Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bronx: freedom from hipsters and gentrification

Which is just the way I like it. The Bronx is as intimidatingly raw as it is overwhelmingly friendly. I found people in Manhattan are too busy to be helpful and Staten Island residents are too paranoid to deal with. Only in the Bronx will someone toss you their keys so you can let yourself into a locked private condo building.
The neighborhoods range from dense projects to single family homes on quiet streets. Along the Hudson River the neighborhoods seem almost suburban and across the borough Co-op City is the worlds largest apartment complex. Many remind me of the set from Sesame Street. That is if Hooper's Store sold blunts, the front steps smelled of urine and Bert & Ernie enjoyed an occasional taste of snow.
The lack of gentrification keeps things authentic. Corner stores and local diners dominate the storefronts and for some reason Jerome Ave. manages to have at least one auto glass place per block for miles. It lacks the touristy feel that some parts of Manhattan have, I'm fairly sure the new Yankees Stadium is as far North as they dare to go.
Not the most glamorous area but not the worst place to be working. My one gripe is the widespread use of the Bumper De-Fender. The only thing worse than poor parking jobs are rewarding bad parkers for their lack of skill. From the looks of things it didn't do a whole lot of good.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where it smells like burning

For the third year in a row, work has dropped me into NYC's industrial neighbor to the South. Time spent here is a series of bell shaped curves, moments of joy or curiosity followed by valleys of anger at traffic or the locals. It seems like this would be a choice destination if you're looking for a fight.
The first reaction is... "Hey, it's the NYC skyline" followed by the realization shipping containers block the view. As the weeks progress the stack grows higher, work gets increasingly tiring and sleep is harder to come by. May be the neighbors to blame, the annoying family across the hall, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, the Jersey Turnpike and/or the Newark International Airport.
Two hours of each day are spent on I-95 dealing with the never ending road rage and close calls that keep the entire population on the brink of hostility. Turnpike traffic is a combination of the aggressive tactics found in New York City driving mixed with excessive highway speeds. Only here can you find semi trucks cut each other off, brakes lock up, trailers swerve into the other lane and the trucks fly up over cement barriers on a regular basis.
Sopranos filming locations dot the landscape, people who could easily pass for extras in the series are also in good supply. Its a mysterious place, at first you think its kinda cool, then you get a slight headache. About a week into it you're ready to go home, at two weeks... ready to hit someone. Could be the chemicals in the air, I dunno. It's reassuring to know that driving North out of NYC yields the exact opposite kind of place.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

San Diego: A Hotbed of Perfection

San Diego. An abrupt departure from Arizona's formidable dust, this place is uncomfortably perfect. The average San Diegan spends an impressive amount of time outdoors, they just don't realize it because the inside and outside have blended into a mix of perfect that is hard to discern. Shopping, dining and drinking take place in a hybrid environment of sunshine, hallways, ocean breezes and wild birds.
Won't find many angry people here, it works like AT&T Rollover Minutes. With each day comes the same perfect weather, smooth running public transit, innovative fast food solutions...
Low stress allows for this excess of good times to carryover until needed during tax season or for a unexpected trip to Tulsa.
I traded my Nielsen business cards for a NEA conference badge and settled in for the combination of sightseeing, seafood and education based democracy.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson spoke about the importance of funding education. Teachers rallied against adopting performance based pay, after arguing over how to define it. Former Vermont Governor, Doctor, Democratic Party chairman, Presidential hopeful, and infamous screamer Howard Dean promoted his book about how to fix healthcare. Manny Ramirez returned after a 50 game suspension, apparently baseball was played, I found $2 huge draft beers by way of the black market Petco Field beer trade.
San Diego reminds me of the cover of Sim City 4, municipal perfection that borders on impossible to make when you play the game yourself. A little bit of this makes up for a whole lot of what comes next.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Because calling it a skateboard is letting them win

