(Last) Weekly Roundup: When I Rose To Be Ossified Edition

I turned 49 a couple of weeks ago. On the face of it, this seems ridiculous. At this age, my grandfather was wrapping up his career and preparing to retire nice and early in his mid-fifties. When my father was forty-nine years old, he was just a half-decade away from heading to Hilton Head and concentrating on golf. They were adults, y’know? They knew who they were and where they were going. I didn’t observe any significant change in them after this age. (Not much before, either, to be honest.)

Your humble author, on the other hand, is far from being settled in any sense. I have no idea where I’m going to live in a few years. Don’t know what job I’ll be working, whether I will be richer or poorer. I might save up and buy my destination race car, a Radical SR8 — or I might sell all the race cars and never think about that again. Could build a new house, or I could live in a condo. No matter what happens, I still expect to be: intemperate, easily distracted, riding children’s bicycles, playing great guitars badly, continually and heartlessly tortured by the basest and most juvenile of desires.

Not a grown-up, in other words. And yet I can dimly perceive the edge of a certain… process… going on in my mind. The same way that one’s near-field vision is just great until it isn’t — but you knew it was going bad nevertheless. Something terrible is happening to me. Perhaps it’s accelerated by this oh-so-manufactured crisis all around us, perhaps not. Can’t say. Anyway. What’s going on is this: I’m losing what we will, for lack of a better phrase, call emotional elasticity.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Act Fast If You Want The Big D Edition

Well, that escalated quickly. This past Tuesday morning I drove two hilariously expensive variants of the Dodge Durango — the 475-horsepower, 6.4-liter SRT and 710-horsepower, 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat — around Carolina Motorsports Park. The SRT is about sixty-four grand, while the Hellcat starts at eighty. These are fully-equipped, viciously quick unibody SUVs with optional features like the same “forged carbon” interior pieces one would find in a well-equipped Lamborghini Huracan. I can’t discuss the Hellcat’s driving characteristics yet, but the “plain” SRT would give a lot of smallbore club racers a run for their money around a track, doubly so if you had real tires on the thing instead of high-load-rated sport-utility rubber on there.

Just fifteen years ago, the “D”, as marque enthusiasts call it, was nothing more than a parts-bin special, basically a Dakota pickup with minivan taillights. Now it’s a credible unibody alternative to hyper-speed German speedsters from AMG and BMW M, loaded throughout with soft-touch interior materials, widescreen infotainment, and large-pizza-sized brake rotors. The Hellcat, in particular, is capable of easily slaying the BMW X5M at a $25,000 discount.

As a party trick, the biggest D really satisfies. Unfortunately, the party won’t last for long.

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Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Is Revealed To Have Missed Yet Another Slim Chance To Join Guns N’ Roses Edition

True story: The man who would eventually call himself W. Axl Rose really, really, really admired Stephen Pearcy. You know, the guy who founded Ratt. Axl desperately wanted to emulate Pearcy, and he wanted his bands to sound like Ratt. Thankfully, he didn’t get his wish. Appetite For Destruction is to Ratt’s Invasion Of Your Privacy as A Love Supreme is to Sammy Davis Jr. Sings The Big Ones For Young Lovers, and I don’t just say that because the G n’ R debut LP is personally important to me. Which is not to say that there isn’t an obvious line to be drawn through the various glam-rock bands to Appetite. One benefit of hindsight is that you can see overarching trends which were overshadowed in period by the differences between the works in question. Almost nothing is really sui generis, particularly in music.

I imagine that people will still be listening to G n’R long after they forget about Ratt, the same way we’ve long since discarded the most popular jazz and rock musicians of the Fifties and Sixties in exchange for a relatively small “curated” selection of work. Led Zeppelin is a much bigger part of Seventies Rock(tm) today than they ever were in the Seventies; go read a Billboard chart if you don’t believe me. This slimming-down of Eighties Rock has already happened to some degree, which is why W. Axl can pack a stadium with almost any group of people he cares to name “Guns N’ Roses” while Stephen Pearcy is playing sports bars during the day. Legally and to some extent practically, G n” R is whatever Axl says it is.

