Thursday, April 18, 2019

SUVs and Pickups

Cadillac SUV
Speaking of cars...

The other day I was following a pickup truck into town. Pickup trucks are very common in this farming community where I live. And I started thinking about how every U.S. car manufacturer is cutting back on making/selling cars, especially sedans, in favor of crossovers, SUVs, and pickups. The best selling vehicle ever is the Ford F-150 pickup. And car manufactures make huge profits on pickups and SUVs and not so much on cars. The reason is that they can keep the price up due to demand while a pickup or SUV isn't any more expensive to make, and often less expensive, than a sedan. Meanwhile, the price of sedans has been beaten down by lack of demand.

In the near future, the only car (not a pickup or crossover or SUV) Ford will make/sell in the U.S. is the Mustang. GM is getting rid of a bunch of low-volume sedans that are Chevrolets, Buicks, and Cadillacs. And FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) announced a while back that they were eliminating two sedans (the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart) from their lineup. Meanwhile, FCA made sure there's an Alfa Romeo SUV sold in America.

For some reason, nearly everyone is buying pickups, SUVs, or the dreaded (by me) crossover. A crossover is an SUV-like vehicle on a car platform. Like a tall station wagon bought by people who wouldn't be caught dead in a station wagon. Such as the Volvo Cross Country, which was basically a Volvo station wagon with a raised suspension and plastic cladding. Sold like hotcakes.

Meanwhile, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Porsche all make SUVs now. And there's a rumored Ferrari SUV coming (probably made with Fiat 500L parts, I'm thinking).

I don't like SUVs and have never owned one. I see pickups as utility vehicles that some people need, such as farmers. But a lot of people buy pickups who never use them as utility vehicles. And a option-heavy pickup can run you over $60,000. I'd rather have a nice car.

What do you like to drive? Am I alone here in my disdain of SUVs and crossovers? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions

Sixties-era Camaro
Starting today, the Barrett-Jackson auto auction will be running in Palm Beach, Florida. It will run until Sunday.

These auctions are televised and I can watch hours and hours of it. And hours. I love watching the collector cars and seeing how much they sell for. In January, when they held their last sale (that time in Scottsdale, Arizona), I was shocked by how much some cars were selling for. A basic 1960s-era Camaro or Mustang might go for six figures. I didn't know if it was the good economy or what that drove up the price of the cars.

There are basically four types of cars sold at these auctions (and Barrett-Jackson isn't the only one, it's just the one on TV): Used cars, restored cars, "restomod" cars, and custom cars. Oh, and then there's the charity cars.

Used cars (my term) are not classics. They might only be as much as ten years old. They are usually high-end cars such as Porsches, Ferraris, Bentlys. I even saw a black 2007 Corvette Z06 be auctioned off (and it went for a few thousand over the Kelly Bluebook price).

Restored cars are older cars that someone restored to look as new as possible. Most even have period-looking tires (I have no idea where you buy those). I love restored cars. They are usually very pretty. But then I think about owning one. They all have carburetors. And while I know what a carburetor does and how it works, I have no idea how to adjust or maintain one. One car I saw in January had three carburetors.

Restomods are cars that have been restored and modified. You take a 1960s-era Camaro and put in a modern fuel-injected engine, modern suspension, modern brakes, and modern tires. This has an appeal because you get the great look of a older car with the safety and convenience of modern parts.

Customs cars don't appeal to me at all (except classic street rods). This is where you take a car and modify the body to customize it. Usually they shoehorn in a huge V-8 engine, redo the interior, and put big wheels on it.
A Street Rod

A street rod is a Model A Ford (usually) with a huge V-8 engine put in. The roof is usually "copped" (lowered) and there are modern suspension, brakes, and wheels, The only reason I like them is I like the look.

The other game I play is guessing how much a car will sell for. As I said, in January they sold for a lot more than I was expecting. The past few years, Chrysler muscle cars have been going for over $100,000. But this year it seemed almost any classic muscle car for the 1960s would sell for over $100,000. I was shocked. And I can't wait to see what happens in Palm Beach.

