31 May 2014

Retro Video Unit (5/30/14)

As I've mentioned before, sometimes videos don't exist on YouTube when I first look for them, so from time to time I will go back and try looking for things again after some time has passed, and this is another instance of that paying off.

After R.E.M. broke through in 1983 with Murmur, record companies courted other bands from their home town of Athens, GA, a college town about 50 miles east-northeast of Atlanta. Guadalcanal Diary (named for a World War II memoir) was from Marietta, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, but played frequently in Athens and got pegged as being from there.

Their sound had definite similarities to that of early R.E.M., which probably got them a few listens from curious fans, but they remained much more of an under the radar band throughout their existence. They released four studio albums during the mid to late 1980s and somehow I caught onto them quite early, probably from college radio.

This song, "Watusi Rodeo," actually goes back to the band's first recording, a four-song EP of the same name released in 1983. The song was also included on their first full-length album, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, which came out the following year. The video, which epitomizes the lo-fi aesthetic, was made by the band with help from some friends, and was shown on MTV's "Basement Tapes" show.

The audio source used with the video is from a 1983 live show in Atlanta. For an extra bit of flavor, this version (which has inferior audio quality) includes original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood introducing the clip:

30 May 2014

Better Late...

I was heading into Boston today, so I decided to try to get some pictures of the new Assembly station as I passed it on the train. It helped that the train was practically empty and I was able to stand at one of the doors and take multiple photos without any obstructions:
Here's the new section of southbound track I mentioned, just north of the station.
A bit further along, just before moving into the station itself.
This will be the platform, viewed from what will eventually be the northbound side.
A stairway under construction.
The southern end of the platform.

29 May 2014

MBTA Happenings

I don't write as much about the MBTA as I used to, probably because I'm not commuting every day. But whenever I head into the city I get an up-close look at one of the T's big projects.

A new station is being added on the Orange Line between Wellington and Sullivan Square stations to serve the Assembly Row complex (no relation), which is in the process of a phased opening. Currently there's outlet shopping and entertainment and, when fully built out in a few more years, there will also be housing, office space, and a hotel. Since the station is being built right along the existing track, it's easy to see the progress.

What isn't easy is to capture any of that progress with my camera. I've tried a couple of times, and even when on a slow-moving train it's extremely difficult to get any good shots. So you'll have to take my word for it, or go take a ride out there to see it for yourself. (The current projection for the station's opening is some time this fall.)

In the area where the new station is being built, the northbound and southbound tracks are side by side, too close together to allow a station with a center-platform design; there are also commuter rail tracks just east of the Orange Line tracks, so there was no space to build a separate platform on the northbound side, and as I witnessed the work on the station I wondered how this would be addressed. The station is being built just west of the existing southbound tracks, but over the past few weeks I've seen new track being laid on the far side of the station that will carry southbound trains when complete, and northbound trains will shift over to what is now the southbound track to serve the new station when it opens.

Except for the Silver Line stations along the waterfront, Assembly Square is the first completely new station to be added to the MBTA system since the realigned southern portion of the Orange Line opened in 1987. (The following year, Columbia station was renamed JFK/UMass, and was redesigned so that the Braintree branch of the Red Line, which used to split off north of the station, also served it.)

Meanwhile, the reconstruction project at Government Center station has been underway for about two months (the T has posted some illustrations and diagrams of what the station will look like when finished in 2016). While construction is underway, trains are passing through the station without stopping. I happened to pass through earlier this week, but unfortunately there are fences with opaque sheeting blocking any view of the work. Up at street level, the bunker-like "wart" that served as the station's entrance has already been removed, and if you're curious, there is a Twitter account belonging to someone with a view of the work area.

28 May 2014

The Pothole That Ate Medford?

Over the weekend I spotted this pylon at the end of Harvard Street in Medford, where it hits Mystic Avenue.
It looks like it was left to mark a hole so motorists (or maybe bicyclists/motorcyclists?) would not hit it. But it also looks like the hole got worse after the pylon was placed, and now it's being consumed by the hole, or something. Either way, be careful over there...

26 May 2014

Long Weekend in Awesome (5/24/14)

Is it really Monday? It feels like time slowed down the past couple of days. Oh well...

