Category Archives: Personal Experience

Name says it all.

R3VO 3VOM

The summer is soon upon us again, and as such, one may notice more traffic on the roads and highways as people take their “all-american-road-trips” around the nation.  This is one of the joys of being an American:  we can get in the car, the RV, or, if you’re unfortunate enough to be forced to drive one, the mini van, drive across the country without having to produce a passport and experience different cultures while using the same form of money you use at home: the exchange rate remains $1.00:$1.00.

While it’s nice to have this opportunity, it can create congestion headaches for the people who are just trying to go through their normal day; Going to work, going to school, picking up the kids, etc… especially if they live in a city with a major highway or interstate, because summer in big cities doesn’t just mean more traffic.  It also means road construction.

This means that many of us who depend on the highway and interstate systems will need to not only deal with the “out of town-er” who drives slower than my mother because they don’t quite know where they’re going, but also the slow-downs created by the government employees who stand along the roadways with signs and cones, stare at the pavement and wonder why it isn’t fixing itself.

To exasperate matters further and cause even more problems, we will inevitably run into the “left-lane hogs”.  These are the people who I must pass on the right hand side because they are driving too slow in the left most lane.  These are the people who should not be allowed to drive because they’re inconsiderate assholes (or, at least, they’re acting as such).  They are the ones who consistently slow traffic down by driving slow in the passing lane, forcing those of us who use the passing lane correctly to slow down and then weave through the right-most of traffic to get around them.  These maneuvers typically cause more congestion because people tend to slow down when another car darts in front of them, if only to prevent tailgating accidents.  Then the person behind them slows down.  Then the person behind THEM slows down, and so on and so forth, until we’re all sitting in the blistering heat of the summer, stopped on the interstate, with our air-conditioners on full blast, wasting valuable petrol, looking at the government employees who have taken a break from staring at the broken pavement that still hasn’t fixed itself to instead stare at us.  And this is uncomfortable, because having any large thoughtless bovine animal peer deeply into one’s eyes is extremely unnerving.

When people are unnerved, they get “twitchy”.  And angry.  And while driving, they fill with road rage, which is unhealthy because it causes accidents, heart attacks, strokes, and messes in which people’s heads explode, either figuratively or from bullets.

Some folks who are left-lane hogs will come up with useless excuses for their actions.  They say the left lane is easier to see from, that it “moves smoother”, and that they’re actually doing faster drivers a favor, since the faster drivers don’t need to pull out of the right lane to pass them.  These, dear reader, are annoying.  Any logical person can see the reasons these excuses don’t make sense.

The granddaddy of their excuses is “I’m going the speed limit, so I shouldn’t have to make way for someone who is speeding”.

I take massive issue with this, as anyone with two or three brain cells knows that the speed limits don’t really reflect actual travel speeds.  Instead, they are arbitrary, politically generated numbers that have no relationship to real engineering standards.  Drive the speed limit or less in a state like Michigan, if you don’t agree with me.  One will quickly learn that if he or she is not traveling at least 10 MPH faster than the limit, he or she will likely cause an accident, or if in Detroit, shot or stabbed to death while traveling 70 MPH by someone driving much faster.

A driver going the speed limit in the left lane can be a serious problem.  They cause abrupt lane and speed changes, as well as hostility or road rage, which might cause people’s heads to explode, which is even more dangerous if the newly deceased’s car is still moving.  Even if our speed limits were more realistic, there is no good reason to remain in the left lane if a faster vehicle wishes to pass you.  It only creates friction and makes our roads more dangerous.

In an effort to stem this lane-hogging problem, the National Motorists Association has named the month of June “Lane Courtesy Month”.

Prior to 1973, rural speed limits more accurately reflected actual travel speeds.  Slower vehicles driving under the speed limit and had no excuse to block the progress of faster traffic.  In 1973, everything changed when the National Maximum Speed Limit law passed, requiring states to post speed limits of no more than 55 MPH on any road.  This new law obliterated the idea of lane courtesy because drivers who would have stayed in the right lane prior to the law felt they could drive wherever they wanted, since they could still go the speed limit or faster.

For more than two decades, this behavior was lawfully reinforced until it left an impression on multiple generations of drivers.

Finally, the all-knowing American Government came to their senses, and in 1995, the stupid 55 MPH law was repealed, but it was too late.  The damage had already been done.  By the time the speed limits were increased, many people had forgotten how to be considerate to one another.  This is the reason we have to deal with the lane hogging idiots today.

According to the National Motorists Association, there are four key benefits to Lane Courtesy:

1) You’re Less Likely To Be In An Accident
By not obstructing other drivers, traffic is able to flow more smoothly. When traffic flows smoothly, there is less tailgating, less weaving in-and-out of traffic, and therefore fewer accidents.

2) You’ll Get Better Gas Mileage
Lane courtesy promotes the smooth flow of traffic and helps drivers maintain an even pace. Vehicles use the most gas when accelerating. Less braking followed by acceleration will improve fuel economy.

3) You’ll Get To Your Destination Faster
Yielding to faster traffic reduces congestion. When traffic is flowing smoothly, highway capacity can be utilized to the fullest extent.

4) You Will Not Have To Deal With Road Rage
There’s little doubt that “left lane hogs” are a source of irritation for many drivers. The courteous act of moving to the right can eliminate driver stress and conflict.

I will add another:

5) You’ll be acting within the law.  Most states do have a law on the books regarding lane courtesy, though they may not enforce said law very well.

Even if there’s not a law on the books in your state, our society is not only ruled by laws.  There are also things like common courtesy, ethics, morals, self-interest and social habits.

If two strangers come upon one another and one of them says “Hello!”, it is considered socially rude for the stranger to whom the greeting was addressed to ignore the greeting:  They should address the greeter in return, with at least a smile or a nod.

People forget that while they are in their autos they are still “in public” and as such, they should adhere to civilized behavior.  For example, look at the zipper effect.  When two lanes are reduced down to one, typically one car from each lane will enter the single lane, one side after the other.  There is no law regarding this.  It is merely common courtesy.

The main thing is this:  most of our driving behaviors have evolved from behavioral patterns into “rules of the road” over the past century.  They have become driving ethics.