Regional Chain Review: Whataburger

Whataburger is a chain burger joint in the American Southwest that goes to great lengths to recreate fast food burgers in a style that represents your very own botched cooking attempts. A pioneer in theme chain dining, the 'your own shitty attempt at cooking' genre is still few and far between. While the food came from a commercial kitchen and was received via drive thru window, aside from the wrapper and branded bags the food is just like you used to make it way back when.
The choicest cuts of frozen beef patty were cooked in a manner to replicate the tastes of a George Forman Jr. with a full grease tray that was purchased at a garage sale. In the Whataburger kitchens the magic begins when a slovenly dressed team member hastily chops lettuce and tomato while nursing a fierce hangover. Craftsmanship continues as the bleached flour bun, institutional grade beef and waxed paper all are balled into a mess and thrown into a bag. A throw back to the days when I didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Regional Chain Review: Pirate's Fish & Chips


An ABOMINATION located on E Baseline Road near Mill St in Tempe AZ.

My Domestic Chariots


While I prefer my personal cars to be complicated, European, underpowered, expensive and repair prone the vast majority of my 16 company rentals have been domestic. Nearly every one was cheaper to repair, simpler, more powerful and easier to use than those in my own garage. In the tens of thousands of miles I have put on these lowly rental cars there have been faults, under-engineering and annoying cost cutting build quality, but it's not as bad as you'd think.

On this Independence day weekend I'm giving a tip of my hat to what's left of the American Auto Industry. A Toyota has an appliance like quality about it, reliable but lacking presence. Of course the time you spend and places you go in your Toyota build memories and before you know it the reliability itself is a characteristic as endearing as any other. But I don't have time to wait for a car to grow on me, these rental cars are a limited time sort of deal and need to be impressive from Avis lot to rental return. They need swagger right out the box.
The Charger comes from the weakest of the Big Three. An effort to conjure up emotion with a retro look paying homage to a happier time for Chrysler. With looks right out of Hazard County and a striking resemblance to a Georgia State Highway Patrol cruiser the Charger has a coolness I've yet to find in a Hyundai. I can think of no better car for highway cruising, it just eats up the miles effortlessly as other drivers panic and slow to a legal 65 MPH. Perhaps its my midwestern sensibilities but there's just something about a full size sedan, it feasts on interstate miles.
Another guilty pleasure, another American retro styled car... imagine that. The V6 powered Ford Mustang has secured its place in recent history as the car of choice for spoiled upper middle class high school girls. After checking my ego at the rental counter I found the Mustang, even in its most pedestrian of forms to be solid fun. Just enough power to remind you that it is rear wheel drive and just loud enough to enjoy the acoustics of a parking garage. Perfect for some Arizona desert off roading, not the best for picking up used after a rough gig as a rental car.
The Chevy Impala isn't a sports car and certainly isn't the poster of choice for childhood bedrooms. It is the V6 powered, front wheel drive GM sedan that is the spiritual descendant of land yachts of yore. Beneath its bland corporate GM looks lurks a powertrain that is built for crushing yellow lights and venturing into the left lane. What impressed me most about the Impala was how far the basic American sedan had come. Heated leather seats, Bose XM radio, Onstar (which almost came in handy) and nearly 250 horsepower made the thousands of miles I drove in under two weeks fly by.

It has become apparent these aren't the watered down American sedans of my youth. The big three need to focus on build quality, seat comfort and a higher grade of interior plastics. Forget the practices of planned obsolescence, build the right car instead of the car for right now.

Who told California about Sedona?


For 45 minutes I braved the winding two lane road to Sedona. I had it on good authority, by way of a college roommates recollections, that Sedona was the most beautiful place on earth. The cramped and narrow road to Sedona was a claustrophobic preview of the crowded streets that would await.
Sedona is a breathtaking place that just happens to be chock full of Californians. I need to go back sometime with no schedule to keep, when its not a weekend, and when the roads are in tact.