Made In USA

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Like many of you, I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon and am now bombarded with daily, hourly or even to the minute status updates. Many are from what I would dub first tier friends; people I've known since childhood or those that have become close over the years, and family. The updates range from family photos or news of a new birth to play by play updates of football games. Many are of the ilk of useless announcements chronicling the days' lunch offerings. Facebook gives us license to play voyeur, peering into other peoples lives and minds to witness some of the most mundane and disposable information ever assembled. Much of which I could survive without. Early in my FB relationship, in the interest of self preservation I decided to weed out anyone whose posts were regularly steeped in venom or negativity. Some of my "brick and mortar" friends wholly reject Facebook as veritable timesuck and a frivolous waste of precious and limited time.

Today I came across a post from a FB friend who according to FB is also friends (via FB) with four of my FB connections. I've seen her posts before and wondered how I knew her. By looking at the friends we have in common I determined that I didn't know her, never knew her and was only connected with her via Facebook's connection wizard algorithm. Nonetheless, her icon is a pretty set of eyes and she often posts music or videos that I would occasionally find time to enjoy. By her photo, she comes across as mid to late 20's. Today I caught a proxy post to her account from what appeared to be a close friend with permission to access her account and post updates. It stopped me in my proverbial tracks giving me pause. I was compelled to scroll back through her most recent posts to put the stunning update into better perspective. Paging through her timeline I came to understand that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, one that her doctor suggested would take her life soon. I read on feeling a heavy sadness for this person whom I did not even know. I began to superimpose myself into her story. Me as her... my daughter as her, etc. The sadness I felt weighed on me such that I could not shake it for the rest of the day. It wasn't hard for me to imagine myself in her position and the people I'd leave behind. I was sad for them. I was sad for me and what I'd miss of their lives. Then I imagined she was my daughter and how sad it must be for a father to live the rest of his life with only the memory of an ill-timed loss of a daughter.

The thought still haunted me as my household went through its nightly bedtime routine. My son being only 6 months requires that my wife provide most of his care whereas my daughter of almost 2 years and I enjoy a nighttime ritual that ends my day with purpose. As 2 year olds are wont to do, she sometimes rejects the notion of going to bed even at the end of the practiced and carefully orchestrated routine. First, I help her into her pajamas (jj's she calls them). We brush our teeth and settle into the rocking chair to read 2 or 3 books before turning on some nighttime music and tucking her into bed. A parting salutation and the lights go off. Most nights she curls up sweetly in her bed clutching her stuffed animal du jour donning the most beautiful grin as she awaits her goodnight kiss. Tonight however like some other nights she wriggled and whined and resisted repose. Most restless nights, I just continue out of the room reassuring her and encouraging her to lie down and go "night-night". Most nights, I'm busy to get back to work. Most nights I'm busy to just get a little me time before going to bed myself. Most nights, like most days are filled with the "stuff" we do that makes up our lives. Tonight however, with the thoughts of the day's Facebook entries still weighing on my mind, I hesitated. I decided to stay and try a diplomatic wind-down. I attempted to reason with her insisting that we had already read the promised 2 books and that the rest of the house was also going to bed and that there was nothing more to do but to get back in bed and go to sleep. Not having it... If any of you have ever seen my daughter's "don't wanna go to bed yet" face then you'd understand why we climbed into the rocking chair and just rocked at her behest. Curled up in my lap, her head on my chest her tiny toes piddling against the palm of my hand, she sniveled "rock?" As we creaked back and forth, she shifting her weight to find the most comfortable positions, I couldn't help thinking how at best, I was destined to be absent for as much half of her life. "Pray?" she muttered. We prayed for our family and for that unknown girl. Neither of us could tear ourselves from that chair. We rocked, the lullabies droning on, the sound of her slowed breathing and an occasional *sniff*, her tear soaked hair against my cheek, the weight of her body sinking into my folds... we rocked.

