31 December 2013

Overheard: Future Dr. Evil Edition

On Sunday afternoon we were at the Flour bakery off Congress Street in the Seaport District. It's near the Children's Museum and the parking garage that its visitors use, so there are always lots of families around.

I was standing outside, waiting for the Mrs. to come out and eating a doughnut I had purchased. My back was to the people passing by (in case I made an embarrassing mess while eating) so I didn't get a good look at this future mad scientist, but as one family passed behind me a boy of maybe eight was chanting in a singsong voice, "I have a bio-weapon!" I'm guessing this was in reference to something he'd acquired from the museum gift shop, filtered through an overactive imagination.

(Side note: that doughnut? Insane. It's $3, but it's also roughly the size of a softball and filled to bursting with delicious raspberry goo.)

30 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #16

Some people will only photograph cars that are parked on the street, but if I can see it, I'll attempt to grab a picture of it. I found this car parked in a driveway in my neighborhood, on a day I decided to take a walk in a different direction and ended up on a street I had not explored before.
I wasn't going to walk up into someone's yard, so that's why I got only the one shot of this Oldsmobile Delta 88. This car is a close under-the-skin relative of the Chevrolet Caprice I posted about two months ago. The tail lights say this is either a 1984 or '85 model; the car was completely redesigned for '86. The two-door version of this car is a lot less common than the four-door, which may explain why someone appears to be putting effort into fixing up this one.

The badge on the vinyl roof says "Royale"; at one point this designated a higher-trim Delta 88 model, but by '84 all Delta 88s were Royales. The badge on the trunk may say "Brougham," which took things a notch higher, and the wire wheel covers were indeed part of the Brougham package. "Royale Brougham" is a bit of a mouthful, but in '85 they added an even higher trim level, the Delta 88 Royale Luxury Sedan.

Notice also the green-letter license plate. These were last printed in 1987 and have largely been replaced by the red-letter "Spirit of America" design, but the state grudgingly allows motorists to keep the "greenies" as long as they are still legible (more on the green plates here). This car has probably had the same plate affixed to it since it was first registered, which is kind of cool.

29 December 2013

This Week in Awesome (12/28/13)

The interwebs were a little light on newness during this inter-holiday week, but then again so am I...

Have I mentioned that I'm a fan of design? It's always been an area of interest, making a blog like this an especially welcome discovery. (BuzzFeed)

I also enjoy learning about the complexities and variations of our language. The New York Times offered this recent quiz about dialect and word usage, and Mental Floss (via Dappered) compiled a brief list of unusual localized words.

And finally this week, go make some music. It's fun, try it. (Shake Shack's tumblr)

(By the way, a little spoon told me that the Harvard Square Shake Shack has soft-opened, meaning they are serving only frozen custard treats for the time being. 92 Winthrop Street, at the rear of the Galleria building.)

27 December 2013

Retro Video Unit (12/27/13)

Most people don't think of The Ramones as a video band. They were hardly photogenic relative to other early MTV faves, but they made their share of clips. In 1980 the band released an album produced by Phil Spector, End of the Century, which produced the single "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?"

As music videos go this is pretty simplistic, but the use of the TV set as a framing device, with the band members watching themselves and others on the screen, is a knowing wink to the fact that MTV viewers were sitting in front of their TV sets watching the videos.

26 December 2013

Grandma Got the Guest Room

Our Christmas visit was very brief; the Mrs. had to work today so we drove back from RI last night. But we had plenty of great food and a nice time with my family.

Last week I mentioned the "H&M" short as one of the high points of this season of Saturday Night Live. Well, the bar has already been raised again with this minor masterpiece from last weekend's Christmas show, featuring host Jimmy Fallon. (Adult content, generally)

24 December 2013

Car Stuff: Need a Ride?

Have you heard of Uber? If you live in or near a city of moderately large size, there's a decent chance Uber is operating there. It's a car service that lets you summon a ride by using a smartphone app (or by text message for those with regular cell phones). You set up an account and provide your credit card information, so that when you use the service no cash changes hands; the rides are billed to your credit card, and the gratuity is included in the fare.

I am not a frequent taxi user, but as someone who doesn't drive, there are times when I need another option for getting home (or to a destination other than home) besides the T. When Uber first came to Boston it operated as a "black car" service (think prosperous business types with expense accounts), but later they began offering a lower-cost option called UberX that is priced competitively with taxis. UberX drivers use regular cars, which are still way nicer and more comfortable than most cabs. (As a bonus, UberX fares were lowered a couple of months ago, making it likely that an UberX ride will now be cheaper than a cab ride.)

I first used the service in July when I needed to go to a medical appointment in Watertown and the Mrs. was not available to drive me. I could have gotten there via the T, but it would have taken an excessive amount of time and I didn't feel like setting out from home two hours ahead of the scheduled visit. I had a code for a discount on the first ride so I signed up and summoned my driver via the app.

For me, one of the more interesting things about using Uber is getting to ride in a variety of cars. When your ride is confirmed, the Uber app shows you the driver's name and what type of car they are driving. I suppose the intent is to give you an idea of what car you should be watching for, and I imagine this information is lost on many people who don't pay attention to cars or have a particular interest in them, but for me it's been a new, fun surprise each time.

I've used the service a total of five times so far, and each time I've ridden in a different type of car. My first ride was in a Volkswagen Passat, not the version currently on sale but the older one, which was still quite comfortable. (The Mrs. ended up having a current Passat as a rental in September while her car was being repaired, so I've been in one of those too.) Next was a Dodge Avenger, which is kind of generic and ugly and plasticky inside, definitely not a car that's going to impress anyone but probably a perfect car for this sort of situation.

My next ride was in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but one that had been in use for a while. By my estimate it was about ten years old, and I was a little surprised that Uber would let a driver use a car of that age, but it got me home. In October I needed to get home from downtown on a Saturday afternoon, and the bus to our house runs only every 30 minutes on Saturdays so I decided to summon an UberX ride. This time my driver was piloting a nearly new Toyota Venza, which would be called a Camry wagon if Americans still cared about station wagons.

A couple of Mondays ago I had another medical thing, this time in Davis Square. That's a little less than 3.5 miles from our house, but getting there is convoluted. I have to allow at least an hour of transit time, plus whatever I have to add on to allow for the less than frequent bus where we live. It was raining steadily that morning, and I didn't get ready as quickly as I should have, so I ended up missing the bus I had intended to catch. UberX was the solution; my ride was a Ford Fusion, again the previous generation but immaculately kept and much nicer than the Dodge. The ride took all of 11 minutes, even in the rain. (After each trip you receive an emailed receipt with the distance traveled, time, and total charge.)

I have to make one observation about the drivers: many of them use GPS, which makes complete sense. But some of them lean on it a little too heavily, in my opinion. On my last trip I told the driver I was going to Davis Square. This is a prominent location, and anyone who lives around here and drives a car should have some idea of how to get there. The driver needed a street address to input the destination and start getting directions. I knew the name of the street but not the number, so I had to look it up on my phone. Then he said the GPS couldn't locate that street, but I think he may have mistyped it because on the second try it started telling him where to go. On some of my other rides the drivers were fine with me giving them verbal directions, like you would with a taxi driver.

There are always tradeoffs, and I find UberX to be highly preferable to a dirty, ancient cab with a worn-out suspension, where you have to ask the driver to turn on the air conditioning. In the future I will have a physical address ready in case a driver asks me for it.

(By the way, this is not a sponsored post, nor is it an endorsement. Other than the initial discount code, I've paid for my Uber rides with my own money. I'm sharing my experiences so that others can decide if Uber is something they are interested in using.)

23 December 2013

Last Week in Awesome (12/21/13)

Damn, the weekend slipped past me again... early resolution: try to post TWiA on Saturdays.

