The Best Car Decades

The other day I was walking downtown to work when I passed this beautiful example of Detroit’s former handiwork in front of Kittie’s Cakes. This vintage convertible—which I think was a Lincoln, from the distinctive greyhound hood ornament—was freshly polished and waxed, glinting and gleaming in the bright sunshine, just waiting to be admired. It was like a mobile piece of art.

For my money, American car manufacturers designed and built their most beautiful and eye-catching cars in the ‘30s and ‘40s. In that era there was an attention to detail and gracefulness in the design of sedans and coupes and other passenger vehicles, and a kind of recognition that a car is important and says something about its owner, and therefore is really worthy of careful creation. The cars of those decades are sleek and pleasing in appearance, with lots of rounded curves, but powerful in performance, with plenty of horsepower. They look like they would be a lot of fun to drive.

Cars from the ‘20s and earlier look like antique curiosities that—unlike this specimen—could never hold their own on a modern highway. By the ‘50s Detroit was in the throes of its Fin Fixation, giving cars a look that hasn’t worn well. The ‘60s saw a brief resurgence in design, but didn’t fully recapture the classic combination of grace and power seen in the ‘30s and ‘40s. By the ‘70s, with its series of dismal, uninspired, boxy rust buckets, Detroit hit rock bottom. Since then, the focus has been on functionality, minivans, and pickups, and the days when car manufacturers would try to build a graceful, elegant, and powerful passenger car are now far behind us.

In retrospect, the ‘30s and ‘40s are the glory days. It’s great to see one of the products of that era still on the street.

Ocean No. 5

In case you’ve missed it, National Geographic has decided to officially recognize the ocean immediately around Antartica as the Southern Ocean. It therefore becomes the fifth official “ocean”–as distinct from seas like the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, Caribbean Sea, and the South China Sea and countless bays, coves, and inlets. If you’ve forgotten this lesson from your geography class, the other official oceans are the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean.

The National Geographic decision is a kind of belated codification of the status of the Southern Ocean, which many countries and geographers have recognized for a while. They point out that the Southern Ocean is just different in feel, in composition, in appearance, and in danger than other oceans. The Southern Ocean is defined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which is a kind of moving water barrier that is colder, and less salty, than the surrounding water in other oceans.

One article describes the Southern Ocean in a way that makes it sound like an interesting place that would be well worth visiting:

“The Southern Ocean is unlike anywhere else on Earth. ‘Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it,’ says Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a National Geographic Explorer.  ‘But they’ll all agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go.’

“The Southern Ocean is a violent place. It’s where many of the massive swells that run into Teahupoo and Cloudbreak are born. In 2017, a wave of nearly unheard of proportions was measured there. Not only does it look different, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is extraordinarily important to the Earth’s climate. It transports more water than any other current in any other ocean, sucking in water from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. It’s a driving force behind the global circulation system called the conveyor belt, which moves warm waters all over the planet.”

(In case you’re interested and don’t want to click on the link above, the wave that is mentioned in the above snip was 64 feet tall–in the open ocean. 64 feet!)

It’s interesting to look at that map of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean at the top of this post. Most world maps don’t show Antarctica in its full glory, and show only a bit of it at the bottom of the map. Looking at it makes me interested in potentially seeing it one of these days–as long as I have assurance that we don’t encounter any 64-foot waves.

The Unanimity Factor

From my perspective, one of the worst things that has happened to our federal governmental system has been the increasing efforts to apply political notions to our federal judiciary. Supreme Court nominations have been politicized for a while–although not for long as you might think; former Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative stalwart, was confirmed by a unanimous Senate, 98-0, in September 1986–but now circuit court and even district court nominations are being treated politically, too. For example, Law360, which does daily on-line reporting on legal issues, breathlessly reports on how many judges President Biden (and before him, President Trump) is appointing, how many vacancies are open, and similar information, as if the make-up of the federal judiciary is some kind of political horse race.

And to read what some people have to say about the Supreme Court, you’d think that the Court is hopelessly divided along partisan political grounds, and that those Justices in black robes are at each others’ throats and at risk of throwing punches and karate kicks.

