28 February 2014

It's 2014, People

Sometimes I wonder what year other people are living in. Today I boarded a bus and the person in front of me paid the $2 fare with coins, which had to be dropped into the slot one by one while the rest of us waited alongside the bus in sub-20-degree weather. The driver pointed out that if she used a Charlie Card (the MBTA's refillable fare card, for those of you who aren't from the area) she would save 50 cents on each ride. The woman said, "I know," bent down to pick up the two large bags she'd had to set down to pay her fare (keeping us waiting longer), and moved back into the bus.

I get that for some people it would be a hardship to pay $48 for a monthly bus pass (or $70 for the subway and bus pass), or perhaps she doesn't ride buses frequently enough to make a monthly pass worth the cost. But that 50 cents per ride is 25% of what she had to put in the fare box; if she put $12 on a Charlie Card, she could take eight bus rides instead of six paying per ride, plus she wouldn't have to have all that change for each ride.

A bit later I was on my way home and I had to make a quick stop at the market. I got in line behind an older gentleman who was in the process of putting his purchases on the counter from his cart. He then took a blank check out of his wallet and started filling it out.

I frequently get stuck behind slow people when I'm only buying one or two items, but the check was the thing that caught my attention. I barely write checks for anything other than rent these days, and I haven't used one to pay for groceries in probably close to 20 years.

I get that not everyone is comfortable carrying large amounts of cash, but most people have at least one credit or debit card, and checking out is so much faster that way. Maybe the check-writing dude doesn't value the time of the people behind him in line, but he must value his own time. Or maybe I just think too much about these things...

27 February 2014

What a Gas

I'm stuck at home for most of the day. The gas company needs to replace our meter. They have called about it several times over the past month, and initially I referred them to our landlord, but the calls continued and I figured it was easier to schedule it myself and get it over with.

And even though they claim they need to do this, they are inconveniencing me by giving a six-hour window for the appointment. "Oh, the tech will call you 15 to 20 minutes before he arrives." Well, how about that? That makes all the difference. And I need to stay by the phone because if for some reason I miss the call, the tech won't come.

Given how cold it is I might not have wanted to go out anyway, but it still seems somewhat ridiculous that they can't narrow down the window to three or four hours. At least it will only take 20 to 30 minutes for the tech to complete the task after he finally arrives.

25 February 2014

The Downslope

We had a pleasant weekend that hinted at spring, and I was able to wear fewer layers and a lighter coat while out walking around, but now it's quite cold again, so it's back to the heavy sweaters and flannel-lined jeans.

Inside the house it's not an issue, but walking the dog, especially first thing in the morning, requires the heavy-duty stuff. Even if I only use these pants and other deep-winter pieces of clothing a couple of months out of the year at most, I'm awfully glad I have them.

Winter has to release its grip on us eventually. I've noticed that the sun is setting later, and it feels stronger even when it's not at its peak height. I don't generally look forward to spring the way most people do, but this year I'm ready for it.

24 February 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #2

From 1961-66, American car styling hit peak after exhilarating peak. The excesses of the late 1950s were largely swept away and replaced by clean designs with less reliance on chrome decoration and more effort placed on pleasant, refined looks.

General Motors was on top, as it had been for some time. The company's hierarchy of five car brands shared certain platforms and styling components like roof panels, but otherwise the offerings presented distinctive and attractive looks to the car-buying public. Buicks and Oldsmobiles, being higher-priced, had cars based on two bodies, the larger of which was shared with Cadillac.

As much as I like the Cadillac design of 1961-62, I slightly prefer the Oldsmobile 98, specifically the four-door hardtop with a third side window behind the rear door, called the "Holiday Sedan" in Olds marketing lingo. Maybe an Olds was a couple of steps down from a Cadillac, but the 98 was less fussy-looking. (While it's also true that my grandfather had a '62 Olds, it was a less glamorous Dynamic 88 four-door sedan.)

I don't have any scale die-cast version to show you for this one, but there are illustrations around online from the brochure:
Google's image search wasn't quite as helpful as I'd hoped, but I did find this one:
I was hoping for a photo with the side windows open, but this at least gives a sense of the roofline. Besides great color choices inside and out, one other thing I miss about cars is lots of glass area. In newer cars, designers have raised the side window sills relative to seat height to enhance the sense of safety, but at the cost of visibility. I suppose in a few more years almost all cars will come with backup cameras standard, but I think some people would still prefer being able to see out of the car all around.

23 February 2014

This Week in Awesome (2/22/14)

I have no excuse: I was home all day yesterday, doing not much of anything...