Which leads to a question: Other than Axl, who is the longest-serving member of Guns N’ Roses? Hint, albeit a horribly obscure one: that’s his guitar pictured above.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: November Surprise And The Day The Masks All Slipped Edition

Praise be to Pfizer, the vaccine is here. It’s 90% effective! Given that COVID-19 only appears to affect about one percent of people anyway, one wonders if perhaps this vaccine actually increases your chance of getting it. Don’t assume the math doesn’t actually work that way. This country has entered a hall of mirrors now, or perhaps it’s that horrifying sense of paranoid disconnection from reality associated with a Maureen Dowd level of marijuana edible consumption. You can’t trust anything you read. Trump said there was a vaccine coming; the media rushed to “debunk” this irresponsible claim. But there was a vaccine coming. It just wasn’t going to be ready until we had a President who doesn’t ask awkward questions about our absolute dependence on India and China for low-quality, high-profit pharmaceuticals.

If, indeed, we have that President. Your mileage might still vary. But you would’t know it from reading social media, because the past twelve days or so have witnessed an unprecedented and terrifying display of power on the part of Silicon Valley — one that should upset the Molotov-throwing Antifa soldiers as much as it worries the “Farmers For Trump”.

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Weekly Roundup: She’s Always Buzzing Just Like… Edition

What a long, strange trip this has been… and it’s not over. One of my readers put his one-owner ’98 ACR Coupe on eBay back in, uh, February. I was pretty much the only bidder. Then we all had to sit around and flatten the curve a bit… which didn’t help anyone but did keep me from going to Atlanta to pick up the car. Finally, another one of my readers offered to finish the transaction of my behalf. Which involved getting a tow truck. Well, it involved getting three tow trucks because the first two backed out with zero notice.

So the Neon now has a temporary Georgia home while I make plans to go get it. My hopes are that I will repaint the car — it’s a Belvidere Plymouth, the clearcoat was finished before the bumper-to-bumper warranty expired — and get it fixed up to the point where it more or less feels like a new 1998 Neon ACR coupe. It would be a waste to turn it into a race car, of course, and I already have a SCCA/NASA-legal Neon to race.

Something tells me that it will be harder to find a survivor/restored first-gen Neon in ten years than it will be to find a Ferrari 250GTO. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it will be worth anything to anyone.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Theory And/Of/Or Practice Edition

(Something to think about before you read this: Watch a few moments of the above video and get a sense of who these three people are. We will come back to that at the end of this post.)

Instagram is currently targeting your humble author with advertisements for something called Wonderdads. It tells me that “91% of Dad-Kid bonding happens between the ages of 0-12.” What a bizarrely specific way to state such a shapeless fact! Yet it’s not specific enough to guide any further action. My son has just rounded the corner towards his twelfth birthday. So we have six months left. What percentage of Dad-Kid Bonding(tm) is still available to us? Five percent? Fifty? Ninety point nine? I’m not going to piss away real money on Wonderdads if we’re looking at a minor uptick in bonding here. If you could give me twenty percent more bonding, I’d think about the product, which apparently is a pre-written routine for “dad-kid traditions” and whatnot. Every day you wake up and the Wonderdads app will tell you how to be a more wonderful dad. Thus the name of the app. I’m not against it. But I need a better sense of the cost/benefit ratio here.

How much bonding my son and I have done is debatable. Possibly none, since I don’t yet have the app.

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Weekly Roundup: Payton’s Piece Of Mind And The Bigoted Bike Shop Edition

“Sampling has turned Hiphop into the deformed child of a mother who’s been fucked by her own son.” Not what you’d expect to read in a modern music-review thinkpiece, but with Nicholas Payton it’s more or less par for the course. Payton, who along with Roy Hargrove was promoted as a “young lion” of a revitalized traditional jazz thirty years ago, has long since gone his own way, and chosen his own opinion, about everything from his record label (he’s self-published now, because he doesn’t want to hear other opinions) to his take on the “N-word” (it is related somehow to the Sanskrit naga, which means snake, so if you are Black then saying the word is a sort of prayer, or spiritual self-activation).

Some of Payton’s written work proved even too hot for a self-employed musician to handle, but you can still find it on archive.org, most of it related to Robin Thicke and the “Blurred Lines” lawsuits with Marvin Gaye’s estate. I assume that at some point some attorney told him that repeatedly offering an opinion that differed from the one published by the trial court, and being rather personally offensive with it, was going to get him sued next.