Today's events have me remembering that it's neither the unbelievably low price we got on a flat screen for the bedroom nor the amount of stuff we amass; It's not the level of success we've attained at our careers nor the timeliness of our holiday card distribution that matter. It's the time we spend with one another that is most important. As we rush through our lives filling our days in the pursuit of happiness through ownership we lose focus on that which is truly valuable.... time. As I reflect on loved ones who have passed, I can't help remembering how often I deferred visits due to financial concerns or the naivete' that time was abundant. In retrospect the regret of time lost is greater than the gain of whatever it was that kept me away.

Our time is finite and not guaranteed. Lose focus of that and you will lose the best part of living. When doing your holiday shopping this year, try to remember that the greatest gift of all is already in your possession and give it generously.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's In a Name?

When the French were settling in North America, one French adventurer staked a claim in what is now Detroit, Michigan dubbing it Ville d’etroit. His name was Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. Some two hundred years later an engineer and gear grinder named Henry Martyn Leland bought into the failing Henry Ford Company (formerly Detroit Automobile Company) renaming it Cadillac, after the French settler. The Frenchman’s family crest was adopted as the symbol for the reorganized automaker.

Leland was known for his aptitude for precision and his interchangeable gear systems that he perfected while making transmissions for the Olds Gasoline Engine Works. He brought that innovation and attention to detail to Cadillac earning the company the coveted Dewar Trophy award for the standardization of automobile parts. Continuing the innovative trend, Cadillac became the first production automobile with a push button start rather than a hand crank. This opened the way for more women to become regular drivers. Cadillac soon drew the attention of William Durant, the founder of General Motors and was purchased for $4.5 million. Leland eventually left the company to form the Lincoln Motor Company.

Cadillac continued as a pioneer in the industry introducing the first V type water cooled 8 cylinder engine to be mass produced in 1915. By the 1920’s Cadillac was offering over 500 color combinations vs the competitions single shade of Black. Stylist Henry Earl was recruited to design the 1927 LaSalle convertible coupe. The result was elegant, flowing lines, chrome-plating and a comprehensive design philosophy that made the name Cadillac synonymous with beauty and luxury.

At the end of WWII designer Harley Earl changed the profile of American cars with the introduction of the tail fin thereby making it an integral part of American auto styling for the next 20 years. Over the years that followed the designers and engineers at Cadillac introduced the V-12 and V-10 engines, the sunroof, standard power steering, thermostatic air conditioning, electric seat warmers, air bags, electronic fuel injection… the list goes on and on.

When I was a kid the name Cadillac was kicked around to mean the best of its kind. Eg: The Cadillac of (fill in the blank). Today Cadillac continues to be the mark of precision engineering, excellence and luxurious style. With that kind of history and track record, you can’t help but wonder what they will come up with next.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Made In U.S.A.

I cannot escape the notion that Americanism is adrift in a swamp of quicksand. Its legs weighted, its movements labored, measured and consequential. Now don’t get all freaked out, I’m not talking about building a red white and blue wall around the Nation’s border or any other fascist ideal. I’m referring to the lost pride in ownership that we once had in this nation that seems to have yielded to an overwhelming tone of self-indulgence.

Community and I’ll say it again Americanism seems to be racing up the endangered species list fast on the heels of Company Loyalty, original television programming and captive wild animal shows. As a nation it seems we are chipping away at our long fought for and long cultivated identity.

We are a nation built by pioneers of creative thought and adventurous trail-blazers. Not forsaking Democracy, the American spirit is embodied in the marriage of Capitalism and philanthropy. It is personified by men like John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt and by characters like Forest Gump, Rocky Balboa and George Bailey. America is the place where hard work was not only rewarded but lauded. That hard work bestowed a sense of pride and a knowing that we were an important and integral part in something larger than ourselves.

The boon of the 80’s that survived until the current economic crash set the tone for the rebirth of the “Me first” generation. The late 80’s saw everyone jumping on the “I’m gonna get mine” bandwagon that recently gave way to the “Holy Shit, how can I keep mine” generation. Which coincidentally is the same generation as the first only with a giant slap in the face from the hand of reality.

