Parking

Talk About Something We Take for Granted …

In just about every movie I’ve ever seen, the hero never has any trouble finding a parking spot directly in front of his destination. And, moreover, if there is a parking meter, he never has a problem getting the exact change or running his credit card. As for myself, I usually find that most meters have either been vandalized or never worked right in the first place.

And that’s not the worst of it. To use a meter, I have to make an existential decision. Which is more important to me? Quarters for parking, or quarters for the washer and dryer in my apartment building? Rarely do the meters accept any of my credit cards: I guess it’s more difficult to vandalize the coin reader part of the device.

Today was a rare day for me: When I went to see my doctor, I found a good parking place on the residential street just north of Wilshire Boulevard. Usually, I have to hike from four or five streets away; and even then I have reason to fear getting a parking ticket. Then, when I went to lunch at Gilbert’s El Indio I got the coveted parking space right next to the front door. And I was able to order the excellent Enchiladas Suizas Monday lunch special.

Speaking of parking, I typically avoid parking garages. It’s a quick way to not only empty your wallet but get your car all dinged up. So I have adopted a practice which I abbreviate as PFAW—short for “park far and walk.” I need the exercise anyway, so if I have to walk half a mile from my parking place, it’s probably good for me, no? I always smirk at the drivers who absolutely have to park right in front of their destination, even if it means messing with the flow of traffic. There is a Trader Joe Market near where I live which always has a bunch of “parking playas” jockeying for the ten desirable spots right in front. I just turn on Granville and park about a block away.

Parking is one of those activities that people don’t usually talk about. Yet you will find that the time one spends looking for a parking place (not to mention the money) adds up when you look at a whole year’s time.

Here’s hoping that the magical parking spaces will suddenly be available to you. If not, may you be philosophical about parking far and walking.

Ignition

Help! My Car Key Is Stuck in the Ignition!

It was not a problem I ever encountered before. As I pulled into the parking lot of a Sprouts Market, I set the transmission to Park and attempted to retrieve my car keys. It was no go. They were stuck in the ignition. I checked that I was indeed in Park. I was. But the key was stuck. After about twenty minutes of fiddling, I was able to pull the key out and do my shopping.

But what was next? If the same problem occurred when I got home, I couldn’t leave my keys in the car with the door unlocked. It would have been an invitation to theft, and to inviting a smelly bum to spend the night in my car, turning it into a mobile dumpster..

So I went straight from the market to my Subaru dealer and reported the problem. I waited for a couple of hours, but it would take longer to fix the problem. So I took the bus home and cooked dinner for me and Martine. It was only then that I got the call from the mechanic that all was well. I will pick up the car tomorrow morning after breakfast.

I would have waited at the dealership longer, but I had a choice of seating by an over-curious dog (I do not like to play with strangers’ dogs) or a software executive who had two laptops and was constantly on the cell phone with Harvey at work. Yechhhhh!

Automotive Heraldry

There Is Something Classy About the Logos of British Sports Cars

As Martine and I attended a British car show at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, I became acutely conscious of the snazzy sports car logos—far more sophisticated than most American and Japanese equivalents. Here are just a few of the hood ornaments I snapped at the show. They reminded me of the medieval art of heraldry.

You Can See My Reflection on the Hood

I Had Never Even Heard of This Make

I Don’t Quite Understand the Letters Above the Name “Lotus”

I feel almost Chestertonian in my seeing this heraldic connection, but I really think it is not all that far fetched.

Carvaganza

A Perfect Car for the Road in Los Angeles

This weekend, a number of museums opened up for Covid-weary Angelenos, among whom are Martine and me. First we ate—indoors—at Du-Par’s Restaurant at the Original Farmers’ Market at 3rd and Fairfax. Then we breezed down Fairfax to the Petersen Automotive Museum at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire.

Unfortunately, the current exhibits were more oriented toward the bearded and tattooed grundgerati. The museum’s former emphasis on the history of the automobile has been replaced by racing cars, including Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and others. In addition, there were a number of fantasy cars such as the monster above, which was designed for some movie which I likely never saw.

A Lamborghini Racing Car for the Cash-Non-Challenged

Still and all, it was nice to go eat out at a restaurant and visit a museum—quite a change from the previous twelve months. The Petersen was packed to overflowing with visitors who had no idea what social distancing was and why it is still essential. On the plus side, the wearing of masks was de rigeur.

Finally, here is a peak of the dashboard of the original Back to the Future car:

Dash and Front Seat of the Original Back to the Future Car

Putting Myself Down

I Have Always Underestimated Myself…

When I was young, I was always one of the shortest kids in my class—and one of the sickest. The result was that I habitually underestimated myself. Everyone else looked taller, happier, and more accomplished than me. And that even after I was the valedictorian of my class at Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. In fact, it was not until I reached the age of forty that I realized what I had been doing to myself. That was the age at which I was finally able to drive. Before that, I was on a medication (Catapres) that made me fall asleep whenever I got into a moving vehicle.