If one looks at the typical accepted behaviors around driving, one will find that many of the behaviors are not laws on the books; Those that are laws aren’t necessarily adhered to either.  When was the last time you, dear reader, drove 5 MPH over the speed limit?  This, while against the law, is acceptable to most other drivers.  The point here is that lane courtesy will not truly be embraced until it becomes accepted by drivers as the ethical thing to do.  The laws aren’t enforced anyway.

When driving on the Autobahn in Germany, its common knowledge that the left-hand lane is reserved for passing.  Not driving.  This rule keeps the Autobahn safe.  Sure, there are accidents, but according to http://www.german-autobahn.eu/index.asp?page=speeds, despite the prevailing high speeds, the accident, injury and death rates on the Autobahn are remarkably low. The Autobahn carries about a third of all Germany’s traffic, but injury accidents on the Autobahn account for only 6% of such accidents nationwide and less than 12% of all traffic fatalities were the result of Autobahn crashes (2004).  In fact, the annual fatality rate (3.2 per billion km in 2004) is consistently lower than that of most other superhighway systems, including the US Interstates.

Of course, there are left-lane courtesy laws in Germany, and failing to move over for faster cars can result in heavy fines.  It is illegal to pass on the right on the Autobahn.  Slow moving vehicles must always move to the right, and faster vehicles may pass on the left only. The only exception is when both lanes are moving slowly (under 60 km per hour, 35 mph), as in the frequent traffic jams. In such cases drivers are allowed to pass on the right, but at a speed no higher than 20 km per hour faster than the traffic in the left lane.  Because of the lifted speed limits, one may encounter a Porsche, Merc or BMW traveling at 150 MPH.  At these speeds, it is extremely dangerous to slam on one’s brakes to slow down, and thus, if one is piddling around on the Autobahn at 100 MPH and a Porsche rapidly approaches from behind, one should move over to let the superior car pass.  This keeps the drivers on the Autobahn safer, while implementing a “Stupid Tax” for those douschebags that are, in all actuality, too incompetent to be allowed to drive a car.

Of course in Germany, not everyone drives.  Driving is a privilege there, as the cost of obtaining a license to drive is nothing to be scoffed at.  At €1500.00-€2000.00, a German drivers license is a serious thing.  This cost prevents “just anyone” from obtaining a license, which is to say that unless you really fancy yourself a driver, you’ll take the trains and buses available to the public.  Because of this, the majority of people who actually spend the time for the classes (a minimum of 25-45 hours of professional instruction including lessons on night driving, autobahn experience, in-town driving, and a multitude of other driving situations plus 12 hours of theory) and the fees to get licensed are very aware of the “rules of the road”.  I should also state that just paying the €2000.00 won’t insure a license will be acquired.  There are still exams to pass (the test for a German driver’s license includes questions about the mechanical aspects of an automobile, in addition to the usual examination on the rules of the road).  It’s a serious endeavor that is not to be taken lightly.

So for the month of June, I will personally be adhering to lane courtesy.  I will quickly move out-of-the-way when a faster car approaches from behind, and I will expect the rest of the public to do the same.  I know, for a fact, that this rule will be broken many, many times by many, many people, probably within the first day.  And that’s ok, because I realize we don’t live in Germany.  We live in a country that maintains that drivers licenses should be given to everyone, from the doctors and dentists who drive Ferraris to high school students and the elderly folks who can’t see over the steering wheel.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t be honking at and flipping the bird to the incompetents who won’t move to the right lane for me.

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Filed under Cars, General Grievances, Personal Experience

It Began With Just One Question…

What is it that dictates who we (as individuals) are and what we become?

Is it that which kings of old claimed as right to rule, divine providence? A decision made by the gods or God that dictates that which we will become? If so, is this predestination, in the living sense– not that we as souls will travel to heaven or hell once our lives here on earth are extinguished, but rather that we as individuals will actually live in our own heaven or hell, here on Earth, dependent upon the flighty decisions of the ruling powers above?

Is this concept related to the Fates that the Greeks of legend so feared, the three old hags, snipping threads of yarn shorter and shorter with their scissors, disconnecting some threads entirely from the ball of life? Does fate exist and what role does it play? Is one birth sign really more lucky than another? Is it this luck that separates the prince from the pauper? Is it a really only a matter of hours between birth signs that dictate whether someone will grow up to be “made” while someone else will struggle with money and debt throughout their life– a simple day’s difference that separates a high roller at a poker table in Monte Carlo from a man dropping his last dime into the slot machine in Reno?

And if not fate, what of destiny? Can one not find many individuals throughout history that exemplify the fact that luck does not last and that destiny can merely be a fleeting glimpse– a flash of opportunity that may or may not jump into our lives at the right time? Are we to drop everything and follow destiny when uncertainty abounds? How often is it that we as individuals miss the opportunities afforded to us by destiny because we’re focusing on something else, something that seems more pressing at the time? Is this a daily occurrence or a monthly one? Is there ever fair warning? And at what point does destiny just give up and say, “To hell with this person, I’m going bowling.”?

Is it a matter of our parenting, of our parents’ ability to stay together hand-in-hand and endure, whatever the cost? What if they don’t truly love one another any longer? Should the child be made to suffer the parents’ abiding of one another with fake, plastic smiles? Will the child grow to expect the same for themselves? Or how about the parents’ inability to live with one another, fighting so much that they separate and split the family, creating hostility at home where a child should find only safety? What effect does this have on the persons we become? How does this affect our understanding of love and our relationships with one another, in both business and personal life? Can our experience in watching our parents influence the levels of success we achieve in our lives?

And on parenting in general: Should one bring the child up in the school of hard knocks, allowing them to make their own decisions and create their own path, right or wrong? Will this child learn to toughen up, or will life beat the holy hell out of him or her to the point that the child gives up on themselves and everyone else? Or is it better to pamper the child, coddle them in such a way as to try to protect them from any mistakes and hope that the silver spoon remains firmly resting upon their tongue throughout their lifetime? Could the spoon choke the child, inhibiting his or her dreams and the ability to chase the dreams until they become reality? If the child is coddled, will this create a dispassionate person, or a person more apt to passionately follow those roads they weren’t allowed to follow in the past? And then what will happen when that spoon falls away? Will they become angry and cynical that things didn’t turn out the way they were led to believe they would? Will they, too, resign themselves over to failure or will they put that damn spoon back in their mouth and pretend everything is OK, thus lying to themselves? Or will the spoon remain in the dirt, left to become tarnished and mangled as the child realizes it’s uselessness and pushes forward to attain their dreams with a mouth unencumbered? Is it better for parents to be truthful to their children, allowing them forge their own way and make their own mistakes, or lie to protect them from the pains of heartache and disappointment?

