Monday, April 24, 2006

Rear Ended (Again)

I guess I need a Hummer.

I was driving home the other day just a few miles down the road where last month Jazmin the Jeep driver rammed into the back of my Honda Civic, totaling it. On this particular day the rain had made the drive home all the way from Minnetonka via 394 a bit stressful. But I took things slow, enjoying my new shiny used red Mini Cooper.

I was now closer to home, stopped at a stop light, the second car in line when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a Chevy Impala speeding up behind me. Thoughts of Jazmin, which have never left my head since that accident, came again barreling into my noggin. "That car is going much too fast," I said to myself bracing myself for the impact. Sure enough the Impala didn't stop in time and instead rammed into the back of my car.

This time I was pissed. There was no excuse. It wasn't raining out anymore. The sun was shining and the roads were hardly treacherous. I may not have many virtues but usually being calm and composed is my general nature. It takes a lot to set off my temper and I have learned over the years that most situations are better handled in a quiet manner.

But this time I had enough. I had enough of bad drivers- careless or indifferent, or distracted drivers. Drivers too lazy to use their turn signals, or their headlights during rainstorms, or those who roll through stop signs. Drivers who think it necessary to carry on the most inane conversations on cell phones rather than pay attention to what they should be paying attention to- the road and other drivers around them.

But it wasn't only bad drivers I had enough of. I was tired of people in general who don't pay any attention to those around them- those walking with their heads down; those stopping to hold conversations at the top of escalators or right in the middle of busy walk ways; those who get on to elevators before letting others off and then standing right in the front of the button panel making it impossible for others to push the button to their own floor. Maybe I was just at the end of a seven year rope but I had had enough.

I got out of my shiny red Mini, checked for the damage (nothing visible) and made my way to the car going much too fast that it couldn't stop in time. The driver opened his door and I started screaming at him. "WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING???" I felt myself losing control. I felt myself more angry than I had been in a long, long time.

"I just spaced out," the driver said. "I'm sorry."

My voice was going hoarse and my throat felt raw. For the second time in a month I pulled my car to the side of the road with another. The driver of the other vehicle gave me his name, number, and insurance information.

I looked at my Mini more closely. There's a little ding in the fender and a few scratches. All I could think about on my drive home was that if I had been on my scooter when this had happened I would have been sent airborne and my family would have been paying money for an obituary and a coffin.

I was more than a little wound up when I got home. I tried calling my friend, the last one to speak to me before the accident, who left me with the words, "Be careful in your Mini Cooper!" but I got her voice mail instead.

It was one of those many times that I was glad to come home to my three boyz. Thompson, the three-legged cat came hopping over to me, grunting as he does as he walks and talks. He reached up to me with his lone front paw, and I could hear his purring loud as could be. I told him what just happened and he looked at me with his big round sad brown eyes and all seemed OK again.

The very next day I pulled out a little book my photographer friend Tom gave to me a couple years ago when he learned of my love of the Mini Cooper. The book is a slick advertising pitch for the Mini about the coolness of motoring. Among its many pearls of wisdom come on a page that reads, "Don't freak out if your MINI gets a nick or a ding. Just think of them as scars. And as most people will tell you, scars are sexy. They tell a story. They're evidence of an active life. A life worth living. You'll probably get them fixed but while they're there, take solace in the fact that they represent a life experience. And as with scars, feel free to embellish on how a nick came to be. Maybe it came from the steel-studded collar of a rabid dog that had been chasing you for three blocks and threw himself at your door the moment you jumped in your MINI. Exaggeration is a motorer's prerogative."

I'm thinking I won't get the ding fixed. Maybe I'll just let it remind me of the day enough was enough and that in itself was enough for now.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My Own (and Only My Own) Silver Bullet

"When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Eastertime too/And your gravity fails and negativity don't pull you through..."
-Mr. "Dillon"

You just never know. You just don't.

I've never gotten into, nor understood the whole Springsteenian thing- this whole love affair with a mode, model, and make of some form of transportation. I've never much cared how or what got me from here to there. I've rather obsessed on just getting there. So in grade school when Michael Hafner tried to teach me the difference between an International semi-truck and a Mack semi-truck I never quite cared enough to learn. Same goes when Chuck Schrantz raved about the Dodge Dart I drove to high school.

Even when my Mom told the family that when she took one of them job aptitude tests placing you in your right job, her test suggested that she become a truck driver- and even later on when she said her dream car was a Mazda Miata, I just couldn't muster much enthusiasm for the wheels that spun round and round.