That’s why it’s interesting to observe that the Supreme Court has issued a remarkable number of unanimous decisions this term, for a Court that is supposed to be a festering sore of reflexive political division. And as we approach the end of the Court’s term, when many of the biggest and most controversial decisions traditionally are announced, the theme of unanimity has continued. That means that the Justices who some would contend are motivated entirely by their political affiliations have somehow managed to set aside their differences and mysteriously reach the same decision on the case presented to them.

The unanimity has occurred in a broad sweep of cases, including cases involving the authority of tribal police, whether there should be a presumption in favor of the credibility of immigrants, cases involving unlawful entry into the United States and an environmental clean-up dispute between the U.S. government and Guam, and cases involving the interpretation of a federal statute involving efforts to block collection of a tax and the scope of an exception to the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless searches and seizures. And just this week, the Court issued another unanimous decision on whether the City of Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services for the provision of foster care services unless that organization certified same-sex couples as foster parents violates the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment.

The issue here isn’t whether the Court’s decisions are right or wrong on their merits, or as a matter of public policy. The key point is that a Court that is supposed to be on the verge of ideological fisticuffs is somehow managing to reach complete agreement on how to resolve a slew of controversial cases. And people have noticed the many instances of unanimity, and some have wondered whether the Court is trying to send a message to those who view its work in political terms.

Maybe, just maybe, the women and men who make up the highest court in the land are simply acting as impartial, fair-minded judges deciding the cases before them, on their merits and without regard to politics. It would be wonderful if the media, and the politicians, and the pundits and commentators who want to turn the federal judiciary into another political arm of government could just assimilate that reality–but in our current hyper-politicized times, that’s probably just too much to ask for. If only they were as objective and fair-minded as our jurists.

Rising Floods

More and more, you see young, evidently fashionable men intentionally wearing long pants that expose not only ankle and sock, but even an expanse of the leg itself. In the vernacular of my youth, such pants were known as “floods,” and you could commit no greater fashion sin—or more readily expose yourself to ridicule—than wearing them. Can it really be that they are fashionable now?

I first learned about floods when I was about 10 years old or so, at the age when you first become dimly —and then pointedly—aware that there apparently is a prevailing approach to the world and if you vary from the acceptable norm you are exposing yourself to uncomfortable mockery. It was about the same time you realized that you might want to plead that your Dad stop giving you a buzz cut with the home barbershop kit he bought and let you go to a licensed professional so you could get a haircut that looked somewhat like what other guys had. But whenever the precise epiphany occurred, at some point the jeering comments and derisive laughter at the fact that your long pants weren’t quite long enough powerfully drove home the point that flood pants are an unforgivable fashion transgression. And ever since I’ve been acutely focused on making sure that any pants I’m wearing brush my shoe tops, if not (in the ‘70s) engulf my shoes altogether in monster bell bottoms.

But fashions change, obviously, and now it is abundantly clear that floods are not the anathema they once were. Maybe male ankle-displaying pant length will capture the culture and be seen everywhere—or maybe they will be as short-lived as past brief fads like Nehru jackets or Earth shoes. But even if floods become the norm, I think my indoctrination has been too strong and too ingrained. I’ll just keep my ankles to myself.

Three Days In A Row

What do you do if you haven’t had a chance to have your favorite meal for weeks?

Me? I get my favorite meal—lamb korma, medium-plus on the spice scale, served by the friendly folks at Indian Oven—three days in a row.

It’s tough to do without your favorite meal for weeks at a time—that’s how you know they’re your favorite—and when I came back to Columbus I wanted to be sure to scratch that itch. So I scheduled lunches at IO for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Each lunch was at IO as part of a separate tradition involving summer clerk meals, thank-you recognitions, or mentoring catch-ups, so by going to IO I not only was getting my lamb korma fix, I was furthering the important role of tradition in our culture and supporting a great Columbus restaurant. Admittedly, though, the main reason to go three days in a row was to thoroughly reacquaint myself with the delectable combination of lamb, curry sauce, chopped egg and nuts, and basmati rice, all carefully mixed to make sure every grain of rice has been coated before lifting forkfuls to my mouth and relishing every bite.

