This is my image and I own it. (C)2016 me.
This is my image and I own it. (C)2016 me.
Way back in the 90s, I put a Sam Katz for Mayor sign in my Philadelphia window. To my recollection, it is the only political sign I have ever put out, if you don’t count my old “don’t blame me, I voted for Perot” bumper sticker.
Sam Katz was a republican candidate running for mayor in a Democrat town. Ed Rendell had run his two terms and up next on the Democratic ticket was John Street, a bully of a City Councilman who’d decided to throw his name in the ring. The city was still (yes) reeling from W. Wilson Goode’s two terms in office and finally getting over Frank Rizzo. Katz came out of nowhere and ran a solid campaign, convincing the city’s intelligentsia, and moreover, the editorial board of the left-leaning Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Inky endorsing a Republican candidate for mayor was the east coast equivalent of a magnitude 8 earthquake, and it left the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board in a bit of a pinch. The Inquirer had leaned left for so long that this shift caught everyone by surprise. The News pulled their endorsement editorial and sat on it for a week, during which the editorial board decided to endorse Street. Street went on to win the election, and by all measures was a good mayor for the city during his terms.
Some time after the election, the editor of the Daily News was interviewed about the endorsement of Street, and opened pointed out that endorsing Katz as they had wanted to do would not sell papers. Endorsing Street was news on many levels. First, it made a race out of the contest. Second, Street was a character – he sported a big afro with a white Bride-of-Frankenstein streak and kept a fleet of conversion vans and ATVs on his Overbrook property – and was known to lose his cool in Council meetings. Third, brother Milton Street was a multiply-convicted felon, so there was opportunity for scandal. And fourth, the flip-flop of positions by the two papers was news in and of itself. By holding their endorsement editorial, they kept the discussion of the papers’ roles in city politics at the forefront of discussion, selling a ton of papers on that news alone. Street’s personality was good for at least one feature a week. Milton stayed out of trouble for the most part. The race was on. Three out of four bets paid off. Papers sold, both from the News and from the Inquirer, too. Subscriptions at both papers went up.
It’s arguable whether the Daily News’ endorsement and coverage actually influenced the election – Street was a popular black councilman with well-honed skills in back-room city management, and Katz was a total outsider of the Ross Perot mould who tanked with the working class. All the wishful thinking in Chestnut Hill wasn’t going to get Katz elected, and Street swept the neighborhoods. To be clear: this is about the media using the candidate, not the influence the media had over the public. Papers sold. The two papers successfully (if unplanned) co-opted the election for themselves.
This co-opting is happening again in our entire US media. The demand for clicks is so high that our newsmedia is going for anything that will sell their content, regardless of what it looks like. This is scary, because Donald Trump is no John Street. He’s no Sam Katz, either, not by a long shot.
So, dear media, please stop worrying about selling clicks. They are coming to you regardless. But I need reporting, not clickbait. I need the deep analysis more than ever. I need you to treat politics like the future of our country, not the Kardashians. I need your editors to double down on the meaning of “fit to print”. Please. Now.
His first thought had been “well, that was easy.” It was a long time ago, but some days it still seemed fresh. A bit escapist, sure, but fresh, and clean, thanks to the car wash. He still occasionally used the single old self-service bay, and always put a $100 in the tip jar, even if he didn’t get a towel dry. It was the only place from that day in real life that he ever revisited.
He had parked his car in the driveway like every other day, walked up the path, and into the house. Same car, same driveway, same house. Same beige barge of boredom, same cold grey concrete, same cookie-cutter dwelling. He was different, sure, but he knew that no one could see it and it wouldn’t matter to anyone who saw him, anyway. This time it was a little more, and the risk had been a little greater, but ok, a little physical risk once in a while was not a bad thing. Fear in small quantities is a benefit. Kept him on his toes. The usual way of doing it was boring and nearly without risk, because he was so good at what he did. People rarely noticed his actions or even questioned them when they did.
