In which your author buys a new car: A Nissan Versa Note

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought a Nissan Versa Note. With our van still locked in a container somewhere on the high seas and my old Nissan Hardbody unable to transport our family of five, we were in a bit of a bind. We tried renting a van for a while but with the charges stacking up and with no end in sight, we figured we could just take the thousands of dollars we were likely to pay out anyhow and use them to buy something. How we ended up buying a car that a great many people think is an also-ran in the small car segment is the subject of this story. Perhaps there is a lesson in it somewhere. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: The Saddest Song

This article originally appeared at The Tannhauser Gate — JB

Open Goldberg Variations, Werner Schweer, editor.

Listening to “happy” music can make one feel happier. However, instead of always making people feel worse, listening to sad music often brings on a state of “paradoxical pleasure.”

I am not saying that listening to sad music in and of itself makes people happier. What I am saying is that listening to sad music can evoke a sequence of very complex emotions. Furthermore, many people regard experiencing that kind of a cascade of metamorphosing emotions as “pleasurable.” (Or perhaps, just as a relief.)

The somewhat waffle-like language employed above is in recognition of the fact that many people experience the same music in different ways. By the way, the sequence of emotions Shock/Disbelief/Anger/Despair formerly was called The Four Stages of Saab Ownership. “What do you mean, my engine’s harmonic balancer was held on with glue?”

I think whether the precise emotional mechanism (and what a silly word “mechanism” is to use, in this context) is transference or catharsis or a feeling of empathy will just have to remain a mystery of the human soul. But from the earliest times, serious thinkers (from Aristotle to Schopenhauer) have always recognized that the power of sad music (and also of literature and drama) does not lie in its merely making people feel sadder than they had been.

A recent BBC Culture article asks whether data diving can “reveal” the “Saddest Number One Song Ever.” I think that that article itself reveals the multiple, perhaps even fatal, limitations of such an approach.

If I had to pick one song known to me as the saddest ever (which avoids the major problems associated with judging the quality and the qualities of songs by things like Billboard charts or Grammys), that would be the “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations. The Goldberg Variations might not have words, but right at the top of the score it says “Song” (albeit in Italian).

Song samples and more pondering, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Running Hard: Cross Country in a 27 Year Old Nissan Truck

Perhaps because I have done it so often, I sometimes forget that the great American road trip is a dying tradition. Some of my earliest memories are tied into those long drives from our home in the cool, tree covered hills of Western Washington to visit my grandparents on the hot, sun baked plains of Eastern Kansas. The recollections play out in my mind like a disjointed movie – a memory of our overheated Oldsmobile station wagon on a mountain pass shooting out a geyser of steam as my father adds water collected from the melting snow, an image caught through the window of a canopy on the back of our Chevy truck where my brothers, sisters and I made another trip atop a pile of blankets, and still another, when my older three siblings had been deemed too old to be forced to make the trip, where my sister Connie and I luxuriated in the spacious backseat and the air-conditioned comfort of my dad’s Delta 88. Eventually I too aged out of that particular journey, but as an adult I still embrace the road trip and have spent more than my fair share of time using the interstate to traverse the vast distances between our nation’s shores. I’ve done it probably a dozen times now and it’s become an old trick. Perhaps that was why I felt so little trepidation over using a 27 year old Nissan to do it yet again. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Taken To School On Tires


I promised you guys a mommyblogger — the closest I could come was an autocrosser and track rat who happens to be a mother. Sorry about that. We will keep looking. In the meantime, please give Ryan a warm welcome — jb

The 2018 Michelin Tire School. Well, at least, that’s what it said on the Michelin-Man-emblazoned itinerary in my Greenville, South Carolina, hotel room. The evening’s reception and dinner were filled with cheers of meetings and reunions, car chatter, and occasional outbursts of laughter. In attendance were recognizable faces and names from within the female automotive world. We were a hodgepodge mix of professional racers, stunt drivers, club drivers, high end auto brokers, automotive photographers, automotive media & journalists, leaders from within large car clubs, with many of the women owning businesses in one form or another. That’s about the time this event became more commonly known as Michelin’s Women in Drive.

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Guest Post: The Undergrad S10

(Please welcome Daniel, everybody — this is the first of two contributions! — JB)

Elliot and I grew up in the same hometown, but didn’t become friends until we both transferred to the same university, around my twentieth birthday. Elliot was the sort of stain-on-his-shirt awkward but consistently jovial soul you couldn’t help but root for – an encyclopedia of automotive knowledge, dreadful at talking to women, and a fiercely loyal friend. We hit it off quickly between our shared classes and the car projects we were building on shoestring budgets.

Elliot’s ’97 S10 pickup was slowly becoming a mirror of its owner, this boisterous riot machine in plain clothing. What started life as a lowly 4 cylinder work truck, was now a 5.3-swapped, lightweight street fighter with 4.11 gearing and a threatening exhaust note – following the crude but venerable formula of small car, big engine that hot rodders knew and loved. While I was trying to find a more sophisticated suspension setup to improve my RX-7, Elliot was just trying to build a big hammer.

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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?

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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!

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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 →