Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mea culpa (postage due)

Okay. I'm really not sure what I did to piss-off the United States Postal Service, but whatever it is, I'm sorry. Truly. It's time to declare a truce. An uneven "delivery detente", as it were.
I surrender. You win.
I guess it started years ago. Jimmy Carter was President, mortgage rates were at 14% and everybody was scrambling to their dictionaries to look up "malaise". We (my wife Kathy and I) had just moved into our second apartment, a brand new unit off First Colonial Road in Virginia Beach. We dutifully sent out "Change-of-Address" cards to friends and creditors alike, proudly proclaiming our new location: 941 Thousand Oaks Drive.
That's when the "Great Unpleasantness" (as I like to call it) began.
One day we opened our mailbox to find a note from our friendly Postmaster. It seems there had been a small, teeny-tiny almost inconsequential mistake. Hardly worth mentioning, really. Actually amusing, when you think about it. But it turns out (you're gonna laugh, I'm tellin' ya) that our address was WRONG! Our new address was 971, not 941. How could this happen, you ask? No one knows! The builder blames the post office, the post office refuses to comment. Whatever. So we send out "Change-of-Address" cards . . . again. At least this time we didn't have to actually move.
After a couple of years, we bought our first house, a "patio home" off Rosemont Road. "Patio homes" were builder's code for "really cheaply made houses that share at least one common cinderblock wall" (in our case, the garage). These were small starter homes on very narrow lots. There was room for one car in the driveway and maybe one more in front of your house on the street, but only if the car parked on the street were small, like something circus clowns would drive. And we were all warned NOT to block our mailboxes or else, NO MAIL. Since Kathy and I were both at work during the day, that shouldn't be a problem. Or so I thought.
One day I came home and discovered . . . no mail. Odd, but not uncommon. But the next day, we again received no mail. Not even a ValPak. On Day 3, there was something in our mailbox . . . a notice from the USPS, informing us that they could not deliver my mail because my mailbox was blocked.
I know what you're going to say . . .
"Paul," you ask incredulously, "are you telling me that a civil servant, a dedicated government employee duly sworn to "serve and, umm, deliver", put something in your mailbox that essentially said they couldn't put something in your mailbox?"
Yup. That's what I'm telling you.
I could go on at length about the subsequent conversation I had with my local Postmaster. How I pointed out that neither of my vehicles were blocking my mailbox and that I had no control over who might park there when I was not looking. Or that the next time my mail carrier-person stepped out of his/her Jeep to place an official government document in my mailbox, he/she might also place my mail there. But, I digress. Let's just say I left with this simple equation:
Blocked mailbox + extra effort for postal worker= NO MAIL.
Fast forward to 1985. Ronald Reagan is in the White House, everybody loves jelly beans and we move into house number 2, in Kempsville. The biggest little neighborhood in Virginia Beach. Surely, our mail delivery problems are over, right?
Guess again
There were ten houses on our street at the time. Only three of them occupied. The Post Office requires at least a 50 percent occupancy rate before they'll begin door-to-door delivery. So until that time, we would have to fetch our mail ourselves. At the Post Office. Every day.
And that became my routine. On the way home from work, I'd drop into the local branch and stand in line for my mail. Every day. For a year.
My favorite part of the experience was noting that the customer counter had at least five stations available but never more than two were ever open. Even at Christmas. Then one day, they posted a notice that "in order to serve our patrons better" they were going to remodel the lobby. Which they did. And reduced the number of stations from five to three. Why, I feel better served already. If they really wanted to help us they'd install vending machines and some cots.
Finally, the day came when the mail started coming right to my mailbox. The one right in front of my house. The one I had installed myself . . . a year ago. And there was much rejoicing in the land.
Which brings me to today.
I'm a magazine junkie and just recently began subscribing to Esquire. For reasons I truly don't remember, I chose to have the magazine delivered to the radio station where I work instead of my home. About a month ago I spied the then-current issue on the newstand and wondered why I hadn't received it. Perhaps my subscription had expired, but I did not recall receiving any renewal notices. And that is very un-magazine like. Usually you are buried under a blizzard of notices, even if you've just renewed for the rest of your life. I logged on to Esquire's website and looked up my account. My subscription was actually paid thru 2015 (how'd that happen?). No, the problem was that the Post Office had declared my current address (the station's) "undeliverable".
The same address where they've delivered all the previous issues? The same address where they deliver my Entertainment Weekly?
The real problem is, this blood feud is starting to boil over into areas. It seems that courier services look out for one another. You mess with one . . . you mess with them all.
Take online Christmas shopping.
Three of the gifts I ordered online weeks ago did not arrive in time for the holiday. In fact, as I write this, they still haven't arrived. One (a gift for my wife) was "damaged in shipment". UPS is "investigating the matter". What does that mean? Does UPS have their own version of "CSI"? Is that what brown is doing for me?
Then there's the matter of the two gifts I ordered for a friend and coworker. When neither showed, I checked their shipping status through the carrier's websites. In both cases all I got was a "no shipping information available at this time" message.
I have since bypassed USPS/UPS/FedEx/DHL/Pony Express/Wells Fargo and asked each vendor to send a replacement.
But I ain't holding my breath.
I officially surrender.
I just hope they get my note.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Confessions of a Car Guy

