who has written several fascinating and also hilarious books on sex, death, space travel -- from a scientific but also practical perspective. Her most recent one is Packing for Mars. I have an autographed copy from when I met her recently.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hey! Come Hear Barbwyre!

Last night I went to hear Barbwyre, an excellent trio of musicians that play their country/folk/bluegrass sound to perfection--mostly original compositions. I've heard them before and they delivered--sounding even better perhaps, if that's possible. Over Rob's agile electric bass are Jon's pedal steel, dobro and guitar and Dana's mandolin, guitar and beautifully built cittern (octave mandolin).

They were playing in a perfectly nice venue - the High Street Station in Alameda, where I have seen them, other bands, and even played with my band, Red Paint. So--where were the people? I counted nine in the audience, including myself, and I later learned that three of them were relatives of the band. A couple more straggled in later.

It seems that being good isn't good enough. What is it that motivates people to come hear you? Red Paint, as it gets better, is still working on this issue.

Please--Support your local live musicians! Thank you.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tom Rush - Urge for Going

If you go to Pandora and create a Gordon Lightfoot station, you'll hear a fine selection of singers in his style. One of them is Tom Rush. He sings Urge for Going, a Joni Mitchell song. Yesterday, I heard it again, and it's a real beauty.

The mood created by a baritone, a tinkling guitar, and a few satisfying chord changes can haunt your whole day. Joni herself is a master of setting a memorable mood with melody and poetry combined, and this particular song works for me.

Tom was a folkie in the 1960's, and recorded some albums, but he took a long break and released a new CD, What I Know, in 2009. His 1999 compilation, The Very Best of Tom Rush, is going to live in my iPod very shortly. I've got the urge for listening.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Yesterday, my fellow employees gathered around a couple of tables filled with cakes, pies and fruit and sang "Happy Birthday" to several colleagues who happened to share November birthdays. They blew out the candles together and the feasting began. Then, we went back to work. We do this every month.

How many million times a day does this ritual play out in homes and offices around the country--or the world? Celebrating birthdays is everywhere--or at least it's all over the U.S., where I live.

Also at work this week, we celebrated a birth, when an employee delivered her first child on 11/11/11--at just a few minutes before 11:11! Two photos of the beautiful boy circulated through our emailboxes.

Today is the birthday of Gordon Lightfoot, one of my favorite singer/songwriter/musicians. I spent an evening with him last week. Here's a case of celebrating the achievement of years. The man is still with us at 73, and although he doesn't sound the same, he is our treasured artist and we celebrate him every time "If You Could Read My Mind" comes on the iPod. There wasn't an empty seat at his concert last week.

The Beatles sang "You say it's your birthday..." on the White Album, and that song gets played a lot, although it is not as ubiquitous as the aforementioned little tune. There are lots of other birthday songs out there.

My wife, stepmom and older son all have birthdays in the next few weeks. That makes the Thanksgiving time especially meaningful. Also, a friend and former boss's birthday is November 27. Jeffrey Thomas, born just 10 days after Gordon Lightfoot in 1938, passed away at only 68. I used to call him on his birthday every year. I miss that--and him.

My most important birthday, I think, so far, was my 50th. That's when I began to take music seriously and got my first bass. I'm hoping -- even planning -- to have many many more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kia Forte 5-Door - Mostly Great

I was looking forward to my week with the Kia Forte 5-door for a while. It seemed like the perfect car for me--compact, reasonably agile and fun to drive, and with a rear door and dropping second-row seats, ideal for bass-hauling. Now that week is ending, and the car mostly met the mark.

The 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine feels energetic, especially if you turn off the ECO setting. I normally keep cars in any position that helps them achieve maximum fuel economy, but the car felt like it dropped its lead shoes when I removed the ECO. Maybe it's the later upshifts. As it was, the car's EPA ratings are 23 City, 32 Highway, and I averaged about 23 miles per gallon on regular, which is decent if not especially outstanding. A 156-horsepower, 2.o-liter engine is also available in some Forte models that gets 26/36.

The scores in the EPA Green Vehicle Guide, which rates cars on a scale of 1-10 (10 is best) for greenhouse gases and air pollution, gives the car two 6's--just enough to qualify it for "SmartWay" status. One may wonder if the manufacturers build to a "12 total" standard.

Living with this car proved to be as I expected--comfortable and quiet, and the interior feels substantial and looks competitive. The exterior appears well proportioned and even a little elegant in Ebony Black.