Within weeks after I got off Catapres, I took driving lessons and passed with flying colors. But then something happened to my picture of other people: The moment I saw drivers who committed moving violations at the rate of once every hundred feet or so, I began to revise my impressions of the rest of the human race.

Politics also stepped in to lower my estimation of my fellow Americans. I first became aware of political conservatism during the 1964 election, when Barry Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson. Conservatism was to become my bête noire during the following decades, where now I regard most Republicans and Trump followers to be mental defectives. Now that so many of these so many of these Trumpists are advocating a return to normalcy during a dreadful epidemic, I now look at people such as the individuals in the above photograph as suicidal fools who would think nothing of infecting their friends, neighbors, and families with a potentially fatal disease.

Do I have any regrets for being so hard on myself all those years? Not a bit. I think that I am happier than most people and less likely to be played like a marionette out of baseless fears.

 

 

Bad Ass Drivers

Typically, the Bad Ass American Is Most Readily Found on the Road

A few days ago, I wondered why Americans were so intent on playing the role of the bad ass. Of course, the great theater of bad ass behavior is to be found on the streets and roads of your neighborhood. And you don’t have to go very far to find them.

Everybody is familiar with the over-aggressive goon who cuts you off in your lane with inches to spare. You can beep your horn at him, but that will only give him a warm glow that he not only got away with it, but succeeded in annoying you in the process. You can catch up with the louse and give him the finger or verbal abuse, but that could place you at risk. These are not nice people. Being not nice is a way of life with them and affords them some form of satisfaction.

On the other side of the spectrum is the (mostly) woman drivers who in their minds see stop signs at every residential intersection, even when there is none. Although there are hyper-aggressive women drivers as well, intent on proving their status as bad ass malefactors, most women do not fall into this category. Texting and otherwise driving distracted is not so much an instance of bad ass driving as it is an invitation to disaster.

Ultimately, the only way to deal with real bad ass drivers is to see them the way a Buddhist monk views venial sins: with complete equanimity. By reacting at all, you are in danger of allowing yourself to be distracted.

It would be nice if there were more police enforcement of moving violations, but I suspect that the highways of America will become choked with gory bodies before the men in blue could be lured from their coffee and doughnuts.

I Go To See the Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

In April 1991, I drove up to Santa Maria to rendezvous with my friend and business associate George Hoole. The next day we were going to go to the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) to see the 14th Dalai Lama give a talk. My attendance at this talk cost me a great deal: Driving up the San Marcos Pass on State Route 154 in second gear, I burned out the engine of my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. That was just the beginning of my problems with the Mitsubishi, which lasted another four years before being T-boned by an elderly woman who was afraid of being late to a doctor appointment.

Although I knew my visit was going to cost me dearly, I remembered the Dalai Lama’s talk with great fondness. It is the only time I ever saw one of the world’s great religious leaders in person. I have read several of his books since then and realize that he is a living treasure. When he passes on, which can be any time now, the world will be without a man of his spiritual stature. Of course, the Chinese will be delighted: They will simply choose their own Dalai Lama. Will the exiled Tibetans in Dharamshala, India choose their own candidate? Who knows?

Present at UCSB when George Hoole and I were there was the late Spalding Gray, author of Swimming to Cambodia, who did an interview with the Dalai Lama which was published by Tricycle. In that interview, the following appeared:

Do you ever entertain the distractions, invite them into your meditation and let all of these women in bikini bathing suits that you must see here out by the pool come into your meditation? As a monk, I have to avoid that experience, even in my dreams, due to daily practice. Sometimes in my dreams there are women. And in some cases fighting or quarreling with someone. When such dreams happen, immediately I remember, “I am monk.” So that is one reason I usually call myself a simple Buddhist monk. That’s why I never feel “I am the Dalai Lama.” I only feel “I am a monk.” I should not indulge, even in dreams, in women with a seductive appearance. Immediately I realize I’m a monk. Then sometimes in my dreams I see fighting with a gun or a knife, and again I immediately realize “I am a monk, I should not do this.” This kind of mindfulness is one of the important practices that I do the whole day long. Then your particular point, about beautiful things or men, women, things that attract: the analytical meditation counters that attachment.

For example, the sexual desire. It is very important to analyze, “what is the real benefit?” The appearance of a beautiful face or a beautiful body—as many scriptures describe—no matter how beautiful, they essentially decompose into a skeleton. When we penetrate to its human flesh and bones, there is no beauty, is there? A couple in a sexual experience is happy for that moment. Then very soon trouble begins.