He had washed the car right before he got home and parked. The high pressure bay was open like he had planned. No stress there. It took a little longer than he expected to complete the job, mostly because of all of the cracks and crevices and their ability to hold the brownish-red stuff covering the car. He was surprised at the tenacity of the material he was trying to remove, especially because it was supposed to come off more easily if you got to it quickly. That’s why he had chosen this means to his end. The radio was on, he liked the news station and he was hearing what he expected to hear. The information was wrong, but hey, no one else needed to know that. Ten minutes before he dropped his quarters in, he had been in a dangerous place doing a dangerous thing. A financially rewarding dangerous thing. At least everyone saw him do it. He was pleased to know that he had been seen.
He was getting away from the scene, just a few hours of his life and just a little money to stow in the offshore bank he’d set up and been quietly feeding for a few years now. The sirens were wailing nearby, time to get going with the next step. It was time to get away with it.
The encounter had gone off without a hitch. He got what he was after and drew the attention he wanted. It was surprisingly public for a person who stayed in the shadows most of the time. He assessed the target as he approached the meeting point. He re-established trust and made sure to make a show of how he arrived. He liked his not-very-special car, even in this guise. It was in many ways a very good car for him, even if he barely recognized it as his. From then on, the scene wasn’t pretty by any means. It was an ugly, brutish takedown, and he was counting on as many witnesses as he could get. He needed them to see his car.
The car wash was important. He knew that this was actually the highest risk element. It had to be operating and he had to be able to get into the high pressure bay. Worst case would be a delay there, so he had stopped by on the way and jammed a slug into the coin-op unit. He figured that he could put a $100 in the tip jar another day if everything played out ok.
He had gotten into the car more smoothly than he expected to. He had been a little worried that he would spend too much time there because it was different now. No hesitation. No hitches in the plan. Out of the garage, onto the street. Checking off the mental checklist in his head. Necessary tools were packed. Slugs in pocket. Plan in place.
The prep work for the encounter was surprisingly little work. He had been even shocked about how easy it was, he’d expected to spend hours on it, and in reality it wasn’t much more than one. A bit of newspaper here, some tape there. Some draping off of the surroundings and trash hauling. Uber for a couple of days while the car was “at the shop”. No stress, if you didn’t count the extra bag of trash that week.
The encounter had been in the plan for a while, but the getaway had been a sticking point until a few months earlier. The kid who delivered the mail at the office had given him the idea when he had arrived at work in a different colored car every week for a while. The kid fun to talk to, a gear head on a low budget who was always fiddling around with something. He’d asked the kid about the color changes and thankfully gotten the idea before he pried too much and made his interest too clear. The kid had said that he just sprayed it on and then washed it off at the car wash when he got bored, you know, the one over on Batton Street with the self-service high pressure bay. The kid laughed as he recalled the secretary who thought he kept buying a new car each week. The idea was coming together.
He smiled as he thought back to it. Every once in a while, he entertained the idea again. Not the encounter, that was enough of that and he was back to his normal way of padding the account. It was safer, and way easier. However, the whole getting away thing… That might be worth revisiting one day.
I love Diesel engines for the stump-pulling torque, but about once a year, I have to face the reality that even clean Diesel still makes particulates.
That day is “washing the conspicuity vests” day.
These are two older vests that I had in the closet from my time in Germany. Front to back, inside to ouside, it’s not really pretty.
You see it in car ads all over the net:
“Driven to church every Sunday by a little old lady”
“My elderly aunt had it for the last ten years and only put about 20K miles on it”
I recently took possession of a car driven by a little old lady – my mother-in-law. I have a new view on what “little old lady driven” means.
