(Last) Weekly Roundup: Chinese Discount Democracy Edition

Today on TTAC a reader responded to my “hit piece” on the Chinese-made Volvo S90 by saying that I had “solidified his decision” to take advantage of a lease offer on the Chinese-made Volvo S90, thus enjoying his Chinese-made S90 for at least three years to come. When I heard that there was a great lease offer on the Chinese-made Volvo S90, I decided to go see if there was also a great lease offer on the Swedish-built Volvo V90.

Turns out that the Chinese metal is already being discounted. We’re about 60 days into the 2018 model year, mind you. If you want a real deal on a Chinese-made Volvo S90, you should wait until later in the year. The market will continue to adjust. Trust me on this.

Alright, let’s get the wheels of the time machine spinning and see what I wrote last week.

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The Day We All Went Underground

He was ten feet off the cave floor, bike and rider stretched and twisted in the old-school BMX trick that was called a “Judge” and a “Leary” before settling into the modern appellation of “lookback”. Then he disappeared down the backside of the jump and we all heard the thump echo back across two hundred feet. The two thirtysomething men who were pedaling back up to the rest of us in the staging area dropped their bikes then broke and ran in that direction. Silence fell as the chattering children to my right picked up on their parents’ vibe, shut up, and turned to face the incident. Three, four empty seconds and then there was a loud cough. After thirty-three years behind the handlebars of a BMX bike I can heard blood in a cough and this time I heard blood.

More silence. Then: “HE’S UP! HE’S OKAY!” At the trails or the skatepark, “okay” doesn’t mean “unhurt”. It means that the ambulance isn’t coming. A wave of guilty relief swept through seven of the twelve riders surrounding me. They’d come down from Fort Wayne as a group, vans filled with bikes of all sizes for them and their children. An ambulance trip would have ended everybody’s day. I saw the fellow who had crashed stumble out from behind the jump. Someone else carried his bike away. We sat up in the staging area and fidgeted. Nobody wanted to be the first person to hit that section afterwards. You could call it respect or superstition or cowardice; it is all of those. Finally, one of the socially awkward spandex-clad mountain bikers who had arrived right before the wreck clicked into his pedals, rode down the slope, and bumbled through the line, accompanied by the bounce and clank of chain and derailleur. We frowned at this crass incompetence but in truth we were grateful. The spell was broken. Four of the Fort Wayne guys rolled in a tight line after him. The third one boosted a sky-high lookback over the recently-cursed jump and landed it with fingertip delicacy. Then the kids flocked after them and the noise of conversation rose again in the humid, dusty air.

I took a run down the center line and walked my bike back up the incline to conserve energy. When I got to the picnic benches up top the injured rider was sitting there in slack-jawed shock, his helmet still on, twisting his body to get both hands on his drooping left shoulder. He looked like he might vomit in the near future.

“Did you dislocate your shoulder?” I asked. His response was delivered in the patient monotone that always follows a direct impact of helmet to ground.

“I have metal in here,” he replied, “from an old wreck. A lot of metal. And I think… it’s bent.”

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1963 Cadillac Convertible – Luxury Jet

Finding this fine Bill Mitchell-era Cadillac was all due to a battery failure. Not to get too deep into it, but I wear a cochlear implant, as I lost my “factory” hearing back in 1996. It uses rechargeable batteries, and when it goes out, I can’t hear. Really. You could fire a shotgun behind me, and I wouldn’t hear it. I’d probably feel the vibrations in the ground, but I’d perceive exactly zero sounds. So you can thank my forgetting a spare battery for this topless luxocruiser.

I was at my parents’ one weekend, and we decided to go see Lincoln (sorry, no Continentals in this flick; good, nonetheless). About ten minutes after we got to the theater, my battery went flat. I normally carry a spare at all times, but for some reason, I didn’t grab it when I left my place that day. Murphy’s Law, had to have happened after we got there, and not on the way! So, I borrowed my parents’ car, left them at the theater to get tickets and seats, and dashed back home for a fresh battery. But as I was returning to the theater, sitting at a red light, I spotted a 1963 Cadillac at a distance, parked at K-Mart. Movie or no movie, I had to stop.

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Made In The USA: Vans Style 113

Repeat after me: There has not been a “skate shoe” made in the United States since the turn of the century.

There has not been a “skate shoe” made in the United States since the turn of the century.

Ah, but we are both wrong. There were one thousand, four hundred skate shoes made in the United States this year. Seven hundred pairs. At a price, and through a distribution method, that borders on the obscene.

Eppur si muove, though. This pair is mine.