I can see that if I ever wanted to achieve enlightenment, I have a long way to go.

 

Why New Cars Tend to Look Alike

Maybe You Can Personalize Your License Plate

When my cousin Ilona visited me from Communist Hungary in 1974, she marveled at how our car models were so differentiated from one another. There was even more variation in color. The Ladas, Skodas, Zhigulis, Tatras, and Trabants of her own country struck her as comparatively grim.

Well, times have changed. Now most new cars from Japan, Europe, and the United States resemble one another more than they differ. There even seem to be fewer colors. Even my 2018 Subaru Forester, which I love, has a hard time competing with my old 1994 Nissan Pathfinder in terms of styling.

You can see this video from CNET on the top five reasons why new cars look alike. (It blames most of the changes on the survival of pedestrians who are hit head on.) Writing for the Mother Nature Network, Jim Motavalli adduces several other reasons as well. These are, in no particular order:

  • Government requirements relating to fuel economy mean that all cars try to wring every bit of aerodynamic efficiency possible
  • This means very uniform front ends ending in what CNET calls a “Mrs. Doubtfire” boxy butt
  • Big door pillars protect drivers and passengers when the car rolls
  • In most cars, you feel as if you were sitting in a bunker due to higher door sills and smaller windows, especially along the sides
  • It is possible that, in future, aerodynamic efficiency will involve the loss of outside rear-view mirrors (I certainly hope not)

Cars do seem safer today, and I am rather fond of having 100% all-wheel drive on my Subaru.

 

 

 

 

 

American Car Culture

1934 Ford Model 40 Deluxe Roadster

One of the reasons I enjoy visiting automobile museums—of which there are five that I know of in Southern California—is that classic American cars represent a culture that is so uniquely different from that of our European cousins. That 1934 Ford Roadster from the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar is brash, yet built along classical lines. Compare it with a Rolls Royce, Voisin, Maybach, Talbot Lago, or Bugatti and you will see it different from American cars in pretty much the same way that American literature is different from European literature.

There are some classic American car designs that are characterized by some restraint, but for the most part Detroit says, “Here! This is what you want! It’s you!” One feels one has to grow into a Bentley or a Hispano-Suiza: It is something to which to attain. The American model is much closer to the Id, whereas the European model is closer to the Superego.

The Pep Boys: Manny, Moe, and Jack

I was enthralled yesterday by this Pep Boys plastic logo at Oxnard’s Murphy Automotive Museum. I compare Manny, Moe, and Jack to the automobile repairman in Patrick Modiano’s novel Villa Triste: cool, detached, intellectual.

It is possible, perhaps, to carry this McLuhanesque comparison too far, but it does seem to make sense. Look, for example at the logos.

Plymouth Barracuda Logo

Can you imagine Rolls Royce calling one of its Silver Phantoms a Phan’? Or Talbot Lago, a ’Bot? Even though Rolls Royces are affectionately referred to as Rolls, the company would never abbreviate the name on one of their automobiles. Yet, Plymouth gladly adopted an abbreviated name to put on the rear bumpers of their later model Barracudas.

Now then, is the American approach any worse? It appears to sit well with the American automobile-buying public. Of course, it would be far better if the American automobiles themselves have not declined so precipitately. I have owned nothing but Japanese cars since I began to drive. Yet, looking back at Detroit products of the Golden Age, I would have had no trouble with Packard or Pierce Arrow or Duesenberg. They were beautiful cars that compared favorably with the best that Europe could manufacture.

 

Driving in LA: Emergency Blinkers

Annoying When Not Used Correctly

I did not get my drivers’ license until I was forty years old. (Before then, I was on Catapres, a blood pressure medication, which put me to sleep whenever I rode in a car.) When I finally learned to drive, I made a shocking discovery: I suddenly discovered how utterly incompetent most adults are. Every block, I descry at least two or three major violations. Martine asks, “Where are the police?” I smirk while answering, “Where’s the nearest doughnut shop?”

One of the most irksome driving (mal)practises is the incorrect used of the emergency blinkers, or hazard lights. It seems that many (mis)users of this capability are telegraphing to other drivers this message: “I am a pale, fragile flower. Please do not kill me if I stray into your lane or omit directional signals, or if I slow suddenly on the freeway while texting.” To the police, should they be inclined to notice anything so unexciting, the message is: “I am signalling you because I am in the process of committing numerous moving violations. Please cite me at once and save me from myself.”

This is the first in a series of occasional posts about the experience of driving in Southern California. There are a lot of very capable drivers on the road, but the ones who aren’t make for an interesting experience.