This is old now (in internet terms) so some of you probably already saw it, but for anyone who is interested in the process behind how the things we buy are made and gotten to stores, it's worthy of your time. (NPR via Put This On)

Here's one for the word nerds. (Oxford English Dictionary via Laughing Squid)

Old postcards are admittedly a filtered view of reality, but they are still a fascinating window into the past, particularly of our cities. (Neat Stuff via Hemmings Blog)

And finally last week, the HBO show-children's book series crossover we were all waiting for? (Best Week Ever via Videogum)

20 December 2013


Comcast has been carpet-bombing us with letters asking us to call for an "account review," promising to give us more for our money. We get one about every two weeks. The cost of our cable and internet has crept up and up over the past several years and it would be nice to have that bill reduced if possible, so the Mrs. asked me to call them.

I was reluctant to call for a couple of reasons. I don't care for the idea that there's some sort of special discount that may be available, but the only way i can find out about it is if I call the provider. Big companies like Comcast expend most of their effort toward getting new customers, whether that means luring people away from their competition or expanding the areas where they offer their services. Longtime customers should be rewarded for their loyalty, and it should be really easy for me to find out what those rewards are, like going into my account online.

Beyond that I suspected the call would be a waste of time. I called yesterday, and I was right. I was hoping for some sort of discount or variation on our current package that would lower our bill, and I made it clear at the start of the call that I was not interested in adding any other services (they sell all kinds of other crap now like home monitoring, which I'm sure is great for some people). The only offer the rep was able to offer was the addition of HBO and Starz, for about the same amount as we're paying now, but only with a package that includes a home phone line that we neither need nor want.

When I pointed this out to the rep, she actually said something like, "You don't have to activate it." How incredibly pointless and stupid is that? Especially now, with people turning away from cable TV but keeping internet access in order to use streaming services, you would think companies like Comcast would be trying to do more to hold onto the customers they have. I believe it's time for us to consider other provider options.

18 December 2013

Tie Game

For those of you who first came around here because of something that I wrote about clothing, shoes, or shopping, I haven't forgotten about you. My financial situation over the past year or so has made it harder for me to shop with the same fervor I used to have, but every now and then I'm still going to have something to say about an item of clothing.

I occasionally go on job interviews and attend events that require getting dressed up, so I need ties. I like ties; I wore them in high school. I have about 30 of them, which some might think is too many for someone who isn't required to wear them to work daily, but I've found that having choices works better for me when I'm trying to put together an outfit.

I just bought two ties from The Tie Bar, an Illinois-based online store. They first came to my attention several years back because of their tie bars, which are featured in the fashion layouts in nearly every issue of GQ. They also offer a wide selection of inexpensive pocket squares (around $8 for the cotton ones).

And for ties, they are a terrific resource. They have a huge variety of ties, almost all of which are $15 each (extra-long styles are $20). Many are offered in a choice of standard or skinnier widths. They also sell other accessories like cufflinks, socks, and suspenders. Standard shipping is a flat $5.99 for any size order, and with prices as reasonable as theirs, it makes sense to order several items at once.

You might think a $15 tie would be a piece of junk, but part of what makes The Tie Bar an appealing place to shop is that their products offer excellent value and are nicely made for the price. You could go to Macy's and pay $40 to $50 for a tie with some designer's name on the label, and there wouldn't be any difference in quality between it and a tie from The Tie Bar. I'm not saying their stuff is on the same level as something by Ferragamo or Zegna, but it sure costs a hell of a lot less.
These are the two ties I got last week. I have never cared for striped ties; I tend to favor geometrics, paisleys, or solids with texture. For the past several years I've been inclined toward simpler designs, and both of these are definitely in that vein.

It's difficult to go wrong with a polka-dot tie (unless you choose a weird color); while I've never liked navy, I really like royal blue, and I've been wanting a tie in this color for a while. The silver tie has a very fine basket-weave texture that catches the light nicely. This would be a great choice to wear to a wedding, with a dark pinstripe suit and a white shirt. As a bonus, it also works well with some of my striped dress shirts (if you're going bolder with your shirt, then you should probably go more subtle with the tie).

17 December 2013

Shoppin'-Ass Ninja

When Andy Samberg left Saturday Night Live to star in a sitcom (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which has turned out to be pretty good), it seemed that the Digital Shorts (pre-taped segments usually constructed around a song by Samberg and his cohorts in The Lonely Island) would go with him. The title is gone, but the show continues to produce segments that are very similar in spirit and arguably just as good.

Earlier this fall when Kerry Washington hosted, the joke song "The Fox" by Ylvis got morphed into "What Does My Girl Say?" (check it out over here on Hulu). This past weekend John Goodman hosted, and I think the show hit a new high with this clip, called "H&M," featuring Goodman and Jay Pharoah, with some help from Taran Killam and several other cast members (there are an awful lot of them these days).

I think this one benefits from watching it more than once; I've watched it three or four times and I'm still laughing at it.

16 December 2013

Car Stuff: Car Show Outtake

When I posted pictures from the car show I attended back in July, I covered every car i had photographed except one. I came across it while looking for something else in iPhoto. I'm not sure why I didn't include it; maybe I thought I had featured enough cars in the two posts. Regardless, I had this one left over and decided to feature it today.
This is a 1974 Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe with the 4-4-2 package, customized by Hurst. At the height of the muscle-car era in the late 1960s the 4-4-2 was a separate model in the Cutlass lineup, as its cousin the GTO was the high-performance version of the Pontiac LeMans. The 4-4-2 was sometimes referred to as a "gentleman's hot rod" because Oldsmobiles were considered more refined than Pontiacs (and cost more).

By the early 1970s the muscle car was all but dead due to emissions requirements and insurance concerns. Big engines were still available, but they made far less horsepower than their predecessors, and cars like the 4-4-2 were relegated to option packages, more about show than go.

Hurst Performance was a Pennsylvania company that supplied parts to auto manufacturers and offered its own performance upgrades. They were involved in the production of performance versions of cars for several auto brands. The Hurst/Olds first appeared in 1968; for 1974, 1800 were built, making this a pretty rare car even when new. The gold striping and wheels were the most distinctive parts of the package, along with the black roof band and hood louvers. (A modified version of this car, with the roof removed in front of and behind that band, was the pace car for the 1974 Indianapolis 500 race.)

15 December 2013

This Week in Awesome (12/14/13)

We didn't get that much snow, and it turned to rain this morning as the temperature climbed into the 30s. Unfortunately I didn't realize it was going to drop again so quickly, and by the time I got outside around noon, everything had a nice crust of ice on top of it. It took me about 3-1/2 hours and I didn't even finish the back of the house because my arms were worn out (possibly from having to use the metal shovel, which is much heavier).

Anyway, on to this week's bits of joy...

I don't know whose idea this was, but it's kind of fascinating and horrifying at the same time. (BangShift via The Truth About Cars)

Here's a Christmas wrapping lesson for one of those oddly shaped objects that can be tricky to wrap. (Hint: it's not a golf club.) (Death and Taxes via Videogum)

Billy Eichner enlisted Amy Poehler to engage unsuspecting pedestrians in some impromptu caroling. (YouTube via Jimmy Kimmel Live)

And finally this week, if that didn't put you in the Christmas spirit, well... we've been regular viewers of The Daily Show for a long time, and this segment (which is in two parts) is a perfect example of why we keep watching.

14 December 2013

Retro Video Unit (12/13/13)

I had hoped to find something Christmasy, in the vein of previous selections "Fairytale of New York" and "Christmas in Hollis." I was really hoping for a video of "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses, but there doesn't seem to be one. There are all kinds of fan-made videos, which I find to be just too weird to contemplate in any depth.

So we'll have to go in a different direction. Some bands merit revisiting, so today we have another song from Blondie, "Dreaming" from their 1979 album Eat to the Beat. I've always had a thing for bands with keyboards, and I also believe that Clem Burke is one of the best rock drummers ever.

12 December 2013

New Phone, New Case

I ended up getting a new iPhone last week. I wasn't planning on upgrading until I had a more consistent source of income, but a visit to the Verizon website indicated that the trade-in value of my 4S was equivalent to the upfront cost of a new 5S, excluding the tax. So I ordered it up and it arrived in a couple of days.

