30 December 2015

End of Year Reflections

[Apologies for the silence around here lately. In addition to work and holiday stuff, I got an early Christmas present last week: a cold. It's mostly gone now, but it definitely kept me from tending to some of the things I wanted to be doing.]

Christmas is over and we're counting down the last few days of the year. At this time we naturally become reflective on the months that have passed. While this has not been what I would call a banner year (that fourth Super Bowl championship banner aside), there has definitely been progress.

I started 2015, as I did '14 and '13, without a job. I was well beyond disappointment and frustration with my situation, and was starting to think it would be necessary to return to dreaded retail in order to sustain myself. A former supervisor offered me a bit of freelance work, and then in April I was hired by a grocery-shopping service, but I got only three shifts during my first several weeks, so it became clear that option was not viable.

In May and early June, a couple of work-at-home temp assignments came my way. Both were relatively short in duration but put my skills to use. While I was working on the second of those, the agency offered me a three-month onsite assignment. I was hoping it might turn into a permanent job; it did not, but I was asked to stay for an additional month. Another assignment offer came soon after, which catches us up to today.

Working at home full-time is an odd experience. Depending on where one lives, it may or may not be possible to go out for lunch. In my case I've had to make the effort on weekends to plan ahead and have food on hand for daily lunches. The hours are a little awkward, and I'm busy pretty much all day, so I don't really have time to deal with little personal stuff like most office workers are able to.

Being home means I am also responsible for the dog's needs, which at this point are many and frequent. Before starting that temp gig in June, I was also home and taking care of her, but over the past six months or so, with age and increasing frailty, she's come to need us more than ever. When she appears, roughly every couple of hours, I have to stop whatever I'm doing and take her out, or feed her, or both. Handling it all has been challenging, but at the same time I'm glad that I am able to be here for her.

So my life is feeling somewhat circumscribed at the moment. I have episodes of several TV shows on the DVR that I have not found time to watch. And that isn't going to get any easier, as I have agreed to take another freelance assignment in order to make up for what my main job is (not) paying me. Everything is very stressful, and that's not something I'm used to dealing with.

But as I have said to a couple of people, I have to look at this year as a net positive. These are steps that I need to take as I work to restore my circumstances to what they were before I was laid off. I enjoyed my work and was able to live satisfactorily and comfortably from it. There seem to be more jobs now, and anecdotally I think that people my age and older are doing a little bit better than they were a couple of years ago. Obviously I will continue to blog, but let's check back in at the end of next December and see where things are...

23 December 2015

Six Flicks (Give or Take)

My friend Just Bud Fox is the only person I know well who's on Tumblr. Last week he posted a response to a challenge of sorts, one of these things that goes around and after you have given your answer you get to tag others to provide theirs.

The request was, "name six movies you can watch any time," and even though I'm not a Tumblr-er, I thought it would be a fun exercise to do this myself. It doesn't necessarily mean these are my favorite movies, though it's likely there would be some overlap. They are just ones that I find watchable enough to revisit frequently. As I tend to do when compiling such lists, I'm arranging them alphabetically. Also, like JBF, I couldn't keep it to just six.

The Blues Brothers (1980): "We're on a mission from God." I was a few weeks shy of 17 when this came out, and I had already been indoctrinated into the cult, so to speak, courtesy of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's performances as Elwood and Jake on Saturday Night Live and the album they had released. It's a very funny movie and it has a bunch of great songs in it, but I think what really did it for me was the sheer scale of the mayhem being perpetrated. Movies have been trying to outdo the destruction ever since, but in my humble opinion few have gotten close while keeping that spirit of fun.

Heat (1995): I really wanted to have a Michael Mann movie on this list, and the obvious choice for me would be 1986's Manhunter, the first screen adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, in which he introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter. (Side note: I will always prefer Brian Cox's interpretation of that character to Anthony Hopkins'.) But it has always bothered me that Mann chose to deviate from the book's ending to go for something much more typically Hollywood, and if I'm being honest, Heat is a far more engrossing movie. It's about a group of bank robbers planning a huge heist; it runs 2 hours and 45 minutes and doesn't feel more than maybe five minutes too long. It's one of the best crime movies in recent decades, and boasts the only onscreen appearance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the same scene.

L.A. Confidential (1997): Yes, I like crime movies. This one came pre-sold to me because I was already a big fan of the book and its author, James Ellroy. I thought the movie did an excellent job of bringing the sprawling noir story and the early 1950's time period to life on screen, and it's full of actors doing great work: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger (who won a best supporting actress Oscar), David Strathairn; even Danny DeVito has a nice turn in this one.

The Matrix (1999): This is likely as close as we're ever going to get to a film version of William Gibson's Neuromancer, which is fine with me. The best way to watch this is to ignore all the pop-philosophy stuff and just enjoy the ride. The visual effects were a genuine revelation and still look amazing today.

Ocean's Eleven (2001): This one just checks so many boxes for me, though I kind of wish someone other than Julia Roberts had been cast as Tess, but that's really just a minor complaint. Movies are meant to be a source of enjoyment, and for that it's hard to top this one. The cast, the characters, the dialogue, the way it's filmed and lit, Brad Pitt constantly eating...

Ronin (1998): A different sort of heist movie, one with a twist: a group of mercenaries is assembled in Europe to acquire a particular case, but the members don't know what's in it, or who wants it. De Niro again, in one of his more low-key roles (not a bad thing at all), with Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Natascha McElhone, Jonathan Pryce, and others, plus some of the absolute best car chase work ever put on film.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984): I'm not sure if this was the first "mockumentary" or not, but I think it's still the standard by which all other aspirants should be judged. Another brilliant blend of music and comedy, everything about this movie is just spot-on and perfect, and the utter deadpan seriousness of everyone involved is what sells it.

Wanted (2008): This action vehicle about a secret league of assassins charged with keeping the world in balance is utterly ridiculous, and an absolute blast. It's terribly violent and should NEVER be seen by children, but it has buckets of style and boasts a cast that works to invest you in the far-fetched story, led by James McAvoy alongside Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Common, and a younger Chris Pratt in a supporting role.

18 December 2015


I guess it's starting to feel like Christmas, even though outside it feels more like early November. Not that I'm complaining; I keep hearing people say, "We're saving money on heat," and I can certainly get behind that.

There are always a decent number of houses in my neighborhood that decorate, and if I get ambitious I might go out and take some photos. But I was out with the dog the other night and happened to be across the street from our house, where we don't typically walk at night. After I brought her back inside, I went back out to get a quick pic.
That's SAR HQ on the right; the upstairs neighbors started decorating last year, after that apartment transitioned from having three unrelated single residents to a couple, with one member who's quite enthusiastic about the season. (There are also lights in that small square window above the mailboxes, but they weren't turned on.) Our next-door neighbor decorates every year, and I welcome the display, as much for the added brightness it brings to our block as for any other reason.

15 December 2015

Car Stuff: Where Are They Now?

The days keep getting away from me, making it difficult to get as much accomplished as I'd like. That includes blogging. But we persevere, as we must.

I spotted today's entry on my way home from work one day at the end of August, sitting on the bus just outside Sullivan Square station, waiting for traffic to move and thinking about how the bus part of the T could work so much better if buses were able to enter and exit stations with some sort of priority... but that's a digression. I looked out the window and saw a spot of bright red.
Hey, it's a fourth-generation (1988-91) Honda Civic! And it might even be an Si model (the sunroof suggests this), but it's difficult to tell from just this glimpse. Also, sorry it's blurry but my on-the-fly photography is often not great.

When these cars were new they were ubiquitous, at least around here. People wanted (and still want) a car that was practical, economical, reliable, and manageable in city streets and traffic. In fact, the Mrs. had one, a four-door with a five-speed manual transmission. But a while back I realized that they've vanished; unlike some older economy cars, you just never see these anymore. (The same is true for the generation that followed, which many people, including myself, think was the best Civic ever made.)

That's really why I wanted to get a pic of this car, even a fuzzy one: it's just such an uncommon sight these days.