A few annoyances, though. The automatic climate control didn't heat that well much of the time. I didn't freeze, but I had to crank the knob to 80 degrees and pray. Also, the CD player skipped. And when I went to use my iPod I needed to use a special cable from Kia (thankfully, supplied) that used both the AUX and the USB ports. My friend Fred describes this as a "cheap" setup. It did work fine, however, although if I wanted a "Random" shuffle setting I had to re-enter it each time I started the car. I've noted this in other Kias. Lastly, when I folded down the second-row seats, it didn't create a flat load floor.

My test car, an SX model, was upgraded with a $1,000 leather package, $750 power sunroof and $1,800 Navigation package, which pushed the bottom line to $23,640. No econobox this. The 2012 EX model 5-door starts at $18,850.

If I had faith that my troubles with the heating system were unique to this car I could see buying one, although there is a pretty nice selection of small wagons out there now.

Photo by Chris Kidwell.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Django Reinhardt - Incredible Guitarist

I've heard of Django Reinhardt for many years and occasionally enjoyed one of his virtuosic pieces on KCSM - the Jazz Station, but it wasn't until last weekend that I actually acquired a recording of his. I found a Verve compilation in the bargain bin for just $7.99 with 16 tracks on it recorded from the late 1930's to 1953--the year he died.

Reinhardt, of Romany (gypsy) stock, grew up in a caravan, and suffered a tragic but ultimately non-career threatening injury to his left hand in a fire when he was young. Somehow, even with this liability, his guitar work is filled with musicality, energy, well-- verve! His later work on the electric guitar, which I heard yesterday on Night and Day, sounds a lot like later Jazz artists while the earlier stuff has more of an acoustic tone. He's often heard with the equally virtuosic Stephane Grapelli on violin.

It's especially fun to shuffle the iPod and have Django's work pop up between other things. It makes it even more apparent how incredible he was. Many famous guitarists and other instrumentalists claim influence from him.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Slow Internet Drives Me Nuts

We have certain expectations these 21st-century days of 2011. One of them is instant access to information, and if the Internet drags, for whatever reason, it seems somehow patently unfair.

I remember back when there was no online connection for most of us and we got along fine. We visited libraries, patronized bookstores, and even sent letters. We picked up the phone or went to visit people. But now, if I can't read my emails immediately, it seems somehow like the worst torture devised in the history of the world (see cartoon).

I don't think it's just me, but it feels like being stuck in traffic when you've got to be at an appointment. And that may be the same problem--too many people on the same road. I'm also becoming more and more convinced that AT&T U-Verse is not the best way to access the Internet.

Update: This couldn't be posted at 7 a.m. today because of ... a slow Internet connection. On the drive to work, I heard Gordon Lightfoot's song, Too Late for Praying, and realized that if a slow Internet connection is my worst problem today, I'm one of the luckiest people on earth.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Cars, Old Salesmen

My friend spent weeks and months considering which car to buy. As a modern, Internet-savvy consumer, she did her homework and finally, walked into a local dealership to start working on buying her choice. There, she ran into... a car salesman.

Sadly, what happened shows why so many of us hate car dealerships. She was told things that weren't true, such as the availability of a feature with an engine size or model. An inexperienced salesman kept going back to "talk with his manager" and kept arriving with incorrect information (or, "lies" as my friend says). It seemed clear that the dealership wanted to sell my friend something they had in stock and weren't interested in providing her with what she wanted.

At one point, to prove the salesperson was wrong, my friend emailed a car she "built" online using the manufacturer's own website!

As it stands now, she will take her business to a different dealership and try it again. She bought her last three cars there and it's just plain lost business--forever.

This brings to mind an article I just read about Joe Girard, the all-time top-selling car salesman. He moved 13,001 Chevrolets over his 15-year car-selling career. The key? Serving his customers! He actually had to schedule appointments because he was in such demand. He once sold 18 car in one day. He later moved into advice and has an active speaking career today at the age of 83.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cafe Gratitude - Wholesome and Delicious

Before attending a concert last week, I had a remarkable meal at Cafe Gratitude, a "health food" restaurant located in the far corner of the largest Whole Foods store I've ever seen. Next to De Anza College in Cupertino, this modest cafe says that it's, quote:

"...our expression of a world of plenty..." and "...a celebration of our aliveness." Yeah, it's a little much, but apparently sincere. They use all organic ingredients and support local farmers, and claim that their "food is prepared with love." Much of the produce comes from the BE LOVE FARM in Vacaville, California. Sounds great to me.

