Saturday, January 30, 2010

auto-fixation

I can't change the oil in my car. Yet. This is why I paid a decent amount yesterday to have plugs checked, oil replaced, and wheels aligned at the shop.

My automotive maintenance abilities are limited to the following: pumping gas, checking tire pressure and filling as needed, checking the oil level, washing/waxing, jump-starting (in theory only), and the ever important opening the hood and staring at the engine, making "hmm" sounds confidently and inquisitively.

I've changed a couple of tires, once not extending the jack to its highest capacity, only to have the car fall off, bending the jack into a useless twisted shape and fortunately not limping away with any crushed limbs. For the most part, I'd say that I'm fairly savvy about cars, not quite a gearhead, but I do prefer manual to automatic and I figure that must count for something.

Automobiles hold a strange place in the American cultural landscape, with threats from drowning polar bears reminding us that they shouldn't be held in such high regard anymore. Though the age of the auto might be on the cusp of waning, I know that I get in my little blue Elantra 6 out of 7 days of the week and so I still find car-related news, even news extolling auto-culture to be relevant today.

First, there is a study out of Australia which reveals that women are much less likely to get in accidents than men. Basically, it comes down to women being more cautious drivers and men being more aggressive on the road. But I guess the question is, what is your definition of "better" driving? Being less likely to get in an accident or being able to do things with your car that should probably be limited to closed courses?

It goes deeper...there's a rift between what we'll call A Drivers and B Drivers. A Drivers see cars as tools and tools alone. As mom would say, "I just need something that gets me from point A to point B." B Drivers, however, see cars not only as utilities, but as any of the following: hobbies, sports, toys, accessories, activities. They can be speed demons or Sunday drivers, but they get pleasure out of the act of driving. So, perhaps the study should clarify a bit, women are "better" drivers on insurance claims reports, "better" at safely getting from one place to another. Perhaps more men just need to listen to Albert Einstein when he said that "any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves."

But as far as comparing B Drivers on a gender basis, it should be looked at as other activities are. Sure, most sports are divided on gender lines, but those sports are often based on absolute physical size and strength. Driving, however, is an awareness/dexterity/judgement-based activity, one in which women and men can and should be judged on equal grounds...we should use sailing, equestrian, archery/shooting, and billiards as further examples. I'm still not sure why some sports like surfing, skateboarding, and freestyle snowboarding aren't more co-ed, especially when they're judged on technical ability rather than speed/force. It's ridiculous to keep framing activities such as driving in a women vs. men mold, unless we're strictly talking about accident-based data.

With all of that said, and with my driver's ego stroked a bit (assuming I'm not too bad of an A or B Driver), it's time to gaze longingly at the slideshow from the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, AZ last week.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

adjectively adjective

the week's adjectives in review and subsequent ramblings:

1. the FUNNY - A woman came in to the salon a few days ago and told my manager and me that she was there for her colonic appointment. I think I stared at her blankly for a second (she later said my jaw dropped) and my manager kept scanning the computer screen, trying to find her name and appointment. He had no idea what she had just said and asked her again, "What kind of service were you here for again?" and before she could repeat it, I told her as politely as I could that we don't perform that service at our salon/spa. Apparently she had mixed up one spa's email with another and unfortunately found herself at the wrong place, ready to be, well, cleansed. My manager was still out of the loop, "What is that?" to which she replied, "If you don't already know what that is, I don't need to tell you." She decided not to leave to find the right appointment and instead booked a massage. Not exactly the same procedure, I'm not sure I'd be able to switch mental preparation gears that quickly from expecting to have my bowels flushed to having muscles kneaded. Of course after she left I explained to my manager what a colonic is and I still don't think he understands why someone would want to pay to have that done.

2. the DELICIOUS - Having a guest in town gives one full rights to imbibing at various establishments practically every night, spending way more on food and drink than a usual weekly eat-in routine. Highlights of a whirlwind tour of Richmond's culinary scene included:

Vegetarian paella at KubaKuba
Fruit&Veggie skewers, cheese grits, and the oh-so-sweet Ginger Snap cocktail at Balliceaux
Soysage festival breakfast at 821 Cafe
Hob Nob Pinot Noir at The Republic

3. the ENTERTAINING - Chuck Thompson's travelogue To Hellholes and Back -the author spends a year going to places he always thought would be shitty, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Mexico City, and Walt Disney World.

4. the RIDICULOUS - February's Cosmo, in its ever-true form of spouting useless, stereotypical dating advice presents: "Are you turning your boyfriend into a girly-man?" as critiqued by the awesome people at Sociological Images

5. the ENDEARING - Charlie Brooker's article for the Guardian lamenting Kraft's takeover of Cadbury chocolate. Brooker on Hersheys:

"Considering how much imagination the Americans have, and how much they like food, it's surprising we're so much better at making chocolate than them. And we are better. I can still vividly ­recall trying Hershey's chocolate for the first time. The name held a certain glitzy allure: after all, I'd heard it mentioned in countless Hollywood movies. Like Oreo cookies and M&Ms, it was one of those brands you faintly revered even though – at the time – it wasn't available­ in British shops. So when I eventually got my hands on an authentic Hershey bar, it was quite an event. I stared at the iconic packaging for about five minutes, as though it were a prop from the set of Ghostbusters, before unwrapping it with care, breaking a bit off and preparing to savour what would surely be the most powerfully glamorous chocolate ­experience imaginable.