13 December 2015

Retro Video Unit (12/11/15-ish)

There are some good '80s music playlists on Spotify, and I've found that I can listen to music while working without it being too much of a distraction (more challenging with some types of work than others) if I keep the volume low and my brain is familiar with the songs. One list in particular I've been listening to has something like 700 songs on it, so I don't like every single one on it but in general it's music I know and enjoy.

As such it's been giving me suggestions to feature here, but once again I've run into that situation where there's no official video for some songs. But because I like this particular song so much, I found a decent live version that's going to have to stand in for a video: "Reap the Wild Wind" by Ultravox, from the 1982 album Quartet.

08 December 2015

Car Stuff: Unabashedly Basic

On my last day working in Harvard Square, a week before Halloween, I was out at lunchtime and spotted this dark green Chevrolet Nova on Church Street, next to the First Parish Unitarian Church. (It's kind of blurry because I had to crop out quite a lot.)
From the other side of the street, at first I wasn't quite sure of what I was seeing. Chevrolet made millions of Novas, but they are a rare sight today. This design was made for model years 1968 to 1972, and hardly anything changed during that time, but the orange turn signal lenses in the front bumper identify this car as a '72. And those wheel covers appear in the brochure for that year, but there's no way to know if these are original to the car.

What I love about cars like this, from this time period, is that they were practical, simple, basic transportation, relatively economical to own and operate. But Detroit was already in the throes of Broughamification, an obsession with dressing up every vehicle that would end up working against it.

04 December 2015

Retro Video Unit (Pseudo-Retro Edition)

I know I haven't posted any music videos in a while. I'm going to get back to that, but for now how about a bit of silliness in the form of a faux video?

Kroll Show ended its three-season run on Comedy Central back in March after skewering just about every TV and pop-culture trope imaginable. One of my favorite bits was this spoof of a certain kind of video for a certain kind of song by a certain kind of band in the late 1980s.

So, here's "LA Deli" by Sloppy Secondz featuring Nash Rickey. Man, do I miss this show...

03 December 2015

Checks and Layers

Some of you who've been hanging around for a while may remember a few years back my interest in a buffalo-plaid wool shirt that J. Crew was selling under its Wallace & Barnes sub-brand. I thought it was rather overpriced, and even after it went on sale, I could not find my size available. I consoled myself with a vintage Woolrich shirt that I found on eBay, but it never quite satisfied me, because unfortunately I have a problem with being satisfied. (That's something we probably don't need to get into here...)

Eventually the item sold out. Jump to this fall, and it's back (if it's not the exact same item, it's very, very close), and at a slightly lower but still somewhat overly ambitious $148. (I'm not a retailing expert, but J. Crew's aspirational pricing is probably a significant factor in their recent struggles.) For the sake of comparison, the traditional Woolrich buffalo plaid shirt is currently selling for $119, though they have gone and ruined it with that light blue inner collar lining, perhaps to drive customers to the more recent made-in-USA version, which is going for $195.

Or, if all of those are too rich for your blood, you could head over to your local Old Navy (or visit online) for a much more reasonably priced facsimile. At its $50 "regular" price, this is kind of a no-brainer, though it's very easy to get it for less during one of their many sales; I picked up one for half price during their pre-Thanksgiving sale. To be fair and accurate, their version is only 50% wool (the rest is polyester and "other fibers"), so it's going to pill a little more than a shirt with a higher wool content, but you wouldn't wear this next to your skin anyway (layering, right?) so you won't really feel the difference, and the fabric is substantial and heavy so it will provide some decent warmth.

I will say that in person, the red is slightly darker than it looks in the photos, and I find that a bit disappointing, but it's a trifle. I'm not sure how long this will last, but for $25 I'm going to wear the hell out of it.

01 December 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #41

(Looking back at the last several months of car posts, I now realize that the Fiero should have been RS #40, so even though I gave that post a different title, I'm proceeding as though I did include it in the numbers...)
What we have here is a rather uncommon 1980s artifact, a second-generation Volkswagen Scirocco. This car has been hanging out along the stretch of College Avenue between Powder House Square (which is, in fact, a circle) and the Tufts campus. I spotted it during the summer when I was taking the bus into Harvard Square.
Actually, I spotted it from the car one Saturday evening when we were on our way to get burritos in Davis Square, and then I saw it soon after from the bus. I kept seeing it, and tried on several occasions to snap a decent photo as I rode past it, but none of those worked out.
Finally, during the week after I finished the Harvard Square temp job, I was out doing a few things and was on my way back home via the same bus route. I saw the car again from the bus, and decided to get off at the next stop so I could take as many pictures as I wanted.
The Scirocco first appeared in the mid-1970s, based on the Rabbit platform but with a decidedly more sporting character. The second generation appeared in 1982 and was sold in the US through 1989. (After a long hiatus, VW revived the model and introduced a third generation in 2008, but it has never been offered for sale in North America.)

Curbside Classic has excellent writeups on both generations; you can find the first one here, and the second one here.

29 November 2015

Of Dogs and Driveways

I had a weird encounter one day last week, and I've been meaning to write about it. I was out with the dog before starting my work day, and a neighbor was having a new asphalt driveway installed. Since the dog tends to be nosy about people, she wanted to check out the workers, and we were heading in that direction anyway.

A guy who appeared to be in charge was standing by his car, talking on the phone. As we approached he finished, saw us, and asked, "Whippet or greyhound?" I answered greyhound, he looked over the dog for a moment or two, then said, "Your dog's in pain, it's time to put her to sleep."

Now, I have mentioned before that our dog is 14, and she has been dealing with some pain from arthritis, mainly in in her hind legs. We give her medication for it twice a day, and we pay very careful attention to her movement and behavior. We are always on the watch for any signs that she is in greater discomfort, or that her overall condition might be worsening. And I suppose it's possible this guy had some experience working with racing dogs. But however well-intentioned he may have been, it's highly presumptuous to say such a thing to a stranger. So I responded only by saying, "It's not time yet. We'll know when it is."

Then, as if things weren't weird enough already, he moved around the corner, toward where a few other men were finishing removing dirt from the driveway area before beginning the asphalt pour, gestured toward the waiting truck, and said, "You want some of this? We're definitely gonna have some left over." I didn't know how to respond, so I remained silent, and he kept going: "Where do you live? I'll just bring the truck around when we're finished."

For a moment I considered accepting his offer. Our driveway has parallel depressions from the car driving over it repeatedly, and I thought it might be nice to get those filled in. But I didn't want to get involved in dealing with asphalt without talking to our landlord, and I also did not know if it would be a bad idea to cover our older driveway surface with new asphalt, or the ramifications of covering only a small portion of the surface. So I thanked him for the offer and said I had to get back inside, which was true.

26 November 2015

Checking In

Still here, still really busy. I'm also working slightly off hours, so I'm frequently not finished until 7:30 or 8 pm, leaving precious little time to relax and even less time to think about blog posts.

I have car show photos gong back several months, but I haven't had time to pull them together into a post. I had an idea for something else I wanted to write about crawl through my brain a couple of times, but of course right now, when I have a few minutes, I can't get it back. (I knew I should have made a written note about it.)

But I do have a long holiday weekend to enjoy like many other people, so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Enjoy yourselves.

18 November 2015

Status: Busy

Hi. Yeah, I know. Work is keeping me very busy. Like, really, really busy. I honestly can't say when I will get time to make a meaningful contribution here. But I'm not going to put the blog on hiatus; I'm just saying, it may be quiet around here for a bit.

11 November 2015

Car Stuff: Out of Context

Working in Harvard Square this summer, I spotted a few interesting cars, like the MGB I posted a while back. Some vehicles were a bit more unusual, like this Jeep Cherokee.
Two-door versions of this generation Cherokee are very rare; this could be as old as the mid-1980s, and I think no newer than early '90s. It certainly stands out in the Square. It appeared ready to set off on a safari; perhaps it belongs to a globe-trotting relic hunter, a modern-day Indiana Jones?
My big regret is that earlier in the summer I saw it with its doors removed, like a classic open-top Jeep Wrangler, but by the time I figured out that I should be taking pictures of it, the doors had been put back on.