The just-concluded half-season of Mad Men has featured the firm working to land the account of Burger Chef, a real chain that at the time was larger than Burger King. I'm old enough to remember visits to Burger Chef restaurants from my childhood (visits to any sort fast-food place were fairly rare events when I was growing up), though I don't have any recollection of them fading away.

Adding a little extra flavor to the story, the location used to film the final scene of "The Strategy," in which Peggy takes Don and Pete to a Burger Chef to show them why her idea for the campaign will work, was filmed at an actual former Burger Chef location (and is coincidentally just a few miles from where the Mrs. grew up). (Franklin Avenue) And if you haven't seen it, this article about that episode is excellent. (Vulture)

And finally this week, these two articles presented themselves to me within a few hours of each other, and after reading both I realized that I should share them with you together: the first will make you angry (or, at least, should make you angry), and it's telling that it's from a Canadian magazine; the second is, in some ways, an answer to the first. (Maclean's via Dappered; CNN)

23 May 2014

The Grays

About a decade ago I had something of an infatuation with retro sneakers, fueled primarily by my dislike of the bloated, garish spaceships that many people choose to wear on their feet. I'd already been through the all-black sneaker period, and found that was just a bit too dull. I was not ready to give up and start wearing Rockport "walking shoes," and as much as I'd like to support New Balance's efforts at manufacturing athletic shoes in the USA, their styles just don't appeal to me.

I bought several styles of adidas Originals on eBay, but I found many of them to be not especially comfortable, so most of those ended up getting resold. (The biggest disappointment for me there was and remains the Gazelle, which was pretty easy to wear but had an oversize, plasticized tongue that was just horrible.) I tried Puma, which in my mind was slightly more aligned with street style but also offered some lower-key styles. I had a nice pair of Puma Romas that I wore for several years, and a pair of "the Suede" that never quite worked for me.

Eventually I landed on Onitsuka Tiger, which is the retro brand of ASICS. The exterior styling was a bit busier than either adidas or Puma, but their shoes were often offered in multiple color choices (making ti more likely there would be one I liked), and after deciding to try a pair I also found that they are more comfortable than they look like they'll be.
The style on the left in this picture is called the Ultimate 81 LE in "gnumetal," and it's the second pair I've had. I got them about two years ago, after the first pair maybe four or five years back. I still have that pair, which is in a lighter gray with black stripes and orange accents, but they have different internal construction and this pair is a lot better for walking. The perforated leather upper is also nicer than the standard nylon.
The pair on the right is called the Tokuten in "charcoal," and I bought them last fall. I had not heard of this style until I saw them on the Nordstrom website, in four or five colorways. I was first drawn to a pale gray, but then I saw these; I've never been too enthusiastic about the look of gum soles, but the combination of the suede uppers and the red accents just clicked for me. Another element of these designs that I like a lot is the use of off-white or "birch" for the stripes and trim instead of plain white.
For warm weather I tend to keep it simple and stick to white sneakers like Vans, but for the parts of the year when it's nice enough for sneakers but not so warm that I want to wear shorts and go sockless, I prefer these gray sneakers.

22 May 2014

About That Beer

Last week I expressed my excitement at the arrival of Narragansett's new Del's Lemonade Shandy. You don't have to be from Rhode Island to enjoy it, but it helps.

So how's it taste? Refreshing. Like Mike's Hard Lemonade wishes it might taste if it ever grows up. That's the most obvious point of comparison, but it's better because it doesn't have the sweetness of Mike's. It's Gansett lager with natural lemon flavor, just like it says on the can, and that's what it tastes like. It's crisp and light, and very pleasant, perfect for warm weather.

And it's only 5% alcohol, so it's going to go down smooth and not make you feel too weighted down, but at this point in my life I rarely drink more than one beer a day anyway.

21 May 2014

Not Answering

One of the reasons we still have a home phone line is because there are certain types of calls I prefer not to receive on my cell, and I try to keep my cell number out of as many databases as possible. I still get junk calls on both, though not as many as I used to.

A couple of months ago the Mrs. and I both donated blood at a Red Cross blood drive. Soon after, we started getting auto-dialed calls from the Red Cross at least every couple of days, sometimes every day for several consecutive days. They had to be originating from an auto-dialer because there was never a message, just the machine telling me the date and time of the call and the number it originated from, which I looked up on Google: American Red Cross.