I like trying different dishes and experimenting with new venues, but it’s important to stay in touch with those tried-and-true classics that always deliver a great meal. Is three straight days enough to serve that function? We’ll see, because today I’m having lunch somewhere else.

But I’ll be back at IO on Friday for lamb korma, round four.

Freezer Follies

Freezers were a crucial invention in the march of modern civilization. They allow us to store and preserve food until we are ready to consume it. They allow us to make the ice that permits us to enjoy those ice-cold drinks we crave on sweltering summer days, and they typically hold some of our guiltiest guilty pleasures, like pints of ice cream and frozen pizza. Where would we be without freezers?

But every freezer houses a deep, frozen secret. It’s that leftover item, carefully sheathed in aluminum foil for safekeeping, that’s been in the freezer so long, and has accumulated so much frost and freezer burn, that its true identity is no longer reasonably discernible. Once, long ago, at a point lost in the mists of time, it was wrapped and placed in the freezer with the best of intentions, to be preserved for certain future consumption. But those good intentions went unrealized when the glittering foil rectangle was buried under other freezer items, shunted into a remote, icy corner of the freezer, and forgotten. Days, weeks, and months passed as the once-edible item maintained its lonely, frigid vigil and felt itself changing from a potentially delectable food item into a sad, frozen brick that has been in the freezer so long that the aluminum foil has permanently bonded to its surface and cannot be completely removed by any process known to mortal man.

At some point, though, the freezer is cleaned out and the item is uncovered. The freezer explorer looks at it, doubtfully, and asks, with genuine curiosity: “What is this?” But careful, skeptical visual examination, and prodding with a finger, can provide no illumination. Is it chicken, or beef, or a remnant of a veggie burger, or perhaps something else entirely? Is that its true color and texture, or has its prolonged arctic experience created those unusual hues and bumps and ridges?

There’s only one way to know for sure—let it thaw, cook it somehow, and take a bite. Few souls, however, are hardy enough to accept the risks of gross discovery and that stale, freezer burn aftertaste that lingers in your mouth like a rank dish towel. No, the better, wiser, safer course is to discard the item. Some mysteries are best left unsolved.

Nervous About Service

I realized to my dismay that the internet service at home was out. I tried the tips and instructions about unplugging and replugging, hitting reset buttons, and rebooting, all to no avail. Then I called the customer service line, talked to a robot that had been programmed to sound like a person—complete with mimicked tapping keyboard sounds—and ultimately was faced with the choice of whether to schedule a service appointment.

I groaned in dismay at the prospect—causing the robot to politely respond “I didn’t catch that, please repeat it”—but internet service is basically an essential these days, where working remotely is an integral part of life. So I gritted my teeth, booked a service call time, and braced myself for the mishaps that seem to inevitably accompany service appointments. How many times have service people gotten lost or gone to the wrong address, missed their appointment window after you’ve interrupted your day and are patiently waiting at home, taken a look and then reported that they don’t have the right tools in their truck, or had some other issue that makes a service call a painful exercise? And the issues aren’t all pointing one way, either. Doing remote service work, with its requirements of troubleshooting, diagnostics, testing, and repair, all while dealing with total strangers and going into their homes, would be a tough job.

But this time everything worked out. The service tech arrived on time, which got things off on the right foot, and he was polite, professional, and knowledgeable. He determined that the problem was an outdoor connection, fixed it without any issues, came back inside to test the connection, and confirmed the internet service was up and running. As he left I thanked him for a job well done, he noted that I’ll probably be getting a message with a survey about the service call, and I told him it would be my pleasure to complete one. Normally I hate the constant surveying we’re subjected to, but I’ll gladly complete one in this instance.

I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I welcome a service call, but yesterday’s positive experience will definitely inform my reaction to future ones. It showed that while they are a necessary part of modern life, to be sure, they are not necessarily a necessary evil.

The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

It was a hot, sunny weekend in Columbus, and lots of German Village residents and visitors were out and about. I did a lot of walking around the Village and around Schiller Park. With the temperature touching the 90s, it’s not surprising that nobody was masked up; wearing any kind of mask in that heat would have been unbearable. And one other change in behavior was readily apparent, too: people were sharing the sidewalks and walking past each other, shoulder to shoulder, without veering.