09 November 2015

Duty Calls

Things have been bubbling lately. Temp jobs have come and gone, for reasons not worth going into here, and now I'm about to start my first sustained experience as a remote worker. I've accepted a long-term assignment with a company where everyone works remotely.

That doesn't mean I'm going to be one of those coffee-shop people; for one thing, I don't care for laptops. No, it means I'm going to be working from home, staying in touch with my coworkers via daily online "meetings" and chat software. My training begins tomorrow, so by the end of the week I should have a clearer picture of how it's going to work.

As for how it will affect blogging, that remains to be seen. I don't yet have any sense of how busy I'm going to be during the day. I'll also be dealing with the dog, who has become quite demanding in her advanced age: when we are home, she needs to go out every two to three hours, on average, and wants food almost as frequently.

05 November 2015


A new phone usually means a new case. Over the past few years I have tried some different styles, including top-opening sleeve and book style. But although I've been working again for several months, I'm still trying to be careful with money, and spending another $40 or $50 for a new iPhone case may not be the most prudent move, at least not yet.

I decided to take an economical approach this time. I happened to follow a link to an eBay seller offering silicone slip-on sleeves for $1.50 (that's not a typo) with free shipping. They even offer a choice of five or six colors. I was going to get clear but since my phone is black and gray I decided to get a gray-tinted sleeve. It isn't super-snug but it offers at least a minimum of protection, and makes the phone easier to grip (the aluminum body of the iPhone can be somewhat slippery).

I may decide to upgrade the case at some point in the future, possibly to something in a similar style but done in leather. But for now this one will do.

02 November 2015

Car Stuff: Employee Parking

On the far side of the inbound Orange Line tracks at Wellington station, there is a repair facility for Orange Line train cars. Along the outside of that building is an access road where MBTA employees can park. The majority of the cars parked there on any given day tends to be pretty ordinary, but this one stood out.
It's a Porsche, probably 1980s vintage, and probably a 944, though I'm not terribly knowledgeable about identifying Porsche models. I know that cars with this basic body were first sold as the 924, starting as a 1976 model ('77 in the USA), and that the 944, which arrived in 1982, was an evolution of the original design. The blistered fenders are the biggest giveaway that this is a 944 and not a 924, though there are other small visual differences. (There was also a later car, the 968, also using the same basic body but with higher front fenders.)

31 October 2015

Retro Video Unit (10/30/15)

Happy Halloween! This seemed to fit the mood...

30 October 2015

Phone Quest '15

It's that time of year... when my thoughts wander to the idea of getting a new iPhone. Actually it's been an every-other-year thing, since that's what my provider and plan allowed, but I got my 5S almost two years ago. I thought my upgrade eligibility date was at the beginning of December, but that was my contract date; a few days ago I was in my phone account online and saw that I had hit my eligibility date for a new phone.

I had also considered switching to T-Mobile, because I like the way they have been pushing the mobile industry to adopt policies that are more consumer-friendly. One of these (that so far I don't think other carriers have embraced) is that music streaming does not count toward your monthly data usage. T-Mobile is also offering the new iPhone 6S for $10/month if you trade in an iPhone 5S (or just $5/month with trade-in of last year's iPhone 6) and join their payment plan/annual upgrade option. But the Mrs. has been disinclined toward getting a smartphone of any kind for a long while, and T-Mobile has only smartphones these days (and one flip-style phone), so I did not think switching would work for us.

I'm sure a lot of you know that all the big mobile carriers, spurred by T-Mobile, have been moving away from phone subsidies (how we used to get new phones, with an upfront payment) and into a somewhat more transparent approach, separating the cost of the phone from the cost of the plan. This means that more of us will be getting our phones via monthly payment options. One advantage to this method is that there is usually an option to upgrade after a certain period of time and a certain number of payments have been made, i.e. annual upgrades instead of every two years.

I read an article in last week's Personal Technology section of the New York Times comparing the payment plans of all four major phone carriers, as well as to the costs of paying full price for a new phone up front. That's what led me to look at my account online. I also learned that customers who opt into Verizon's payment-plan program get a discount on the service portion of their plan, so on a monthly basis I would be paying roughly the same amount, plus I'll be able to trade in and get the iPhone 7 when it arrives next fall. The initial cost amounts to the sales tax on the full price of the phone. (Note: even if you're a Verizon customer, your plan may be different.)

When I upgraded two years ago I was able to order the phone to pick up in one of Verizon's stores. This time that option was not offered, so it shipped to me via FedEx. Delivery was Wednesday, so I made a point of staying home because I knew I would have to sign for the package. Of course the dog still needs to go out, every couple of hours these days, and of course I missed the delivery because I was out with the dog. But the tag left by the driver indicated that I could pick up my package after 6 pm that evening at a FedEx facility in South Boston.

And of course it was raining quite hard Wednesday, but that didn't deter me. I figured out where I needed to go, way down Summer Street past the convention center and the cruise ship terminal and across the Reserved Channel. Fortunately the 7 bus passes right by, and it's a short walk from the Downtown Crossing T station to where the 7 boards on Otis St. The bus was packed, and the windows were all fogged up so I couldn't see out, but I could tell more or less where we were and managed to squeeze my way out of the bus at the correct stop.

Once I got to the FedEx facility, it took less than three minutes to get my package. If you ever need to go down there, there's plenty of parking, the people working there are pleasant, and it's open until 9 pm on weeknights. If it hadn't been pouring it would have been a piece of cake, just another errand.

27 October 2015

Car Stuff: On the Way to Work

During my summer commutes I noticed some interesting old cars, all along the route of the 86 bus between Union Square and Harvard Square, and with a bit of effort I was able to get photos of them.

The first one I spotted was nothing more than a bumper and tail lights in a driveway; I had to wait until I passed the house again to get a better look. Eventually I ended up getting off the bus in order to get better pictures.
It turned out to be an early '70s Dodge Dart two-door hardtop. This rear bumper/light design was used for model years 1971-73, but the '73 did not have vent windows so this one must be either a '71 or '72. Since I've already established that I want one of these (or its Plymouth cousin) in the Fantasy Garage, I was pretty excited to see it.

A few blocks away I spotted this parked in another driveway:
After a couple more mornings I figured out it was a Lincoln Continental, also from around the early 1970s. I needed to consult the online car brochure sites in order to pin down the exact year of this one.
It's a 1973 with a Mark IV-style grille surround added on. The '72 had the same body panels, but the bumper guards were used for '73 before larger bumpers were added the following year.

While passing the Cambridge fire station just outside the Harvard Square "tunnel," I spotted something orange-ish in the parking lot:
I was pretty disappointed that I couldn't get a better shot, but I was sitting by the aisle, not the window, so I was lucky I got this. I thought it was an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible until I took a closer look at the bumper and marker light, and realized it's a Buick Skylark convertible, with some sweet vintage Keystone wheels that might go back to when this car was new.

I looked for the Buick most every day I passed the fire station on the way home, but I never saw it again. The Lincoln was around for a while, but was gone by mid-September. The Dart is still in the same place.

23 October 2015

Temporarily Un-Temped

I wrapped up my temporary work assignment today. I was there for four months, which was about a month longer than I originally expected. I'll be on a temporary break while I work on lining up another assignment. I have a few random thoughts on the non-work aspects of my experience...

—The office had a business-casual dress code. This wasn't a big deal, I just was not used to it, having spent more than a decade in jobs where I could wear whatever I felt like. I quickly figured out that a very large percentage of my nicer, office-appropriate clothing was for the cooler months, and I had to scramble to ensure I had enough warm-weather stuff. Also, lighter-weight pants tend to stretch out in the waist after I've had them on for a couple of hours, making adjustments necessary, so I had to wear my belts cinched tighter than usual.

—Conversely, I had plenty of shoes that I was able to rotate through during the summer, but I'm lacking in dress-casual shoes for fall. I have boots, and I did wear those some when it got cool enough, like today. But I'm going to have to add a pair or two of shoes.

—The commuting was far more burdensome than having to wear pants and long-sleeve shirts in summer. Working at home is starting to look more appealing...