Right after that came the padded envelope to submit my old phone for its trade-in assessment. Off it went the same day (it's nice when our mail gets delivered early enough in the day to accomplish things like that), and yesterday I got an email confirming the appraised value, which I will receive in the form of a Verizon Wireless gift card, which I can apply to my balance.

I knew that when I eventually upgraded my phone I would need to get a new case, because the 5S, like the 5 before it, is taller and slimmer than my 4S. As much as I liked my book-style case from Pad & Quill, I had decided that I didn't want another of the same thing, but I still wanted to be able to remove the phone from its case fairly quickly and easily, mainly because I'm so much in the habit of doing so.

Bumpers and molded cases are meant to stay on the phone all the time, so I knew I didn't want to go in that direction. I had bookmarked a few styles that I had seen and liked, so I started going back and evaluating them more carefully. Twelve South, the makers of the BookBook case, also have a very minimal leather cover that adheres to the phone but can be removed, and also folds back to make a stand so you can watch videos without having to hold the phone. At first I thought I was going to get this, but I realized that it would probably end up annoying me.

Ultimately I decided on a vertical sleeve style, with an opening at the top that the phone slips into. Many of the cases I saw of this type also have an opening on the bottom for connecting the charging cable, but I always remove my phone from its case to charge it in a desktop dock so I did not want or need this feature. Many cases of this type also have a pocket on the outside, or sometimes more than one. I understand the utility of this, but I didn't want that either.
After some more pondering and google searching, I chose a case I had bookmarked some time ago, from a Texas company called Castello DaVarg. They craft all their products in the US, and use only leather from US tanneries. My case arrived yesterday, and their commitment to craftsmanship and quality is evident in the finished product.
My only real objection is that they deliberately choose not to offer their products in black. The color I chose, a dark tan that features orange stitching, is quite lovely, but I would have liked the option of a black case, if for no other reason than my iPhone is black and I prefer things to be coordinated when possible.

10 December 2013

Inappropriately Dressed

Yesterday as I was waiting for a bus outside the Davis T station during the afternoon's rain, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a tall guy heading into the station wearing a long black trench coat. My brain suggested to me that something was off about the image my eye had just processed, so I turned and took a second look. I then saw that the guy was wearing black shoes and socks. I was able to see that he was wearing black socks because he wasn't wearing any pants.

I do occasionally see burly he-man types wearing shorts on cold days; they generally appear to be heading to or from a gym. This may have been the same type of situation, but the long coat made him look suspicious and creepy. Alternately, that annual no-pants subway ride is coming up next month; maybe he was getting in a practice run, figuring out his route?

09 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #15

When I say "random," sometimes it's really random. Today's found car was spotted on a side street in Cambridge between Central Square and Trader Joe's. Normally when we go to TJ's we're driving from home, so we take Memorial Drive. On this particular day I met the Mrs. at her office because it was near the store, and as we drove she turned onto this street by mistake. But when I saw this car I knew instantly what it was, and asked her to pull over because I couldn't pass it up as a subject.
It's an Edsel, Ford's doomed attempt to make its lineup of brands more like that of its main competition, General Motors. For decades GM's lineup of brands was intended to be aspirational: GM hoped that customers who bought Chevrolet as starter cars would then move up through its hierarchy of more prestigious brands (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, then Cadillac) as their material fortunes improved, since the brand of car one buys was and is an indicator of one's prosperity.

Ford had Mercury and then Lincoln for its buyers to move up to, but they perceived a gap in the market between Ford and Mercury that someone believed needed filling. But when they launched the line in the fall of 1957, the country was in the grip of a significant recession that caused car sales to drop industry-wide, plus the Edsel's styling was—there's no way to sugar-coat it—dreadful. (The entire car industry was going through a difficult period of gaudy, overdone styling; offering yet another bad example was not a prudent course of action.)
This one is a 1959, the second of Edsel's brief, three-model-year existence. The '59s were toned down compared to the previous year, but it was already too late to matter. By the time the 1960 models reached showrooms, with styling that shared the bulk of its sheetmetal with that year's Fords and still managed to look pretty good compared to some of the other cars available that year, the whole brand was DOA. The '60 cars were produced for just over two months, and only 2,846 cars were built.

Now any Edsel is rare and sought-after, a bitter irony in light of how the car was mocked and shunned when new. This car has plates and appears to be driven at least occasionally, and overall it looks far better than one might expect given its age. On the rear side you can see the "Ranger" script  that indicates this would have been the lower of the two model lines offered this year. There were four lines offered in '58, but the car did so poorly so quickly that the offerings were curtailed the following year.)
Early on, some Edsels were built at a Ford plant in Somerville, MA, but it was closed in October 1957. That's how the Assembly Square Mall (and later, shopping center) got its name—it occupies the site of the former plant.

08 December 2013

This Week in Awesome (12/7/13)

I know TWiA has been a bit erratic lately, but I'm going to try to get it back on track.

Have you ever thought about which actors might be chosen to portray puppet characters from a certain children's TV show? Someone has. (TV Tattle)

In the realm of personal technology and computers, there are a number of symbols that we have become accustomed to seeing, but where did they come from? (visual.ly via Laughing Squid)

The Blues Brothers is one of my favorite movies, and one of my favorite parts is the chase through the shopping mall. Here it's been painstakingly recreated. (BangShift via Mpoar Blog)

And finally this week, you don't have to be a parent to appreciate these video shorts, but I'm sure it makes them even funnier: parts 1, 2, and 3, plus the associated tumblr site. (Tastefully Offensive)

06 December 2013

Retro Video Unit (12/6/13)

(I overlooked this last week due to the holiday, so we'll have one today and one next Friday to get back on schedule...)

I've had this one in the back of my mind for a long time, but I'd never been able to find a decent clip of it. Someone finally obliged me by uploading this a few months ago. I'm betting very few of you have ever heard of this band, let alone heard this song, "Love and Loneliness" by The Motors:

The Motors were a British band that popped up around the same time as a bunch of other artists from the UK in the late 1970s (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Joe Jackson). When it became apparent that new wave as a music genre had staying power, record company executives scrambled to sign whatever performers they could find that were unfamiliar on this side of the Atlantic.

While this isn't much of a video, it serves the song well. The LP it came from, called Tenement Steps, had an unusual cover with a black-and-white graphic of steps. The upper left and lower right corners of the cover were cut off intentionally to blend in with the graphic. I still have a copy of this album, and I've been thinking it may be time to consider trying to sell some of my old LPs.

04 December 2013

Perhaps I Can Interest You in Some Fine Merchandise?

In the past I've written about selling stuff on eBay, and occasionally suggested that some of you might be interested in what I have for sale. I've ramped my selling activity back up this fall; over the past month I've sold three pieces of outerwear and a pair of boots.

Since Christmas is approaching, it seems like an opportune time to list as many items as I can. At the moment there are only two listings, a vintage wool-blend coat from Brooks Brothers and a 1960s Accutron watch (this one), but I will be adding items pretty much every day until I've exhausted the sellable stuff around here. Please have a look at my listings here. Thanks.

03 December 2013

Turkey, Revisited

I know Thanksgiving is behind us, but if you're a fan of the animated comedy Bob's Burgers and/or the band The National, then you'll probably enjoy this:

02 December 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sightings #13 & 14

Sometimes I'm able to get only one picture of a car, so for today I thought I'd combine two of those into one post.

There are a lot of old Cadillacs being used as daily drivers around here. Some of them belong to seniors and have been babied since new; others have been used hard. They are easy to overlook, but also easy to notice if you're looking for them. These two cars are only a few years apart, but they look quite different.
I spotted this early-'90s Sedan DeVille at the Wellington T station one day as I was boarding a bus. I got this picture from my seat, and tried to get a shot of the front end as the bus drove past, but that one didn't come out well enough to use. From where it was parked, I think it may belong to an MBTA official.

