Reader Review: 2018 Range Rover Velar

Please welcome Martin, whose loaner-vehicle experience was somewhat more upscale than most, yet not quite up to the level set by his everyday ride. As you can see from the picture, this one’s been in the queue a while — JB

During my time with the 2018 Range Rover Velar, the SiriusXM subscription included with the car introduced me to a variety of contemporary pop music that I had “missed” since I basically stopped listening to terrestrial radio about a dozen years ago. I guess that my arrival into my thirties might have been accompanied by a vague bigotry against modern pop culture, which had become so brainless, coarse and artificial that I retreated to earlier books, movies and music, looking for the intellectual and emotional meat that the current culture could seemingly not produce. I am sad to say that my negative suspicions of the mainstream music industry were confirmed, and in fact my expectations were too high. Top 40 radio is truly the negation of art, a soulless industrial product defecated from a machine fired with cynicism and hypocrisy. I sailed to the safer harbors of earlier decades, jazz, and classical.

Similarly, I had a bias against the small crossover segment. Here it is, the industry giving you what you want, or at least an imitation of it: tall, stilted hatchbacks, offering no greater interior space and worse fuel economy than the vehicles on which they are based. In many cases, actual ground clearance is only the matter of an inch more than the equivalent normal car. But you are sold the frisson of a ruggedly independent lifestyle, in which mountains are crossed and streams forded.

If you want to drive an SUV, you should buy one, and not these poor simulacra, which are neither fish nor fowl. I wanted an SUV, so I bought a Range Rover, and when it was down with the British flu recently (located in some part of its electrical sensor package, obviously), the dealership gave me the keys to a 2018 Range Rover Velar, in P250 S trim. Here was my chance to test my biases against reality. Ain’t nothing like the real thing?

Continue Reading →

A Few Reflections on Reflection

On Monday, I made the long trip up to the Land Transport Office, the Japanese version of your local License Bureau, to return the Town & Country’s license plates and obtain an export certification. Sometime this morning, the shippers are slated to come and take it to the port in Yokohama where it will be loaded into a container and put on a ship headed to the United States. If everything goes right, next week I will make my own journey and, as I tromp down the boarding ramp and take my seat in a 777 in preparation for the long flight home, my most recent Japan experience will be over.

As I sit here this morning, much of the house already torn apart and loaded into boxes, I’m struggling with how I feel about that. I often tell people that, when I am back in the States, I fight and fight for an assignment that will take us back to Japan but that, not two weeks after we arrive, I will wonder why the hell it is we came here. To be honest, Japan can be a tough place to live and, like most experiences, once you get involved in the ebb and flow of daily events, you tend to focus on the moment and forget to be amazed. It’s only when the day to day struggle ends, usually about the your departure becomes imminent, that you begin to realize where you are, what other opportunities there were, and what else you might have done. Continue Reading →

Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica: Astor Piazzolla, “Oblivion” from “Henry IV”

This piece originally appeared at The Tannhauser Gate — JB

I think that the assertion that the Nobel Prize in Literature is essentially silly (and therefore, we are fools for taking it seriously) has something to be said for it. (Those happen to be the positions of the British novelist and translator Tim Parks.)

Not one of: James Joyce, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Henry James, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Mark Twain, Nabokov and Chekhov made the cut. But strange omissions compete with strange awardings—John Steinbeck “got the gong” (a slang term for a large medallion), yet James Joyce did not? Furthermore, the requirement that a candidate must be alive to receive the prize meant that late-blooming (or posthumously published) authors such as Kafka, Proust, Calvino, and Mandelstam could not even be considered.

Still and all, there are a few unimpeachable selections (Bob Dylan, in my opinion, is most definitely not among them).

In my opinion, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Solzhenitsyn, Faulkner, and Hermann Hesse all deserved the money and the medal. I even think that Sigrid Undset (who?) was a deserving recipient. Undset’s massive (1400 pages) Medieval trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter should be much better known. I am tempted to say that if you loved The Lord of the Rings, you should try Kristin Lavransdatter. (In the period when she was “working up to” Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset had published a Norwegian translation of the Arthurian legends.)