—But if I work at home, I won't get to go out and get a tasty lunch every day; I'd end up eating peanut butter and Fluff all the time.

—I used to eat salad for lunch almost every day at my previous job, but I had access to a salad bar with excellent variety. There's only one in Harvard Square that I'm aware of, in the market on the corner of Brattle and Church, and it's kind of overpriced. So I fell back into my sandwich-eating ways (Pronto in the Charles Hotel courtyard, or Al's Cafe in Holyoke Smith Center), punctuated with falafel from Sabra Grill or the tortilla salad from Felipe's. I also went to Chipotle because it was easy and fast, but not more than once every other week.

—I never made it to the food trucks over by the Science Center, because it was kind of too far: by the time I walked over there and waited for my food, I'd barely have enough time to get back to my office, never mind eat. And I didn't want to be out walking that much during the height of summer anyway.

20 October 2015

Car Stuff: Rough, Needs Work

This rough beast appeared in a driveway not too far from my house. I hadn't been over that way in a while, but I came upon it because I was coming home via the reverse of the route I've been taking to work lately.
What we have here is the carcass of a 1967 Pontiac LeMans convertible. I saw the hardtop sibling of this car last year, and posted it back in the spring. (By "sibling" I don't mean they have the same owner, just that they are both the same make and model, but different body styles.)

Actually, this car isn't as bad as it may appear. I don't see any serious rust along the bottom of the panels on this side, except maybe one or two small holes near the back. There are a few spots where the paint appears to be gone down to bare metal, which naturally rusted, and that area next to the tail light looks like a candidate for some filler compound. This is likely a project car that I happened to catch outside. I'd seen it once in the driveway with a cover, but I suspect it lives in the garage in front of it. Maybe by next spring it will have a new top...

19 October 2015

An Atypical Appellation

Today at the office, the regular front-desk person was out, and there was a fill-in person that I had not seen or met before. She was about half my age, but when I spoke to her about something, she responded and ended her sentence with "hon." I was a little surprised; after all, it is 2015, and "hon" is the sort of thing you expect to hear spoken by a sixtyish diner waitress in a 1970s movie. But it was also charming in its own way, a note of familiarity used as a way to make people feel like their requests are being heard, to put them at ease.

16 October 2015

Retro Video Unit (10/16/15)

Need to clear your head? I've got just the thing: "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Good night...

One Way or Another

Now that the weather has changed, I've been taking a different route to work in the mornings. Instead of going to the bus stop right on the corner, it involves walking for several minutes through the neighborhood to get to a different bus route, then connecting in Medford Square to another bus that brings me to Davis Square, where I hop onto the Red Line for two stops.

It might not seem like a better option, but in daily practice it is much calmer and more civilized. I enjoy the walk in the morning air (the walking is the reason I didn't do this in the summer), and I don't have to fight my way onto an already-packed Orange Line train only to have to fight my way off again after only two stops. And while the first bus tends to get caught in some traffic, it's not nearly as bad as what I encountered almost every day taking the 86. Some mornings I ride to Medford Square with the Mrs., who stops there for coffee on days when she's going to one of her two office locations.

The second bus runs through Davis and on to Harvard, but it tends to get bogged down on the stretch of Mass. Ave. between Porter and Harvard. The T has acknowledged this by having buses on this route alternate during the morning rush between running all the way to Harvard and going only as far as Davis. The buses are clearly marked; they say "DAVIS SQ" instead of "HARVARD VIA DAVIS" and they are indicated on the route's schedule.

But of course, people don't pay attention. This morning I boarded the bus and sat down. A couple of people got on behind me, then a woman got on and asked the driver a question about getting to a specific destination. He told her the bus was going only as far as Davis. Another woman sitting near the front jumped up and said, in a minor panic, "Wait, what?" He explained again that the bus did not go to Harvard Square, but connected with the Red Line at Davis. Her face cycled through a couple of expressions before she decided this was acceptable, said "Okay, whatever," to no one in particular, and sat down again.

15 October 2015

Such a Waste

I just found, on the floor under my desk, a piece of bacon that fell out of my sandwich yesterday. That's a damn shame, right there, a waste of perfectly good bacon...

13 October 2015

Cheerful Mornings

So yeah, quiet around here lately. I was sort of busy doing stuff over the weekend, but not so busy that I didn't have time for a post, I just sort of forgot. I can offer this:
It came from a web store affiliated with the writer Warren Ellis. The Mrs. accidentally broke my Strand Books mug, and I decided to replace it with this. If you think you'd like one of your own, you can find it over here.

08 October 2015


This morning I came out of the subway and was walking toward my office. I am generally on the lookout for people moving more slowly so that I can move around them. Ahead of me I noticed a woman with her head down and her right arm bent up at the elbow, in the now-common posture of someone looking at a smartphone while walking.

I moved to my right, and as I came up behind her I saw that she was not looking at her phone, but in fact was deeply engaged with written material on an old-fashioned clipboard. I was pleasantly surprised and a little amused.

06 October 2015

Car Stuff: You, in the Back...

A few weeks ago, on the bus on my way to work one morning, I caught a glimpse of something parked in the back lot of an auto place in Somerville's Union Square. By the time it had registered we had already gone past it, so on my way home that evening I made sure to sit where I could see the lot. It was metallic orange and I was pretty sure it was from the 1970s, but it was a little too far away for me to get a clear sense of what car it might be.

The next morning I looked again, and I was pretty sure it was a Ford Granada. I haven't seen one of those, parked or on the road, in more than 20 years, so it would be an interesting find. Next time I was able, I took a photo as we were passing by. By zooming I could discern the car, but it wasn't a Granada.
It's a Buick Regal, quite possibly the one that I featured back in June. Maybe it needs work, or maybe its owner works here. It hasn't moved and is there every day, including today.

(And speaking of old or unusual cars, that Saab 9-5 wagon looks pretty good in red. What happened to Saab is a shame, and I'm still hopeful that the company might be able to start making cars again.)

04 October 2015

Welcome to October

I wanted to post this on Friday, but I just didn't get to it. However, there are still 27 days left in October after today, so I'm going for it.
I broke out the Chippewa/L.L. Bean boots Friday, along with a pair of heavier-weight khakis and (not shown) my Filson coat. It looks like there's going to be a bit of a warm-up this coming week, though not quite as much as had been predicted earlier: as of now, it's going to get to the upper 60s on Tuesday and touch 70 on Wednesday, but the mornings are still going to be brisk. This is fine with me, though my true preference is for it to be like Friday was, cool enough that some form of outerwear is required.

02 October 2015

Retro Video Unit (10/2/15)

It's late and I don't have the energy or mental capacity to write anything coherent, let alone eloquent, but I've had this one in my back pocket for a while: "Rock Box" by Run-DMC.

To me, this is the spirit of hip-hop, and I think it's gone today. There are some very talented performers, but there's nothing in the music that I can connect with or relate to. I'll hear a song and like the backing track until the rapping starts, and then I'm done with it.

There's a homegrown quality to this video that I find really endearing. All the music videos are so elaborate now, I can just imagine a record company's reaction if a group submitting this as their promotional clip. (I don't know what's up with the Prof. Irwin Corey crap at the beginning; just ignore it.)

What was it about the '80s? I'm so glad I'm old enough to have lived through it...

30 September 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (9/30/15)

I've been trying to make these happen on the last Friday of the month, but obviously that has passed by, so I guess the last day of the month will have to do. (And by the way, I completely forgot to post one in August.)

I went back to the German Rockpalast series for this one (earlier I posted Police and Pretenders shows). The Kinks don't get enough credit as far as influence goes. I think it's partly because they were not as popular in the 1960s as their cohorts (Beatles, Stones, Who). But as time has passed their legacy has only grown.

I happened to see them at the old Boston Garden in early 1982, which I think was the tour for the excellent album Give the People What They Want.

29 September 2015


It almost got by me... but it didn't. I started this thing nine years ago today. I had no idea how long it would last, but eventually I found my groove.