These DeVilles were somewhat unpopular when they appeared for 1985, because General Motors switched them (along with platform cousins, full-size Buicks and Oldsmobiles) to front-wheel-drive. They were roomier inside and rode better, but buyers disdained them because they looked small. The Cadillacs got a wheelbase stretch for 1989 that made them look somewhat more Cadillac-like. Based on the exterior trim details and wheel covers, this one is probably a '91 or '92. While I think it's a nice-looking car, the squared-off, upright styling is very '80s and already looked dated by the time this car was sold.
For contrast, this DeVille is from a little later in the '90s. It's definitely less dated-looking, but not necessarily more attractive. To my eyes it looks bloated, and the closed rear fender openings don't help. This was another styling cue shared with big Oldsmobiles of the same period, as well as the Chevrolet Caprice. It was used from 1994 to '96, which is as precise as I can get.

I'm sure you noticed this car is parked in a handicap spot. I look for older cars like this in the spaces closest to the entrances of supermarkets and other stores. (This one was at the Market Basket in Chelsea.) Years ago I found two 1980s-era Dodges parked next to each other outside my local Stop & Shop. I took pictures, but then mistakenly erased the memory card they were on, and I'm still bummed about it.

30 November 2013

Holiday Travel Memories

Many of us traveled somewhere to visit our families this week. The other day while I was volunteering, I was reminded that the building we were in was on the site of what used to be the old, decrepit bus station on St. James Avenue near Arlington Street and Park Square. It prompted me to reflect on more than three decades of going home for holidays.

For me, a big part of going to college was moving away from home. Like many young people I wanted to experience independence, but I didn't want to be prohibitively far away. Even as a freshman I met people who had to travel as far as California for the brief Thanksgiving break. But since I was from Rhode Island, home was just an hour's bus ride away. The station was primarily for Greyhound buses, but the Providence route was operated by a company called Bonanza.

That old bus station was grimy and run-down, and typically had an assortment of questionable people hanging around. But bus service to Providence ran pretty much hourly, so it was usually not necessary to spend any significant amount of time waiting in the station. The station in Providence was also not a place one would want to spend any time, but I knew that a ride would be waiting when I arrived, or I could walk a couple of blocks and catch a local bus the rest of the way.

A few years later, I discovered the pleasures of taking Amtrak from Boston to Providence. (This was still during the 1980s, prior to commuter rail service; later, after that service was established, it was initially not available on weekends.) Wider seats with more room to stretch out, freedom from traffic issues, the bar car—it was a much more hospitable ride.

But the train was more expensive than the bus, so I continued to use both. At some point (maybe the early '90s?) Providence got a new bus station, north of downtown and adjacent to route 95, so the bus drivers didn't have to navigate narrow streets. Originally the bus company operated a shuttle from the station to downtown for people who needed to make other transit connections, but I don't know if that is still in effect.

Boston's bus station moved also, to a spot adjacent to Dewey Square. I think it had something to do with the merger of two bus companies, because the terminal had been there for some time but I had never had occasion to use it. It was convenient to the subway at South Station, and to where I was working at the time, but it was just as dreary and forlorn as the one I had been using for years.

But time passes and things change. By the mid-1990s I was living with the Mrs. and we were driving to RI for holiday visits. Had it existed in the 1980s, commuter-rail service to Providence would have been very convenient; the recent extension to Green Airport would have been even more so, as my family's home is only about a mile from there. Today the bus terminal sits above the train tracks at South Station, with dedicated highway ramps for bus use. It's not fancy, but it's a far more pleasant place to wait for a bus than the ratty old Greyhound terminal.

26 November 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #12

This is a good one, and I've had it in the queue for a couple of months. It belongs to a friend of a friend, who has taken it over from his father. It has led a relatively pampered existence, and it shows.
It's a Chevrolet El Camino, the car-based pickup that was pretty popular for a while in the 1970s. The origin of the vehicle dates back to 1959 when it was introduced as a reaction to Ford's Ranchero, which first appeared for 1957. The original El Camino went away after just two model years, but was reestablished on the General Motors midsize platform along with the introduction of the 1964 intermediate models. It stayed in production through 1987. (The Ranchero didn't have any production gaps but was moved to the new compact Falcon for 1960, then aligned with the El Camino on Ford's midsize platform in 1966, where it remained until production ended in 1979.)
I neglected to ask the exact year of this car, but the front-end design puts it at '82 or later. It's highly optioned (relative to how people typically purchased cars at the time) with features like power windows and door locks, those chromed tiedown rails, and a small V-8 that was the largest available engine at the time. But it also has the ritzy Conquista trim package, which included the two-tone paint with chrome moldings separating the colors, whitewall tires, and wire wheel covers.
Look at that: an interior that isn't beige or tan or gray or black. This is one of my big peeves about how cars are built now; of course, it's about money—those colors (especially black) go with the widest variety of exterior paint colors. But it used to be that if you wanted a blue car, you could get a matching blue interior, and I miss that. Here and there carmakers are starting to offer choices like blue or red for the seats and maybe inserts on the door panels (particularly if leather is offered), but everything else is still black. You have to spend serious money now, like upwards of $100K, to get real color choices.
And then there's the bed cap, a practical option if you haul stuff frequently enough to have to contend with bad weather. This car came up from North Carolina, so it may have been to protect the contents from rain more than anything else. Personally I'd prefer the car without the cap, but it's pretty nicely integrated into the overall design. It's great to see this somewhat uncommon young vintage car on the road and being enjoyed.

Note to Self

It's not a good idea to try to eat a bagel in an outdoor area where a large number of birds are lingering.

25 November 2013

Last Week in Awesome (11/23/13)

Hi. So I've been kind of busy lately. I had planned to do a TWiA after missing it last week, but a little thing called Sunday Night Football got in the way, and as we all know that didn't finish up until well after midnight. So I think I'll just go ahead and do this now, and I'll do my regular Monday car post tomorrow.

Remember Billy Squier? If you were listening to the radio or watching MTV in the early '80s you probably do; significantly younger and you may never have heard of him. But hip-hop artists know him, or at least the beats from his songs. (New York Post via The Awl) (Note: I was completely unaware of the infamous video referenced in this article.)

Speaking of the '80s, there's some great sociocultural photography here. Who knows, you might spot yourself in one of the pictures. (Laughing Squid)

And maybe we'll just stay with the '80s: movie buffs will want to check out the 50 minutes of deleted scenes from Blue Velvet, which apparently were missing for some time. (If you have seen the 25th anniversary edition of the movie, these are included.) Flavorwire goes one better by annotating the whole thing. (Laughing Squid)

And finally this week (and admittedly a bit late), a couple of weeks back an ad appeared online for European Volvo trucks that featured Jean-Claude Van Damme performing a split between two trucks moving backward (to show off their smooth ride and precise steering). This was followed a few days later by a response, of sorts, from Channing Tatum. (Tastefully Offensive)

22 November 2013

Mind Wanderings

When you ride public transit regularly, you see a lot of weird and unusual stuff. Sometimes it's a situation, sometimes it's an object. I was going through the pictures on my phone and found this, which I took on a bus a couple of years ago:
You see things like this, and naturally they cause your mind to start wondering: was this forgotten, or was it left there on purpose to evoke reactions, like a YouTube video?

I've seen other abandoned objects that perplexed me, like canes and wheelchairs. How do you forget a cane, if you need it to stand up and walk around? How do you suddenly no longer need a wheelchair in the middle of the street (unless it was stolen and taken for a joyride of sorts)?

21 November 2013

Thought for the Day

Chips without dip? Perfectly acceptable.
Dip without chips? A sad situation.

20 November 2013

Light Out

You know how sometimes a street light will suddenly go out, then come back on very dimly a few seconds later, and gradually return to its full brightness? I think most people have seen this happen at least once.

But this is getting weird: when I take the dog out for her "last call" walk around 11:30, we always walk the same way: around the corner and down the street, crossing over about halfway down the block and coming back up the other side. For the past several nights running, I have seen the same street light go out as we approach it.