First, lets discuss the interior. A Little Old Lady is probably pretty fastidious, that’s how she got to be so old in the first place, so the interior is probably kind of clean. It might even smell like perfume. But she’s not as strong as she used to be, and getting in and out can be a chore. Look for wear and tear on any surface that could potentially be used a hand-hold. Cubbies suffer too, because as dexterity fails, it gets more difficult to operate the opening and closing mechanisms. Good bye, $250 center stack trim….. Hello permanent creases in the upholstery from the box of stuff that never made it to Goodwill….
Now, on to the drivetrain. The mysterious “O/D Off” button was never touched, and neither was the RPM range over about 3K. You’re going to be blowing carbon out that motor for a month. Check the suspension, too, because as vision fails, so does the ability to recognize potholes. CV joints and wheel bearings can take a particular beating. I’m still sorting out what the squeak in the driver’s front wheel is.
That limited vision? The slowed reflexes? The deteriorating range of motion? Oh, man. They all add up to one thing – “I didn’t/couldn’t see it!”, and that means paint. All over the body. Usually belonging to other vehicles and stationary objects. The tears of a hundred parking bollards in this case. Plan on at least a solid eight hours of wheel work just to get the worst of it off the sheet metal. The plastic bumpers might be a lost cause, and we’re not even at the scratches yet.
If the paint is suffering, you can be sure the metal is, too. Look for misaligned panels (what? Oh, no, she/I never hit anything!), deep scratches, and other small dings that throw some serious shade on Grandma’s health condition.
Needless to say, this could have been a total cream puff, but in reality, it’s a damn mess. Because little old lady. Next time you read that in an ad, think twice. You don’t want to deal with parking bollard tears. They kind of melt into the paint and stay there.
Urgh, another rental. Wait, I have a blog, so I can tell you all about it!
I got to Enterprise yesterday and was asked if I wanted to upgrade to something roomier than the midsize I booked. Uh, no. Thank you, but no. I asked for something smaller, and the manager just sighed, wandered off, and eventually handed over the keys to a brand new (seriously – 102.3 miles on the odometer) 2017 Hyundai Elantra. I took it home, loaded up my stuff, and headed out to visit a plant in the middle of OH. Possibly the most boring road trip ever.
The stripper rental car was doomed when Volkswagen decreed in the early 90s that all cars shipped over to our shores should have at a minimum air conditioning. By the early 2000s, Honda had caught on, and by the mid-2000s, it was almost impossible to find a true stripper any more. There isn’t even a delete option for most automotive features now, so good luck with sweating. All this change has meant that your average rental car is now actually a decent place to be, like this Elantra.
The Elantra I got was a bit of a surprise to me. The 2016 was ok, but not something I would consider renting again. The 2017 has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a particularly good choice at the counter, the first being the incredibly adjustable front seat. Yes, I am swooning about a seat that is otherwise kind of stiff, not particularly supportive, and not really pretty either. The shear range of positioning is what makes this seat so great: in fact, the entire ergos for the car are far better than I expected, and frankly, might set a standard. The vertical adjust on the driver’s seat is nearly six inches. This means that I, as a person who does not enjoy the Actros or Mack seating position, can get the seat (and my H point) down to somewhere sensible. Forward and backward are manually adjustable and also generous. The seat is missing lumbar adjust, something that would prevent me from purchasing the car. Regular notched seatback angle is also impressive in range.
Complementing the extreme seat manipulation is a very adjustable steering wheel. It pulls out about five inches and has significant up and down motion. While it might not look like an F1 car on the outside, those of us who prefer the F1 seating position can almost get there. And still see out of the greenhouse. One noteworthy feature – the seat is nearly perfectly in line with the steering column. Otherwise perfect ergonomics have been ruined by misalignment of these two critical parts, so it’s nice that Hyundai has taken care here.
The rear window has a nasty fogging effect from its internal lamination that obscured vision in the lower driver’s quadrant. At first, I thought I had the generous AC cranked too far up, but the rear defroster did not help. Some investigation and reduction in solar angle of incidence revealed the tell-tale dot pattern of optical adhesive. Otherwise, visibility was very good, even with the seat all the way down.