And what impact does our parenting have upon our dreams? Will a child forever dream to become a race car driver, an astronaut or a doctor, even at a parent’s insistence that the child’s hopes are just a fool’s paradise and that he or she should instead focus on more realistic pursuits? Or will the urging of the parent force the child to accept a life of mediocrity to the point that dreams become nothing but lost hopes? At what point does the child give up on their dreams and accept someone else’s reality as more legit than their own?

Or is it our dreams that create who we are, our yearning to become someone who will bring light into this world and stand like a candle in the darkness? And if so, what of past dreams? What of the dreams that have been thrown to the wayside in order to endeavor toward something else? Do they still have an impact? How does our ability to change our minds construct our existence? What happens within ourselves when we decide that we’re following a dream that we no longer want to follow? Should we continue to follow the dream and see it to an end, or abandon it in search for something more captivating? Would chasing a dream in which we no longer harbor interest be considered a waste of time, or have we already wasted our time by chasing the dream in the first place? In abandoning the dream, are we to be considered quitters, or perceived as one who is capable of knowing and following his or her desires? When cutting one’s losses, can one be considered to be less successful?

Or how about the dreams that were not lost, but rather the ones we have chased through hell and high water, only to have them crashing down upon our heads as failures, slaps on our wrists for trying to achieve a level for which we are not destined? Could our failed dreams help to create us just as much as the dreams we’ve watched come to fruition?

What about our successes and our mistakes? What role have they on the persons we become? Is it not true that many a success comes to a bittersweet end and many a mistake has led to riches? When a reason to toast one minute becomes a reason to fight the next, how can one trust one’s own judgement, and to what extent does this lack of belief in ourselves play a role? What if we give ourselves over to endeavor completely– physically, emotionally and financially– and yet we still find ourselves at a loss? May it be said that our failure is not due to lack of effort, and that it should be attributed to something else entirely?

And what of effort? Is it really true that effort and unshakable will are all one needs in order to succeed in obtaining ones objectives? From where does this well of effort come? Is it instilled in us by our parents? Is it genetic? Is it a gift from the heavens? Can we learn to replenish the pool of effort when it begins to dwindle? Can it be said that some people put effort into their lives, while others aren’t even trying? Or that most people don’t “try hard enough” and are then damned to pedestrian lives? And if this is the case, how does one judge whether one life is more successful than the next?

Can our unshakable will lead to our demise and our failure? For instance, was Robert E. Lee’s failure to take Cemetery Hill during the U. S. Civil War a result of his lack of effort or was it that he couldn’t shake his own will enough to quit while he was ahead, before the slaughter occurred? Can this not be called bullheadedness? At what point should we shake our wills, give up on our current pursuit and follow a different path? If we do give up before an actual tragedy occurs, do we silently begin to resign ourselves over to a middling existence, or can we legally make concessions? Do the resignations we make pile up upon themselves within our psyche, eventually undermining our desires? If so, how do we know which goals are safe to write off– which goals won’t come back to stab us in the back?

“Look, I’ve never had a dream in my life
Because a dream is what you wanna do, but still haven’t pursued
I knew what I wanted and did it till it was done
So I’ve been the dream that I wanted to be since day one!”

Aesop Rock’s No Regrets

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Filed under General Grievances, Personal Experience

Beautiful Models Without Sexy-Bits

A number of beautiful models have been rolling around on the red carpet at shows around the world for a few months now.  Many, many photos have been snapped up close, showing the model’s most intricate parts.  All types of people line up to see each model’s offerings, lusting after the curves and drooling over the model’s body.  People walk around with towels, rubbing the models’ bodies to rid them of blemishes and bodily fluids.  The smell of wax and leather fills the air as people line up, one after the other for the opportunity to touch and feel the model’s interior.  I know what you’re thinking and you’d be wrong.  These shows have nothing to do with the adult film awards and they’re not set in the San Fernando Valley.  You don’t have to take an STD screen to go to the shows and participate.  Some of these models have bigger brains than your typical porn-star, and while some of them are just as dangerous as a sultry young vixen, most of these models are far more interesting to look at.  They’d also be more interesting to take for a spin, although doing that may cost you the same amount (or more) as a drug induced party spent “winning” with Charlie Sheen.

If you’re a car nut, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Whether you’re in Paris, Geneva or Detroit, you’ve had the opportunity to behold some of the most wonderful pieces of engineering to ever exist.  You’ve also, no doubt, been subjected to truly terrible pieces that are reserved for people so boring that they have nothing for which to live and look forward to dying because it will at least give them something to do.  Toyota, I’m looking at your stupid f***ing Prius line.  You’re ruining the joy of driving for normal people by giving the weirdos that live in yurts and make their clothes out of leaves something to drive.  Stop it.

On the up-side:  Alfa stole the show with the 3C concept car in Geneva.

Alfa Romeo 3C Concept

This isn’t really a surprise though, because Alfa’s been creating beautiful cars for quite a while (they’re known for it).  It’s rumored that Alfa will be bringing it to North America and more importantly, the States.  This fact makes my gentleman’s area feel a bit fizzy, if you know what I mean.

Not to be out done, a couple other Italian automakers have presented their new offerings…

…Lamborghini, an auto maker renown for creating cars full of madness and testosterone has presented their all new Aventador.

New Lambo

I’ll spare you the facts of the car, as there are plenty of other places for you to research its 0-60 time or it’s carbon fiber body. But because it’s the newest raging bull, it’s slightly crazier than anything offered previously.

…And Ferrari brought out madness of their own.  They made an all wheel drive machine capable of getting the kids to school and you to work in the same time as it takes a Prius owner to show their idiocy by explaining why everyone should live in yurts and drive terrible cars.  Ferrari’s new ride is called the FF.  Look it up and behold the beauty of Ferrari’s newest creation.  I’m pretty sure they stole the front from the 458 Italia.   I think it’s an answer to Porsche’s Panamera.