The past several months have been hectic, and challenging in unexpected ways: I've gone back to work and had to get used to commuting again, there was an adjustment to not having unlimited free time, and the dog has needed a lot of additional care and attention in her advanced age. I've thought about maybe hitting the pause button for a while, but I feel like sticking to it with less frequency is more like what I want to be doing, and should be doing. And I like having this bit of webspace to express myself.

So, cheers to everyone who visits. Now I'm off to try to get some sleep...

28 September 2015

Car Stuff: More Diesels

No, we're not getting into the Volkswagen thing; at least, not tonight. I'm referring to the Mercedes-Benz diesels I posted a while back. There was one that I had seen but wasn't able to photograph for that post, but fortunately that car remained in the same spot each time I passed, until one recent morning when I was riding past on the bus and I got a shot. (Sorry about the sun flare.)
As it turned out, it was joined that day by a friend. The silver car toward the back is the one I'd seen in front of this house several times. Maybe the yellow one was visiting, or maybe this person is a buyer and seller of these cars (there is a robust secondary market for them because of their durability). I'm glad I finally saw a yellow one, because back in the 1980s it seemed like all of them were that color.
And then last weekend we were at a friend's house and went for a walk, where I found this one parked on the street. It has California plates, so maybe it came all the way across the country.

24 September 2015

Deleting the Branding

I'm the kind of person that a lot of apparel and shoe companies don't want as a customer: I despise external branding. I won't wear shirts with things embroidered on them, and I remove the labels sewn above the back pockets of pants. If a logo can't be removed, I won't buy the item.

I have exceptions to this, and reasons for my exceptions. I have no problem with the "Off the Wall" affixed to the heels of Vans, both because it's iconic (Vans is turning 50 next year) and because it's always been part of the design. It has earned its place. Other shoe companies think they can also claim this territory, but they haven't earned it yet.

A couple of months ago I acquired a pair of white leather Cole Haan sneakers. I wasn't looking for them, but they appeared in front of me, so to speak, in an online clearance. They had the comfort insoles that CH is known for, light weight and a minimal lining (important during summer), simple, unadorned uppers—basically everything I'd want in a summer sneaker. The various discounts brought them down from $100 to $42, with free shipping. Canvas Vans are $45; leather Vans are usually around $70 or more. It was an easy decision.
They also had "COLE HAAN" set into the bottoms of the soles. But the bottoms of my shoes are generally not visible, so that didn't bother me much. There were also rubber logo badges at the back of the heels, just like Vans except "COLE HAAN" again, and they were black with white lettering so they were pretty noticeable. That was more of a challenge, but I don't give up that easily. I got an X-Acto knife and went to work on the badges for ten minutes or so.
One down, one to go. As you can see, the badges did not slice off in nice, even slabs, but I didn't care. I would 100% rather have them gone, with all these gouges remaining, than leave them on. (Apologies to Cole Haan, the sneakers are great but I don't want your company's name adorning my heels.)

22 September 2015

That's the Stuff

Fall has finally arrived, pretty much. The days are no longer scorching, and the nights are getting cool. We are leaving the windows open so our apartment cools down at night, enough so that we don't need to run the AC during the day. That chill in the early mornings feels great, and when I get up in the morning and go into the kitchen, I have to turn on a light. And for the past couple of nights, I've needed a jacket when I walked the dog.

I'm not naive enough to think it won't get warm again, but I know that when it does, it won't last too long. The long-range forecast suggests that warmer than average temperatures will continue into October, but as long as the nights are dropping into the 50s I can handle the daytime temps.

What I have not done yet is switch over my clothes. The darker colors and heavier fabrics will get brought back up from the basement eventually, but for now it's just too soon for that.

21 September 2015

Car Stuff: A Quiet Friday Morning

Several weeks ago I got to Harvard Square fairly early on a Friday. I had enough time to walk over to Darwin's on Mount Auburn Street for a breakfast sandwich, so I took a quiet street to cut over from Brattle Street.
Near the end I came upon this MGB (technically, an MG MGB) sitting in the stone driveway of a house. The whole scene was so attractive that I didn't crop the photo as much as I usually would. (The car is dark green, by the way; it's difficult to tell because the car is in shadow.)

I'd say the large gigantic rubber bumper guards put this at the early 1970s, because these cars got redesigned bumpers for 1975 to they complied with US regulations. Wikipedia informs me that these were fitted to 1974 models, and the heavier, full-width rubber bumpers began appearing midway through the '74 model year, so we may be looking at something a bit rarer than a typical MGB.

The MGB was produced from 1962 to 1980, with incremental changes along the way. They are fun cars, but they require some effort to keep tuned and running well. This is a fine example and I'm inclined to think it's someone's "summer car."

19 September 2015

Retro Video Unit (9/18/15)

I don't know why some music videos are not on YouTube, but since I've been doing this for a while, I know that sometimes things show up if I keep looking, and such is the case here today.

I've wanted to feature "In a Big Country" by Big Country for several years, and I've been looking for this clip without success, but according to YouTube this was uploaded only a couple of months ago.

Unfortunately, their early success in the 1980s did not last, but they made a big impression on kids like me back in 1983, and this video got a lot of airplay on MTV.

17 September 2015

Seasonally Appropriate

I was going to gripe about the weather, but what's the point? September is still summer around here, that's our new reality. I've accepted it. I have to dress for the conditions, not the calendar. I'm sticking with the lighter fabrics and colors until I can feel the change in the air.

Having to dress in office attire this summer, I realized that my wardrobe is much more skewed toward clothing for cooler weather. I have a lot of plaids in darker colors, and a lot of pants in heavier fabrics, and I took all of them out and put them in the basement. It'll be time for them to rotate back up soon enough.

And hey, next week's weather looks like it will be closer to what used to be normal for this time of year...

15 September 2015

Getting There is More Than Half the Drag

September has brought longer morning commutes, which I expected to some degree. But my earlier approach of taking an earlier bus is no longer effective, mainly because the buses are being delayed by heavier traffic.

It doesn't matter if I'm ready to leave the house at 7:45, because the bus isn't showing up for another 20 minutes. The gains I was experiencing by leaving earlier are gone, negated by sitting through multiple traffic light cycles at Wellington Circle. The culprit seems to be route 93, because 28 south is backing up all the way to the circle.

Sure, I read on the bus, or do crossword puzzles; if the mind isn't occupied, the ride seems twice as long. But it's all such a huge waste of time. And then I still have to get on the Orange Line, go two stops to Sullivan, and get the 86 bus to Harvard Square. It's still taking an hour, or longer, to go three and a half miles.

This morning I happened to be ready a little earlier than I expected, so I looked at the bus countdown page and saw that the even-earlier bus, the one that in normal traffic conditions comes by my corner around 7:30, was only a minute or two away, so I grabbed my things and hurried out to the corner. I made the bus, but it still took an hour to get to work.

But getting there earlier does mean I can leave earlier, and interestingly, the trip home doesn't seem to be fraught with the same sort of stress. I still have to be concerned about making connections, but generally it goes much more smoothly in the afternoons.

12 September 2015

Workplace Embarrassment Unit

The office I've been working in has had casual Fridays for the summer... but they ended with Labor Day, and no one conveyed this information to me. So I showed up dressed more or less the way I have every Friday since I started there. As soon as I walked into my work area this morning I knew something was up: the guy at the next desk was wearing a white dress shirt and black pants. He's not moonlighting as a waiter, so I thought it was unusual he'd be dressed that way on a Friday.

Eventually I noticed that other people were dressed the way they are during the rest of the work week. I briefly contemplated going over to the nearby Gap or EMS store to acquire some pants, but I decided it's not my fault that because I'm a temp, I'm not on the distribution list for any of the office-related stuff. It was a little awkward, but I got over it.

09 September 2015

In Praise of the Tallboy

Earlier this summer I deviated from my regular beer, Narragansett, to sample some others. At one point my refrigerator contained Founders All Day IPA, Harpoon's new Take 5, and some Magic Hat that had been brought to the house by guests. Whenever I drank one I'd think, I wish this was 16 ounces instead of 12.