I love being able to look at photos like these for a slice of urban life in the not-too-distant past. Think how much easier it is to do this today with our smartphones. (Time via Laughing Squid)

You may remember my earlier references to the Comedy Central show Key & Peele. Their action movie-loving valet attendant characters (I have no idea if they have names) have a surprise encounter with one of their favorite stars in a clever bit of cross-promotion for his upcoming movie. (Note to marketers: THIS is how you do this type of promotion in a way that does not pander to or insult your audience.)

Those of you with voyeuristic tendencies may be interested in this. (Boy Genius Report)

Rapping Brian Williams is back, with an assist this time. (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)

And finally this week, prepare to get lost in one of the internet's rabbit holes. (The Hairpin)

21 February 2014

Retro Video Unit (2/21/14)

I was in the mood for a deep flashback, all the way back to the disco era. I happened to read an article about Queen that linked to a video of Chic's 1979 hit "Good Times" but it had some awful modern footage spliced into the middle. Fortunately YouTube also had the original version, which came from some sort of weird Italian television aanlogue to American Bandstand (I think).

And just for fun, let's also look at Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" from the same year, which is, shall we say, heavily indebted to the Chic song as far as the music is concerned:


When I'm wandering around trying to find old cars to take pictures of, I sometimes find other things worthy of a photo. I've always been interested in buildings and architecture, and there are plenty of interesting buildings in this area.
This is the Flour and Grain Exchange Building at the corner of India and Milk Streets downtown. I took this picture last summer when the Mrs. and I were trying to find a food truck or two from which to get lunch (since it was a Saturday there were only a couple stationed on the nearby Greenway).

The building is triangular with rounded corners, and I have been somewhat fascinated by it for decades, though I have never ventured inside. The only thing I miss about the old elevated Central Artery is that when heading southbound, it was easier to get a decent look at this building as you passed by just a few feet from it. (I remember there used to be a huge red ribbon around the whole thing at Christmas.)
About a month ago I was in Medford Square in the morning, heading to an appointment. As I was waiting for the bus I looked across the street and noticed that the building on the corner reminded me a little of the Flour and Grain Exchange Building, though the one in Medford is certainly quite different.

20 February 2014

Winter Non-Vacation

I try not to do a lot of complaining about winter. Generally I don't mind it so much, though I started to feel less that way after we got a dog that has to be walked several times a day regardless of what sort of nastiness may be happening outside.

But this year's winter, and this month in particular, has been relentless, with storms hitting us over and over, sometimes just a day or two apart. So it was heartening today to see bright sunshine and blue skies (for part of the day, at least) and feel the temperature rising well above 40 for the first time in several weeks.

This is a nice point in the winter to get away to somewhere warm, if possible. When my parents used to spend the winter in Fort Lauderdale, this is the time when I would go and visit them. In fact, the Mrs. left today to go visit her sister in California, leaving me here to take care of the dog (or vice versa, maybe?).

Of course I would have liked to go along, but in practical terms it didn't make sense this time. And the weather is supposed to remain decent here for a few more days, so I'll be fine. I have food and coffee and beer and whatever else I might need, movies on the TiVo that the Mrs. isn't interested in watching, laundry and house-cleaning, and plenty else to keep me occupied.

18 February 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #21

This car isn't old, but I took pictures of it anyway, mainly because it has a vinyl roof covering and I didn't think those were available anymore. It turns out they aren't—not from the factory, at least.

It happened that I had just read a post on Curbside Classic about new Cadillacs with dealer-installed vinyl tops when I saw this car driving through my neighborhood. It's not a Cadillac but a Mercury, though I'll admit that I had to look up exactly which model, because some of the cars they made in their final few years on the market sold in such small numbers that they I simply was not aware they had existed.
It turns out this was called a Montego, which is a nameplate from the 1960s and '70s that Mercury went and dug out of its corporate attic, but applied to this particular car it's basically meaningless. It's essentially the same car as a Ford Five Hundred, which was the early-2000's replacement for the Taurus.
The roof treatment appears to be part of a "Park Lane" decor package (another model name from Mercury's past) that also includes the shiny window trim, and more than anything else, I couldn't help but wonder why someone would still want a car equipped this way. It's such a dated look, especially with its aerodynamically rounded roofline (which looks borrowed from something like an Audi A6) that is totally unsuited to a faux-convertible treatment.
Oddly enough, I had to stalk this car for a while, which accounts for the extremely mediocre nature of these pictures. When I took the distant shot above, from across the street and behind the car, I didn't realize its owner was getting into it and was looking in my direction (probably trying to figure out why someone might want to take a picture of him or his car). Had I been able to see him clearly from that far away, I wouldn't have taken the shot. Subsequently I walked down the block and attempted to get a side shot of the car as it passed me, but tried to make it look like I was taking a picture of something else. I was able to get the front shot of it in its driveway a few days later, but you don't really get the full effect of the tacky add-on vinyl roof from that angle.