Ferrari FF: Create your own!

Sadly though, I didn’t get to go to Geneva’s Auto Show.  That would have cost me an arm and a leg, and I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  Nor was I in Detroit for the show there.  I am in Kansas City.  So, naturally, I went to the Auto Show here at Bartle Hall.  It didn’t have Ferrari or Alfa or Lambo.  It was smaller.  It was full of cars that people can actually afford.  There were only two supercars.  Nonetheless, it was a good time.  And we did see some good-looking models.  The women presenting them weren’t so bad either.

Of course, Ford had their new Global line to show.  The Fiesta and the Focus were present, as was the Fusion in all it’s forms.  While these cars were slightly interesting, there was no mention of the Focus ST (and, not surprisingly, the RS) or Ford Racing in the rally bred lines.  (I was hoping to see a rally version of the new Fiesta).  So I was bored.  Until I saw the Boss.

Laguna Seca Mustang

It’s exciting to see a car that’s actually been around the Laguna Seca race track.  It’s even more exciting to see it up close.  The most exciting thing of all:  You can order one for yourself.

Now, I don’t typically like trucks.  I’m not a farmer or a rancher and I don’t really have any use for something that can haul a Prius owner’s yurt.  I do however, see the reasoning for owning something called the Ford Raptor.  This thing is huge.  It’s got a nice, big engine, and it’s built for off-road purposes.

Ford Raptor's Engine

This means you can run over Prius owners, their stupid cars and, if you can vault high enough using the incline of their cars, their yurts.  Top Gear America reviewed the Hennessey-upgraded Veloci-Raptor this past season.

Suspension so huge, Audrey's Head Fits in the wheel. Prius Owners: Bring it on.

If you had that, you could destroy the lives of every Prius owner in the world in record time.  Anyone can see that owning this monster would be great fun.  Someone should just gift me one and then give me world-wide diplomatic immunity.  I promise I’d make the world a better place.

It’s no secret that Ford is one of the few car companies that has had positive earnings reports, but they have had a drain on those earnings:  Lincoln. Lincoln has been dragging Ford down, year over year.  They just haven’t been able to offer the same quality as BMW, Mercedes or Audi.  These new Lincolns aim to change that.

With Ford noticeably increasing the quality of their offerings, I wouldn’t be too surprised to find that the increased quality extends to Lincoln as well.  Time (and reviews) will tell.

It’s rare that I get stupidly giddy around cars.  Most of them aren’t anything too special, so I don’t become annoyingly excited about them.  However; There were two at the Kansas City Auto show that made me feel rather childish:

The first was the new Mercedes SLS.  Based upon the fabled 300 SL Mercedes gull-wing, the SLS is pretty cool.

Merc SLS

At $250k, it better be.  It’s fast.  Very fast.  It sounds spectacular.  And it’s one of the two cars that were at the Kansas City Auto show that most people can’t afford.  This means it was exciting.  Of course it was roped off, but they were allowing people to sit inside the passenger side.  I for one, wasn’t that interested in being a passenger in this car, so I opted to drool over the engine instead.

There is a problem with showing cars like this.  They make the average person feel inadequate, as they’ll most likely never be able to afford them.

But I also think that’s the reason people are drawn to them.  Take the Bugatti Veyron or the Shelby Ultimate Areo, for example.  Just living in the same world as these cars makes me feel better.  I may never own one.  I may never even sit in one.  But I like waking up every morning and knowing that they exist.

Parked next to the Mercedes SLS was the Mercedes SL300 gull-wing.  At $500,000, this was the most expensive production car shown at the Kansas City Auto show.  It was also beautiful.

This car held records for years before being beaten on the race track.  This car also inspired multiple auto designers to up the ante and work to create the wonderful speed demons available today.  I can’t say this car “started it all”, but it is responsible, in part, for the creation of Merc’s in-house tuning firm, AMG. And that, if nothing else, makes this car absolutely incredible.

There were a number of cars that were available to sit in and dream about.  Mercedes showing of their “normal” production cars was quite large.  Aristocrat Motors of Kansas City provided the Mercs, Porsches, Maseratis and Land Rovers.

I was surprised by their Porsche choices though.  Of course they brought the Panamera and the Cayman.  They had a couple of options for the Cayenne.  There was a Targa.  And all this is well and good, but I had to ask:  Did they forget something? Where’s the 911 Turbo?

Because it was the Kansas City Auto show, I wasn’t surprised that Aston Martins weren’t featured.  Jags were.  Recently, I haven’t really enjoyed the look of Jaguar’s cars.  Their ride seems fine, they supposedly don’t suck to drive, but I don’t really want an ugly car.  These concerns went out the window when I looked upon Jag’s XK-R. If you can’t afford an Aston, buy this.  It’s almost as pretty.

Sitting in the car, you wouldn’t think you were in a Jag.  It didn’t feel huge.  It felt small.  It felt that it could be nimble. It felt like I could toss it around, weaving between cars on the highway.  And because it’s got a supercharged engine, it’ll be quick too.  This means it’s fun to drive, and because it’s not ugly,   you won’t be embarrassed when you receive a picture of yourself speeding from your local law enforcement agency.

Speaking of speeding, I mentioned that Maseratis were present.  The  Quattroporte was there (that’s the one Auds wants, because it’s fast but can also pass for a family car).  I like the name.  Quattroporte.  That’s the benefit that Italian auto makers have over the English-speaking companies.  Simple words just sound better:  Quattroporte.  Sounds spectacular.  In reality though, it means Fourdoors.  Now you know why they kept the Italian.

The Maserati GT was also there.  I was surprised to see the Gran Turismo, since it is in the same class as Aston Martin.  Of course, because it’s a $200k car, the doors were locked.  I have no shots of its interior.  Check out Topgear.com if you’d like to see more.

Between Maserati and Jaguar, I’d take the Maserati.  This is because the world-famous Pininfarina design firm is responsible for its Italian beauty and because it’s rare.  There exist two positive things that come from its rarity: 1.) I’d be less likely to see someone else driving the same car.  2.) Because it’s so rare, you won’t be labeled a twat for driving one.  According to all the reviews, Maserati’s aren’t really better than Jags or BMW’s.  Supposedly, the buttons are in all the wrong positions and the gear box has historically left much to be desired.  They are rare, however and their exhaust note is just as beautiful as the car.  And Ferrari has had its hand in their creation.  That makes them wonderful.