For what all this has to do with Gidon Kremer and Astor Piazzolla, please click on the jump link. Continue Reading →

1987 Cadillac Fleetwood d’Elegance – Best Of All, It’s A Cadillac

The car I can remember like it was yesterday was my grandmother’s 1987 Fleetwood d’Elegance. No, this was not the large and in charge Brougham d’Elegance, but the trimmer, front wheel drive Fleetwood. The year was 1989. My Grandma was a young 77 years old. She had just lost her second husband a few months prior, and driving was now her full responsibility. I kept hearing her say how she didn’t enjoy driving as much as she used to. I was confused because she had a beautiful 1979 Cadillac Sedan deVille that previously belonged to my Uncle Bob. In 1986 he bought a new Fleetwood Brougham to replace the ’79 Sedan deVille so he gave the old Caddy to my Grandmother. It was a rare one too – a beautiful color called Cedar Firemist, with a rare power Astroroof, CB radio, leather interior and nearly all the options Caddy offered for the year.

1979 Sedan de Ville

Oddly enough he didn’t order a tilt & telescopic steering wheel which I used to make sure I made a joke of with him all the time! When I asked why he didn’t get it he said he didn’t need it. Unfortunately it made it hard for my short Grandma to get comfortable in that huge Caddy! She really could have used that tilt wheel!

Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Sales Is A Four-Letter Word

This comes to us from a Riverside Green reader who would like to remain anonymous — JB

Oh, and no one ever really knows you
And life is brief
So I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with
This black hole in me?

I am an industrial salesman. I sell metal. My company is a “boutique” outlet for specialty alloys and steels, and heavily involved in aerospace and oil & gas. Because of our niche position in the market, it is embarrassingly lucrative. In the last four months of 2017, I brought home more money than my father ever received annually throughout his 43 years of blue collar labor. I was 27. Those four months were spent in an air-conditioned office, a luxury that Dad did not know until very late in his career. I am deeply ashamed of this, and do not know how to reconcile it with my previously held notions about success.

Continue Reading →

Review: Bricasti Design M15 Solid-State Stereo Amplifier

I just had a rather arresting (in the sense of, one has to stop doing anything else, and just listen) listening experience. I want to share it with you. The music I was listening to is from an underappreciated (really, almost unknown) classic-era jazz recording; but I have heard it many times.

However, I had never heard it like this—it was a real “Holy Poop!” moment. (The truth is, I did exclaim rather loudly, 19 seconds into my favorite track.)

The recording is Guitar Forms, guitarist Kenny Burrell’s 1965 orchestral collaboration with arranger and conductor Gil Evans, the same Gil Evans of Miles Davis Sketches of Spain fame. (Guitar Forms remastering, Verve 314 521 403-2; imported CD from Amazon; also available streaming from Tidal.)

Creed Taylor (later of CTI, the crossover label that so many loved to hate) produced, while Rudy van Gelder was the engineer. Session players included Lee Konitz, Bill Barber (both of whom played on the Birth of the Cool recorded live performances, as well as the recording sessions), Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones. How can you beat that? Guitar Forms is a wonderful recording, so even if you are not in the market for a new power amp, you owe it to yourself to read on. A generous sound sample and more audio commentary are to be found after the jump. Continue Reading →

Guest Rental Review: Ford Transit

Being practical, I spent the ‘winter term’ of my freshman year in college earning an EMT Basic certification in lieu of studying ‘Religiosity in the Simpsons’. My idea was to both increase my earning power during summers through learning a skill and to do something useful. After busting my ass for a month in a compressed course while friends in the dorms pulled all night benders, I passed the simple exam and started volunteering for the rural county EMS provider. That gave me the chance to get up-close-and-personal with a variety of Ford Econolines including a late 80s 460-powered Type II (van body) bruiser back-up bus (you may have seen this at Putnam Park), a 7.3L naturally aspirated Type III (box-type) diesel, and a pair of 7.3L ‘Powerstroke’ turbodiesel Type IIIs. All had well in excess of 150,000 miles. None were cosmetically pretty. All were in reasonable mechanical repair.

After going through an Emergency Vehicle Operators Course – consisting of watching a video – and driving around on a wet high school parking lot forwards and backwards with a senior Paramedic, I was deemed qualified to operate a 5 ton truck capable of pushing 100 miles with lights, sirens, and an air horn at the ripe age of 18. Naturally, I drove as much as I could: emergency responses, 120-mile round-trip patient transports to regional medical centers, in conditions ranging from a sedate transport on beautiful spring days to emergency transports in the midsts of hellacious storms so rotten helicopters couldn’t fly. Since I was paired with a full-time Paramedic, I’d ride in the back about half the time, depending on the patient’s condition. That also meant I was the guy driving when the patient’s life literally hung in the balance and OTIF delivery to a trauma center 60 miles away would determine whether someone went home alive.