On Sunday I got a call from the Red Cross, from an actual human who wanted me to know that another blood drive was taking place in our area this week, and would I prefer a morning or afternoon donation time?

I know the Red Cross is a worthy charity and I understand that they provide a vital service, so I expect them to try to maximize donations. But I found it presumptuous that I wasn't just asked if I wanted to donate again, but they took it so far as to ask what time would be convenient for me to come in. (Pro tip: the appointment time doesn't even really mean anything; when we went, we had to wait over an hour just to start the process.)

And beyond that, I was very disillusioned with the way they had treated our personal information. It should be opt-in, just as it should be with email. There should be an area on the donor form that asks, "may we contact you about future blood drives?" and then, "if yes, how often may we contact you?" I said as much to the poor woman on the phone, though I made it clear I was not upset with her, just her employer.

Their incessant auto-dialed calls ended up alienating me to the point that I asked them not to call me again at all, at which point the woman asked me if I wanted to give her my email address. It's a shame that their clumsy marketing efforts are getting in the way of donations.

19 May 2014

Car Stuff: Stupid Car Tricks

While walking the dog yesterday I noticed this car in front of a nearby house. I don't think it belongs to a neighbor, as I don't recognize it. It has some aftermarket wheels and tires, but the owner seems to have gotten a bit carried away:
Not only does this look ridiculous, but it's generally illegal for a car's tires to protrude beyond the edges of the fender openings. (I'm not positive, but I believe this is because gravel and other road debris can be thrown back onto following cars more easily.) Typically if someone is set on adding wheels and tires this wide they would also add fender flares, so perhaps this is a work in progress.

It's also possible that this car has simply been fitted with the wrong wheels, ones without the proper offset to keep the tires within the confines of the fenders.

17 May 2014

Retro Video Unit (5/16/14)

Sometimes I remember old songs and find they had videos I didn't even know about. I've always thought of this as a fairly obscure song, and I wouldn't have expected the record company to spend the money on a clip for it, but it exists: "Major Tom (Coming Home)" by Peter Schilling.

I had a 12" single version of this song that included a version sung in German (Schilling was from Germany), but somewhere along the way I sold it or gave it away, and I wish I hadn't.

15 May 2014

Lemony Beer Goodness

For a couple of months, Narragansett Brewery has been throwing out hints of a new specialty beer, a shandy co-branded with Rhode Island institution Del's Frozen Lemonade. Last week they made an official announcement and said the brew was on its way to local stores. I just picked up a six-pack this afternoon, but it's not cold yet so a taste report will have to wait.

Technically it's not a true shandy, which is beet and lemonade, but rather beer with natural lemon flavoring added, which is still nicely refreshing in summer. The cans are done up in the green-and-yellow motif familiar to anyone who has had Del's from its signature cups. (Here's a pic for those of you who don't know what I mean.)
This should be good...

14 May 2014

This Week's Forecast

Yesterday: 85 degrees.
Today: 55 degrees (though it was below 50 for much of the afternoon).
Tomorrow: 72 degrees.
Thursday: a glacier arrives?

12 May 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #6

I'm going to be spotlighting cars from the 1960s for a while longer, mainly because there were so many good ones. They may not meet any criteria for being "great cars," but they were stylish and appealing, and for the most part were still being put together pretty well (a quality which would become less common in the '70s).

One of the big trends of the '60s was the rise of the "personal luxury" car, a two-door that was either based on an existing full-size model or, more desirably, had its own distinctive bodywork. Ford pioneered this category when they enlarged the Thunderbird from a two-seater to a four-seater for 1958. It took General Motors and Chrysler a surprisingly long time to react and come to market with their own variations on this theme.