As a result we (from the industry leaders on down to the consumers) have taken an opportunistic shortsighted approach to stabilizing our individual economies. Companies do this by outsourcing for cheaper labor and materials. Individuals contribute to the mess by only measuring the cost of foreign goods against domestic counterparts at the point of sale. The workforce has adopted a do only what is necessary and no more practice. The long term repercussion and cost to the overall economic health and growth of our nation be damned, “Is it 5 o’clock yet? and I need affordable tires.”

All of this leads me to my point and the genesis of this rant. I ask you:

  • “Would it truly hurt you to pay an extra percentage or so to keep another US tax payer working?”
  • “What is the true cost of an imported good when factoring in the human cost of foreign slave labor?”
  • “What are the ecological costs of shipping goods across the globe?”
  • “How many earned dollars will you have to forfeit to support a nation of unemployed factory workers?”
  • “How long before your job is outsourced to “Region 10” (code for India)?”
  • “Are you comfortable knowing that the cheaper auto part installed in your car may fail you and cost you more than money could ever buy?”
  • “Can’t we as Americans rise up and out-engineer, out-manufacture, and out-work any of our competitors?”

I’m just sayin’

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Return of American Muscle.

While procrastinating the writing of this latest blog post, I stumbled upon this gem of an article on the beefcake of the American road. Rather than re-craft an article paying homage to this one, I decided to just re-post the original, hoisted directly and word for word from the Arts & Leisure review.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS: Best muscle car ever?

The 2010 Camaro 2SS

If we had been asked whether General Motors could pull off a muscle-car revival, endowing a thoroughly modern, well-equipped automobile with the personality of an early GTO or Mustang, we would have bet the negative. And we would have lost.

Impressed as we were with the 304-horsepower 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V-6 we drove last fall, something wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was the faintly whiny exhaust note or the silky smoothness of the automatic transmission. The ride was unexpectedly quiet and smooth, the handling crisp and agile, more like a BMW 3-Series than the 1971 Pontiac GTO we briefly had the privilege of driving back in the day.

Then, more recently, we got our hands on the new Camaro SS. Subtly badged with the familiar red logo on the right rear quarter, the sweet-looking coupe’s 426-horsepower V-8 throbs and rumbles like the 396-cubic-inch V-8 of old. The lesser Camaros have the edge in price appeal, starting at $22,680, compared with a base price $11,000 higher for the SS. And they’re not exactly underpowered. But only 20 percent of the hot-selling Camaros are fitted with the cheaper V-6 package. The people who want muscle cars want the real thing, and the SS is it.

Our 2010 Inferno Orange Metallic Camaro SS, with a sticker price of $37,015, struck us as a solid value because Chevrolet factories aren’t turning out this model as fast as they can sell it. And when you add up all of its assets — the big engine, six-speed stick shift, luxury features and overall feeling of quality — you get the impression this Camaro will hold its value if you don’t drive it too hard.

The car’s only major drawbacks are the cramped rear seat, narrow trunk opening and poor visibility to the rear. (The standard Ultrasonic rear park assist made backing up a little less stressful.) Getting in and out of the Camaro’s front seat is fairly easy except when the car is parked in close quarters and the long doors can be opened only part way. As a practical matter, however, these aren’t deficiencies; they’re part of the price you pay for owning a muscle car.

We were grateful for the opportunity to put quite a few miles on our Camaro, driving from Bethel, Conn., to Bridgeport and Southington, among a number of shorter trips. The long hood, raised in the middle, was a constant reminder of the brute lurking underneath, but didn’t really interfere with frontal vision. The style and quality of the interior appointments are at a high level, so much so that this model compares favorably with premium Japanese and even European competitors.

The Camaro SS with standard transmission is rated at 16 mpg city, 24 highway. We averaged 20.5. The Camaro uses regular gasoline.