The primary reason for this is that I drink a beer with my dinner, and the larger-size serving works much better as a meal accompaniment. Even with judicious sipping, too often I get to the end of a 12-ounce beer with several bites of food remaining. Draft beer is usually served as a pint, and I think that's probably related to food as well, at least a little.

I don't know who first thought of the 16-ounce can (I suspect that has been lost to beer history), but that person's effort is certainly welcomed by me.

08 September 2015

Car Stuff: Back Bay Vintage

This week, another contribution from my roving Back Bay correspondent A Proper Bostonian, who spotted this very old pickup truck a couple of months ago.
I admit to being sort of stumped by this one. I think it's a Ford from the early 1950s, the period before the first F-100, when it was just called the F-1. Admittedly, it's a little hard to be sure without seeing the front, but I think that's a F-1 badge just behind the fender.

05 September 2015

Grooming Garage: Bonus Buy

It seems a little silly to get excited about value-size packages of stuff I need, but some things (in my opinion) just cost too much. I've been using Schick Hydro 5 razor cartridges for a while now, and even though Schick has a far smaller percentage of the razor market than Gillette, they decided that they were going to price their products like Gillette does. So I've typically been paying $12 to $14 for a package of four cartridges, which strikes me as borderline outrageous, but unfortunately my face is so sensitive that I can't cheap out and buy store-brand blades, or any similar strategy—too risky.

Schick runs coupons in the Sunday papers pretty regularly, typically offering $2 or $3 off cartridges, but you rarely see them at an actually reduced sale price, but CVS sometimes offers $10 in "Extra Bucks" if you spend $25 on Schick products, so I have taken advantage of that in the past.

But recently I noticed that stores like Target are carrying a package of 12 Hydro 5 cartridges, priced at $31.49. That's a Costco-sized package. I haven't been to Costco in a while (I let our membership lapse to save some money) so I don't know if they are carrying Schick products now, but they didn't before. (Maybe one of the other warehouse clubs does?) Also, some of the packages have two extra "bonus" cartridges.

Careful shopping can combine a bonus package and a higher-value coupon; I had one for $4 off that was expiring this weekend, so yesterday after work I made my way to Target and got a bonus pack of 14 cartridges for $27.49 plus tax, which works out to about $2 a cartridge.

I want to track how long this package lasts. I estimate I won't need to buy cartridges again for a year, plus I have 3/4 of my previous package remaining. I typically shave only twice a week, and I can usually get about a month out of one cartridge.

04 September 2015

Retro Video Unit (9/4/15)

Hey look, it's on the right day! Heading into the long weekend, I didn't have as much going on today, so I was able to start thinking about this week's selection a bit ahead of time. I was helped by the season one finale of Mr. Robot, the USA series that's had a lot of people talking this summer.

This week's episode featured several excellent music choices, including 1984's "World Destruction" by Time Zone, which was a project that brought together electronica/hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa (whom you may recall I've featured before), singer John Lydon of Public Image Ltd., and musician/producer Bill Laswell.

(And yes, I know this song was also used in The Sopranos.)

The episode also featured "People Who Died" by the Jim Carroll Band. You may recall the 1995 movie The Basketball Diaries, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which was based on Carroll's memoir of teenage drug addiction. True trivial fact: I saw Carroll speak and read some of his poetry in the '80s at Boston University.

And for something a bit more recent, the closing scene (after the end credits, for a bit of a fakeout) used "Sound and Color" by Alabama Shakes.

03 September 2015

The Lull

I know it's been quiet around here this week. I'm always hopeful that commuting will provide me with observations I can share, but the couple of weeks leading into the Labor Day weekend tend to have lighter ridership on buses and subways because many people take vacation time. Fewer people means less chance of me seeing something interesting.

So the lack of material becomes the material itself, so to speak. It's easier to get a seat on a train or bus. Lines are shorter at lunchtime. Both of my coworkers have been on vacation these past two weeks, leaving me to handle incoming phone calls as best I can. The office is very quiet, and I love that.

But it won't last. After the weekend, life goes back to normal. The commute will get hectic again, and I'll arrive at work already mentally exhausted from jostling to get on and off buses and trains, and trying to make timely connections while dodging slower commuters with their heads bent, staring at their phones. I'll start to think about the merits of working from home.

And this is probably a good place for a mini-rant about commuting etiquette: seriously, what is it with you people? You cannot all board the bus at the exact same time, yet you still keep trying, and I stand there watching all of you in a combination of amusement and disgust. And then I try to move into place and wait my turn, and one of you always seems to find it necessary to force yourself between me and the bus so you can get on first. And just this morning I watched a woman try to exit a train at Wellington while another woman stood just outside the door and refused to move two inches to her left to make it easier for the first woman to get out, as though somehow relinquishing those inches would allow someone else to board the train before her—and if that did happen, so what? I've never even seen such behavior in New York, and I've concluded it's simply beyond my understanding.

31 August 2015

Car Stuff: Chasing One Down

A couple of months ago, I was making a quick run to the liquor store on a Friday evening. I was at the bus stop when a very vintage, black Cadillac convertible went past, too quickly for me to get a photo. The bus arrived a few moments later, and I wondered if we might catch up to the car, but I could not see it ahead of us.
When the bus got to Wellington Circle, where I needed to get out, I looked across the traffic waiting for the light, which can get pretty thick on Friday evenings, and I saw the Cadillac in the left lane. I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures while I was walking toward the crosswalk (which is why this one's blurry).
When I got to where I needed to cross, the car was still there, so I kept pushing the shutter.
I crossed behind the car and now I was on the median next to the driver. I asked him if I could take a couple of shots and he obliged, telling me that the car was a '53. The light changed and he went on his way, and I had an interesting anecdote to share along with these pics. (The guy has good taste in hats, too.)

27 August 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault: April Fool

I have not done one of these in a while, so let's jump in the time machine and head back to 1988...

Robyn Hitchcock was beloved by music critics in the late 1980s (and probably still is). The distinctive points of view and odd lyrics of his songs resonated with a certain type of person, and I definitely wanted to see him live. This tour was extra special because he brought along Peter Buck of R.E.M. to play guitar.
The week leading up to this show I was pretty ill, and I wasn't sure I would be able to go, but I managed to get well enough in time. In addition to being April Fool's Day, April 1 happened to be Good Friday that year, and there was also a full moon that night. Hitchcock ticked off all these points at the start of the show, then remarked, "I'd say that's quite an auspicious start to things, wouldn't you?" Yep.

(The ticket price index is at $8.50 here. Today, in some bars and clubs you can barely get a beer for $8.50.)

25 August 2015

Getting Home

Last Friday afternoon I was on my way home. I took the bus from Harvard Square to Sullivan, and when I came down the stairs to the platform, the clock said 5:37 pm. It also said that a train would not be coming for nine minutes. That's an unusually long interval between trains during rush hour when no delays or problems have been announced, but I was not worried because I only needed to get two stops to Wellington in time to catch the 6:00 bus, and most afternoons it takes about five minutes to get from Sullivan to Wellington, with a stop in between at Assembly.

I didn't make the bus. I don't know why, other than that the train did not arrive until 5:54. As I watched the sign, the interval went form nine to 10 minutes and stayed there for four or five minutes. No announcement was made about a delay. Then the clock started to count down. When it got to one minute, the PA did the "the next Orange Line train is now approaching" thing, followed by "the next Orange Line train is now arriving." It did that three more times, but no train appeared.

Eventually a train did arrive, but by the time I got to Wellington, I had of course missed the bus. In fact, I was close enough to see it pulling away when I got outside. I didn't feel like waiting around in the heat for 20 minutes, so I decided maybe I'd see if an Uber driver was nearby. One happened to be over at Station Landing, only a couple of minutes away by car. Then I noticed a cab at the curb. I've been kind of down on cabs since alternatives like Uber and Lyft (which I have not used) arrived in the area. I thought I'd give a cab driver a break, and save myself the two minutes that I'd have to wait for the Uber ride.

I walked closer to the cab and saw that the driver was not inside, but he saw me and came running over. I told him my destination and he replied that I would have to tell him how to get there because he was new to the area. Of course, all the windows had been left open and he did not give me any indication that he was going to put on the air conditioning. I let it go, knowing I'd be in the car only a few minutes.