Another thing that doesn't surprise me are the guys (almost always men) who buy these cars. They tend to be in their fifties or sixties. So these are the cars they wanted as kids. And, they have the money to buy them. I wonder in 20 years if soupped up Hondas will go for $100,000.

Once I looked into what it takes to be a bidder at one of these auctions. You have to be able to wire the money you bid for the car (if you win the auction) almost immediately. And there's a 6% buyer's fee on top of the bid price. That's in addition to what the seller pays (a percentage of the selling price, I'm sure). They won't take checks.

I like sixties-era Mustangs and Camaros. Not real crazy about stuff made by Chrysler (Dodge, Plymouth) although those seem more popular. My dream car is a restored, pre-1969 Mustang Shelby GT 500. They usually go for well over $100,000.

Well, it's fun to dream.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Casablanca

I re-watched the move Casablanca recently. I'm not sure how many times I've seen this movie. But this time I especially paid attention to the writing. This movie is written amazingly well. There's not a wasted word or comment. And there are many memorable lines that people still quote to this day, even 76 years after the film's release. One of my favorites (I'm not sure why) is when Rick talks about the Germans marching in Paris. Speaking to Ilsa he says, "I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue."

But there were so many memorable lines. One that get's used often (even by people who probably don't know its origin) is feigned surprise saying "I'm shocked, shocked." The full line is: "I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here." It's spoken by Claude Rains playing the lovable but slimy Captain Renault. And right after he says it, he is handed his "winnings" (bribes) for the evening.

Rick was, of course, played by Humphrey Bogart. Ilsa was played by a young Ingrid Bergman. The acting was never over the top, as it could be and sometimes was in old movies. And each shot by director Michael Curtiz is exquisite. I can't imagine the movie being any better if it were in color. In fact, it probably wouldn't work.

Casablanca was made during the days of the "studio system" when actors, writers, and directors all worked for one studio. That is all came together on this movie is amazing.

Yes, the airplane is obviously a model when it's flying. The movie was made during World War II and aviation fuel had to go to the war effort, I assume.

There's a reason this movie is so revered. It deserves all its accolades. There is literally nothing I would change about it.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Public Bathrooms

I hate public bathrooms, and the smaller they are, the worse they are. I suppose no one likes public bathrooms.

For example, at our local Starbucks (okay, we have three), there are two bathrooms. Both are unisex bathrooms with one toilet, one sink, a baby changing station, a towel dispenser, and a fancy Dyson hand dryer. 

Sometimes you go into the bathroom and a woman has been in there and it smells of her perfume. This is not all together unpleasant. But sometimes you go in and it smells like a porta-potty three days past its service date.

Speaking of porta-potties, they are about the worst. They smell, they're small, and my biggest fear is dropping something down them such as my phone or wallet.

When I went to see the eclipse in August 2017, the organizers didn't have enough porta-potties (they needed about three times as many) and by the end of the day, they were literally overflowing.

Airplane bathrooms are just often too damn small. One a plane trip I took in January, I was hitting my head on the curve of the fuselage. Not fun.

The other problem with public bathrooms is cleanliness. Now, admittedly, for some reason, this has improved over my lifetime. When I was a kid, you assumed a public bathroom would be filthy and only used one if you were desperate. Now it's rare to find one that's very dirty. But you still have to deal with toilet paper on the floor or an unclean toilet.

Of course, I've used outhouses. Yes, wooden outhouses that people had instead of indoor plumbing. So my idea of "clean" might be off.

The final thing I hate about public toilets is when people don't flush. Why? Is it some misguided attempt to save water? I don't want to see, let alone smell, your crap. If I wanted to do that, I'd go to a porta-potty.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Getting in Trouble

One of the things I hated most as a child (and into adulthood) was getting in trouble. I was always afraid someone would yell at me for being wrong. For years, this meant I wouldn't do things if I thought there was the slightest chance of getting yelled at for it. I would simply refuse. This did not go over well when I worked in the corporate world. So I worked hard to overcome that. But I still have that issue.

For instance, I would not pull up to the front door of a hotel to check in and unload luggage for fear someone would get mad at me. Now I do it anyway (but it's a struggle every time). And, guess what, no one has ever gotten mad at me.