Hyundai and Kia both had pretty good showings. I’m surprised I’m saying this, but the Hyundai Genesis is a good looking coupe.  It’s got ample horsepower and a big brake kit in the form of Brembos. I’m interested, and I’d like a turbo-charged one for a test-drive, please.  Thank you.

Kia’s Optima was present in all it’s forms, and I must say that when I sat inside, I was pleasantly surprised.  It didn’t feel like a tin box at all, but rather, a solidly built car.

These two South Korean car companies are stepping up their game, and I’m glad to see it.  They know what American drivers want in their econo-boxes.  The first thing they noticed is that we Americans like to have reliability in our cars (which is why Alfa Romeo didn’t survive).  So they started standing behind their products with the best warranties on the market.  Then they found out that we cared about the interior of the car, so they began offering luxury options at a fraction of the price that you’d pay the “other guys”.  Finally they learned we want something “fun to drive”.  So they stiffened suspensions and began offering turbocharged, inter-cooled cars.  And now that South Korea is delivering just what America ordered, Honda and Toyota better look to create something interesting for a change.

Honda:  You’ve built a car company based upon one of the best, most reliable racing engines in all the world.  In the past, every single other car company scrambled to come up with an engine as good as your VTEC engine, yet the best you can come up with in recent years is the good but tired S2000 and a different looking but exactly same Accord?  This year’s Civic SI is SLOWER than the last model.  And it doesn’t handle as well.  And it costs more.  Epic fail.

And Toyota:  Your cars are boring.  All of them.  Except for your SUV’s, which are well-built and thoughtful.  General rule:  if it has a Toyota logo, it makes me yawn.  Or a Lexus logo, for that matter.  The LFA doesn’t count (it’s a supercar) and for that same amount of money, I’d have a 458 Italia anyway.  Your “BMW M3 killer”, the IS-F, looks good but it won’t actually kill an M3.  And you’re not fooling anyone:  We know that the top two tail-pipes are fake and aren’t connected to anything.  Hell, the best thing to come out of Toyota recently is engine for Lotus’ newest offering, the Evora.  But you can’t take credit for that car though.  It’s designed and assembled in Britain, which means that it has soul, which cannot be said about the Corolla.

Are you two even trying any more?  South Korea’s got you in her sights and she just might lap you.

Moving on…

I was happy to see a very good selection of Audi’s line.  No R8’s, sorry.  But they did have the newest TT.  And almost the entire A line.  And a couple Q’s.

The newest TT is so much more a sports car than the old one.  It handles correctly.  It no longer looks so much like a smashed VW Beetle, and it’s fast.  But it’s pretty expensive… and while you can get it in the “S” type, I’d have a used Porsche instead.

The Audi that really caught my eye was the A5 Coupe. And that’s a lie.  I don’t want an A5.  I want the S5.  But it’s basically the same car… except the S5 has the power I want need.

The car doesn’t feel big (there’s a trend here: I don’t like big cars).  The steering wheel felt plush but nimble in my fingers, and it had a nicely moving gearbox.

Because it’s a A5 (S5), there’s enough room for passengers and groceries, the trunk offers a good amount of space and it is equipped with Audi’s AWD system.  That AWD would’ve been nice to have this past winter.  I’ll take one, with a proper manual gear box in black, please.

GM was present as well, showing every car they’ve ever made.  They took up one whole side of Bartle Hall, with their Caddies, Chevys, GM trucks and Vans and the car built for golfers and old people:  Buick.

I think they should make Buicks illegal.  They’re big, they’re ugly, and they’re an un-addressed danger on our roads today.  I know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk or buzzed.  I know that it’s stupid to drive while texting.  But what about DWOs:  Driving while old?  A drunk teenager who is texting while driving will still have a better reaction time than a sober one-thousand year old.  Just this past week, I was driving in the left lane with a Buick ahead of me in the right lane.  With no blinker or warning whatsoever, the Buick driver suddenly decided that a left-hand turn from the right-most lane was a good idea.  Luckily, I know that there are only two types of people in the world who drive Buicks:  People who can’t afford to drive something else, and old people who shouldn’t be driving but are because their children don’t have the required gentleman’s apples to take away their aged parent’s car keys.  Because I know this, I’m very careful around Buicks, and I knew enough to give this old person the “right of way”  which is a nice way of saying I slammed on my breaks, coming to a stop from 45 mph.  Thank God the lady behind me wasn’t a tail-gater or I would’ve had a Chevy Yukon up my rear end.  I would have honked, but the person driving the Buick wouldn’t have heard me.  Needless to say, neither Audrey nor I wanted spend much time looking at the Buicks.  The smell of imminent death and nursing homes was just too much.

Chevy was pushing their new Volt, which reminds me of the color grey.  In fact, Chevy’s entire line reminds me of a cloudy day.  Sure the new Camaro looks good, and yes, they’ve finally come out with the SS version, but I’m generally not a fan of muscle cars… which is why I have nothing to say about the Corvette.  I know just about nothing about it, and I don’t care to.  I think they had a blue one and a red one.

Chrysler’s showing was pretty grey as well, but they didn’t really have much to show.  There was the typical 300 there, and the new 200, which is basically just a smaller 300.  (About 100 smaller, actually.)  When the styling first came out, the 300 was a pretty exciting looking car:  all G’ed up and S***.  But eventually one realizes that the car drives like rubbish and that being a gangster means you’ll need to begin hitting women and dealing cocaine.  I, for one, have no interest in becoming a “baby-daddy”, nor do I want to meet an untimely end while doing a drive-by.  Therefore, we moved on.

I was stupidly excited to see Fiat’s 500.  They had three to explore.  This little car makes me happy.  Look at it.  It just wants you to smile.  And, according to the multiple reviews available, it will make you smile.  The little Cinquecento is good.  It handles well, it rides well, and while it’s inexpensive, it doesn’t feel “cheap”.  Sounds like Fiat got it right with this one.  The most exciting thing is this:  if the little 500 sells well here in North America, Fiat might bring us Alfa.  As of right now, there are three options:  Lounge, Sport, and Pop.  Fans of manual transmissions will want to avoid the Lounge, as it’s Automatic only.  I’d go for the Sport version, myself, if I didn’t know that we’ll be getting the Abarth version next year.  I’ll wait.