It was incredibly refreshing to walk the pretty streets of German Village without having to veer around parked cars or use the roadway to achieve at least six feet of social distancing. No one was consciously trying to maintain the buffer zone, and no one seemed to mind being in close proximity with other people, either. It struck me as another good sign of returning normalcy.

We’ll all carry our own memories of what it was like for us, personally, during the COVID shutdown period. One of my memories will be dodging traffic and other pedestrians and getting annoyed with people who hogged the sidewalk without yielding or moving over to help achieve social distancing recommendations. I’m glad they are just memories now.

A June Football Fix

Sure, it’s baseball season, and the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs are on, but those of us who are college football fans are pining for some gridiron activity. Early June is truly the slack period in college football, about midway between the spring game and the start of fall camp. The only real college football news is speculation about recruiting, and it really doesn’t fill the void.

Fortunately, the Big Ten Network Twitter feed is there to help out Ohio State football fans who are looking for their early summer football fix. Above is a link to a recent Twitter posting by BTN of video of every one of the 44 touchdowns that Ohio State has scored against That Team Up North during the Buckeyes’ current eight-game winning streak over the Wolverines.

Speaking as someone who cut their teeth on Buckeye football during the Woody and Bo Ten-Year War era, it’s still hard for me to believe two parts of the sentence immediately above: 44 touchdowns and an eight-game winning streak. How things have changed since the ’70s!

Preventing Porch Piracy

Yesterday I went to the grocery store in Grandview to get some provisions. As I was going through the checkout line I noticed a large mustard yellow metal unit with the Amazon logo, shown in the picture above, tucked in a corner nearby.

I asked the checkout lady about it, and she explained that some people are now uncomfortable having Amazon deliver their orders directly to their houses or apartments and leaving the packages there. So, Amazon has addressed the problem by installing these metal locker units—similar to the kind you used to see at bus and train stations—at various points around town, like the Grandview Giant Eagle. Rather than having your order delivered to your home address, it gets delivered to one of these lockers, and the customer is emailed a code that allows them to open the locker unit containing their purchase and retrieve the item at their leisure.

Porch pirates are a real problem, and I’m guessing that some people also are having privacy issues with their purchases being displayed on their doorstep for all the world to see. The lockers try to address those issues. But’s kind of a strange, old-school fix, isn’t it? A big part of the idea of Amazon is convenience and getting things delivered right to your doorstep. With the locker option, you’ve got to get off your couch, go outside, drive somewhere, remember your code, and pick up your stuff.

I wonder how many people who try the locker option will ultimately think they might as well just go to that brick-and-mortar store in their town that sells the item, buy it directly, bring it home themselves, avoid the prying eyes of their neighbors and the porch piracy risk, and skip Amazon altogether?

The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

Yesterday I was on the road and in an airport for the first time in months. It was my first exposure to a mandatory mask environment after weeks of mask-free or at most temporary entry/exit masking on Deer Isle, where you see fewer and fewer people—residents or tourists—wearing their masks. I adjusted to a no-mask existence pretty easily and quickly, so being back in a mandatory mask environment was a bit jarring.

My travel day got messed up due to mechanical and weather issues, so I spent a lot of time in airport concourses, watching the world go by. And based on one day’s experience I’d say people are a lot laxer about masking now than they were at the height of the pandemic.

In part, I think this is due to the reopening of most businesses in the airport concourses, especially food businesses. Once you plant your behind in a chair in an airport restaurant or bar, you’re magically freed from the mask mandate. It’s kind of weird to think that food consumption creates a magical no-mask zone, but it’s a recognized loophole and people were taking advantage of it. I had dinner in a typical pub/restaurant place in Reagan National, and it was packed with people, crammed into seating areas that, like every airport dining option, was set up to leave you elbow-to-elbow with other patrons, and everyone had their masks off, chatting and laughing and inches away from unmasked strangers. No one seemed troubled by that. And yet, when you leave that magical mask-free zone, you’ve got to mask up again. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it makes me wonder if patrons are lingering longer, or consuming more, just to enjoy a few minutes more of unfettered breathing. I would guess it is boom times for all airport bars and eateries.