Part of this is also my fear of screwing up. If I don't know for sure how to do something, and don't think I can figure it out, I will just shut down and not do it. My middle son does the exact same thing. I guess he got my genes.

All of this is part of why I think I might be on the Autism spectrum, admittedly not far on it. But when I look at my childhood, I think I might be further along the spectrum than I think, I'm just faking it well as an adult.

And I still hate getting in trouble. People who don't care if they get in trouble amaze me. I kind of wish I could be like them, but a lot of them are criminals and psychos.

It's also part of my over-active imagination. I can always imagine the worst case scenario.

How do you feel about getting in trouble? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Best Steak Ever

Steakhouse 55 Steak
I like steak and I'm always looking for a great one. Some of the best steaks I've had were bought from local ranchers and cooked at home. My son has this method of cooking steaks that makes them delicious. I believe he learned it from YouTube.

But the best steak is one you don't have to cook, i.e., bought in a restaurant. Ruth Chris Steakhouse (which is a chain) makes really good steaks. I haven't been to one of those forever (since my oldest son graduated the University of Washington and that was June of 2012). I keep waiting for my second son to graduate college so I can take him there.

But the best steak I've ever had was at Disneyland. Seriously. Off the Disneyland Hotel is Steakhouse 55. Like Ruth Chris, you order a steak and then you order side dishes to go with it. And it's quite expensive (Ruth Chris is cheaper, relatively). I didn't see the bill (it was a family dinner and my father paid) but I saw the prices on the menu. I was there about 11 months ago.

The steak was in every way perfect. Tender, juicy, flavorful, and cooked to perfection. The only weird thing was it was served with a bit of bone marrow inside a bone (see picture). I wasn't sure what to do with that, so I left it alone.

It felt as if the steak literally melted in your mouth, it was that tender. And it tasted so good. And the sides were delicious. They had both potato and vegetable sides. We ordered a multi-layer chocolate cake for dessert, and it was amazing.

If you're in southern California, I would suggest visiting Steakhouse 55. I also recommend reservations. And maybe a short-term loan to pay for it.

In my novel Treasure of the Black Hole, there is a scene where my character is having breakfast with the emperor of the Core Empire. And it's almost food porn. You should check it out.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Volcanoes

Mt. Rainier (left of center) from my house
Ah, the first of March. We're getting closer to spring. Spring brings warmer weather, of course, and clearer skies.

On a clear day from my house I can see three Cascade Range volcanoes. The most prominent of these is Mt. Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington State. At 14,411 feet, it lords over much of the State. I've seen it from east of Ritzville when the conditions are perfect.

One of the best views of Rainier is from a ridge called Ryegrass between Vantage and Ellensburg on I-90.

Rainier is considered on of the most dangerous volcanoes in America. It's proximity to urban areas (Tacoma and Seattle and their suburbs), means there is great potential for destruction if it ever erupts. Unlike volcanoes in Hawaii, the threat isn't lava, it's lahars. As snow and glaciers on the mountain melt from the volcanic heat, they mix with dirt to make mud flows that head downhill. That's a lahar.

Here's a story from last fall about Rainier's (and Mt. St. Helens) eruption potential.

The other volcano I can see is Mt. Adams. Mt. Adams is more isolated and volcanologists don't think it's going to erupt soon. So it's much safer than Mr. Rainier. If you drive through the small town of Goldendale in southern Washington, you get a great view of Mt. Adams if the weather is good. And, if conditions are right, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood. You used to be able to see Mt. St. Helens from there, until it blew its top.

Finally, the third volcano I can see is just the very top of Glacier Peak. While Glacier Peak has a similar expectation of erupting as Mt. Rainier, it is very isolated so the danger is mostly from ash. Glacier Peak is so isolated you have to hike miles just to get to it.

Living in central Washington State, I don't have to worry about hurricanes or tornadoes (although we do very rarely get small ones that don't last long). But earthquakes and volcanoes, those are our disasters of choice. I should know, I was here for when Mt. St. Helens blew.