Folks around the old radio station often approach me (and I've asked them countless times not to do that) and ask for car advice. It seems everyone knows me as a "car guy" so they think I might be able to impart some special wisdom about cars, be it their purchase or repair.

Okay. That's not entirely true.

It would be more factually correct if I were to describe myself as a "car nerd". Furthermore, I have the most-assuredly annoying habit of trying to turn any conversation about anything into a chat about cars.

Boss-type person: "Did you see your latest ratings? The numbers are not pretty."
Me: "Not pretty? I'll tell you what's not pretty . . . the Pontiac Aztek"!

Believe it or not, occasionally someone will actually ask me for some car advice. So, in the interest of full disclosure for anyone who might seek my counsel, I thought I'd run down the list of every car I've ever owned, along with a brief explanation as to "why".

1) 1965 Dodge Polara 4-dr sedan

My first car. And truth be told, I loved it. It was an "old man's car". I knew that because I bought it from an old man. For $75. Metallic tan with a tan interior. Bench seats. Loaded (except for a/c, of course). And under the hood . . . Mopar's legendary 383, with a 4 barrel carb. I don't like to brag, but I dusted a Mustang Boss 350 once on Wilkens Avenue in Baltimore County. So why I sold it and a bought a . . .

2) 1963 Volkswagen Beetle

. . . I'll never know. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Actually, I always like Beetles. They were light, easy to work on, got great mileage (back when gas was 50 cents a gallon that was important), and a ball to drive. So what if you couldn't turn the radio and wipers on at the same time? I do remember selling it for more than I paid for it (a feat I've never repeated).

3) 1971 Subaru FF-1 2-dr sedan

I bought this car from my dad. That's right . . . he made me buy it from him. For $500. My father had a genuine affection for unusual cars. Our driveway was always festooned with Ramblers, Studebakers, Checkers (yep, the people that made cabs), Citroens, and, yes, Subarus. One of the area motorcycle dealers decided to add the Subaru line. And when nobody would buy them (1971, remember?) they sold every one they had on the lot for $1,900 cash, your choice of color. Dad brought home a white one, I guess because it resembled a refrigerator. I learned to drive a stick in that car. And it was the car my wife Kathy and I drove from Baltimore to our new life together in Virginia Beach.

4) 1971 Chevrolet Nova 2-dr coupe

So, we set up house in Virginia Beach. My first radio job had me working in downtown Norfolk so the plan was for me to use the car and for Kathy to take the bus to her job. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Bus? What bus? Coming from Baltimore, we figured every city had great bus service.

"Hello, Tidewater Regional Transit. May I help you? You want to go from where to where? On one of OUR busses? Really? What made you think you could do that?"

So, off to the dealer we went. And we found a nice clean Nova at Beach Ford. It had a 250 straight six and a two speed automatic transmission. Let's count them together. One and . . . two. That's it. Consequently, it got horrible mileage. I remember stopping for gas about every eight blocks. As an added bonus, the car began to shed it's paint shortly thereafter. We had it painted at Earl Scheib (remember him?) for about 99 bucks. And I can assure you that it looked exactly how you would imagine a $99 paint job would look. And the most atrocious shade of Kelly green ever. We kept leaving it unlocked with the keys in it, hoping it would get stolen. Fat chance.

5) 1976 Honda Civic 2-dr hatchback

Our first new car! A real sweet little ride. But mostly little. A Mini Cooper looks like an Escalade next to a first-generation Civic. Drove it til the engine burned up. Twice. Then traded it for . . .

6) 1979 Honda Accord 2-dr hatchback

This was the first year for the Accord and dealers couldn't keep them on the lot. We literally took the first one off the truck that wasn't spoken for. It didn't matter to me, unless it was a beige one. I hated the beige one. Guess which one we got?

7) 1981 Buick Century Station Wagon

We started a family. And I've always had fond memories of family vacations when I was a kid, piled in a never-ending stream of Detroit's finest 'wagons. Our Buick looked great. But as far as reliability was concerned . . . did I tell you it looked great?