Nicholas Payton hates me — not me personally mind you, but me as a generic idea, a German-American human being and jazz fan. He doesn’t think “jazz” exists, preferring to include it in his umbrella of #BAM (Black American Music). And he doesn’t think whites have any business listening to or playing it. In fact, he’s kind of down on the whole idea of white people. I can only imagine what he would think if he walked in on my and my son practicing the Metheny and Pastorius parts of “Bright Size Life”. Something along the lines of “two crackers stealing the music of two other crackers who stole the music,” most likely. And yet I have no trouble buying his music, reading what he writes, and supporting his efforts in general. I’m not going to apply a litmus test of political and personal conformity to everyone with whom I do business. That would be insane.

Not everyone feels that way, of course.

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Weekly Roundup: Not Up For Debate Edition

Do you suppose that there was a single voter in all of the United States who changed his (or her) mind about anything after watching the Vice-Presidential debate? Why, it’s almost too ridiculous to consider such a prospect. This wasn’t a true debate, any more than the Presidential one that preceded it was a debate. It was a gladiatorial contest, a football game, a NASCAR race — all the things that boil down to My Tribe Vs. Your Tribe. A fly landed on Mike Pence’s hair. This was very bad, and suggested that Pence was a robot or possibly a human garbage dump. (When it happened to Mrs. Clinton in 2016, the same sources said it was an auspicious sign of emotion.) Oh, and Pence also interrupted Harris quite a bit, yet Harris managed to pull off the trick of speaking for longer than her opponent. Who knows how that was done?

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Weekly Roundup: Folded, Spindled, Mutilated Edition

To the unpleasantries of September — contentious and unsatisfying club races, difficulties in getting my Radical prepped for the track, some coward lobbing libelous Molotovs at my employment from (what might turn out to not be) complete anonymity — I can now add a long, jagged fracture of the right fibula, sustained at Austin’s Walnut Creek Trails this past Tuesday. On my warm-up lap. I cleared three jumps on a borrowed Specialized P3 then promptly earned myself a two-month sit-down in the final turn.

Since I was in Austin for the primary purpose of reviewing the new Rolls-Royce Ghost, I stuck around for two days and did my job, walking on the ankle while telling myself not to be a you-know-what about it. This probably increased the difficulty of the repair to come, but I have a great young surgeon who trained with the fellow who fixed my left tibia in 2015 — who, in turn, trained with the fellow who did my femur nail in 1988 and who recently jammed some plasma into my right knee. I’ll be able to ride much of the indoor skatepark season and if I do all my therapy well I should be able to hit the big jumps at Snowshoe when they open in May.

This is going to hurt a little bit, of course, but if you know me then you know what really hurts is the loss of time.

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Weekly Roundup: 1994’s Gift That Will Never Stop Giving Edition

In 1985, this country encountered something new: a trade deficit with China. It was just six million dollars. In 1994, President Bill Clinton ignored criticism from his own party to renew China’s Most Favored Nation trade status, citing the eight billion dollars’ worth of export business this country did with China. He tactfully failed to mention the thirty-nine billion dollars’ worth of goods we imported, for a net deficit of thirty billion dollars. And then we were off to the races, as government policies under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations made it a no-brainer for American companies to outsource their manufacturing and technical operations overseas. That deficit doubled, then doubled again, within the first ten years after Clinton’s decision. It peaked in 2018 at a staggering $418 billion before dropping to $345 billion in 2019. We are currently on track for a 2020 trade deficit of $279 billion, the lowest figure since 2009.

Last year, I tried like hell to build a “dirt jumper” bike without Chinese parts. I spent nearly five thousand dollars sourcing a frame from Ann Arbor, rims from Grand Rapids, titanium crank components from Florida, brakes from Japan. In a few cases, notably tires and tubes, I had no choice other than Taiwanese-sourced items. Taiwan is Chinese but it’s not Chinese, I suppose. The front fork, made by Fox, was largely Taiwanese thanks to the company’s recent decision to move all production to that island. Having painstakingly researched my way out of mainland China, I then built the bike… only to see “Made In China” on a wheel bearing.

The American Giant hooded sweatshirt, pictured above in the Black Camo limited edition I was too slow to buy in 2018, is entirely sourced in the United States. Every single part. But it’s a sweatshirt. If you get any more complex than that, you will find that Chinese manufacturing, like the COVID-19 virus, is impossible to completely avoid. Bicycles are not complex machines by any modern standard, but you can’t build one without buying from China. This should have worried all of us, but with the exception of yahoos like your humble author it did not. Our media told us to accept globalization as an inevitable thing, even as they told us we could help the climate of the entire planet by buying “sustainable” clothing that just happened to be made in China.

The cracks in this Tower of Babel are starting to show. Ironically, bicycles are leading the way.

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