But the moment the product itself hit my tongue I was plunged mouthwards into an entire universe of yuk. In terms of flavour, it tasted precisely like I'd swallowed a matchbox full of caster sugar five minutes earlier, then somehow regurgitated it into my own mouth. And the texture was crumbly, dusty – slightly old even, as though this was a chocolate bar that had been found in the pocket of a civil war soldier and preserved specifically for my disenchantment. It was so ­horrible, I charitably assumed there was something wrong with it. I was eating it in England (someone had brought it back from the States), so perhaps it had gone off somehow in transit. But no. Subsequent encounters proved I'd got it right the first time. Hershey's tastes downright bad."

The man has a point.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

of the feline or canine persuasion...


Anyone who grew up watching Homeward Bound (1993), or perhaps more regrettably, Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996) will recall the chant of miss-priss kitty Sassy, "cats rule and dogs drool." Well, to a seven year old raised in a house that always had cats, this was the unquestionable gospel truth.

I've had several conversations with people recently about being a "cat person" versus a "dog person," and am surprised by people's belief in the absolute nature of this division. I have in fact talked with a rare breed of human who coexist between the two worlds, raising both kitties and puppies in one rainbow coalition of fluffy love. I'm not sure what is wrong with these people, because apparently the rest of us believe this issue is more than a slight preference, say for chocolate or vanilla; this is something against which people like to glean snippets of themselves, to reveal something about their personality.

Take, for example, a recent NY Times article chronicling the personality study done by the University of Texas, Austin. Researchers extend such personality traits as "extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness" or "neuroticism and openness" to animal owners. Now I'll leave it up to you to figure out which traits were supposed to go to which pet-lovers. C'mon? Neuroticism? Should be left to the people who want to have a slobbering, dependent, and often clueless mutt following their every move until some object is thrown far away for retrieval.

Don't get the wrong idea...I don't hate dogs. I don't even hate dog lovers. Some of this uncomfort with canines may have to do with the following:

1. I've always had cats, never a dog
2. My first memory of a dog was of my grandparents' sweet, but rambunctious chocolate lab twice my 4-year old size knocking me down and licking my face repeatedly, which I did not find amusing
3. Being chased by dogs that may (German shepherds) or may not (Jack russells) have the ability to eat me alive on runs and bike rides

I simply feel awkward around them, as I only know what cats enjoy in life and guess what? It's not what dogs like.

Still, the unfairness in being a self-proclaimed cat-lover lies in a pesky stereotype, perpetuated in The Simpsons, which even I admit to using. There is no equivalent of "crazy cat lady" in the dog-lovers' world. Loving dogs is normal, sane, even charming...loving cats can be creepy, antisocial, and smelly. Apparently the Crazy Cat Ladies Society (for real) has taken to combating the stereotype, hoping to reclaim their love for all things feline in a positive light. Or we can just go with the norm and purchase things like this crazy cat lady action (inaction?) figure and hope that the proceeds go to spay/neuter clinics (they don't.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tennessee Part II

Franklin, TN, Mammoth Cave Natl Park, and Bowling Green, KY

I was dreading New Year’s Day basically because I was afraid that NOTHING would be open. A drive south out of Nashville took us to the cozy little town of Franklin and a restaurant called Dotson’s. It was the usual southern fare, but this place had a kind of down-home character that has (perhaps thankfully) been kept a secret from out-of-towners like ourselves. Waitresses that call you sweetie, mile-high meringue pies, menus autographed by country singers passing through and free servings of black-eyed-peas on New Year’s Day made this place one of the highlights of the entire trip.

Pecan and meringue pies at Dotson's

En route to visit some friends in Bowling Green, KY we stopped at Mammoth Cave National Park. We skipped sightseeing in Bowling Green simply because when asked what there is to do in their town, native Bowling Greenians may respond with the following: “Nothing,” “There’s the Corvette Museum,” or “There’s a shopping mall.” Even though we missed the last official tour, we were offered a quick and free taste of the cave – a park ranger leads you in, you check out the first main room, and turn back. But as sparse as that sounds, it was actually quite impressive, and our park ranger was very knowledgeable and passionate about the history of the cave. A few tidbits – it is the longest cave in the world, they used to keep oxen in it to mine saltpeter, and it was the site of the world’s first underground tuberculosis hospital. I can’t imagine what kind of stuff you learn on the full-length 2 hour (plus) tours. Definitely worth the extra 30 minutes drive north from Bowling Green.