Looking at that last shot, it kind of reminds me of some of those old surveillance photos of Whitey Bulger. Too bad this isn't a genuine Mercury Montego from back in the '70s; that would have been even more evocative of those pictures.

17 February 2014

Long Weekend in Awesome (2/15/14)

Ah well, good intentions and all that. Yesterday was fairly well consumed by snow-shoveling (and later, burrito-getting), but things were very low-key on Saturday and I have no idea why I didn't post this then...

Olympics-adjacent: Conan's Andy Richter finds out what curling is all about. (Tastefully Offensive)

I've become kind of anti-Gawker in the same way I'm kind of anti-Amazon, so at first I was reluctant to post this, but the coolness factor won out: New York's subway is implementing giant touch-screen map guides. Can't wait to get back to NYC to try 'em out. (I'd also love to see the MBTA get something like this.) (Boy Genius Report)

I have always disliked this word, and here's why: because people use it incorrectly. (The Chronicle of Higher Education via The Awl)

And finally this week, the passing of comedic genius Sid Caesar brought plenty of tributes, including one from Billy Crystal. Caesar was a giant in his importance to the medium of TV and to the realm of comedy; this compilation of classic sketches shows why. (The Daily Beast via TV Tattle)

15 February 2014

Still Here, Still Shoveling

I was on my way to bed when I realized that I hadn't posted anything since Wednesday. I spent most of Thursday dealing with the latest snowstorm, which left about six inches of heavy, wet snow in our immediate area. All the forecasts said the snow would turn to rain, so I started shoveling around noon in anticipation of the transition, expecting it to be raining by the time I'd finished.

I was about half done when I noticed that it had started snowing much harder, and that the flakes were much larger than usual. By the time I'd finished, everything I'd shoveled was already covered over again. In fact, I ended up going back out a couple of hours later and doing everything a second time. After that I had to go out two more times to clear the bottom of the driveway after plow passes (no sign of the helpful neighbor this time). By that point it was indeed raining, not that it mattered or did me any good.

Of course everything froze overnight, so I went out today to have a look and see if there was any ice I could clear away. I noticed that our next-door neighbors had cleared their front sidewalk of ice right up to the property line, so I figured I should do the same. At first I had to break off chunks with the edge of the shovel, but eventually I was able to slide the shovel under the ice and bring it up in pieces and slabs.

When I'd worked my way all the way across to our neighbors on the other side, I got to work on our driveway, which in some places had an inch of ice going back to last Saturday, when we got a small amount of snow that I had cleared only half-heartedly. By the time I'd finished with everything, including the front steps, more than three hours had passed. (I had paused in the middle to walk the dog.)

So that's where I've been most of the past two days. And lucky us, another storm is coming through Saturday evening and night. Earlier in the week the forecasts were saying this one was going to miss us, or maybe just leave a dusting; now the predictions for this area are ranging from four to eight inches, so I know what I'll be doing Sunday.

12 February 2014

Overheard: Reality of Winter Edition

On the platform at Wellington station last Friday, I happened to hear a young man say to his female friend, "I picked the wrong day to wear a sleeveless shirt." (He was otherwise bundled up in winter gear, but those other layers definitely make a difference.)

11 February 2014


A few weeks back I mentioned our dog and the joint supplements we give her. While they do seem to help, she is 12-1/2 and a few months ago we noticed that she seemed to be having a bit more difficulty getting up the stairs when we came back from walks.

Winter only makes this more difficult, so we decided to find someone who could build us a ramp for her. I looked through some handyman-for-hire postings on craigslist and found a guy who had 30 years' experience and was based in Arlington, which is nearby. I emailed him with a description of what we wanted done and a photo of the steps. He responded and we arranged a time for him to come by to look over the area in person and take measurements.

A few days later he submitted a thorough proposal, outlining the materials he would use, how he would construct the ramp, and his price. We thought it over for a day or so and decided to go ahead. He called during my minor phone crisis a couple of weeks ago to ask if it would be okay for him to come and do the job that Saturday, so I had to wait until I got my phone working the next day to return his call.