I have not taken a cab ride for a while, and I'd never taken one from Wellington to my house (it's only the past year or so that I've noticed cabs even waiting at Wellington, now that they have more competition). I figured it couldn't be more than about eight dollars, and I knew I had a five and five ones in my pocket. But the total for the ride turned out to be $10.10. I also had twenties, having been to the ATM that day, so I gave one to the driver. He told me he had only fives for change. I didn't know if this was some sort of a scam or just a newbie driver not having his shit together, so I took a five from him.

But me being me, I couldn't quite leave it alone, so as I was getting out of the cab I said, "You know, this is exactly why people use Uber." That hit a nerve. He started waving another five at me, saying, "Take it, ten dollars is enough." I turned back and replied, "No, you deserve a tip, but I should be able to decide how much of a tip I want to give you. I'm going inside now."

Out of curiosity I went to Uber's site and looked up the fare for the route I'd traveled. The estimate is six to eight dollars (it's not a long ride). And had I taken Uber, I would not have had to worry about whether or not I even had any cash on me.

24 August 2015

Car Stuff: Oh, a Fiero

I feel like I'm slipping further behind with these posts, and I have some good stuff I'm eager to share. I's hard to get motivated to work on them at the end of a long day, but I'm trying.
Back in the spring, this well-worn Pontiac Fiero showed up in the parking lot of the apartment building on the corner where our street meets the Fellsway. If the owner had happened to have one of the spaces down in the back of the lot, it's unlikely I would have been aware of it, since I used to walk the dog back there but we have not ventured through that area in some time.
The Fiero was General Motors's attempt to create a moderately-priced, mid-engine, two-seat sports car in the vein of the Porsche 914. It was sold from 1984-88, and this car is the rarer fastback body style that was available in the final three years of production—about 40,000 cars, or 25% of total Fiero production over those three years.
The Fiero's biggest problem was that it was kind of a beta version of the car Pontiac originally intended to build. Forced to compromise to cut costs, the car was saddled with a weak four-cylinder engine and suspension components from GM's economy cars, leading to disappointed buyers. Eventually a V6 engine became optional, and the suspension was improved for '88, but it was too late.

23 August 2015

Retro Video Unit (8/21/15)

I've been a week behind on these since, oh, late June. So this is my attempt, however feeble, to get back to my previously established timetable.

About a month ago I happened to catch the 1985 movie To Live and Die in L.A. on TV. Directed by William Friedkin, it's an underrated, gritty crime movie starring William Petersen in an early lead role as a Secret Service agent on the trail of a suave, cocky counterfeiter (a fascinating performance by William Dafoe). I've seen it a number of times, and if you have not had the opportunity, I do recommend it.

I mention it here because the soundtrack was done by the band Wang Chung, whom Friedkin specifically sought out to do the music. As a result I've had the band's songs in my brain on and off since, and I think it's time to feature a song here.

"Everybody Have Fun Tonight" was not used in the movie (it would have been wildly out of place with the film's dark tone), but it's kind of the band's signature song. Be warned, though: the video might make you dizzy, or give you a headache, if you are sensitive to rapidly changing imagery.

(There's a story about this song and a live show by The dB's that I saw way back in 1987 with Just Bud Fox, but it's kind of a "you had to be there" thing.)

19 August 2015

Car Stuff: Sometimes They Get Away

About a month ago the Mrs. and I were returning from a late-afternoon wedding reception and were driving through Revere, a few miles northeast of where we live. In the next lane over I spotted something red with a general shape that suggested it might be older. Eventually we got close enough that I could recognize it as a Dodge Lancer, a four-door hatchback introduced in 1985.

Oh, but wait a minute. When I got a better look I realized this car was in fact a Shelby Lancer, a limited-production, higher-performance version of the Lancer produced for Dodge by Shelby Automobiles, an aftermarket tuning house that had been responsible for a series of high-performance Mustangs in the 1960s that are now worth ridiculous amounts of money.
These things are rare: they were produced for only a few model years, at only a few hundred cars per year. We were driving along next to it and I had my phone out, but I don't like people to see when I'm taking photos of their cars, especially while they're moving, because I worry that it might distract the other driver. So unfortunately this was the only usable shot I was able to get.

Conveniently, someone else took pics of this car last year and posted them to the Curbside Classic Cohort, and one of the CC writers did a piece on it. (I know it's the same car because the license plate matched.) I'm glad to see that the car is very well kept, but I'm also glad to see it's being driven and enjoyed.

18 August 2015

Tuning the Routine

I wasn't too happy about last week's steamy bus incident. And the next morning when I was again waiting at Sullivan, I saw the same bus rolling up, again with all its windows open. I stepped aside and again waited for a different bus; that one went to Central, so I had to jump on the Red Line to get the rest of the way to work.

The margin of error in my commute is already precarious, and I hate the idea of being late due to not wanting to ride on a bus without air conditioning. Over the past couple of weeks I'd been assessing my morning routine, trying to see if I could tighten it up enough to leave the house earlier. When I started this assignment, leaving later was working better for me, but that has ceased to be true. And I was finding that I would almost be ready to leave when the earlier bus came—I was off by maybe three minutes. (The buses run every 20 minutes in the mornings, so I have to aim for a specific time to be ready to leave.)

I came to the conclusion that I needed to start getting up earlier. Not by much, but if I wanted my mornings to go more smoothly, I needed a bit more time. Last Friday I happened to be ready early enough to catch that earlier bus, and I arrived at work 15 minutes earlier than I'd been getting there. That also meant I could leave earlier, which is just a bonus. So Sunday night I backed up my alarm by 10 minutes, and that seems to be the difference I needed. Yesterday and today my routine has worked better and I've been able to leave the house in time to catch that earlier bus. And I'm avoiding the no-AC bus as well.

(No hitting the snooze bar either; when the music comes on, I get up. It's disorienting for the first few minutes, but it gets easier. Now I have to work on getting to sleep earlier...)

16 August 2015

Retro Video Unit (8/14/15)

Apparently there's no longer a schedule governing any of this... the brain just doesn't cooperate the way it used to.

Real quick, then: "Kiss Me Deadly" by Generation X, featuring Billy Idol on lead vocals. This clip seems to be from some sort of documentary, but it's the best one available.

13 August 2015

Summer Color

I'm not really into the whole outfit-pic/what-I-wore-today thing, but I can't say I'm above a small amount of selective preening, and I like the way these items went together yesterday.
The watch I've featured before; it's my Submariner "homage" from Alpha Watch of Hong Kong. It's really a damn good watch, rugged and dependable with a Japanese Miyota movement, and I wear it pretty regularly in the summer with my various nylon straps. I found mine on eBay, but currently they are going for around $125 new direct from Alpha (slightly more on a metal bracelet). It's almost certainly a better choice than its Invicta counterpart.

The blue strap is a cheapo Timex that I found in Target; I like it because it's about the length of a regular watch strap and doesn't need to be folded over and tucked into the metal keeper bar, which always pop out with my other, longer straps.

The shirt is a relatively recent addition. It's from Orvis and is 100% linen. I really like the main color, which is called "weathered red," but I also like the pop of aqua quite a lot. I like wearing bright colors in summer, and of the three colorways available this one was the best.

12 August 2015

Feeling the Heat

Is it 2015 or 1995? My iPhone suggests the former, but my 86 bus this morning did not have working air conditioning, which is what made me think I may have time-warped. It was one of the older GMC buses still in service, but my experience has been that most of those still have functioning AC. Lucky me, I caught one that didn't.

It turned out to be an unlucky commute in general: not only did I swelter, but I got to do it at low speed because of some traffic mess or other, all the way from Sullivan to McGrath. At that point I decided to get off the bus and wait for the next one, which took about 20 minutes to arrive.

I don't know how we used to do it. I know our bodies are more resilient when we're younger, and I know I lived and commuted without the benefit of air conditioning for quite a long time, but looking back it seems unbearable.