To my knowledge I have not come in contact with any electromagnetic fields, so I don't have any explanation. And I'm not the sort of person who gets creeped out easily, but this is strange, and seeing it happen several times has me more puzzled than anything else.

19 November 2013

Unintended Outcome

A few months ago I acquired an inexpensive jacket from Old Navy. I had been looking for a lightweight cotton jacket with some vaguely military detailing. I definitely didn't want an M65, but was thinking along the lines of something that would look like it had been influenced or inspired by one. And I wanted it to be cheap.

Over the past year or so I've seen numerous styles of this general design available. I was hoping to find one in gray, but black was close enough. I don't shop at Old Navy often, other than for things like T-shirts, socks, and underwear—stuff I consider essentially disposable. (A lot of people consider everything that ON sells disposable, but I try not to be judgmental in that way; sometimes I find useful things there.)

One advantage to shopping at Old Navy is that they tend to offer significant discounts, which is how I ended up with my jacket. But the fabric felt odd to the touch, as though it had too much dye on and in it. Worried that it might transfer to other clothing, I washed it. I followed the instructions carefully: cold water, gentle cycle, didn't put it in the dryer.

When it was done it had definitely lost its excess-dye look and feel, but it came out looking distressed, with slightly more dye missing from some areas than others. I was a bit upset and considered returning it, but then I thought about it for a bit. The distressing, though unintentional, gave the jacket a broken-in look that could be considered desirable, and given how little I had paid (around $25, I think), it didn't seem worth the effort to return it.

I decided to embrace the randomness of what had happened. A few days ago an acquaintance told me she liked the jacket, so I told her the story. She agreed with me that it looks better the way it turned out.

If anyone else is interested in trying this, the jacket is still available at Old Navy, though I can't guarantee that others will get the same results.

18 November 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #11

Since it's harder to get pictures of moving cars from inside another moving car, I look for subjects while out walking around my neighborhood. For today I have a car that I had passed on many a dog walk, and it doesn't appear to move frequently so I knew I could go back without the dog and get a few pictures of it.
This is an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, another one of those General Motors cars that was built for a long time. In this case they were around from 1982 to 1996. Initially the car was available in two-door and four-door body styles; a wagon was added for 1985, and the coupe was dropped after 1991. Its platform cousins were the Chevrolet Celebrity, Buick Century, and Pontiac 6000. (The Celebrity went away after 1990, the 6000 after '91; the Century hung on as long as the Ciera did.)
The basic design of these cars never changed during their run, but they did receive styling changes along the way. So how to pin down this car's year? The roofline of the four-doors was revised for 1989; it's hard to tell from the angle of this pic, but this car has it. Beyond that, there was a tail light change for '91, and there's an "S" model designation on the fender badge, which puts it between '90 and '94. I'm inclined to think it's from the latter end of that range, but regardless it's at least 20 years old. (Love the "aged to perfection" plate, though cars in Massachusetts are supposed to have front license plates.)

These cars are sometimes referred to as "cockroaches of the road," partly for how many years they were in production, and partly due to how popular they were when new, a combination that resulted in a lot of these cars still in use. So I wasn't too surprised to see this blue Ciera tucked away in this neighbor's driveway. I've seen other variants on the roads in our area, and I would have liked to get a picture of one of each model for this installment but I wasn't quite that lucky. Of course it's always possible I'll spot them later.

I said this car doesn't seem to move much; I have a feeling someone is holding onto it for sentimental reasons. But it does get driven, as I found one day last week when I passed the house:
Update, 11/21: I've been by the house several more times over the past week, and it appears that the Olds is gone for good.

16 November 2013

Retro Video Unit (11/15/13)

This time around I'm heading in a slightly different direction. Once upon a time I was able to enjoy some rap and hip-hop; back in 1979, "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang caught on fairly early where I lived. It was an adjunct to the disco era because it sampled the bass line from Chic's "Good Times." I was into the early stuff from Run-DMC and I liked De La Soul, the Beastie Boys, and even some Public Enemy.

I'll admit that I always liked the music part of hip-hop better than the lyrics, probably because the idea of sampling and reconstructing bits of songs into a new song appealed to the music-liking part of my brain. Now I'm quite a bit older than I was back then, and hip-hop has evolved into something that I can't make any sort of connection with. I can still appreciate the artistry that goes into a backing track (like, say, this one), but as soon as the artist starts rapping I'm lost.

I happened across this song as part of a playlist. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, but I really liked it back when it was new. In fact, I had the 12" single version, and still do; it's packed away in the basement with all my other vinyl. So let's flash back to '87 with "Paid In Full" by Eric B & Rakim:

15 November 2013


Please allow me the indulgence of addenda to some of my recent posts:

Comedy Central's @Midnight completed its four-week trial run this week, and the network was so pleased with the show's performance that they have ordered a full year of the show. New episodes will begin airing on January 6th.

We didn't have to wait long for our street to be paved. The crews started today around 7 am, and their work was complete by about 11:30. Traffic was driving on it a couple of hours later; asphalt cools more quickly when it's not as warm outside.

When Netflix says a movie or TV show is available to stream "until" a certain date, what they really mean is "until the beginning of" that day, and not "until the end of" that day. And I suspect the demarcation point is when the clock reaches midnight Pacific time, since that's the time zone their company is based in. I say this because I was still watching the 1979-80 season of Saturday Night Live last night until after midnight Eastern time, but as of this morning I could no longer watch it. I didn't quite make it; I had about four episodes left.

14 November 2013

Totally Canceled

Last week I wrote about the time demand of watching four nightly topical humor shows. I fear that I may have unintentionally sent a jinx out into the universe, because yesterday the news came that FXX has canceled Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, one of the shows we watch regularly.

This is unfortunate, and disappointing, because Totally Biased is funny, and offers a point of view that's different from other late-night shows because its host is black. It's also more overtly political, sometimes angrily so, while still being funny. The show was doubly burdened with a shift from FX to its new sibling channel FXX (which isn't on as many cable systems), and from a weekly show to four nights a week.

I don't know what the network's expectations were, but it seems like they've treated Totally Biased unfairly. The show's ratings have been poor since the switch, but it wasn't exactly set up for success and FXX only gave the show a couple of months. However, according to the reports I've read there may be other networks interested in the show. Bell's voice is original and his show deserves to continue, so I hope that happens somewhere.

13 November 2013

Surface Grinding

After all the utility work that's been done on our street this year, the street itself is kind of rough. Fortunately the city is preparing to repave it. We got a notice in our mailbox that they would be starting this process by grinding off the top layer of pavement today.

I awoke this morning to the sounds of heavy equipment and backup beeping. Up and down the street they went throughout the day, making several passes to cover the entire width of the street. (Residents had also been instructed to park elsewhere today.)

I had never seen this process happening, and managed to snap a picture as they passed our house:
I hope we won't have to wait long for the repaving, but in the interim it may get some drivers to slow down. Those temporary asphalt sidewalk patches are supposed to be replaced, too.

12 November 2013

Time's Running Out

In some of my idle moments, I pop over to Netflix and watch old episodes of Saturday Night Live. The first few seasons with the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players were a true watershed moment for comedy and for television. The show's comedic style and the way it was presented were genuinely new and edgy for the TV environment of the mid-1970s.

I watched most of those early episodes when they originally aired, but I had never seen them again since, so when I discovered that the entire catalog of SNL episodes was available to watch on Netflix I was quite pleased. I've been working through them at a leisurely pace, and I've also been looking forward to seeing the stuff from the early 1980s, considered a fallow period in the show's history and a time when I stopped watching the show regularly.

On Netflix the show's seasons are organized by decades, and a few days ago I noticed that the 1970s episodes that I have been watching are only available until November 15th, which is in three days. The 1980s episodes are only available to stream until December 12th. I'm almost done with the '70s anyway, but there's no way I'd be able to get through all of the '80s in a month, and I wish I'd noticed sooner.