The meals are all named for declarations, such as I Am Adventurous (soup) or I Am Elated (Enchilada). I enjoyed the I Am Transformed, which was two handmade corn tacos with brown rice, black beans, salsa roja, guacamole and cashew nacho cheese. It was incredibly tasty, and even better, it really did feel like it was made with care, and seemed to traverse my system smoothly and happily.

The place also features tea and coffee (organic of course), fresh juice concoctions, smoothies, milkshakes (not cow milk, though), and some delightful desserts.

I've only visited once, but I will definitely return. There are locations in other San Francisco Bay Area locations: Oakland, Berkeley, San Rafael, and San Francisco, and further afield in Santa Cruz and Healdsburg.

Much thanks to my friend, Lowell, who suggested it, persevered when we couldn't find it at first in its "hidden" location, and paid the bill.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gordon Lightfoot Concert - Generating Energy

Last night I went to see Gordon Lightfoot perform in Cupertino, California. In his two-hour show, I enjoyed impeccable musical accompanyment by his tight band, most of whose members have toured and recorded with Gordon for decades (42 years for bassist Rick Haynes).

Gordon traversed his career in no particular order, playing some fairly obscure album cuts as well as some major hits, but his fans, who filled every seat of the Flint Center, surely knew them all and sometimes applauded when a special favorite began. I was gratified when he played Song for a Winter's Night--probably my favorite Lightfoot song of all.

The most interesting thing, however, was the transformation that we witnessed in Lightfoot himself over the course of the evening. When he strolled out, he moved well, but his voice, which is not the rich baritone it used to be, was soft and scratchy, and he seemed to have trouble reaching some of the higher notes. Although I sat absorbed, enjoying the arrival of each new song, there was a little sadness in sensing that this man, who turns 73 on November 17, is in his twilight.

Well, so much for that. After a fairly short break, he and the band came back and knocked out a fine Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and it was uphill from there. The gaunt-looking man on stage started to seem younger with time, smiled more, talked more, and he started hitting those notes he couldn't reach before. And that's why, I think, he still tours. He gains energy from his adoring fans and from playing with his band. You could see it happen right before you. As I watched him I could see the younger Gordon come out and suddenly his vocal limitations disappeared and all we heard were his great songs.

There's a movement in Canada to create a Gordon Lightfoot Day for this living musical legend. Yesterday was that day for me and the crowd with whom he shared an evening.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

George Harrison's Cloud Nine - Post Beatle High Spot

Of all the late post-Beatle work by the Fab Four, I'm especially impressed with George Harrison's 1987 album, Cloud Nine. Thanks the production (and, likely, encouragement) from Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra), this disc flows beautifully and captures George in strong voice and big ideas.

This is not like the overwhelming release of All Things Must Pass--in which George gave his fans all the pent-up emotion and material he hadn't been able to squeeze onto Beatles albums. Cloud Nine sounded fresh--and '80s without being trendy. Jeff didn't overdo it.

I especially remember Got My Mind Set On You, because my first son was just five at the time and loved this song. He used to jump up and down and dance to it. I wonder if it helped prepare him for his love of heavy metal music that he acquired in his adolescence.

Jeff Lynne went on to work with George in the Traveling Wilburys and also produce two "new" songs for the Beatles Anthology in 1995. Those songs, Real Love and Free as a Bird, were made from John Lennon tapes, which Lynne carefully mixed with the other three Beatles' new performances. John sounds thin (ghostly?) on these, but it is certainly something I never expected to hear.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Suzuki Kizashi - A Japanese Audi

I don't know what Kizashi means but it certainly conveys "from Japan," and Suzuki's premium sedan is. It's as if a well-known manufacturer of motorcycles and small cars decided to build an Audi A4.

The seats, for example, are not only covered in leather, but are beautifully stitched and proved quite comfortable on the hour-long rides to work and back. I would have gladly sat longer if I had a more exotic destination, but alas, that was not to be this week.

The craftsmanship of the dash was, as far as I could tell, perfect, with padded sections and exquisite matte finishes (Audi again). The instrument panel rises up behind the steering wheel and back down gracefully in a simple, clean curve, much like the Audis of the early to mid 2000's. The effect of it all, including the stitched door panels, is luxury absolutely without ostentation.