So, while Ferrari, Lambo, Bugatti and Shelby were missing from the Kansas City Auto show, there were plenty of autos over which this car-nut could drool, and plenty of trash products to scorn.  (Picture the Prius Stretched Limo).

While the Auto industry has had its troubles the past couple years, I see a turn-around in the future.  We’ve already seen the tip:  Ford increasing build quality, GM pushing the hyper-miles, Jaguars becoming beautiful again, good warranties coming from companies NOT based in South Korea, and Chrysler joining forces with Fiat.  This next decade is going to be interesting to say the least.  I’ll be watching closely.  I think we’ll see some great cars and some very strange bed-fellows.

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Trying Not to Get Stoned on Valentine’s Day

Today is the day in which people will produce convections for their favorite people in the world.  It’s the day of the year that men will rush about in stores they’d probably never visit otherwise to acquire underwear they (hopefully) won’t wear themselves and make poor investment decisions in order to win the hearts (and the womanly bits) of their significant others by buying non-consumable goods that have a shelf life of one to two weeks and will end up dying on the kitchen table and maybe be pressed into a diary or journal, all in the name of a few Catholic saints that died more than one thousand years ago.

Originally, Saint Valentine’s day focused on sacrifice and not romantic love.  The Catholic feast day celebrated the sacrifices the early saints made, and by that, I mean they were martyred.  Real romantic, isn’t it?  Baby, I love you.  Let’s get stoned and crucified.

Hell, the first recorded association between romantic love and the 14th of February didn’t actually occur until Geoffrey Chaucer wrote Parlement of Foules in 1392:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

I would argue though, that there is a link between sacrifice and love.  There exist numerous jokes on the subject.  The proverbial “ball and chain” and “my old lady” come to mind, along with the jokes about the single men and the massive fortunes they’ve amassed because there’s no woman around to spend it all.  Of course, there are plenty of sacrifices women make on the account of their men too.  Relationships are give-and-take.  The point is, there is sacrifice in any good relationship.

Sure, one can cheat on his or her lover, but we don’t want to go down that road as it’s painful and absolutely unnecessary.  A couple could also choose to become swingers (so it wouldn’t technically be cheating) but that’s not the life I want for myself or my soon-to-be wife.  Therefore, there is a degree of sacrifice involved.  By being with my fiancée, I have sworn off all other women (and men, technically, although that was never going to be an issue in the first place).  This means I can no longer bring strippers and porno stars to my home for the evening to have a drug infused party that ends up sending me to the hospital.  This is fine because I don’t need rehab, I don’t have drug-mouth and my name is not Charlie Sheen.

Romeo at Juliet's Deathbed, Henry Fuseli, 1809

Valentine’s day brings to mind one of the most influential relationships that never really existed:  Romeo and Juliette.  This movie will sure be playing on all the channels men would never be caught watching today.  Girls everywhere throughout history have based their ideas of true love on Shakespeare’s teenage fiasco.  Certainly, you could argue that Romeo and Juliette made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love, but you’d be wrong.  They didn’t have love.  They had teenage hormones and lust.  They never experienced love in its truest form.  They didn’t have to live with one another through the thick and thin of it all, they didn’t grow old together, they didn’t really share their lives with one another, they can’t be said to have been “best friends” and they certainly never consummated as husband and wife.

As a younger man, I understood that when combined and in true love, a man and woman would make a whole being (and they can, when they consummate, but I’m not talking about that).  I thought they would live and laugh and cry and love as one.  Think of a battery.  It has both a positive charge and a negative charge.  I figured that if I was the positive, my significant other would be the negative.  If I was black, she’d be white.  And there are quite a few poems and songs that reflect that same idea.  I’ve found something out.  They’re wrong.  If people are like batteries, we each already have a positive charge and a negative charge, built into us individually.  We are already a complete person and we don’t need someone to fill the gap, because the gap isn’t really there.  Sure, we live in a society in which relationships with the opposite sex (or same-sex, for all I care) are valued.  In our society, it’s wrong to be single.  Why?  I don’t think you can actually love someone if you depend upon them to be your opposite anyway, because that means that person can’t grow or change.  And if you depend on them to create a “full person”, the relationship will become a power struggle.  Who’s going to control this complete person we’ve created together?  When one side’s in control, the other isn’t.  This creates animosity, and I’m fairly certain that love has no room for animosity.  Realistically, I think true love means allowing one’s mate to be his or her own person and loving them because of that.  Like the AA batteries in my remote control, each person is complete and he or she already has a full charge.  They each carry power.  But they’re far more powerful together than they are when they’re alone.  Separate but together… kind of like the Holy Trinity.  An enigma then.

Vergiss Romeo und Julia,
Wann gibt’s Abendbrot?
Willst du wirklich tauschen?
Am Ende waren sie tot,
Ich werd’ immer für dich da sein,
Bist du dabei?
In dem Gefühl, wir wären zwei.

The lyrics above are from Kettcar’s Balu. Translated, they say “Forget Romeo and Juliet/When is dinner?/Will you really share?/In the end, they died/ I will always be here for you/ Are you there?/ In our feeling, we are two”.

Separate but together.

Leave it to the Germans to understand love.  Honestly though,  I’m not joking.  Many Germanic authors have commented on love in its truest sense.  From Goethe to Schiller and now to Kettcar, centuries later, the German artists seem to have this love thing figured out.

Goethe wrote about a destructive relationship in Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, AKA The Sorrows of a Young

First print 1774

Werther, in which a young man falls into a one-sided, long distance relationship with a woman who strings him along like a puppy on a leash until he becomes so distraught by the whole ordeal that he ends his life.  Yes, it ends in a typical German fashion, but that’s not the point.  The point is, love shouldn’t be painful or unhealthy.

It is a gift.

I understand the reasons for providing items for someone in order to show affection, to say “thank you for being here with me and supporting me in my journey through this thing we call life.”  Animals do it during courtship.  Cavemen did it with dead animals, and we still enjoy doing it today.