8) 1985 Plymouth Reliant

Alright, I can hear you laughing. Mr. Car Guy bought a K-car? Let me explain. My beloved Accord was accordianed in an accident on I-64. We didn't have a lot of money so I found a selection of Lee Iacoca's best at Greenbrier Chrysler-Plymouth. Your choice of color. $6995. I picked a silver one with a dark red interior. I imagine it's what the Tin Man looked like after he got his heart. It was like driving a toaster oven, but it lived up to it's name and was quite reliable.

9) 1989 Ford Taurus Station Wagon

I got tired of Kathy calling me every twelve minutes telling me the Buick had failed to start, acquired a flat, or caught fire. So we traded it in (suckers!) on a new Taurus wagon. It was a very nice car with power everything and a third row seat for the kids (remember them?). But as the miles piled up, so did the repair bills. Until finally the car's 3.0 liter V-6 and it's automatic transmission decided to go their separate ways. Jon & Kate had a more amicable breakup.

10) 1991 Nissan Maxima 4-dr/5-speed sedan

Without a doubt the nicest car we've owned, so far. I was finally able to unload the Reliant and buy a car I really really wanted. Black. Sleek, fast, comfortable. And extremely well made. I literally didn't spend a penny on repairs for the first 100,000 miles. Really. And we all fit nicely plus the trunk was big enought to hold my '76 Civic, so it became our family car. The kids were older and Kathy had gone back to school at ODU, so we decided to replace the Taurus with something smaller and more economical. That's why we bought a . . .

11) 1995 Toyota Corolla 4dr sedan

This car served Kathy nicely during her college years (although it always smelled vaguely of Heineken and weed). In fact, it was the car we handed down to the kids when they learned how to drive. That meant we needed another Family Truckster, so we got a . . .

12) 1999 Ford Windstar

I've always thought that minivans get a bum rap. I know SUV's reek of manliness and conjure up images of trailblazing the wilderness. But for hauling around family and/or stuff you can't beat a minivan. When daughter Diana went off to college we loaded an entire dorm room full of belongings in the back. The Windstar has become our family adventure vehicle, taking us to the Great Smokys, Deep Creek Lake and to family gatherings in Baltimore more times than I can count. And fairly reliably, too, although we're currently on transmission #2.

13) 2001 Mazda Miata LS

It's early spring, 2002. I've been driving my trusty Maxima for eleven years. Our current vehicles are paid for and our spawn are tired of sharing the Corolla ("You take it! No, you take it!"). Time for Daddy to get some new wheels. Years before I had acquired a 1974 Triumph TR-6, one of my favorite sports cars. I drove it for fun for a few years. But it being a British car it had coughed up it's clutch. So I parked it in the garage with every intention of fixing it. Some day. It's still there, under a gray car cover, waiting for my mechanical skills to expand expotentially. So I passed the Maxima onto son Matt and bought the modern day version of a British roadster, the Miata. Without a doubt the most fun you can have in a car with your clothes on. Ask me how I know.

14) 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse 2-dr hatchback

For years my long-suffering wife Kathy had been forced into a series of "Mom" cars . . . station wagons, minivans, econoboxes. It was time for her to have a little fun of her own. So I surprised her with the Eclipse. And she loves it. It looks good on her, too. I must say it is a most under-appreciated car. Fun to drive. Solidly built. Plenty of grunt, even with the 4 banger. And you don't pass yourself on the road a dozen times a day like you would in a Honda Civic.

So there you have it. A complete (more or less) history of all my rides. Except for my Honda Shadow Spirit motorcycle. And Kathy's Kawasaki. And a Rambler American I'm trying desperately hard to forget.

So, go ahead. Ask me anything. I'm a car guy.
Trust me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Irrational Exuberance