And, its very quiet inside the Kizashi (sounds like something to do with Samurai, doesn't it?) Hey, Suzuki sold the Samurai small Jeeplike vehicle years ago! The Samurai was and is known as the Jimny worldwide, where it is still sold. Popular in the 1980's in the U.S., the tiny 4wd trucklet tipped over easily, earning it some notoriety. It was replaced by the larger and presumably more stable Sidekick (Escudo elsewhere) which is now known as the Grand Vitara in the U.S.

The Kizashi provides 180 horsepower from its 2.4-liter four. Through the continuously-variable automatic in my test car it zoomed forward energetically with little fuss. Competitors may have more guts but offer no more satisfaction, to my mind.

Like the Audis they resemble, Kizashis are available in front wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive, with manual or automatic transmission. The FWD, manually equipped car starts at under $20,000, including destination charge.

My test car's Deep Sea Blue Metallic paint was well-applied and lustrous, offering the informal elegance of a nice blue blazer. It's tan interior mimicked the tan slacks that would set that blazer off. All that's missing is the brass buttons, although my car did have glistening 18-inch alloy wheels.

Sadly, most people won't consider this fine car when they go looking because they don't know how good it is and don't think "Suzuki" when they head out to the dealerships. I say, don't miss out on this car!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Collections

Do you collect anything (I don't mean Social Security checks or dust). I mean, do you, or have you ever built a collection? I'm thinking stamps, coins, out-of-state license plates, baseball cards, Barbie dolls, knives, state quarters and so on? I either have or know someone who has collected these items. There are lots more, and many being created daily (just look for Franklin Mint).

You can collect first impressions. I think of this here in November because it's about time to play, "find the first license plate sticker from next year." That means I'm looking for a 2013 sticker, since the sticker marks the expiration of your car registration. My cars all wear 2012s now. I'm hoping that someone with a January plate (in California, everyone gets a month sticker too, so the registration process is spread out all year) has already sent their money to the DMV and diligently pasted their new sticker in place. The stickers are different colors each year, so there's a minor wager between me and my older son about what color the new year's sticker will be.

I used to play the "find the sticker" game with my sons when they were kids--attaching a small prize to the first sighting. I've done this game with the first new penny too, but the U.S. Mint has been dragging its feet at the stamping plant the last few years and it can get to mid-year before one shows up. This was especially fascinating and frustrating in 2009 and 2010, when the penny got a new back (reverse) design for the first time in half a century. There were four Lincoln commemorative designs in 2009, one permanent change in 2010.

There's the car-finding game, too, when you try to spot a new model out on the road for the first time. I've played that game since the 1964 models came out, when my dad and I entertained ourselves this way. Yes, I'm still doing it today, and with two hours of commuting a day I have plenty of opportunity.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Daylight Saving Time is Over--For Now

Every year we go through the same drill--spring forward, fall back, oversleep, undersleep. Is Daylight Saving Time really necessary?

We just experienced the "good" part, where you gain an hour. The problem is, you're getting back the hour you gave up in April, so it's a zero sum deal, and you didn't get any interest on that hour. You also have no choice--unless you live in Arizona or Hawaii, where they don't bother with this foolishness. A nation of farmers may have benefited from this institution but I don't think a nation of office workers and small business employees does.

I will say that I woke up at the usual time today and lay in bed for an hour anticipating the clock to go off any minute. That will take a week or so to resolve itself. But, I was able to walk the dog without a flashlight today and enjoy a clear, cloudless sky with sunlight--but no visible disk--and that was refreshing.

Complaints aside, life goes on, no matter what time it is.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Playing Faure Requiem is Thought Provoking

Thanks to my increasing skills and interest in playing the bass, I found myself this weekend, by invitation, playing the Faure Requiem at Trinity Church in Menlo Park, California. Gabriel Faure (pictured) wrote it in the late 1880s and it has become very popular. Like many classical works, there are different arrangements.

It was a very satisfying--even moving--experience. Take a listen. And this is from someone who is not a Christian. It did leave me feeling like I don't have much of a spiritual life, though, as church services often do.

I was fortunate to work with some excellent musicians, led by the brilliant Michael Taylor, who has sung professionally for a quarter century yet still looks like a young man. He arranged our parts for this performance.

We were a small group, just flute, violin, viola, cello, bass and harp, but with the strength of the strong mixed choir and Taylor's sublime baritone we "rocked the house." I was a little bugged by my few missed notes and entrances, but I felt a little more nervous than I expected to--especially after making the first goof. I figured I would be forgiven in a church--and nobody seemed to either notice or mind (although I bet Michael heard them).