Artists are AssholesBut from where did the Valentines Day tradition of buying our lovers fattening chocolates and flowers that are just going to die in a week come?  I’m half-joking here, but I would think  that we men would try to remove the chocolate from our significant other’s diet for fear she’d get large and we’d end up dating someone who has the likeness of Jabba the Hut… especially if she’s to fit into that skimpy little outfit from Victoria’s Secret for which we paid an arm and a leg.

But it makes sense… kind of.  As a male, I understand the pleasure of looking upon the beauty of a stunning woman.  We men are lucky to experience their radiance day in and day out.  I also know that (typically) men can be handsome, but not beautiful.

The beauty of a woman’s figure has been the subject by artists for centuries.  Rarely though, is there a beautiful depiction of a man.  Men seem to symbolize strength, courage, sometimes ferocity and determination, and certainly awesomeness.  But beauty?  No.  War and destruction; That’s the man’s domain.  Females though; they are the gentler half the species.

They are wonderful to gaze upon.  Their figures are used in all types of art.  From photos and paintings to car designs (just look at the 458 Italia), women are the human depiction of absolute beauty.

Maybe gifts of flowers are men’s way of apologizing for our lack of beauty, for our brute-ness.  We men experience our women’s beauty every day, but all women have to look at (realistically) are our hairy bodies,  the awkward floppiness between our legs and our beer bellies.

… or, if we look at Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers, there might just be a subliminal message…

Either way, I have learned through my current relationship that love isn’t really about flowers or chocolate or shiny bits of hardened carbon or sacrifices.  The reason a great relationship is so great isn’t because the woman is beautiful, the man is handsome or the sex is great (but it helps).  These can all be had in a trip to the massage parlor.  No, the greatest thing about a good, healthy, communicative relationship is that the participants cause each other to be better human beings, causing them to love each other more and more each passing day.

Thanks Auds, for really teaching me that.


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Filed under Holidays, Love, Personal Experience

STFU, Nike.

At one point in the movie Empire Records, Lucas states, “I do not regret the things I have done, only the things I have failed to do”.

The other night I thought about this quote and how it applies to my life.  I suppose it’s normal to have a few “dark nights of the soul” and that through these “dark nights”, one can reflect inward and try to objectively understand from whence they came and observe the forward path they are to follow.  It also helps to have some sort of support in doing so.

And I do.  My fiancée is one of those people who is capable of speaking harsh truths in a gentle way.  So when I voiced my thoughts to her regarding “that which I’ve failed to do”, she asked me, with a puzzled look on her face, “So why don’t you just do it?”

In What About Bob?, there is a rather humorous scene regarding baby steps.  The point is that baby steps are just as important, if not more important than the “big picture”, as they’ll help to keep one on track toward one’s goals.  Audrey (my Fiancée), being the detail-oriented one in the relationship, told me to make a list of all that I’d like to do with my life, complete with the baby steps necessary to complete my goals.  The next step then, would be to do them.

Duh.  If it really were THAT easy.  And I suppose that it really is.  The only thing making goals hard to accomplish are the people who are trying to accomplish those goals.  Aside from the “self-talk” that occurs (which one can do something about by telling themselves to STFU), there really isn’t much standing in one’s way.

Sure, there will be the outside naysayers.  Be they family, friends, acquaintances or strangers, one doesn’t need to listen to them or be associated with them if they do nothing but demolish the dreams of the individual.

Sometimes one needs to take chances in order to complete one’s goals.  The chances might be risky.  Very risky in fact, if one’s goals include breaking the world speed record (Richard Hammond of Top Gear) or doing something incredibly stupid, like moving to Canada and living with Grizzly bears (Grizzly Man) to prove that Grizzly Bears are not man killers.  (By the way, they are).

My goals don’t involve testing the limits of drag racers equipped with jet engines (but that would be fun) or testing the food choices of wild animals, but certainly there exist risks that need to be addressed prior to taking the steps necessary to accomplish my goals and I realize that the effects of these risks will not only impact my life, but Audrey’s life as well, for better or worse.

And that, I think, is what is holding me back.  Well, that and fear.

To be honest, I don’t think that it’s fear of personal failure.  A wise man once said that one only fails when they give up, and I refuse to accept anything less than success in obtaining my goals.   I just don’t want to make life harder for Audrey and my future family than it needs to be, and my the goals I have set for myself are none too simple.  Let’s just say that I don’t set the bar too low and I don’t make things easy for myself.

One of the goals is to adventure.  To disappear for a while, maybe across the pond.  Pick up a language or two, whilst traveling and “obtaining some culture”.  To do so though, would I have to abandon the life I’ve set up here?  Certainly, I’d have to accept the unknown.  And I would have to ask Auds to do the same.  This then, brings me to some questions.  Is this fair to Audrey?  Would she be willing to do so?

Both answers (I know because I have asked) are yes.  (And, “Hurry up and do it, because I’ve set some goals on the back burner so yours can be accomplished.”)  But I still feel some consternation.

Fear of the unknown is, to me, one of the most annoying things in the world.  It’s annoying because there’s not really anything one can do about it.  It’s a problem that needs to be solved, but there’s nothing to fix.  It’s just there, silently prodding me like an invisible toddler who wants me to get out of bed before the sun comes up.  You can try to ignore it, but it’ll just prod harder.

And just picking up and leaving leaves a lot of unknowns.  There’s no algebraic equation to solve them either.  We’d be into calculus, which is not a subject I enjoyed very much.  I’ll just need to do it, and take the consequences in stride.  Accept them for what they are, and move on… which is what I normally do anyway.

The next step for that goal, then, would be to save a bit of money, buy some plane tickets and say Tschüss to american society for a while.  The question that action leaves me with then, is “when”.

That brings me to another couple of goals, because I’ll need a complete timeline, detailing the “due dates”, and organizing them in a manageable fashion.

As one can tell from my prior post, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life driving an econobox.  I want a supercar (even better: hypercar) for my daily driver.  That’s expensive.  (And maybe a bit childish, I admit– though I don’t care.)  I’m not just talking about just the initial purchase of $150k-$1.5mm.  I’m talking about the residuals: insurance on these things is higher than the astronomical maintenance costs.  Gas would become quite expensive too, especially when considering the car for use as a daily driver.  I really would pass everything except a gas station.