I also don't know why these seasons are being dropped from streaming; I know Yahoo made a deal for SNL clips, but when it was announced I don't recall any mention of it affecting Netflix's existing content. And of course these shows will still be available on discs, but that's starting to seem terribly old-fashioned, and I'd rather keep my DVD queue flowing with more relevant content.

11 November 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #10

Commercial vehicles are everywhere, but they tend to blend into the background. Today's subject is a van I pass whenever I walk to the supermarket, but I never paid any attention to it until I started looking for old cars to photograph.
This GMC has become a billboard of sorts for inspections at an auto shop that backs up on the Stop & Shop. The "Rally Wagon" badge on the fender means that it was built for carrying people rather than cargo (the windows all around are also a tipoff) and as such it would have come with at least one bench seat behind the two front seats. It could have had as many as three benches, with a maximum passenger capacity of 12, but I never thought to look inside. This particular truck was probably a parts runner before being consigned to sign duty.
Oh look, from this view we can see two bench seats... By the way, this basic body style was manufactured for 26 model years, from 1971 to 1996, before finally being replaced with a new design (and in keeping with precedent, that basic design is still in production 18 model years later).

So just how old is this one? Well, trucks tend to get cosmetic changes even less frequently than cars, but we can at least narrow it down. One key clue is the round headlights: most cars and trucks had switched to rectangular headlights by the late 1970s. Sometimes base models retained round lights a few years longer (so your neighbors could tell how prosperous you were, or weren't). This combination of grille and round headlights puts this van from a '78 to an '80, and the numerous dents and the amount of body rust along the bottom edges support that.
From the absence of license plates, I don't think this van is roadworthy anymore (though all four tires appear to be fully inflated, or at least mostly). Let's put it this way: these photos were taken on three different days, and the van is always in the exact same spot.

10 November 2013

This Week in Awesome (11/9/13)

It's late on the weekend, but I have some things I think you might enjoy, especially if you have Monday off and are looking for something to read...

Have you heard of Medium? It's a newish site started by one of the founders of Blogger and Twitter meant to encourage writing and reading.

This is from last week but it's definitely worth reading: an argument for abolishing Daylight Saving Time and most of the US's time zones. (Quartz via LinkedIn)

Adam Scott's third iteration of The Greatest Event in Television History (spoof-homage recreations of the opening credits of 1980s TV shows) premiered a couple of nights ago on Adult Swim. Scott says he plans to do only one more of these, so Vulture compiled a list of shows he should consider. Our favorite bad '80s show, TJ Hooker, is on the list.

And finally this week, an in-depth look at how The Soup gets made. (BuzzFeed)

09 November 2013

Substitute Laugh

I was going to share a sketch from this week's episode of Key & Peele about a performance of Othello back in Shakespeare's time, but it's not available online. I'm disappointed because it was very funny and encapsulated the wit and thinking that goes into their work.

So instead I'm going to post this extremely well-done spoof of a trailer for a fake Wes Anderson movie (with Alec Baldwin contributing the voiceover) that ran during the Edward Norton episode of Saturday Night Live that aired October 26th:

06 November 2013

Late-Night Crowd

Maybe you haven't noticed, but late-night TV is getting crowded. We've been watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for years; we record them to watch the next day. I'd like to record the Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) as well, but it would be overwhelming, plus any particularly good bits cycle around the internet the next day.

We'd also been watching Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, a weekly show on FX, but in September it became a Monday through Thursday show, also at 11 pm. Now Comedy Central has launched a show after Colbert. It's called @Midnight, and it's hosted by Chris Hardwick. Each night he has three comedians as guests who dissect the day's happenings on the web and social media, such as guessing which of three tweets on a certain topic is real, or writing imaginary Yelp reviews.

The show is quite funny and after a couple of weeks it's off to a very promising start. So we've now doubled our late-night show consumption, and given the topical nature of all of them, we can't really let them accrue on the DVR and wait until the weekend to catch up, so it makes sense to watch them before getting to any regular scripted shows. It's not as big a deal if we don't get to those right away, other than having to avoid potential spoilers online.

05 November 2013

Phone Not Found

I'd love to replace my iPhone with one of the new models, but I'm trying not to spend money on anything that isn't a necessity. The high demand for the iPhone 5S has helped, in a weird way, because there aren't any available in Apple stores.

I was going to mention a website that I've been checking that compiles availability information from Apple, but the site's owner just posted today that he's received a cease-and-desist letter from Apple and has decided to comply, so never mind that. Meanwhile, my 4S is working fine and will keep me going until I'm employed again.

04 November 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #9

At this point I am more or less constantly on the lookout for old and/or interesting cars to feature. Sometimes I spot them while we're in the car, which makes getting decent shots more challenging. In this instance the universe cooperated, having this car roll up next to us at a traffic light.
It's a Chevrolet Caprice from the early 1980s. It could be anywhere from an '80 to an '85; like other carmakers, General Motors had determined by this point that annual styling changes just for the sake of change were not worth the expense, which makes cars like this harder to pin down to a specific year by appearance alone.

This car has been well used, and looks like it has spent time in plenty of New England winters. (In fact, are those snow tires? This was taken in September.) But it must have been cared for well enough to be running today. It's not going to be as safe or efficient as a newer car, but it's getting its owner where he needs to go. (Judging by this shot, though, he might want to stop looking at his phone if he wants to arrive in one piece.)

03 November 2013

This Week in Awesome (11/2/13)

Things were iffy this week, but I've managed to round up some internet for your amusement...

This artist reimagines some otherwise forgettable artwork. (Laughing Squid)

Anchorman 2 comes out on December 20th, and clearly this guy can't wait. (BuzzFeed)

And finally this week, Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan assembled three lists of Netflix recommendations: must-see classics; pretty good bets; and overlooked gems, plus a follow-up of contributions from readers. It never hurts to have suggestions.

01 November 2013

Retro Video Unit (11/1/13)

Remember those Clash clips from a couple of weeks ago? This time it's the Pretenders, also from the late-night show Fridays. They appeared on September 18, 1981 (which happened to be the first episode of the show's third and final season) and performed three songs from their second album, Pretenders II: "The Adultress," "Message of Love," and "Louie, Louie." (I thought about stretching these out and posting one per week, but they're too enjoyable to hold back.)

The Pretenders were always one of my favorite bands from back in this period, and it's a terrible shame that both guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon died of drug-related causes in 1982 and 1983, respectively. I had the good fortune to see the band with all four original members in early '82 at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Boston.

31 October 2013


I think these folks misunderstood the basic idea of decorating for Halloween:

30 October 2013


The houses in our area tend to do a nice job of decorating for the holidays, Halloween included. While walking around recently I took a few pictures of some of the more interesting efforts.
This couple appears to be waiting for a bus, but they don't run on their street.
This fellow reclined on his chair, with a spider and a skeleton to keep him company.
And I'm not sure if this poor creature was intended as a Halloween decoration (which represents a rather twisted approach), or if he was punished for some other transgression.

29 October 2013

Random Bits

I suppose these are the sorts of things I would post on twitter, if I was into that...

—I love how NBC's Sunday football-highlights show gives a whole 30 seconds of coverage to the weekend's English Premier League soccer matches.

—We had some trouble with the lock on our front door (the bolt was no longer retracting, so when leaving the house we had to lock the door from the outside with a key), so a locksmith came this morning and replaced that part of the lock mechanism. The charge for about five minutes of work was $180. Clearly this is the line of work I should be in...

—As of today, we still haven't bought any Halloween candy, so I guess we need to get on that. We got many more trick-or-treaters the first couple of years we lived here than more recently, but we still need a bag. Or two.

28 October 2013

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #8

I was looking through the pictures on my phone and came across this one, which I took over a year ago but had forgotten about:
This is from September of last year, not long after I encountered the white Falcon convertible that I used to kick off this feature. I happened to look out the window one day and saw it idling there. It obliged me by staying long enough for me to grab my phone and get this shot. (Sorry for the pole and the moiré effect from taking the pic through the window screen.)