If left to my own devices I'd bypass all kinds of planes, trains, and automobiles if someone could only get us to the Star Trek way of getting around the need for the tedium of motors and carburetors and crank shafts to get to a final destination. In other words (probably much more clear words) I always thought I couldn't be happy with traveling until the transporter was finally invented.

Things have changed. First, last year when I got talked into buying a scooter and soon fell in love with my commute to work and other places. My ride no longer was just something that wasted time but with the fresh air and the pleasure of being right out there in the open to see, hear, and experience things in a whole other light- I just couldn't get enough of scooting. That plus the ability to zip around in a less than tank sized vehicle was a brand new appreciated experience.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I bought the one car in my life that caught my fancy- the Mini Cooper. When I told my cat-sitting niece I had bought a Mini, her immediate reaction was to call me a "dork." How could I disagree? A Mini and a Scooter (how cute does that sound?) now fill my garage and both were purchased after my 40th birthday- quickly suggesting some sort of mid-life crisis for those that don't know me better. (I've got the maturity of a four year old after all.)

So after finally getting my scooter's carburetor cleaned and purring along, I rode my bike to work one unseasonably warm day this week. Eight hours later I was in a bit of a hurry to get home. When I went down to the bike rack where my scooter (don't ya dare call it a moped!) was locked and parked, I turned the key to try and start it. It was completely dead. Not a spark to be found anywhere within sight (or touch).

I called the dealer, Bob, who didn't have much advice. I checked the battery and fuse connections. I tried kick starting my scooter rather than electric starting it, but that didn't cause the smallest rumble. My scooter was dead. Just as I was about to give up all hope I jiggled something and saw the oil indicator light up. Sure enough the scooter soon fired right up and just in time for me to get to the Twins' game I held tickets for.

As I was sitting with a friend watching our team beat the dreaded Yankees, I looked about ten rows down. There I spotted a lanky guy in a Scooterville T-shirt, and that guy was Bob who I had just frantically called hours before. By now I was calm, having gotten my scooter to run, and I was glad to see Bob was as into the game as I was. On this particular night our team scooted past the other even though the other happens to be making much more money and traditionally and always gets much more attention. It was a fitting end to the day, a lesson learned of no matter how much the wheels may or may not spin, the way we get to somewhere maybe just maybe could be considered important in the end.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You Bee 40

Growing up, I spent many Sunday afternoons with my family walking the malls of Brookdale and Rosedale and on special occasions, Ridgedale. This past Sunday I spent the day walking a mall in downtown Cleveland. I mention this not as an example of how far (or how not so far) I've come over the years, but rather that malls are about as comfortable place for me to be on a Sunday afternoon as any other. This particular Cleveland mall was connected to the Ritz-Carlton motel I was staying at. As I wandered around on a lazy late morning trying to kill time before I headed out to the airport, I saw a long line of people waiting outside a shoe store. Turns out this long line of people was for those waiting to tryout to be extras in the next Spiderman movie.

For the second time in two years I was in Cleveland attending election administration classes. The irony isn't lost on me of taking election administration classes in Ohio, the state that ran into the most publicized troubles in the country in 2004. The class I was taking had to do with public policy making. The instructor introduced himself as a huge baseball fan (he liked the Braves) and went on to say that the reason he likes the lawmaking process is for the same reason he likes baseball- that's it's a terrific game. He kind of lost me there. One of the reasons I stopped working at the Legislature was that I was tired of watching people treating the passage of important public policies as some type of game to be won or lost.

But I was glad to be in Cleveland again.

My second trip to Cleveland thankfully included going to the Indians' home opener that happened to be against the Twins. It rained the morning of the game but by the time we got to the stadium it was just drizzling. A fog rolled in around the third inning but never got thick enough to be too bothersome. Jacobs Field is a terrific ballpark. For non-baseball fans it's a place to go just to be. For those of us who need to hang on to each and every pitch as if our life depended on it, the experience of being in an old fashioned immaculately designed atmosphere with all the modern conveniences (a huge scoreboard, fireworks, and sushi) just makes the greatest game of all, that much more enjoyable.

For years I've advocated for a new Twins ballpark simply because the Metrodome was never meant to be a place to watch baseball. God almighty how can we even consider it the same game with all the phony aesthetics not to mention the pop flies lost in a white(!) roof? And for freaking sake, the majority of seats in the Dome are facing the wrong way... The experience of watching a baseball game at Jacobs Field versus watching one in the Metrodome is akin to the difference between shopping at a mall and walking up and down the store fronts of your friendly small town main street. Having now seen a few games at Jacobs Field I'm more convinced than ever that this is exactly what either downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis needs. This isn't all about giving a billionaire owner and millionaire players the benefit of our tax dollars. It's about how baseball can mean so much for our state and we the fans and semi-fans deserve a great place to enjoy the game.