I want to buy a Mustang.
What the hell is wrong with me?
For the past week or so I have become obsessed with the idea of owning a Mustang. Nevermind the fact that I already have a perfectly wonderful fun-to-drive car. Or that I would have no place to park it (what with the other half-dozen vehicles that I/my wife/my son already own). Oh, and let's not forget this tiny little detail . . . I'm broke.
But apparently none of that matters.
I want to buy a Mustang.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I've already been to the Ford website and spec'd it out.
Oh, yeah. I have.
A 2010 Ford Mustang GT, Kona Blue Metallic, charcoal cloth interior, 4.6L V-8 with 5-speed auto. Nothing fancy. I don't need a convertible . . . I already drive one. I don't need a manual tranny . . . ditto. I know the V-8 is a bit of an extravagance but I'm lucky enough to live close to work so fuel mileage isn't really a factor. And there's nothing like the sound of an American small block with duallies to get the juices flowing. The only car I ever owned that came close was my very first one: a 1965 Dodge Polara with a 383 and a four-barrel. Pretty damn fast. Perfect for a 16 year old with a newly minted license. But it was an "old man's car". I know this because I bought it from an old man. So I sold it. And bought a Volkswagen Beetle.
You're right. Dumbass.
And it's true that I genuinely love my Mazda Miata. Driving it is the most fun you can have in a car that doesn't involve nudity. On a gorgeous day, cruising the backroads with the top down, the sun warm on your face, the wind in your hair. There's nothing like it.
It's just that sometimes, sometimes . . . I wish for a little more room. Miatas are so tiny you half- expect circus clowns to pop out when you open the door. And a little more power. And a little more quiet. You know, so I can actually hear the stereo. And not having to clutch and shift when stuck in rush hour traffic? That's pretty nice, too. Plus, Miatas are low. How low? "So low that speed bumps block out the sun" low. Not to mention the fact that the only way I can get into the car is to turn sideways and fall back on my ass into the seat.
That's hot, right?
See, this is where the whole slippery slope of rationalization begins. After all, I've been driving my Miata for over seven years now. My last car I drove for eleven years. So it's not like I treat myself to a new ride very often. Wouldn't it be nice if I could "retire" my Miata to "beautiful-weather-and-weekend" duty? Parked beside my motorcycle in the garage, they would officially be proclaimed "Paul's Toys". The Mustang? Well, I need something to drive to work, don't I?
The truth is, I've always been a Ford guy and the Mustang was always my favorite (right after the '71 Gran Torino, just like Clint Eastwood drove). I thought for sure I would own one sometime in my life. And the 2010 is probably the best Mustang ever built (after the '69 GT, just like Steve McQueen drove). Ford tweaked the styling a bit for this year and upgraded the interior so it's a very sweet ride. And not too pricey, though I could save myself 5 large by opting for the V-6. But, hey . . . go big or go home.
I know what you're thinking.
Before the weekend is out, he's going to pull the trigger. Believe me when I tell you that nobody would like to see that happen more than me. But it ain't gonna happen. I simply can't afford it.
But I can dream, can't I?
I want to buy a Mustang.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Mmmmm. I wonder how late Beach Ford is open tonight?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

So Long, Sarah.

Enough already.
Let me start out by saying when I first heard of Sarah Palin, I liked what I heard. She was the complete opposite of every other politician. No big city upbringing, no Ivy League education. Nope, Sarah grew up in the great state of Alaska, finished college in Idaho and went to work as a TV reporter. You know the rest . . . city council, Mayor of Wasilla, Governor of Alaska (the first woman and youngest person to land the gig), then Vice Presidential candidate. It was during the McCain/Palin campaign that most people got to know her. A self-described hockey mom, dedicated to her family and to conservative Republican values. She hunted. She fished. She liked guns and shooting things. I liked her.
But then, the wheels started to come off the Palin Express. Reports surfaced that she was a bit of a diva on the campaign trail. A disasterous interview with Katie Couric made her seem unprepared for the vice presidency, let alone the top job. This in spite of a generally well-regarded performance in a debate with opponent Joe "Wow, I'll Say Anything!" Biden. I thought "maybe she's not ready for this, but give her time". When the election was over I assumed that Sarah would return to her beloved Alaska, work hard for her state and remain a force in the Republican Party.
First came her "feud" with David Letterman. Sure, many of the jokes were a bit harsh, but David pulls no punches. Those, including Gov. Palin, who accuse Dave of deliberately attacking Sarah and her family because he's a member of the liberal elite just haven't been watching his show for as long as I have. I always thought Dave was more conservative in his views than most in his field. He's been a longtime fan of Senator McCain. And it's easy to understand that the pregnancy jokes he made about Palin's daughter were truly aimed at Bristol (you know, the one who actually WAS pregnant), not her younger sister Willow. Once Dave cleared that up and apologized, that should have been the end of it.
But it wasn't.
I think Sarah Palin made a huge mistake not accepting Dave's offer to appear on his show to accept his contrition in person. Instead she made a ridiculous statement about not wanting to boost his ratings by lowering herself to be a guest. Right then it was obvious she wasn't interested in his apology. She just wanted to be the center of attention. Again.
And now, this . . . her resignation. What's that all about? It's one thing to say you're not running for re-election. It's quite another to quit . . . in the middle of your first term.
If she had come right out and said that the past year had been a real hardship for her family and she wants to spare them any additional stress, fine. I can accept that, even support that.
But that's not what she said. In fact, nobody seems to know what she said, exactly. And that leads to all kinds of speculation.
She's leaving because of impending ethics violations. She's leaving because Fox has offered her a talk show (I think she'll go with "Sarah", just one name. Hell, if Oprah can do it, so can she). She's going into the private sector to make some real money (is she that clueless about this economy?). She wants to spend more time with her true soulmate in Argentina (whoops, sorry . . . wrong Republican governor).
Or maybe, she wants to be president. And she really can't do that stuck in a vast frozen faraway wasteland like Alaska.
We'll see. But if the White House turns out to be the true reason for all this, I predict she'll never make it. Because she believes the only way to get there is to turn her back on her constituents. Abandon the voters who put her in office, and head south.
The best way for her to show that she would be ready for the nation's highest office is to do the finest possible job for the citizens of our 49th state. Her critics say she lacks experience? Putting in her time as governor and excelling would have answered that charge.
Instead she'll find some other way to stay in the public eye. And miss out on gaining the one quality she lacks . . . gravitas. And maybe a little humility.
If I were to run against her in the future, I would need to invoke only one word. Quitter.
That's right, America, when the going got tough, Sarah Palin got going.
But, hey. We Americans have notoriously short memories and a lot can happen between now and 2012 (including the end of the world as we know it, but what do those crazy Mayans know anyway?). And if by some political miracle she were to win, let's hope her vice president is ready to sit in the big chair.
Because who knows how long Sarah's gonna stay.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Generation W