One of GM's early efforts was the 1961 Oldsmobile Starfire, like the Thunderbird a large, luxurious convertible (a coupe was added a year later) with bucket seats and a console, followed in the middle of the 1962 model year by the Buick Wildcat and in '63 by Pontiac's Grand Prix.
But GM had another surprise for '63: the Buick Riviera. It mimicked the T-bird more closely by using a slightly shortened version of the full-size platform and wearing unique body panels that set it apart from Buick's other full-size cars.
The original Riviera is a beautiful car, but for me the second generation, which arrived three years later, is even more attractive. Its lines and proportions were sportier, in keeping with the general styling trend toward more sharply angled rear windows and rooflines, yet still very clean.
It was one of the first American cars to eliminate front vent windows. It had a really cool hidden-headlight treatment. I feel like this is the car Don Draper should have instead of his comparatively bland 1965 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
I'm confining my fantasy-garage choice to either a 1966 or '67 Riviera, preferably in GS trim, and definitely with bucket seats. There are only very minor differences between the '66 and '67 Riviera models, but while the '68 retained the same basic body, Buick started fiddling with elements of the design, keeping the hidden headlights but making the front end appear chunkier and less elegant, and the extremely cool drum-style speedometer also was eliminated after only two years.
By 1970 the hidden headlights were gone, the rear of the car had been elongated, and it was given fender skirts that combined with the enlarged rear portion to make the formerly sleek lines look dowdy. (1971 would see the introduction of the polarizing "boat-tail" design, but I think we'll save that for another time.)

(Images from Old Car Brochures. If you'd like to read a more in-depth treatment of this car, head to Curbside Classic.)

10 May 2014

This Week in Awesome (5/10/14)

Can it be? A TWiA sighting on a Saturday? Whoa...

Next week the broadcast TV networks will be announcing their new shows for next season, but this article from New York magazine argues that this approach to programming is less relevant than ever. (Vulture)

Speaking of TV, if you're wondering how things are going for John Oliver in his new home on HBO, this clip shows that the answer is "just fine." (Kempt)

The way we dress has changed drastically over the past 60 years or so. Though this piece applies mainly to women, it's a well-considered examination of the societal shifts that prompted these changes. (Time via Put This On)

The folks at Thrillist were kind enough to do the heavy (pint) lifting and assembled a map of bars based on their proximity to T stations. (Thrillist via Universal Hub)

And finally this week, a look at our planet from space, courtesy of NASA. (Boy Genius Report)

09 May 2014

Of Pets and Pills

After a recent vet visit we learned that our dog had an infection and needed a two-week course of antibiotics, two pills per day. Getting a pet to take a pill is not easy, and she's supposed to take these with food, but her appetite has also been iffy lately so coaxing her to eat on command, so to speak, hasn't been easy either.

We tried covering the pill in the usual dog temptations: peanut butter, cheese, even some leftover chicken fat. Either she turned her head away entirely or the pill ended up on the floor. We presume that she can smell the medication hidden within the treat, and the pill is large enough that packing it in food makes a morsel that's too big for the dog to gulp down all at once. Hiding it in her food hasn't gotten much better results.

"Pilling" a dog is no fun and is also quite awkward, but it seemed like the only option. It kind of requires three hands: two to hold the dog's jaws open and a third to lob the pill into the back of the throat, far enough back that the animal can't get it back out again. But I've been home alone on most of the days when the dog needed her morning pill, so I had to do the holding and the throwing. One day this week I tried six times, and each time the pill came back out again.

Later that day I tried to give her a different medication, her monthly heartworm prevention. It comes in the form of a chewy liver-flavored block slightly more than an inch long. I usually break it in half and give it to her from my hand, and it has always been irresistible to her. This time, though, she was still unnerved from my earlier pilling attempts and would not take the medication from my hand; I had to put it on the floor for her to sniff at and eventually pick up with her tongue.

Finally we discovered a lure sufficiently enticing to overcome the smell of the pill and the anxiety of taking it: chicken salad. It can be packed around the pill and is still small enough to slurp off my open palm. The dog has always been nuts about chicken, and the moist consistency allows it to slide down her throat. We still have almost a week left of the medication so we'll need to get more chicken salad to get her to finish taking the pills. Pets may be easier than children, but caring for them is not without its challenges.

08 May 2014

Car Stuff: Rollin'

Things got messed up this week, but Car Stuff will be back on Monday with another Fantasy Garage installment. In the meantime, here's another 1990s Cadillac I spotted in a supermarket parking lot a couple of months back. (Sorry for the lousy pic; obviously it's at night, and I took it from inside the car.)
Looks like someone inherited Grandpa's ride and made a few modifications. A lot of cars wore paint in this color and other similar shades back in the '90s, so it may or may not be original. And I think the vinyl top is period-correct as well, even if it was dealer-installed.