This means I’ll need a lot of money and a position at a job that pays better than the one I currently have.  That position will also have to be incredibly flexible, allowing me to travel the world while making money.  Sounds like a very well paid travel writer to me.  Or one better:  a job with Top Gear, driving stupidly fast and fun cars in order to write reviews for their magazine and website (pipe dreams…).  That way, I wouldn’t have to worry about the extraordinary costs of the cars.  I’d drive them for the day, give them back when the gas gauge reads empty and write about the exhilarating experience, detailing what it’s like to drive a car most people will never sit inside or even see in real life.  And I’d be paid for it.

Certainly, there are other goals I’ve got set for myself, but traveling the world, being paid to drive supercars in all types of exotic locales is the main one.  Whether it’s really a pipe dream or not, I don’t know.  I’ll just go about it the Nike way and find out.

Any tips, in the mean time, would be appreciated.

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Legal Sex in Public

Some people like dancing, others enjoy overdosing on pain meds.  I belong to neither group.  The reasoning behind this is at the same time very clear, and very muddled.  Well, the dancing part.  Overdosing is a given, unless of course, Christmas music is involved.

I’ve never really been a dancer.  I don’t take pleasure watching people look like fools on the dance floor, and I myself don’t enjoy looking foolish.

This isn’t to say that all dancing is stupid.  Certainly, there’s an art to it.  The Tango, really well done, is nothing to scoff at. Nor is a Waltz or a Two Step.  I do not take issue with dancing done well, just as I don’t take issue with a classically trained musician playing the violin or a seasoned and practiced artist playing the fiddle.  That which I despise though, is dancing bastardized into a barely legal humpfest.   I don’t want to participate in that any more than I want to participate in listening to someone play the violin when they’ve got absolutely no clue what they’re doing.  They’ll make nothing but noise, and that’s just annoying.

Sadly, most “dance” songs do not facilitate a quality dance.  They tend to be overtly sexual, hardcore.  They qualify as “songs” in the same way “Beautiful Big Assed Babes” or “Two Girls One Cup” qualify as Oscar worthy films.  Perhaps my disdain for dancing stems from this fact.

Would I be willing to take dancing lessons?  Sure.   I won’t seek them out.  I wouldn’t seek out a Neil Diamond concert either, but if I’ve got the time, and I’m not “out” anything, I’d be happy to show up.  Just to say that I did it.  Maybe I’d find I’d really enjoy it.  Don’t knock it if you’ve never tried it, isn’t that what they always say?   I can think of a few things I’ll contest prior to trying them.  Like prison love.  I’ll go ahead and knock that, since I’m pretty positive I won’t enjoy it. And herpes.  Or AIDS.  Or eating babies.

But if someone provided me with lessons for swing or ballroom dancing, I would attend (as long as it didn’t interfere with my work or overtime schedule).  I might have fun.  I might find in those lessons a new passion.  Or I might hate it. But I’d at least try to learn to dance before I seriously go and hump complete strangers on the dance floor.   That way, I wouldn’t bastardize someones life work, and I won’t be viewed as an absolute tool who goes to clubs to “hook up”.

So maybe dance lessons are in my future, as I’m sure that I’ll be expected to dance at my own wedding.  I don’t really want to go out in front of anyone at the reception to dance and end up looking like an epileptic.  But then, if I did that, perhaps I wouldn’t have to dance anyway.

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Like Many Twenty-Somethings, Cooking Has Become a Hobby of Mine.

Growing up, I was not truly allowed to cook.  My mother and father were from a past generation (my father was born in 1929 and my mother was born in 1936).  In my household, my father and I were not to even approach the stove; And with good reason: we were men, and that meant we were outside doing manly things like killing bears with our bare hands, biting the heads off deer and fabricating turrets that shot fireballs at our neighboring enemies instead of the dainty chores like cooking and weaving baskets.  Sure, we men knew how to char a hunk of meat over an open fire, but the question always remained:  “How do we combine this meat with the objects our food eats, like vegetables and herbs?” 

When I moved to college at KU in 2001, I was left with my knowledge of how to take the life of an animal (either with my bare hands, a katana or a rocket launcher), but without the knowledge of how to properly prepare the newly deceased animal carcass for human consumption.  Like many in my generation, I believe that television can actually be used to learn something assuming the correct channel is selected (this means a channel other than MTV or the Lifetime Network).  When not doing homework, going to class, working, or guzzling vast amounts of fermented grains, I watched the Food Network.
 
On this channel, I learned two things.  The first concept blew me away.  I learned that it is OK for men to cook.  There do exist many men who (apparently when they’re not wrestling wild animals and skinning baby seals with their teeth), go into the kitchen and prepare meals.  The second concept also intrigued me: cooking is edible science. 

I always enjoyed science, because I was taught that “manly” things come from it:  cars, explosions, new mood altering substances and rockets.  Now I also knew that food can come from science.  So I took to food as a young child takes to a kitten.  Only, I cooked the kitten with a mixture of teriyaki sauce and stir-fry vegetables.   It was delicious! 

From that point on, cooking was a way of life for me.  I would venture into the vast, dark heart of the nearest grocery market, find a pre-dispatched animal (I also learned that one does not need to always kill their own food, as other people do that for a living.), heave it into my grocery basket, and drag it home to my cave.  I was delighted to find that those good people who rendered the creature lifeless had gone to the trouble of cleaning it as well!  I would then prepare the animal with the gusto of the chefs on the food network and serve it to an attractive female in hopes that she would be so delighted with my hunting and cooking skills that she might find in me a man capable of providing for a family and respond in a positive manner to my mating rituals.

Since those days, my cooking skill has vastly improved.  Few people in the world exist with the same experience in learning to cook as I.  I am now able to invent new dishes, and am “the cook” in my household.  I have gone from someone who could burn water to someone who is more than capable of inserting a quail into a chicken, the chicken into a duck, the duck into a turkey, the turkey into a pig, the pig into a cow and then injecting the whole of the meal with melted, pasteurized cheese product and deep frying the combination of animals in a giant vat of boiling vegetable oil. 

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