I am a proud Baby Boomer (although I've never like that label, but "The Greatest Generation" was already taken). And I'm aware that subsequent demographic groups were saddled with monikers like "Generation X" or "Generation Y".  Now, I do not know what they're calling the current crop of teenagers, but I have a suggestion: "Generation W". That's "W", as in wuss.
In support of my motion, your honor, I offer the following list into evidence . .  the Top 10 Cars that Teens Want. Forbes Magazine put this together so I'm sure it has some validity. And there's barely a vehicle on the list that would do anything but elicit a ginormous "yawn".
Now, the top pick bodes well for our young people: the Ford Mustang. Excellent choice. Sporty. Powerful. A little excessive. Nice. Number nine is another great pick from Ford, the F-150 pickup.
But after that, it's a rapid slide into snoozeville. 
Here's the rest of the list, starting at number ten: Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Beetle, Honda Accord and Honda Civic.
All eminently practical.
And all utterly and completely dull. 
I mean, c'mon! A Focus? An Accord? Really? A Camry?? That's your grandmother's car. A Corolla? That's the car I made my own teenagers drive to ensure they didn't have any fun. A Beetle? That's the best you can do?
But worst of all . . . the Prius
A teenager should be many things. Rebellious. Reckless. Fearless. The last thing a teen should be is green. There's plenty of time to be responsible later. You're only a teenager for a few years. You're a grown-up for the rest of your life.
Now, look at the cars that were lusted after when I was pimpled and dateless: Pontiac GTO. Plymouth Road Runner. Chevy Malibu. Dodge Charger. And great pony cars like the Mustang, Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Pontiac Firebird (three of the four available once again at a dealer near you). Even foreign cars like the Datsun 240Z were wanted by many a red-blooded American boy or girl. Not a single one of my friends pressed their noses against the glass of the local dealer longing for their very own Ford LTD or Dodge Dart. 
The reality was that most of us indeed drove the cars our parents drove because that's what we ended up with. We could only imagine owning a Goat or a 'Vette. But at least those were the cars that raced through our dreams.
Not a Prius. Or a Civic. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Word to the Wise

This is not my first attempt at blogging.
I started a blog on my personal website, But I soon found that I could only update my scrawny ramblings from my trusty iMac in my home office. And by the time I would sit down at the keyboard at the end of a long day slaving over a hot radio station, I would be too tired to type. Plus any clever thoughts, insights, ideas and snappy wordplay that I had conjured during the day would, by this time, be long forgotten.
So I've set up this blog at Blogger, the blog site by those blogging bloggers at Google. Oddly enough, when I "Googled" blog sites, Blogger showed up well down the list! On Google! How's that happen? How does a Google site not show up first on Google? Why didn't Google name their blog site "Bloggle"? And how many times can a grown man use the words "blog" and Google" in the same paragraph?
Anywho, I'll put a link to this new blog on my old blog's page on my website. And now that I can update it anywhere and anytime, I'll try to do just that.
Don't say I didn't warn you.