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.