The stereo works pretty well, and was minimally difficult to figure out. The base stereo and button-intense control surface seems almost quaint in today’s world of full-color TFT touchpads. XM works as expected, with three bands available for presets. The preset function is super-easy to use. I would recommend this stereo for technophobes, it’s straight out of 1995, but with more words on the screen.
Climate control controls were scattered and took me a few minutes to sort out. Seriously, though, GM-level AC in this thing.
Riding down I75 in Detroit, the car started beeping at my, with no indication in the instrument binnacle of the source. I quickly learned how to operate the steering wheel controls, the various functions on the dash, and a few other odds and ends before realizing that my purse, coat, and adapter bag were enough weight to trigger the passenger airbag/seatbelt interlock and warning. Ooops. I swished my purse and coat to the floor and the beeping stopped. The angle of the late afternoon sun had made the warning light on the center stack very difficult to see.
The car struggled with grooved pavement and winds, with very unsteady tracking. The first one hundred miles or so of the two-hundred mile trip were difficult. Once I was through the grooves in Michigan and the construction zones in OH, the car started to settle down a bit. The sensitivity may be related to the tall-sidewall tyres the car is shod with, or to air in the steering rack. I don’t know, but it was super annoying and made an otherwise pleasant ride into a more stress than it should have been.
The engine is plenty powerful for rental abuse, and the transmission is remarkably not annoying. In sport mode. In regular and eco modes, it is a dog. Way too much lag off the line. Gear-hunting was rare, downshifts were smooth, and no clunks or lurches. No shifter weirdness because the shifter is like the radio – an artifact, but a very welcome and pleasant artifact. If it ain’t broke… you know, don’t “fix” it.
The interior is not upscale, but it’s also not downscale. It’s extremely neutral. Hyundai uses a better quality hard plastic and textures it to avoid surface glare. The upholstery is smooth, but looks to be a fine knit that may pill or pull. Time will tell. No one is going to mistake this thing for a Genesis, that is for sure, but it’s noticeably better than a Corolla. The trunk includes a rear seatback release button and is roomy.
(pics coming soon)
Each year that I’ve returned to my bike after a winter off of it, I’ve reflected on what came back. Why stop now? I’m starting my fifth spring season and it’s a good thing.
This year’s little surprise is riding slow. Stupidly slow. Playing in traffic slow. I’m actually enjoying it. I’m finding that I am much more stable than I used to be at slower speeds. I’m staying upright and rolling ever so slowly in traffic jams, relaxing and enjoying the proverbial ride. It’s so different. I want to try a slow race, something that was not really on my radar in the past. I’m also finally using my knees to brake – clamping down on the faux tank to anchor myself when I get on the front lever. That is very cool. Somehow, my body is picking and choosing new techniques to remember and cement into my riding arsenal.
Getting my lean back last year was a big deal, and my neck and shoulder are still not really right. But they are no longer really interfering in my riding. I’m well along the learning curve for riding with whatever I’ve got for nerves now. I am self-balancing much more securely. The Leatt brace works – I have banged my helmet on it a few times now and I’m quite grateful for it. If you don’t have one yet, get one. There are a few competitors out there, choose the one that will work for you.
Another oddity is that I raised my seat 10mm. I ended up having to raise my handlebars 20mm (no 10mm risers to be found). I now sit on the bike instead of in it. When I had the low seat and the low suspension, I often felt like I was in the bike. Add my tower of tank bag, and I was really sandwiched in the frame. The ten millimeters shouldn’t make much of a difference, but somehow it does. I feel different on the bike, like I’m able to push it with my feet and legs more. This is empowering. I took off my tank bag two weeks back to get even more of this “on” feeling.