A requiem is a mass for the dead, and today, in the All Saints mass, many people were remembered, and listed, some with last names and some without. I didn't know any of them personally, but the grand sounds of the organ (which made my bass vibrate) and the fine choral work helped put me in the right frame of mind to think about the departed that I did know, starting with my father.

The senior associate rector, Rev. Frannie Hall Kieschnick, delivered a rousing sermon about the dead being carried with us, she said, in a kind of "balcony," able to give counsel, comfort and guidance. She even quoted a Jewish prayer that in essence said that the dead were not really gone if they lived on in our memories. Makes sense. I was so rapt in thinking about my dad that I missed an entrance--but jumped right in at the right place a couple of measures in--that was a wake-up call!

Despite being brought up as Jews, my parents weren't religious at all, although we did occasionally show up at temple and lit candles on Chanukah. My parents are (and were) good, honest, decent folks and not what I'd call "sinners" although they have surely had their moments, like anyone (and I guess we are all sinners, according to the church).

In any case, I didn't learn at home any reason to go to a house of worship when you wanted a spiritual connection. I think it's entirely possible that most church attendees are just showing up by habit, but something spiritually thought-provoking could seep in while they're sitting there, especially if beautiful music is playing. I don't know--but it would seem to increase the odds.

I'll have to think about it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lost in the Produce Aisle

Like many men who had moms who made their dinner (and wives who work and aren't housewives), I am pretty much mystified in the produce aisle at the supermarket. Yeah, I can identify broccoli (and actually like it, steamed) and I know what Brussels sprouts look like (wife's not keen on 'em so they're not a welcome visitor at home). Spinach--fine. Corn--check. Green beans--OK. Corn--of course. I even know what kale is and have eaten it willingly. Then, there's all that other stuff. (bags of mini potatoes pictured)

I know that I need to eat more vegetables, but they just sit there in their neat little trays, sometimes bagged but usually just sprawled out in front of me. What do you do with them? Would you eat them with something else? I'm just not comfortable with that.

Sadly, that leaves resorting to frozen bricks of spinach, which are actually good for you--they freeze it right when it's picked so in a way it may be fresher than what's sitting there at room temperature. We have bags of peas and green beans in the refrigerator, too. I like to cook some up--preferably in the microwave--with a nice juicy Aidell's Chicken & Apple sausage. Mmm.

What will it take to make me more active in the vegetable-eating world? We need to hire ourselves a housewife--or at least a cook. Maybe we can choose one random mystery vegetable at a time and experiment with it. At least that cuts down on the panic of too many choices.

Fruit's easier--I brought home apples, grapes and some cute mini bananas (which probably cost twice as much as regular-sized ones). Now--step 2 is to eat them before they go bad. Sigh.

Friday, November 4, 2011

That Old Car Owning Dream

I saw a late 1960's BMW Tilux 2000 in the parking lot near work (again) yesterday. Its paint was shot and with its windows open, you could smell the deteriorating upholstery. But I wanted it anyway.

What is it about old cars? They pollute like crazy, can fall victim to any number of mechanical problems and, if collectible, can cost a ton of money to buy and to restore. They aren't safe on the road (no airbags, crush zones, or likely, anti-lock brakes). But they stand out.

I read various collectible car magazines, such as Hemmings Classic Car, appreciating the 12 years some guy spent restoring his 1954 MG or 1967 Chevy, and the "driveable dreams" that seem to keep on going without anything but a tune up and oil change. But I actually have a cute little old collector's car in my garage and won't go near it.

Maybe it's all about the delta between your dreams and reality, or what you'd LIKE to like and what you actually enjoy doing. I appreciate it when those big guys run up and down the basketball court and put the basketball in the hoop but I'd never want to do that myself. When my friend hiked the Pacific Coast Trail last year I was very impressed--but I find it hard to get to my local park on the weekend.

But I still admire those old beasts as they cruise through the sea of Honda Civics, Toyota Camrys and Chevy Malibus. Give me a 1973 Volvo 1800es!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

KFOG - Great Radio for Baby Boomers

You get to a point where you really don't want to just listen to oldies, but you don't want to be blasted with completely unfamiliar music either. Where do you go for a perfect mix, where you hear everything from the Rolling Stones and Dylan to Train and Florence and the Machine? KFOG 104.5 in San Francisco--that's where.