And speaking of consumption, travelers seemed to be taking advantage of the food consumption loophole to doff the mask and chow down in the gate areas, too. I saw one guy buying an armload of every kind of junk food you can imagine being sold by an airport concourse outlet—chips, soda, popcorn, jerky, cookies, and candy—and later saw him, mask off, noshing away on his calorie hoard. Others had bought take -out from fast food places and were taking their time and enjoying multiple gulps of maskless air as they ever-so-slowly ate their food. And one guy at National casually walked around, mask cinched up on his upper arm, carrying a cup of airport coffee, as if holding a beverage and taking a sip every few minutes excused him from mask requirements. He talked to a gate agent for a while without masking and she didn’t call him on it, either.

In this food loophole setting, the dire broadcasts over the loudspeakers about wearing only approved masks (no “gaiters”!) and being disciplined for not fully complying with mask mandates seem almost antique. Airports and airplanes will be the last bastion of masking, but I wonder how long it will be before they give it up. Yesterday’s food exception experience suggests the population is ready to bare their faces and accept the consequences.

Driftwood

One of the great incidental benefits of living in a seaside community is driftwood.

I like pretty much everything about driftwood—starting with its name. It’s not “washed-up wood,” it’s driftwood—as if it has been out for a pleasant journey, leaving the forest behind, taking its time and seeing the sights, without a care in the world. And the physical characteristics of driftwood reflect its ocean journey. Driftwood has a special feel. Its bark has been washed away, and the water and salt and sun and wind exposure somehow have left the driftwood with a smooth, silky feel. It’s warm to the touch, but also feels lighter than branches of similar size, as if its waterborne experience has sucked the weight away, leaving just the essential sturdiness behind. It’s one reason why gnarled pieces of driftwood make great walking sticks.

And the other great thing about driftwood is its innate air of mystery. Where did it come from, and how far has it traveled, and how long did it take for it to reach its destination on a rocky beach? Consider this huge piece of driftwood, below, that we saw on the beach at Barred Island this past weekend. From the notching, it’s clear it has been shaped by human hands for some purpose—but what? We’ll never know for sure, which makes it all the more interesting.

That Ol’ Marigold Magic

Beneath my veneer of civilized rationality, deep down in the ancient, primordial part of my consciousness, I admit that I am a believer in curses and jinxes. Being a Cleveland sports fan, how could it be otherwise?

So, I really hesitate to say this for fear that the fickle Gardening Gods will lash out and punish me for my heresy, but . . . the marigold approach to the deer problem seems to be working. Following up on local knowledge tips from local gardeners, I planted dozens of marigolds at strategic locations in the side yard and the down yard. They’ve all come in well and are pleasantly fragrant–which is supposed to be what keeps the sensitive deer, which purportedly don’t like the smell of marigolds, away from flower, plants, and shrubs. And, so far at least, the deer have avoided our yard.

The area in the crack between the two gigantic boulders in the down yard is a good example. It’s the spot that is farthest away from our house and close to a small creek, so it’s prime deer territory. Last year the deer repeatedly ravaged the plants in the crack and chewed the daisy in the foreground, just behind the marigolds, down to the ground. The other plants in the crack experienced similar depredations. But this year, the deer have stayed away, and the plants are looking much better.

Of course, it’s always difficult to determine cause and effect. Is it that old marigold magic, or is it the fact that the deer have found some other food source, or the fact that we’ve got a dog living in the house now, or the fact that the deer herd has migrated to a different part of the island, or something else? I don’t know for sure, obviously, but based on our experience this year marigolds are going to be a perennial (pun intended) part of the planting mix going forward. And they look nice, too.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

Wildflower World

Early June is a pretty time in Stonington and throughout Deer Isle, thanks to the wildflowers that have just started to bloom. This hillside next to the Stonington Opera House is typical. The slopes are too steep to tend, so it’s a survival of the fittest battle between the weeds and the wildflowers. Fortunately, sometimes the wildflowers win.