I’ve been bouncing my pre-load up regularly, which is adding the the height. I can still flatfoot the bike, but it’s sagged a bunch now to do so. Tripod-ing it is actually much easier with the seat up under my butt. I wish I would have understood this earlier – I’d have raised the bike a lot sooner. I love that I can just skim the tarmac with my boots now, instead of having to pull up my knees. There is no danger of dragging hard parts, set low, the angle was 45°, now it must be close to 60°. Balancing at stops is strangely easier. My head is solidly up over traffic and I can see for miles and miles and miles as the song goes.
I’ll be hoping for a cheap CBR250R this summer, which I will likely be looking to mod for track work. I miss that little sucker more and more every day, now that I’m living up in the clouds, up in GS Land. I get it, all over again.
I have this new thing where I go to the mall and walk around and count people. Not so much the total sum, but the local totals in each store.
Some background: my spouse manages a retail shop for a specialty chain. They typically locate in mid- to high-end malls and sell moderately expensive, highly functional product. They tend to be a destination shop for their clientele and do high repeat business.
This means that on Saturday evenings when he’s closing up, I often walk over there to check things out, maybe shop a little, and count people.
A while back, I noticed that the Apple Store tended to attract a large number of people. This is kind of a given, but I also noticed that the Microsoft store was dead. No one in there at all. Even Build-A-Bear had a family making bears at that hour. But Microsoft? Bupkis. Granted, this is at 20:30 on a Saturday night, but I did not expect completely devoid of customers. Other stores, like Macy*s, the Gap, and so on usually had a few guests. Eventually I worked it out to about one shopper per 1000sf of retail floor for the general mall. That is terrible. Except in the Apple store, where it was closer to one shopper per 50sf. If there was a line outside of the store waiting to get in, it technically could get even denser. At holiday time, the Pandora shop was so crowded that they had to pay for extra security to manage their line.
Few stores in any mall seem to attract this level of shopping destination intensity. Apple, Pandora, Starbucks, but everything else is hopes and dreams. Unless you are selling something truly unique, you are hosed for clientele in a mall. Everyone is there to get something, and you have to hope that you are interesting enough to draw them in. The conundrum is that if no one is in your store, how interesting is it to anyone who isn’t already interested in it? No shoppers means no one else is interested, either. It is critical to have people in the store, even if they are just browsing, so that people outside of the store see the interest.
I experimented with arriving earlier, at 20:00 on the dot. Total numbers were higher, and the spread was lower. It turns out that you can only jam so many humans into an Apple Store before the fire department start to look at you sideways. The more total people in the mall, the more people that I found in the non-destination shops like Vera Bradley and Buckle. Hot brands like Michael Kors also rely on the total shopper density, a smallish point.
There are some notable exceptions to the Apple phenomenon, but they are just that – notable. Stores like Hot Topic, Lush, lululemon, and (I kid you not) Paradise Pen attract smaller but continuous customer streams. Their markets and merchandise are more specialized, sufficiently so to draw people out of their homes to try, to sniff, to take in the atmosphere. I admit, I am a regular at Paradise Pen. I write with a fountain pen and love to try different cartridges and nibs. It’s my little thing.
This is, to be clear, a high-end mall. It has a Nieman-Markus – a store that closes at 19:00, ostensibly to avoid the after-hours riff-raff. The Saks 5th Avenue is forever under renovation. The Gucci, Tory Burch, and watch shops all cluster around those two anchors in a submall that was built out of the Saks in the 1980s. Those South Side shops are linked to the North side (Macy*s and Nordstrom) by a flying glass bridge, which may as well cross an ocean rather than a busy thoroughfare. Frankly, I’d shop at Niemans if they were actually ever open. They carry a very few precious things that I like (and can afford). I generally only make the trek across the bridge when I am so desperate for a kitchen gadget that I have to go to Sur la Table.
My conclusion from all of this counting and rambling is that the anchor phenomenon has changed shape and become a specialty retail thing. Where once you had big department stores as anchors to draw in traffic, now you have smaller specialty stores like Apple bringing the cars full of people. If the Apple count starts to swing to 100% of the traffic, you might have an issue with your customer base or store mix.