Nashville Part II, Wineries

On our final day in Nashville, we headed to Belle Meade Plantation, a horse farm built in the early half of the nineteenth century. The plantation was decked out in Christmas décor, and in spite of having to wait outside in the cold for our tour guide, it was well worth the wait. The inside was beautifully decorated with a few curiosities such as the former owner’s bizarre foot fetish. Owner William Giles Harding had the hooves of his most prized horse removed (posthumously of course) and made into an inkwell, a rhinoceros foot cuff-link case (literally the whole bottom half of a rhino foot with a hinged top), and a boar’s foot mantelpiece. Belle Meade recently opened its own winery (the first nonprofit winery in the country), where we got the idea to taste our way back to Roanoke, VA.The Belle Meade Smokehouse: not vegan.
It reads: 1. Start with a hog. 2. Scald the hog. 3. Scrape the hog. 4. Butcher the hog. 5. Salt the hog. 6. Smoke the hog.


Before heading out of the city, my cohort indulged me in a wild-goose chase for Jack White's record label/store Third Man Records. I was pretty sure the place would be closed for the holidays, and was correct, but at least I got to peek through the yellow glass and wonder at what must go on in the studios there. Thankfully, we had The Dead Weather's Horehound (recorded at Third Man) on in the car to make up for being locked out. I could've sworn I saw White's cream-colored Thunderbird parked on a side street earlier that day...

who's that creepy girl looking in the window?

A Tennessee winery booklet guided us eastward, and we stopped at three wineries along the way home. Lesson learned? Tennesseans like their wine sweet. Cabernet? Merlot? Pinot? Sweet, sweet, sweet. And that's before the fruit wines – apple, blackberry, strawberry – which taste vaguely of Hawaiian punch. But at the last stop in Knoxville (Blue Slip Winery to be exact), we decided to kindly contribute to the Tennessee wine trade and bought a bottle of the driest red we’d had all day.

After a long unintended side trip to a Tennessee lake upon which we’d hoped to have lunch at the marina restaurant (closed for the season), a gas stop in what felt like negative temperatures, and a dinner stop at a little Chinese restaurant in Bristol, Virginia (it was on the VA side of Main St., not the TN side) we returned to a frosty Roanoke at around 1 am.

So, back in VA, and I won't say "it's good to be home" because dammit, the road was good.
Check out Picasa for more photos.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tennessee Part I


New Year’s…a new found hatred for Tennessee wine, a new found respect for country music, and an unchanged love for a change of scenery and some biscuits and apple butter.

Though I’m not usually prone to a lot of “this is the best dang country God ever created and don’t you forget it!”, if there’s one thing America can tout it’s having an incredibly diverse cultural and geographic landscape. And if there’s one thing that stokes the fires of admiration for this heterogeneousness it’s roadtripping.

This New Year’s Eve was spent in Nashville, Tennessee, with several side trips and the following highlights some of the winter holiday’s best (and worst) of this southern jaunt:

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN

In front of the dramatic scenery of the Great Smoky mountains lies Pigeon Forge, best known for what could possibly be the world’s largest amusement park named after a woman. A woman with a heart of gold and breasts of silicone, of course I’m referring to Dolly Parton. The strip through Pigeon Forge, leading to Gatlinburg, the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains Nat’l Park, looks like the incestuous bastard child of Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach, with a replica of the Titanic (which I think was also a casino?), a medieval-themed, castle-shaped family fun center, complete with pony rides in the front parking lot, and a wholesale, discount Christian bookstore. Gatlinburg itself was really no more attractive and I longed for the tamer 1950s versions of national park entrance-town charms like small motor lodges and log-cabin restaurants. But, sometimes you just have to put your nostalgia aside and embrace that which is the Americana of the 21st century…which is why I found myself at Christus Gardens, a biblical-themed wax museum, complete with dioramas of Jesus’s life, a parking lot full of church buses from all over the country, and a final scene of Jesus actually ascending via hydraulic pumps above a cotton-cloud backdrop. The docent who instructed us to watch the film and be guided by the audio and visuals through the museums’ rooms explained, “When the Lord ascends into heaven, you’ll exit through the rear doors into the prayer garden.” I wondered if the Lord would mind me slipping quietly out the back door.

Nashville, TN

The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum is an elegantly modern building in the heart of downtown Nashville and provides a holistic view of the country music genre. I was admittedly afraid that I would be faced with a barrage of homages to Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, but was happily surprised by the focus on the roots of country music and a vast collection of articles from rare musical instruments to Carl Perkins’s blue suede shoes, to Elvis’s gold Cadillac.

Though tickets to the Old Crow Medicine Show concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium (the Grand Ole Opry used to be there, Johnny and June were regulars, Hank Williams was banned, etc) were sold out, the best was made of a free concert/fireworks display in downtown. The New Year’s party was great, every bar offering live music and packed to the brim.

The night came to a close at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and when the cab driver dropped us off at the hotel, we asked about the fare,

“I’m taking whatever tonight.”

“All I have is a fifty and a one.”

“I’ll take the fifty.”

Yeah, I bet you will…lucky, he had change.

We’ll return to Nashville after a brief sidetrip…