The old Econoline was a noisy, wandering, bouncy, uncomfortable steed with hot, cramped footwells, weak AC, and suspension tuning that would give you nausea from repeated jolts to the front wheels. At speed, the losing combination of a drag coefficient approaching the percentage of Millenial males unfit for military service and a complete lack of suspension travel made high speed work simply terrifying. It required micro-movements to keep the thing straight and huge corrections when the nose started wandering around. No brake or steering feel, either.

Why the hell does this matter in an ambulance? Because when some asshole doesn’t see a huge ambulance with dozens of flashing lights and 200 watts of blaring siren and therefore pulls out in front of you, or in those fortunately rare times when seconds really do count and you’re driving down an ice-covered interstate as fast as possible to get to a scene, you need to know what’s going on with the vehicle in order to arrive alive and avoid creating your own bus crash.

With bad memories of “American” style vans in mind, I pulled into Enterprise to pick up a 15-passenger van for a week-long adults-only vacation in Charleston with my wife and 6 other good friends. I was the designated driver for the 850 mile jaunt.

Continue Reading →

A Little Ditty About Dan and Roseanne

Tonight, after a 20 year hiatus, the 90’s sitcom staple Roseanne returns to network television. The critics, fresh from their advance viewing, have done their part and the internet is awash in reviews. As expected, opinions are mixed but the details being reported appear to be consistent. The father of the Conner family, Dan, it turns out is not dead and, in the years since we last met, life has churned relentlessly on. The middle and most problematic child in the original series, Darlene, appears to be once again at the center of the action and is back at her parents’ with her kids in tow in the wake of a divorce. Her older sister Becky, meanwhile, is a widow – the actor who had played her husband, Mark, in the original series has passed away – and the youngest of the Conner’s three children, DJ, has married a person of color. The situation appears to be set and the comedy will surely flow but the cherry on top of it all – and it’s the one fact that the papers are simply up in arms about – is that Roseanne is a Trump supporter. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Overcoming Our Animal Nature

“Everyone,” as Mike Tyson famously said, “has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s a good quote, but I think it vastly overestimates the majority of the human race. In my experience, most people don’t have a plan. In fact, punch in the mouth or not, most of us don’t even have a consistent direction. No, I’m afraid, the truth is that most of us are winging it all the time.

Planning is a uniquely human skill set and the ability reliably do so was so important to our ancestors that they devoted an immense amount of labor constructing sites like Stonehenge in order to predict the best days for planting or harvesting crops. Their efforts helped humanity to achieve dominance over nature and while it can be argued that animals like wolves can cooperate to spring cunning traps, that certain birds and chimpanzees can make and use primitive tools, and that beavers can work to shape the natural environment, no other animal can plan for the future with the thoroughness of mankind. Why then, do so few of us do it? Continue Reading →

Guest Post: They (Still) Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

(Please extend the usual sullen Riverside Green welcome to returning contributor Michael Briskie — JB)

It was snowing outside the dealership, and the sales staff were busy running around cleaning cars on the lot. “They don’t make them like they used to,” said an aging customer wandering around the showroom. He was admiring an immaculate 1960’s Beetle, occupying prime real estate just inside the front doors, juxtaposed against the new cars on display. I hesitated before asking what he meant by that, recognizing the likelihood of a long conversation stuffed with foggy nostalgia.

“We used to drive an old Beetle through the snow like it was nobody’s business,” he said. “You couldn’t break it if you tried.”

Given his fondness for the good old days, I wondered why he even bothered to come look at new cars on this slippery morning. He could instead buy that very Beetle, perfectly restored, for less than ten grand. He was right though. Air cooled Beetles conquered everything from winter storms to Baja desert racing. Many still do. 50 years later, tens of thousands of these things just keep on going, probably because they’re just so easy to fix.

People buy cars around their perceived notions of reliability all the time. In fact, there is no other reason I can use to explain the volume of Corolla sales. It all got me thinking: Do automakers REALLY care about the lifespan of their cars? And like that Bug, fifty years from now, will we see anything at all on the road from 2018? With that, let’s dig into the ideas of planned obsolescence, lifecycle management, and mainly, whether or not any car companies give a damn about how a car ages.

Continue Reading →