104.5 has been delivering the goods for decades--hitting just the right mix to keep you happy. The on-air personalities have personalities--apparently real ones--and aren't trying to imitate the 1960's DJs. Some have worked there for a long time.

KFOG presents the "10 at 10,"-- "ten great songs from one great year," as DJ Dave Morey always said. And the listeners are known as "fogheads."

The station produces an annual "Live from the Archives" CD (the 18th one is just out -- see photo) that features recordings of current artists that you can't find anywhere else. It's for sale at Peet's Coffee this year (or online if you're not in the area) and is a fundraiser for Bay Area food banks.

Some of us are old enough to remember when KFOG was an easy listening station back in the 1960s. They still play the classic foghorn sound--which dates from that era.

I'm keeping it tuned to 104.5.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback--Hidden Gem

When you're retailing, say, Ford F150 pickup trucks or Toyota Camrys, you basically just round 'em up and move 'em out. These models sell in the U.S. in the hundreds of thousands every year. "What color would you like?," is what the salespeople ask their numerous customers.

What if you're Mitsubishi? Things aren't going as well in the U.S. these days, with the sporty Eclipse in decline, the Galant a perennial also-ran and SUV sales stagnant. But there are some bright spots, including the upcoming "i" all-electric models, the brisk-selling compact crossover Outlander Sport--and the Lancer Sportback.

The Lancer is its most ferocious as the Evolution, with its 291-horsepower turbocharged engine, Brembo brakes, Recaro seats, and such, but the Lancer itself, in sedan or Sportback form, is a nice car that is overshadowed by some flashier competition. My Graphite Gray test car looked handsome and had the solid, well put together look of a BMW sedan of a couple of generations ago. The big mouth grille is the new face of Mitsubishi, in the style of Audi, but the general proportions are restrained and handsome.

Inside, the lines are straight, surfaces no-nonsense and hard for the most part, and the chrome and bling are at a minimum. At first glance, this seems a little Spartan, but, frankly, that's the way 3 Series BMWs have looked for years and nobody has complained. In truth, when you're driving you want controls that work the way they're supposed to, information when you need it, and reasonable quiet so you can hear the stereo. These things the Lancer does just fine, and the lack of overtly styled twists and turns and elaborately crafted dash art are pleasantly non-distracting.

The ES model, like mine, has a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a manual or automatic. My tester had the latter, which, as a Continuously Variable Transmission, churned out usable ratios without fuss and never left me sitting there. The manual, which I sampled in a sedan previously, would be a little more fun.

Average fuel economy is rated at 27 and that's about what I got. Not bad.

The GTS moves up to a 2.4-liter four with 168 horsepower and adds 18-inch alloy wheels. The Ralliart uses a 2.0-liter turbo to put out 237 horsepower. See their website for model specs.

The real bonus of the Sportback is its generous hatchback. It lifts up high--above head clunking level--and a quick drop of the seats opens up a surprisingly large and flat carpeted space. When the rear seats are up and the cover's in place, you get the security of a good-sized trunk. It's a best-of-both-worlds deal.

At $20,105, including optional 18-inch alloys from the higher-level models, rear disc brakes and stabilizer bars for higher performance, a sunroof and nice leather-wrapped steering wheel, the car feels like something of a bargain.

You just have to keep an open mind when you're out shopping--and figure out where the nearest Mitsubishi dealer is located.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh Wow

Yesterday, Halloween, was a day to think about death. And beyond all the pumpkins and candy and costumes is the more gruesome imagery of worms and skeletons and tombstones.

The reality is known--we all have to go. We may go early by accident, like racecar driver Dan Wheldon, in active old age, like my 90-year-old friend Don, or by tragic lifestyle, like Amy Winehouse. But, as we have some choice in the way we live, we also can choose how we face the inevitability of our death.

Steve Jobs, the genius responsible for so much we know and love in our lives, according to his sister said "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow" as his final words. I find that easy to believe. He looked forward and saw something exciting. He had an attitude of curiosity and discovery even at the very end of his too-short life. The attitude that made those words possible is what made his 56 years worth living.

We can't know what Steve saw or experienced at that moment, but I find it comforting and encouraging that what what he saw couldn't have been a bad thing if he was so excited about it. Perhaps if we lose our fear of death we can lose our fear of life and live it to the fullest. Because a wasted life is more tragic than death, it seems to me.