At the time I took the picture I didn't know exactly what the car was, but I had an idea (and figuring it out can be part of the fun). Based on its overall shape I knew it had to be from the early 1950s, but I'm familiar enough with cars from that time period to know that it was neither a General Motors nor a Ford Motor Company product. There were still a number of smaller, independent companies around at the time, but I also knew it wasn't a Nash or a Studebaker.

Eliminating all of those left me leaning toward Chrysler Corporation, and specifically Plymouth. As it turns out, it's a 1950 Plymouth (I was able to make this conclusion from the car's grille, which was specific to that year only). I have no idea where it comes from or what it was doing on my street that day, but it was still fun to see it.

The Heat Is (Back) On

Yes, we got this taken care of Saturday. I didn't mean to let the whole weekend pass without following up. Turned out it wasn't the furnace's pilot, but a burned-out thermal coupling. The "plumber" (HVAC professional?) said he'd give our landlord a lecture about the virtues of regular maintenance, which could have prevented this situation.

27 October 2013

This Week in Awesome (10/26/13)

I admit I skipped this last week; due to a variety of circumstances, I just hadn't gathered enough material.

Fred Armisen introduced his aging punk rocker character Ian Rubbish just a short time before leaving Saturday Night Live, so it's nice to see him getting a second wind in this interview with former Clash members Paul Simonon and Mick Jones. (Funny or Die via Stereogum)

Athletes can seem larger than life to fans; here's a photo series that attempts to humanize them while capturing the essence of what makes them special. (Dappered Weekend Dossier)

Fascinating: a collection of sculptures made from coins. (Colossal)

It's that time of year: pumpkin spice products are everywhere. Here are some you may not be familiar with. (Funny or Die)

And finally this week, something all married folks can relate to. (Laughing Squid)

25 October 2013


So yeah, it got kind of cold around here this week. We haven't taken out our air conditioners yet—to be honest, we kind of forgot about them—so I was reluctant to turn on the heat until we could get them out of the windows this weekend. But this afternoon it was cold enough in the house that I decided to go ahead and crank up the heat anyway.

But the heat didn't come up. We went downstairs and took a look at the furnace, and it seems that the pilot has gone out. There are instructions for how to relight it, but that isn't something either of us is comfortable dealing with, so we have to wait until the landlord can get someone here to take care of it. Meanwhile, there will be extra blankets and comforters on the bed tonight.

24 October 2013

Something's Missing

The development at the old Filene's site in Downtown Crossing is back underway after a delay of several years. I happened to be downtown today and the facade of the old building is being preserved as part of the new project:
This view is from Summer Street, with Macy's behind me; at the right edge of the frame is Hawley Street, which runs behind the old building (where the employee entrances used to be). Then I walked toward Washington Street (to the left in the above picture) for another shot:
This is looking straight through what used to be the main floor toward Franklin Street, with the old Woolworth building (now home to TJ Maxx, H&M, Martshalls, and a health club) in the background. It will be interesting to see how the remains are integrated into the eventual finished building.

22 October 2013

Grooming Garage: Hair Stuff

Take a look at my cartoon avatar over there: not much hair, right? I'm 50, and the gene for baldness is part of my genetic makeup. That's how it goes. But what hair I do have is stubborn and wavy, and if I don't do anything to it, it just frizzes out in whatever direction it feels like. If I didn't make some sort of effort to try to tame it, I would end up looking like someone you'd want to avoid on the subway.

So for starters, it stays short, and between haircuts I have to tend to it with a trimmer around my ears. For styling product, I have tried dozens of creams and gels in my life. None of them has been perfect; most have either too much hold, or not enough. The "too much" products tend to be too heavy and sticky, and plaster my hair down, making it look even thinner on top of my head.

For a long time I have used a small amount of a leave-in conditioner as a sort of primer or base coat that adds a bit of thickness to my hair, or at least the illusion of it. In some cases it helps other product take to my hair better. The stuff I use comes in a comically oversized 32-ounce container that costs around $7 or $8 at drug stores and Target, and since I use just a small amount each day, the container lasts me a year or so, on average.

I got pretty good results for a while with a gel from Redken's men's line called Grip Tight; they make a stronger-hold version, but I never tried it because I didn't think I needed extra hold. But I prefer creams to gels in general, because they tend to provide a comparable amount of hold while being lighter and less sticky. There was an inexpensive cream product from Garnier that worked pretty well, but as has happened to me before, it was discontinued.

About six months ago I came across something, either in a magazine or online, about a styling cream from a company called Malin + Goetz that makes apothecary products using natural ingredients. I had heard of the company, and had maybe even browsed their website once, and even knew they made hair care products, but somehow hadn't taken the leap to trying it. The easiest way for me to do that was with one of my drugstore.com orders (it's carried on their sibling site, beauty.com, and the two sites share a shopping bag and checkout).

The M+G cream has definitely been one of the best hair styling products I have used. It's light, not sticky, handles easily, and even smells nice (sage). It has given me satisfactory to above average results for my problem hair, so whatever is in it seems to work for me. It's not cheap; none of the M+G stuff is. The 4-ounce tube is $20 and lasted me almost five months, and now that I'm more familiar with how it works, I might be able to stretch that a bit.

In the past I've endeavored to find the least expensive products that worked for me, but after a lot of trial and error I have learned that when you find something that does work, it's worth it to stick with it.

21 October 2013

Car Stuff: A Correction

No one likes to be wrong, but I believe it's important to admit one's mistakes. Back in the summer I posted pictures from a car show I attended. Among them was this one:
At the time I identified this as a 1964 Studebaker Avanti, though I questioned the originality of the wheels. While it is an Avanti, it's not a '64, and if I had been paying just a bit more attention, I would have realized that. The telltale sign that I overlooked is the side marker lights, which I have mentioned before were mandated by the federal government on new cars as of the 1968 model year.

The original Avanti was built for only two model years, 1963 and '64, and Studebaker was gone altogether by 1966. After the company ceased production of the Avanti, a trio of dealers in South Bend, IN (the location of the factory) purchased the rights to the Avanti name, parts, and use of factory space. The car was called the Avanti II and was built in small numbers, essentially by hand, until the early 1980s. (In fact, the car's history continues well beyond that point under different ownership, and with questionable styling changes like rectangular headlights.)

So this is definitely an Avanti II, and the presence of the side marker lights along with the absence of federally-mandated 5 mph bumpers dates this car to a 1968-72 time frame. As to the source of those wheels, which I noted look very much like ones used on Buicks: at this point the builders of the car were using Chevrolet engines, so it's entirely reasonable to extrapolate that they were also purchasing wheels from another GM division.

I realized my mistake in identifying this car after reading this article about the original Avanti on Curbside Classic, which goes deeper into Studebaker's problems and is well worth your time if you are interested.

18 October 2013

Retro Video Unit (10/18/13)

As I was looking for video clips to add to my article about music on TV in the years before MTV (part 1 and part 2), I found a bunch of interesting stuff. Saturday Night Live does not allow clips to be posted to YouTube, but back in the spring of 1980 ABC launched its own late-night sketch comedy show with musical guests. It was called Fridays and it ran for only a couple of years, but some of the music performances are available online.

The Clash made their American television debut on Fridays on April 25, 1980. They performed four songs, all from their double album London Calling, which was released in the US in January of '80. The first two songs were "London Calling" and "Train in Vain."

Later in the show the band returned for two more songs, "The Guns of Brixton" and Clampdown."

I think it's really cool to be able to see these performances from this stage of the band's career, as London Calling is regarded by many (myself included) as their masterpiece.

(Look for more clips from Fridays in the weeks ahead...)