That Saturday turned out to be one of the nice days between snowstorms. The contractor arrived right on time and set up his sawhorses and gear. I showed him where he could plug in a power cord in the basement and he set right to work. It took him less than two hours to complete the project, which I found impressive. The only thing we needed to do was add some sort of traction-providing material to the surface.

We went to the hardware store the next day, thinking we could find something with an adhesive backing, but the closest we came was some sort of tape that was only 2" wide, so we settled for rubber doormats which the Mrs. attached to the ramp with a staple gun. We then brought the dog outside and did a few practice runs with treats, to get her used to using the ramp.
Over the next couple of days we led her to the ramp after her walks. At first I picked her up and set her on the bottom of it, and she did go up the ramp fairly readily, though she seemed a bit unsure of it and sort of hopped up it at first. But she adapted to it very quickly and within another day or so she was going up the ramp without hesitation when led to the bottom. We've yet to get her to go down it again, but going down the stairs isn't as difficult for her as going up them. If she decides she needs it for going down, I think she'll know what to do.

10 February 2014

Car Stuff: The Fantasy Garage

As I work on replenishing my supply of photos of cars I encounter for Random Sightings, I also want to expand to other topics, so today I'm launching Fantasy Garage, where I daydream about the classic cars I'd buy if I won a big lottery jackpot.

I didn't necessarily want to rank my choices, so I thought about doing them alphabetically and then chronologically. I settled on the latter, and though I'm starting with a car from 1960, it's entirely possible that later on I may want to add one that's older.

I've alluded to my enthusiasm for 1960 Chryslers before, in this post about seeing a 1959 Chrysler 300E at the car show I attended last July and this one about a '61 Chrysler wagon on Curbside Classic. Those two cars end up as brackets for my favorite, the 1960 300F. The 300 "letter series" cars (link to wikipedia entry) were made from 1955-65; they were expensive cars with high-performance engines and luxurious appointments that never sold more than a few thousand units per year, but served as halo cars for the brand.

Initially available as a two-door hardtop coupe, a convertible was added for 1957 and continued through 1965, except there was no convertible offered for '63. Production for 1960 was just over 1200 cars total, and only 248 of those were convertibles. I have seen restored examples for sale for as much as $75,000, though I have no idea if any of them have sold for such prices. There is one 300F convertible currently for sale on the classic-car site Hemmings for $199,000!
I don't think I've ever seen a '60 300F in person, but I do have this die-cast 1/18 scale version. (I'd probably have a lot more of these if I had space to display them.)
 As with the real car, the model has swiveling front bucket seats and a full-length console. I also like the dashboard-mounted rear view mirror, which was found on most Chrysler Corporation products of this time period.
The side trim helps to break up the car's convex slab sides, though I think black isn't the best color for showing off this car's lines.

09 February 2014

This Week in Awesome (2/8/14)

Today was a full day of errands. Stay tuned for a report on a Bissell carpet cleaner that is rated highly for removal of pet-related stains...

When I was growing up I had dozens of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. This musician has thousands of them. (Collectors Weekly)

Have you ever noticed that most of the movies that come out during the winter are bad? There are exceptions, of course (we saw The LEGO Movie last night, and it was a blast), but statistically it's true. (Slate via The A.V. Club)

Thanks to the hilarious and delightful Comedy Central show @Midnight, I'm now aware of my new favorite hipster-mocking blog: Sad Etsy Boyfriends.

And finally this week, Soul Train is a cultural reference point for a lot of people (growing up in the 1970s, I watched it occasionally), but I think a lot of younger people aren't as familiar with it. Rolling Stone rounded up a dozen of the show's most memorable performances.

08 February 2014

Retro Video Unit (2/7/14)

Yesterday turned out to be a busier day than I'd expected, so I wasn't home for much of it and ended up forgetting it was the day for this feature...

Let's hang out in the '80s a while longer and check out a one-off song that holds up remarkably well, "Pump Up The Volume" by M/A/R/R/S. (Technically those are supposed to be vertical lines between the letters, but they didn't look right onscreen in this font.)

A studio collaboration between two obscure house music acts, "Pump" became a hit on alternative radio stations like WFNX that otherwise didn't feature this type of music. The song was almost entirely assembled from samples, and there are a ridiculous number of versions and remixes of it. I chose this one because it was described as the "official video" and because it was posted by the record label. As a video it uses what appears to be archival and stock footage to keep the emphasis on the music; nowadays we'd probably get shots of a guy with a laptop doing the mix.

(For more on this song, check out this article posted on The A.V. Club just a few days ago.)