11 August 2015

Overheard: Golf and Indigestion Edition

Yesterday two dude-bros sitting behind me on the bus were expounding at length on their golf game, which I won't bore you with. But then things got strange, and interesting:

Dude-Bro #1: "I think that's the first time I've thrown up in a bar and it wasn't from drinking too much."
Dude-Bro #2: "Yeah, we never should have ordered that roast beef. It was like the last item on the menu."
Dude-Bro #1: "Why did we even eat there?"
Dude-Bro #2: "Because they took credit cards."

(I was extremely disappointed that I did not catch the name of the particular establishment they were talking about.)

10 August 2015

Car Stuff: A Cluster of Benzes

I haven't done one of these in a while, because I didn't have any new material for one. Then I started seeing these various 1980s vintage Mercedes-Benz E-Class models around. Most of them were diesels, and they were built to last, so it's not surprising they're still running around.
This one was the first one I saw, a couple of months ago at the traffic lights at Wellington Circle. I thought this one was the brown that a lot of them were, but it looks more like burgundy.
I spotted this station wagon after I'd been working in Harvard Square just a few days. The black paint is a little less common, and it looks like it's had window tint added on as well. I don't remember if this one was in fact a diesel, but it probably was. Yeah, there's a little dent on top of the fender, but it's still a sweet ride.
These cars do need service sometimes, and this one sits in front of a garage on Washington Street in Somerville. I passed it on the bus a couple of times before thinking ahead enough to get a seat on the correct side to take a pic as the bus passed it. (Just this morning I saw a fourth one, on College Avenue in Somerville, but we passed it too quickly.)

These cars weren't status symbols like Mercedes-Benz cars are today; in fact, the diesel E-Class was sort of an anti-status symbol. It's true that they were more expensive than many comparable cars, but people bought them willingly at those higher prices, because they understood that they were making an investment in a car that would run for decades. These pictures are proof of their wisdom.

(I can't say with certainty that the second and third cars were in fact diesels, but they were more common than their gasoline-powered siblings.) Update, 8/23: I saw the black wagon again two days ago, parked in the same spot, and it's a turbodiesel!

09 August 2015

Checking In

Wait, what day is it? Sunday? Yikes. Well, I don't really know what to say about that... there were errands Friday night, and yesterday was largely occupied by stuff related to elderly dog care, then we zipped out last night for a quick meal at Border Cafe. And I guess I've been trying to spend less time at the computer on weekends (with varying levels of success).

To some degree, I also let inspiration guide me. That is, I try to have specific ideas before I start to write posts. If nothing bubbles up for a couple of days, I get a little worried about my brain, like maybe I'm losing my ability to observe and report. Maybe the well is running dry?

How about this? I can tell you that I'm reading a very enjoyable book about television called The Revolution Was Televised. It's written by Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for HitFix whose opinions I have come to respect greatly. (Alan is the reason I decided to check out unREAL on Lifetime this summer, and I am so glad I did. He was also the inspiration for my attempts to write weekly thoughts about Mad Men episodes.)

The book is about the current golden age of TV we are living in, and the most significant shows of the past 15 to 20 years that led the way. (It's a few years old, and I understand that a new edition of the book is coming out this fall, with additional material on the ends of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so maybe it's worth waiting until then to check it out.)

05 August 2015


There are times when I see people who are so distinctive in appearance that I would like to take a photo, but that isn't always practical on, say, a jammed subway car, and some people would not want that image to be published online without their consent. But I can certainly offer a description.

Due to the recent traffic issues (which are now gone, thankfully), on a few mornings I found it easier, or at least less of a headache, to take the Orange Line into downtown and switch to the Red Line to get to Harvard Square. I don't attempt to read on trains and buses unless I'm able to get a seat, because it requires a fair amount of effort to avoid falling down and to be ready to move out of the way of those exiting and entering, so I amuse myself by observing people.

One morning I was watching people get off the train at State Street and getting ready to get out at the next stop. As people on the platform started getting on the train, I saw a flash of hair that I thought was red, but then a moment later I saw it was in fact orange, like really orange. As the person entered the train I saw it was a woman, well-dressed and with very carefully applied makeup. She stood near me for a moment but then moved into the car to take an empty seat.

The color and cut of her hair were obviously taken directly from Annie Lennox circa the first Eurythmics album. She was also wearing glasses that reminded me of the Matsuda frames that were popular among sophisticated, well-to-do types in the early 1980s. They could have been vintage, or just of a similar shape and material. She was pale, but had on bright lipstick that stood out on her face.

She was wearing a skirt suit that had the distinct look of being homemade. I don't mean that in a negative way; I suspect the woman had made it herself, because it was unusual and she had the look of someone who would prefer a very specific style, one not readily available in a store. The fabric was cream and there was a small repeating pattern in burgundy, like small paisleys, spaced about two inches apart. (I wasn't close enough to get a clear look.) The jacket was cut like a man's tail coat but without the tails; the skirt was straight and above the knee. She wore some sort of white blouse with a ruffled collar, white stockings, and bright orange pumps that were clearly meant to play off her hair color.

I would have loved a chance to talk with this woman, just because she was so distinctive looking. She had obviously put great care into her appearance, and on a midsummer day it's unusual to see anyone on the T, male or female, kitted out so elaborately.

03 August 2015

Car Stuff: Green Bird

I feel like I need to post something car-related. I'm sure I'm overdue for a Fantasy Garage installment, but that isn't going to happen on my current schedule. I'll probably have to spend the time to prepare it over a weekend. So meanwhile I looked through the photos on my phone and have something to share...
I was running an errand in Brookline about two months ago and spotted this car just as I got off the trolley on Beacon Street. It's a 1979 Ford Thunderbird, the final year of a very successful three-year run of the first downsized 'Bird. As I've mentioned previously, personal luxury was the big car trend of the '70s, which happened to coincide well with the need to make cars at least a little smaller.

This car was considered a stylish ride when new, and this particular one has some nice options: the jade green paint and interior, the wire wheel covers, and look, those are T-tops! Not common on T-birds, that's for sure. (It is a little odd that the rear half of the roof isn't covered in vinyl.) I only wish I'd been able to get a shot with the entire car in it. The car was in the left-turn lane, so I turned to my left and waited for it to make the turn so I could attempt more shots, but it never turned. I have no idea where it went. Maybe it wasn't even real...
As a partial consolation, here's what the front end looks like.

01 August 2015

Retro Viedo Unit (7/31/15)

I'm surprised I didn't think of this song earlier, but it popped up on the soundtrack of an episode of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire (which, by the way, is so, so much better in its second season that it's like a completely different show that happens to feature the same characters), a show that has done a really good job of choosing music from the early to mid 1980s to feature.

"Boy" by Book of Love is a synthpop confection from '85 that became a hit on the strength of a catchy melody and the use of uncommon (in pop and rock, anyway) tubular bells, which have a very distinctive sound.

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (7/31/15)

I know, I said I would post these on the last Friday of the month. Well, I forgot. The Mrs. and I went out for a meal last night, and when we got back I kind of fell into a post-food stupor, and even went to bed relatively early for me and for a Friday night. But hey, here I am now, and this is a good one...

This is the live performance that Portishead recorded with a group of string instrument players at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 1997. It's a great show, and the people who were there to see it are really lucky. This is a band I wish we'd hear more from.

29 July 2015


This morning I got on the T and stood in front of a young woman, roughly college age, who asked me if I wanted to sit down. I didn't think I was looking particularly old today, but I didn't want to shoot down her intended good deed, so I thanked her, said it wasn't necessary, and that I was only going two stops to Sullivan. But it didn't exactly make me feel young...

28 July 2015

Retro Tech

I have car things to share, but I haven't had the time to prep them. Meanwhile, I saw this person on a bus last week, sporting a vintage Walkman radio headset:
That thing has to be at least 20 years old, right? My recollection is that the yellow-and-gray "sports" style Walkman stuff was popular in the mid-'90s. It's kind of impressive that it still works. And props to her for keeping it solidly retro.

(Note: I didn't obscure her face because she was already turned away from me and is not, in my opinion, readily identifiable.)