The Twins got hammered 11-6 with the biggest damage coming from Casey Blake, a former Twin, who hit a grand slam home run. But amongst the obnoxious Indians' fans we were surrounded by I couldn't help but feel a little optimistic that the player I consider to be the key to the Twins' season, Justin Morneau, smacked two home runs and nearly missed a third. And despite the dreary weather I quite enjoyed seeing the new Twins (Luis Castillo, Rondell White, and Willie Eyre) for my first time. (Was I the ONLY one in the stadium hoping that we'd get to see Francisco Liriano?)

It's great that a new baseball season is underway. It's even greater that I got to watch the beginning of this one in a fabulous venue. I'd never thought I'd be jealous of Cleveland.

On the plane ride home I was listening to Bob Dylan on my Nano when the flight attendant wheeled her cart up to my seat. I asked for some juice and she said, "Ham or Turkey!" Turns out she was handing out sandwiches not beverages. I meekly said, "Ham, please," and she handed me my sandwich with a gruff snort. I was glad to be getting home albeit a bit thirsty.

Monday, April 3, 2006

That Fiery Red Head

It's not exactly an original observation that listening to Neko Case's voice beseeches the ghost of Patsy Cline to hover nearby. The power and passion in both Neko and Patsy's voices cause shivers to go up and down your spine and is almost enough to make the most cynical open up their minds to the thought that perhaps God does indeed exist.

Neko gave a stellar show last Wednesday at First Ave. She said she was suffering from a cold but even during the acapella parts of her songs the sheer emotion of her singing seemed almost beyond what mere humans are capable of. She's a crooner in the hippest sense of the word.

Her band is versatile enough to skillfully adapt to the different style of Case's songs from country to jazz to other worldly. Backup singer Kelly Hogan wrapped her voice around Neko's as tight as the braids that Neko kept nervously spinning her long red hair into all night long. It got to the point I wasn't listening to the words much as I just found myself lost in the sound of it all. Even when Neko was singing the high "woos" I was transfixed. Ethereal, positively ethereal.

She did a good mix of old songs with songs from her recently released CD, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Several songs were introduced as being "sad" or "scary" as if those familiar with Case's songwriting needed the descriptive warning. My favorite songs were a trio of covers: Buffy St. Marie's "Soulful Shade of Blue" that had tremendous energy; "Wayfaring Stranger" which up until this evening my favorite version was Emmy Lou Harris' with a close second being Neko's version on last year's CD, The Tigers Have Spoken; and Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" with a joyful arrangement that only enhanced the bittersweet lyrics. "Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must/You do what must do and you do it well/I do it for you, honey baby can't you tell?"

That's not to say that Neko's own songs didn't hold their own. There was the cutting "The Needle Has Landed" that had a driving groove; "John Saw that Number" that taught us all a bit more about the whole John the Baptist fable accompanied by a delirious banjo(!) solo; and a spooky "I Wish I was the Moon" where Neko's warble on the refrain, "I'm so tired I wish I was the moon tonight..." was so real and heartfelt that one wonders how she could convey such authenticity on the very first night of her tour.

An added bonus to the evening was that Martha Wainwright was the opening act. For the past five years I have burned a compilation of my favorite songs from the particular year for my family and friends. Last year's comp included songs from both Martha and Neko.

Martha is a charismatic live performer with her bouncy and sincere performing style. When she closed her set with the seductive "G.P.T." I was somewhere near heaven.

Earlier that day I test drove a shiny red Mini-Cooper. The ride was smooth. The car was my dream. It didn't take much thinking (critical or otherwise) to decide what I had to do. I'm in love with all things red these days. I made an offer to the owner and we settled on terms. Today we closed the deal and I drove home in my less than practical but coolest vehicle I'll ever own.

Of course the Mini has a fine speaker system and I deliberately made sure that Neko Case was the first voice that accompanied me on my ride. Driving home on 35W with Neko belting out "Twist the Knife" it occurred to me that it's been a long time since I felt so happy and content. I felt the power, both in pressing down on the gas pedal and from the music blasting in my ears. I'm not quite sure who will share in the ride during the life of my Mini (MY Mini!) but for the first time in a long time I'm glad I'm having such thoughts. The songs aren't so sad if you take the time to appreciate the road you've traveled to sing them.