Bakery Fave

I do love doughnuts and pastry (more than I should, ahem), but one of my favorite breakfast treats is the raspberry squares from the bakery department at Market Basket. The top and bottom layers are similar to pie crust but slightly more dense, and the fruit filling is firmer than what's typically found in other bakery items.

They are available in several other flavors (lemon, blueberry, fig) but the raspberry is my preference.

07 May 2014

Big Shopping News

News comes this morning that Boston is finally getting its long-awaited Uniqlo stores. Rumors have been bubbling for a while, and the company had stated that the Boston area was one of their expansion targets for 2014.

But the arrival will play out a bit differently than I would have expected. A pop-up location will open in Quincy Market in July and remain open through September. Meanwhile, permanent stores will open in the malls in Natick and Chestnut Hill at the end of August. (Info about the Chestnut Hill location leaked several months back.)

Then in September a third store will open in the Northshore Mall, followed by one at Legacy Place in Dedham in October. Boston proper won't get stores until a year from now, when two will open: one on Newbury Street and one in Quincy Market.

The suburbs-first approach is surprising, but I imagine it's mainly due to the availability of suitable spaces and the time involved in getting them ready. (The future location on Newbury, roughly across the street from Newbury Comics, used to be a parking garage.)

Regardless, I welcome the imminent opportunity to shop at Uniqlo without having to buy online or travel to New York. Their inexpensive clothing is well above that of other "fast fashion" retailers in terms of quality, and its colorful styles are still conservative enough that adults can wear them without embarrassment.

05 May 2014

Last Week in Awesome (5/3/14)

I had everything ready, I just didn't have the time to put it together. As Liz Lemon used to say, blerg...

A very nicely done Boston time-lapse video made the rounds last week. (Vimeo via Univesal Hub) Then boston dot com offered up a selection of other Boston-centric time-lapse clips (some of which are more interesting than others).

People of Walmart stopped posting new content a couple of years ago, but fortunately we have a local variant. (UH)

Another Rolling Stone list in slideshow form, this one on cult TV comedies. (There may or may not be bad links in this; I had trouble getting it to work properly.)

New York magazine's Vulture blog is running an excellent series of essays by Roots drummer Questlove on hip-hop and how it has failed black America (part 1; part 2). In addition to his talents as a musician, he's a compelling writer with a deep understanding of the subject. (Four more installments will appear each week on Tuesday.)

And finally this week, a Mad Men story with a slightly different angle: show creator Matthew Weiner does an interview with Interior Design magazine about the show's set designs. (Basket of Kisses)

03 May 2014

Retro Video Unit (5/2/14)

These are supposed to get posted on Fridays. I know this, and I thought of it a couple of times yesterday but it still got away from me. Middle age...

Anyway, The Motels came up in conversation recently. I knew I had posted a clip of them some time back; turns out it was almost three years ago, and since I've always felt they were an underrated band I think they deserve another mention.

Now, the songs that got some radio airplay in the early '80s had videos that were, well, I guess "stylized" is a fair way to put it. Of course, some of that is due to the director, and let's be honest: most music videos back then were at least a bit silly, but that's part of what made that time so memorable.

So, without ironic detachment or apology, let's look at the videos for the hits "Only the Lonely" (1982) and "Suddenly Last Summer" (1983).

02 May 2014

Urban Mysteries

I walked to the corner today to drop something in the mailbox and... it was gone. I've passed the same corner a couple of times in the past week, but I wasn't heading for the box either time so I didn't notice it was gone. I don't know when this happened; it probably could have been any time within the past three weeks.

If I have something I need to mail I usually leave it for our carrier, but if I miss the delivery the mail got picked up from the box around 1 pm. The city has been replacing sections of sidewalk in areas around the city this spring, and it's possible the box was removed in preparation for that.

Meanwhile I did determine that there is a box a block further north, on the other side of the main road where I wait for the bus, and a few streets beyond that one there's another that has a 5 pm pickup, where I ended up walking to deposit my mail today.