17 October 2013


As someone who owns a lot of clothing and likes to shop, I have on occasion purchased something without being sure exactly when or how I would wear it. People who give advice on this sort of thing generally say that this is not a good approach. I know this, but there are times when you have to ignore what others might say and go with your gut.
This is a cashmere tie. I never went looking for one, nor did I ever think I needed one. I found it at the original downtown Filene's Basement. I can't remember exactly when I got it, but given that the downtown store closed in 2007, it had to be at least a couple of years before that, so let's say it was 2004 or '05. It caught my eye because I liked the dark charcoal color. I've always liked wool ties, and I had a couple of them in high school, where we had a dress code. Then I felt it, and knew it was special.
At the time I had never seen a cashmere tie. I was also not in the habit of buying high-end designer clothing items, but not knowing what you might come across was one of the joys of shopping at the old Basement. If you went looking for something like this today at, say, Neiman Marcus or Saks, what you'd find would be in the range of $200. When I found this, I think it had a suggested retail of $150, while the Basement price was $25, so of course I bought it.
This shot gives a closer look at the weave and the salt-and-pepper effect. I found it before the recent vogue for narrower ties, but because it's from a fashion designer's line it was slightly narrower than average. At 3.25" it's about as narrow a tie as I like to wear, but I feel its width is just right for the fabric and styling—it makes sense that this would be a bit narrower than a dressier silk tie.

I probably wouldn't wear this with a suit, but it would be perfect with a tweed jacket and a chambray shirt.

16 October 2013


On the same day I took the pay-phone picture a couple of weeks ago, I also took this shot on the platform at Wellington:
I waited for the precise moment when the train had stopped, but the doors had not yet opened. And it turned out pretty well, I think.

15 October 2013

Public Works

Back in the spring the a contractor for the city spent several weeks digging up our street and some of the surrounding ones for sewer work. Now a new contractor is working on lining the water main that runs under the street. In order to do this, temporary water lines were set up about a month ago; they run above ground across driveways and sidewalks, going just under the surface where they cross side streets.

Yesterday I got up around 7 to take the dog out. I came back and returned to bed, and as I was drifting back to sleep a racket started up, coming through the closed bedroom windows. I soon figured out that an asphalt saw and a jackhammer were being applied to the pavement in front of our house. It was probably close to an hour before things settled down enough that I could fall asleep again.

What I can't figure out is why this work was being done on a holiday. There doesn't seem to be any urgency around the project in general; once the temporary water lines were set up and the houses were connected to them, nothing happened for a couple of weeks, then I started noticing workmen around the neighborhood, but whatever they were doing, it seemed like they were doing it in a rather leisurely way.

I expected the noise to return today, but I didn't hear anything and didn't get awakened; when I got up the workmen were digging, but they were set up several houses away. so, on it goes.

14 October 2013

Car Stuff: Missed Opportunities

Now that I'm on the lookout for cars to take pictures of, it's particularly frustrating when I see one but can't get a decent picture of it because it's too far away or moves away too quickly. There are also cars that I saw around my area before I started taking pictures and haven't encountered again in a while. Being unable to get good pictures from more than one angle is frustrating too.

One afternoon a couple of months ago, I was coming back from a walk with the dog and waiting to cross out street when a really nice red late-1960s Cadillac convertible came gliding by. I didn't have my phone on me, but even if I did I wouldn't have been able to get it out and take a picture in time. Likewise, someone around my area has a late-1980s Cadillac sedan in an unusual triple-pale yellow combination. I saw it a year or so ago at the gas station with one of its doors open so I could see the interior, and then I saw it once again after that, in traffic, but going in the opposite direction.

There are others, but you get the idea. I'm still hoping that I will encounter some or all of them again at more opportune moments.

This Week in Awesome (10/12/13)

Busy busy busy... no really, we were busier than usual this weekend. And to be honest, I don't have the typical allotment, but what I do have is pretty good so I'm just going to go ahead and post it anyway...

Did you watch the annual "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons last week? (They show it early because the show gets preempted for several weeks in October for the baseball playoffs.) The opening credit sequence was "reimagined" by movie director Guillermo del Toro, and incorporated all sorts of references to horror movies.

There's a lot to absorb in there, so a couple of subsequent articles break everything down: this one by annotating the video, and this one with stills and text, which may be easier than hitting the pause button over and over. (Entertainment Weekly; /film; Screen Crush)

And also in TV land, the people who make the FX animated comedy Archer did a little gag promo for the show's upcoming fifth season. If you watch the show you'll understand exactly why this is what it is. (FX via Vulture)

12 October 2013

Retro Video Unit Bonus (10/11/13)

I was going to hold onto this until next week, but it's just too good. Yesterday I was sifting through videos on YouTube, looking for clips to accompany an article for The Longfellow Bridge, and found this. I used it in the article, and I'm posting it here as well.

When I look for videos for this feature, I tend to focus on the years around the beginning of MTV because I have an especially strong bond with the music of that period. But sometimes I tend to forget that I am in fact a child of the 1970s (yes, born in the '60s but in terms of cultural awareness) and remain connected to the cultural signifiers of that era, for better and worse.

Fleetwood Mac was one of the biggest bands of the '70s; they sold millions and millions of albums, and their music was all over the radio. Even without ever owning any of their music, I've absorbed much of it. This song, "Rhiannon," was one of several hit singles from their 1975 self-titled album.

I've always liked this song, but I've never seen or heard a version like this one. Like the best bands do when performing their material live, Fleetwood Mac takes this quiet, moody song and rips it open into something quite different.

(This performance is from a 1970s late-night TV show called The Midnight Special that featured bands performing live.)

10 October 2013

Collared and Cuffed

We attended an event over the weekend for which we needed to dress up, and as I was planning what to wear I got to thinking about how my taste in dress shirts has changed. I used to choose dress shirts with a traditional point collar, as I am still a believer in the "rule" that one should not wear a button-down collar shirt with a suit (I'm totally okay with it when wearing a sportcoat and trousers).

I used to dislike spread-collar dress shirts, though at this point I can't remember why. I started noticing pictures of men dressed up—in catalogs, in magazines, at red-carpet events—and I realized that a spread collar shirt is an excellent way to elevate one's outfit just a bit more. It's classic and classy, and you don't have to worry about using a certain kind of tie knot; as long as your knot is well-formed, it will look just fine with a spread collar. (I don't really care for the cutaway collar, though; it's just a bit too dandyish for me, and it does require a Windsor or other chunky knot to look right.)

I also came to realize that a dress shirt doesn't need a pocket. I am someone who prefers my casual shirts to have a pocket, because I end up using it frequently, but if you're already wearing a suit then you have at least two or three inside jacket pockets available to you, so the dress shirt pocket is superfluous, and a dress shirt just looks cleaner and sharper without it.

Regarding one's cuffs, a lot of more style-conscious men now prefer their dress shirts with french cuffs, which is perfectly fine, but I find this is often just an excuse to wear whimsical cuff links. I am guilty of this (I own cuff links made from old typewriter keys), but I also have a pair that came with a shirt that are just pairs of buttons with about half an inch of thread between them (the thread is wound around itself a number of times to make it stiffer and easier to handle), and I have come to appreciate the quiet dignity (and low cost) of plain silk knots.

However, I've found that there are occasions when I feel that cuff links are a bit too dressy, and I prefer the look of a two-button cuff. I don't mean the kind that allows for a narrower or thicker wrist, but two buttons side by side with two buttonholes. It's more distinctive because it's less commonly seen, and even if no one else notices, I still know it's there.

It's possible to find all these attributes on one shirt, but it takes some sleuthing. The best source I have found for reasonably priced shirts with all these style options is Charles Tyrwhitt (and they are almost always running some sort of sale or promotion). But when I go bargain-hunting for dress shirts in Marshalls, I know that I'll probably have to compromise on at least one of these details.

Ralph Lauren shirts tend to be widely available at discounted prices, and I like them quite a bit, but I have yet to find one with a two-button cuff. A while back I found a USA-made shirt by Ike Behar for $20, but it had a pocket; I bought it anyway. A striped shirt by Tommy Hilfiger was exactly like one I was looking to replace, but it had a point collar. Again, for only $20 it didn't matter so much. Now I just need places to wear them...