Is this the best muscle car ever built? Aficionados of the breed would quarrel, but an argument certainly can be made for a new Camaro that breaks new ground without abandoning its storied roots.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Olfactory Flashback

My whole life has been shaped by the collective memory of what I think my life was like. That is to say that I, like all of us, am reliant on my memories to narrate my ever-developing biography. Many of our day-to-day moments go unrecorded save for the bits of information that are automatically and irrepressibly stored at the instant of occurrence. Those bits of information assemble a 4-dimensional snapshot containing images, sounds, smells and emotions specific to that very moment or event. These snapshots are indexed in relation to those before and have hooks for which future shots will be linked. The whole lot of them continually grows into the matrix that defines our lives until our last day when our array draws to an abrupt halt. This ever-growing crystal is the id by which we are ultimately defined.

Even as we try to escape the ills of our pasts, to live in the right now and think only of tomorrow, we trudge forward with a train of ten thousand boxcars loaded with the experiences, images, joys and sorrows from a lifetime of triumphs and failures trailing behind. No matter how much baggage we offload or how many volumes of cargo we've lost the ability to recall, the train still rolls. It rolls, and grows with each new day and each new experience. In today's terms, imagine each boxcar is a hard drive filled to capacity before tethering onto it another, and another.... and another. Each indexed differently with fragmented files spanning several drives, few having similar or even compatible formats.

Day after day we deliberately task our brain-butler to summon information from our annals, bringing forth the name of our favorite Thai place, directions to the Cineplex or the twelve digit half alpha/half numeric - half upper case/half lower case passwords needed to survive in the 21st century. Every so often, random and assumed to be forgotten info unexpectedly drops right into your foremost thought. Your high school locker combination, the name of that kid that always got poison ivy, the colors of the beware of dog sign that emblazoned your childhood home's front gate. All irrelevant now but ever so freshly recalled. Some of these bits of hard data come with waves of feelings and emotions. Maybe a chill or a sensation of excitement or embarrassment accompanies the memory of your first kiss. Perhaps another memory sends a quick sharp stinger down to the ankle you twisted under your bike while attempting to do something stupid. Perhaps you feel stupid all over again. Some thoughts are there for us to draw forth on demand. Others we cannot seem to rekindle with even the voice of a thousand sirens. And others still just fall out of nowhere to grant us an episodic encore that jars us into remembrance of who we are.

I had the pleasure of experiencing the latter one afternoon nearly ten years ago. It was summer or late spring, (that part I don't remember). I was driving with my window down when a 60's era Chevy truck changed into my lane. The wafting air whirled through my car and I was overcome by the memory of my father's old car of a similar vintage. It was the combination of rusting steel, aged leather and vinyl, musty carpeting, polystyrene foam and a lean gasoline mixture that was an identical olfactory match to my father's 1968 Chevelle. I immediately recognized it as if I myself was in the driver's seat taking my first drivers test. It was my parents’ first new car, purchased just weeks after I was born. It was a beautiful metallic Tripoli Turquoise. I remember many days of sitting in the back on the ribbed vinyl seat, clear of the hump, strapped in with black pushbutton lap belts. I can still conjure up the sound that the buckles made when fastening and when being released. I even have associative feelings of joy that went with arriving at a destination and releasing the safety belt latch. The doors closed with a "creak", followed by a stout "thump".

The way my father drove combined with the slack recoil on the brake pedal provided a unique and distinctive sound that emanated from the front seat. When releasing the brake, he slid his foot off rather than lifting it. This released the pedal with a snap that "bounced" it back into place. That rhythm along with the air that whistled through the front vent windows over the roar of the small block 327 cid V8 provided the soundtrack for this particular memory. On long trips my father fancied strengthening his free hand with one of those spring loaded squeezer things that he kept in the front seat at all times. Thinking of the sound it made brings back memories of how the diamond cut plastic handles dug into my tender youthful palms and how it took me two hands to squeeze the two handles far enough to touch tip to tip, and if I didn't position it just right it would spring out of my hand nearly taking a finger with it.

Yes... these were the elusive and proverbial "good ol' days". At least that's what my id was telling me that very moment when the air from that speeding Chevy drifted on the wind into my open windows on that otherwise forgettable summer afternoon. I got a whiff of history that was so pungent that I still can recall not only that moment but the lore of that car, my childhood, my family and my father. That car that sped by me smelled like my father's car, which I identified with my father. On further thought...that car... that car smelled like me.