06 February 2014

A Snow Mystery

Another week, another snowstorm: they've been coming through pretty regularly this winter. Yesterday's snow was the heavier kind, and it turned to rain for a while in the afternoon before the temperature dropped again, but the later-day stuff was lighter and accumulated only about another half-inch.

Surprisingly, even though the snow was heavy it wasn't that difficult for me to deal with. The one area that's always a challenge is the bottom of the driveway. The plows come by in groups of three, each one riding a little closer to the edge of the street than the one in front of it, and we always end up with a substantial deposit of thick snow that needs to be excavated to free the car.

After I'd cleared our sidewalk, steps, and made a path to the back of the house, I was working my way through the bank of snow and was a little more than half done when I got a profound surprise. We have a neighbor who plows for a small business across the street, and clears the sidewalks in front of a couple of houses adjacent to the commercial building. I almost always see him when I'm outside shoveling, and he certainly sees me.

He hasn't been the most cooperative person as far as clearing the sidewalks in front of his own house, and on occasion he has left plowed snow in the middle of the street, maintaining that "the city plows will take care of it," which of course means it ends up getting plowed into our driveway after I've cleared it. (He also has a mean dog.)

Yesterday he passed by, then looped around to our side of the street, angled in, and ran his plow across the area I was working on, saving me another 15 minutes or so of effort. I waved and yelled my thanks, and he drove off.

We've lived here almost eight years, and this is the first time this has happened. There were times when I wished he would do what he did yesterday, and times when I considered flagging him down and offering him money to make a pass across the bottom of our driveway. I have no idea what may have motivated him to decide to help me out yesterday, but I'm appreciative of it just the same.

Of course I had to go out twice later in the day and night to clean up after subsequent passes by the city's plows, but those were relatively minor amounts.

04 February 2014

Overheard: Lack of Geographic Clarity Edition

This bit of conversation took place between two young women on Saturday afternoon in the Starbucks at Wellington Circle, shortly before 2 pm.

"What time are you meeting the girls?"
"2:30, so I need to get going."
"Where are you meeting them?"
"Where's Dedham?"
"I don't know, I guess I should figure that out."

(If I were to guess, I'd say they were meeting at Legacy Place.)

03 February 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #20

After last week's phone mishap, I lost some of the car pictures I'd taken over the past couple of months, mainly because I wasn't backing up to iCloud regularly. Some of them are from nearby and can be redone, while others were chance encounters in my travels and wanderings that I'm unlikely to find again. (Fortunately I didn't lose anything more important.)

In the short term, I have material I can use, just not as deep a reserve as before. This picture is from Downtown Crossing in early December, and I've cropped less of the original image than I typically do, mainly because I liked this particular car against this background.
This is a Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon from the mid-1990s, the last of the traditional, full-size, V-8 engined, rear-wheel-drive station wagons that General Motors had been building for decades. This specific model was built from 1991-96 with virtually no exterior changes during that time, but the mirrors on this one identify it as either a '95 or '96.

This car shared its basic body with the Chevrolet Caprice wagon and sedan, and there was also an Oldsmobile version of the wagon called the Custom Cruiser, which was only offered in 1991-92. All of them suffer from rather unfortunate styling; they are sometimes referred to as "bathtubs." GM was clearly trying to make the cars more aerodynamic in the wake of Ford's success with the Taurus, but their iteration just didn't work. The previous design was more squared off and wore its proportions much better, as you can see on this Pontiac from early in the series.

By the time this car came out, buyers of station wagons had switched to either minivans or SUVs, both of which brought about the end for these cars. You only bought this car if you wanted to float down the road while carrying a bunch of stuff. Among the car's more unusual features, you can just make out the fixed glass panel over the rear seat, which was standard (though a shade for it was not offered until 1995).

Based on where it was parked, I suspect this car belongs to someone involved in putting up the downtown holiday decorations like the wreath on the pole. It was either raining or snowing on that day, so I took only this quick shot from the shelter of the T station entrance; I wasn't able to take the front and rear shots I like to get when I have more time.

02 February 2014

This Week in Awesome (2/1/14)

On time two weeks in a row? Maybe too ambitious...

We haven't seen a nice time-lapse in a while; this one was filmed after an ice storm in Toronto. (Vimeo via Laughing Squid)

Maybe the whole app thing has gone too far. (Cult of Mac via io9)

Do you remember what happened at the Super Bowl ten years ago (besides the Patriots victory)? Here's a thorough and well-done look back, with some hindsight reflection. (ESPN via Kempt)

And finally this week, how the US stacks up against other countries in terms of alcohol consumption. Enlightening to say the least. (Priceonomics via Dappered)