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Twilight Of The Trijets

I saw it lifting from the runway at RSW, plain white with the windows masked off and not a single bit of livery to be seen, nose up and stretching for the sky with the exuberance you’ll sometimes see when there are no passengers to be placated or drinks to be kept level. “That’s… a DC-10,” I told Danger Girl, “or… wait… it’s probably an MD-11.” As we rounded off the main road and headed to the rental return area I saw two more of them parked at Terminal B. Were they military? NASA? Some sort of black-ops equipment that dare not speak its name on the fuselage but which also didn’t need to be hidden too carefully from the retirees, golfers, and snowbirds that use the Fort Myers airport on a daily basis?

None of the above. These were MD-11F freighters operated by Western Global, part of its eleven identical trijet fleet. Western Global is a very new airline, having recently celebrated its fourth year in operation. You won’t ever take a ride on a Western Global plane, unless you are a specialized piece of cargo or possibly a FedEx package on an overflow weekend. (And if that’s the case, how are you reading this site?) The last passenger flights to use an MD-11 happened three years ago, with a KLM plane named “Audrey Hepburn”. That final flight occurred just a few months after the MD-11’s predecessor, the occasionally star-crossed McDonnell-Douglas DC-10, took its final passenger flight with a Bangladeshi airline.

The trijet era is a footnote in aviation history now — but it’s worth taking a quick look at how these early widebody aircraft both exemplified and influenced some of the tropes in both engineering and marketing that continue to raise their ugly heads in the aviation — and automotive — world even today.

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Made In The USA, Soon: Pacific Blue Denims

Last week I told you the bad news about the closing of Cone Mills. Today I have some good news. Pacific Blue Denims has announced that they are buying six of the Draper X3 looms to made selvedge denim in the United States again.

To find out more about the Draper looms and another, much smaller operation using them here in the United States, take a look at Huston Textiles. Note that neither one of these firms actually makes finished clothing; they are suppliers to the large market of small-batch clothing makers out there, many of who are either in Japan or the United States. Cross your fingers for Pacific Blue — and I’ll keep you posted as I find out more!

The Darkest Days Of The Les Paul (Kind Of)

When I got home from the mountain bike park yesterday I saw an email from a friend telling me to watch the above video. “Is that a P-90/humbucker combination in Schon’s Les Paul?” he asked. “I’ve never seen that.” My off-the-cuff response was, “Well, it’s a Les Paul BFG combo, just like my Les Paul Gator.” But that was an obviously ridiculous response because the BFG wasn’t introduced until twenty years after this video was filmed.

So I decided to do a little bit of Internet (and actual book!) research to find out what was going on. The answer ended up being a sort of Seventies synecdoche, incorporating various sorts of concepts and tropes — from guitar-as-tool to Boomer-driven-nostalgia-control to plain-and-simple corporate ignorance.

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Weekly Roundup: The Chicken Edition

Brother Bark and I have our birthdays just a couple of weeks apart. I don’t know what to say other than the known fact that our father is a fellow who sticks to a routine.

Happy forty-sixth to me. Here’s Jaco on his 30th birthday, playing a concert for his friends and family. It seems unfair that I’ve outlived Jaco by a decade. The less you accomplish in life, the longer it takes for you to do it.

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.

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No Longer Made In The USA: Cone Mills, Thanks To The Human Garbage At “Platinum Equity”

Heritage America, meet Modern America. One year ago, the International Textile Group was purchased by Platinum Equity Partners. If you’re not familiar with what “private equity” firms do, it’s this: They buy companies that are perceived as undervalued, then they go through and ruthlessly force every aspect of that company through a race-to-the-bottom process. The newly-efficient parts of the company are then stripped and sold. It is a process by which the rich become richer and the poor become unemployed, and it represents late-stage capitalism at its bloodthirsty, inhumane worst.

The flagship plant of International Textile Group is the Cone Mills denim production facility in North Carolina. Few people expected that it would survive the private-equity process. Sure enough, ITG announced that it is terminating production and closing the plant after 117 years of operation. Think of that! This plant survived the world wars, the Great Depression, the energy crisis, the Carter Depression, and the 2008 recession. But it couldn’t survive a year of private-equity management.

The employees are sad, but proud to have made the world’s finest denim. From now on, the high-end denim market will be entirely owned by the Japanese, who treasure the concept of “American jeans” and who have created modern machines to faithfully reproduce the irregularities of Cone Mills’ century-old production line. There will still be denim fabric made in America, courtesy of “Denim North America” in Georgia. You will still be able to get USA-made denim jeans from Dearborn and a few other suppliers. But the real high-end fabric, the stuff that makes my Flint&Tinder jeans so perfect, the fabric that served as the basis for the USA-made Lucky 363 Vintage jeans — that’s gone with the wind. So a bunch of billionaire jerkoffs can increase their rate of return by a fraction of a percent.

If you want to try the Cone Mills products before it’s too late, I’ve rounded up some options for you, based on some personal experience.

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