Jamming About Traffic

I consider reading important—enough so that I’ve remained committed to reading three or four books a month for the past decade or so. It occurred to me recently that being smart and well-informed doesn’t really matter. That’s probably one reason why my reading has fallen off the cliff in August.

Discussions with other readers about books we like and how it sucks when a great book is nearing an end is also part of that reading drop-off—I just haven’t been able to find anything that resonates with how I’m feeling this summer. That was until I stumbled upon a book about traffic.

Since I wrote “traffic” with a “small t,” you’re sharp to recognize that the traffic I’m talking about isn’t the Traffic of “John Barleycorn Must Die,” or “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” although it’s mighty tempting to keep the music blogging going with ruminations about “Little” Stevie Winwood and a post about WBLM that takes me back to the halcyon days at Lisbon High—that’s for another time and another post.

The traffic I’m anxious to riff on today is the story of traffic courtesy of a writer that I sadly just found out about, Tom Vanderbilt, and his wonderful book, Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Vanderbilt’s type of traffic is the kind we’re all intimately familiar with, whether we like it or not. Because save for a few of us, our lives intertwine with cars, Happy Motoring, and the carpet-like mass of vehicles crisscrossing America at any given time.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

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When Your Autopilot Fails

Cars have always fascinated me. This likely dates back to what I can recall of my earliest memories—sitting next to my father, riding with him in his 1962 Ford Fairlane, and watching him manually shift on the column. He’d even let me grab the shifter and after he depressed the clutch, I got to throw the Ford into third gear.

My earliest driving lessons were in a 1962 Ford Fairlaine.

The 1962 Ford Fairlaine: Back when men were men, and cars were meant to be driven.

I’ve just spent much of the past week trying to get JBE1 back to where he was pre-breakdown. For some reason, when my electrical system failure related to losing the serpentine belt, the incident also threw off my air conditioning. All seems to be right in the world, or at least with my car, at the moment.

The automotive world, like much of the rest of the things in our lives, has been increasingly altered by technology. Techno-utopians always consider technology’s upside, while minimizing and often, whitewashing any of the negatives of computers controlling most of our lives—and now, our cars. Continue reading

Looking for an Answer Man

In another time, answers seemed ascendant, or at least, you knew how and where to find them.  Knowing your way around a good library was helpful. Sometimes it was as simple as asking dad. Our culture was built around a functional model that’s now nostalgic at best. Now if a youth in school suggested that his information source was good ole’ dad, he’d probably be suspended for some violation or another. Now, it’s all about Google.

Those of us of a particular vintage remember The Shell Answer Man and the series of commercials that Shell Oil ran during the 1960s into the early 1990s. Again, a time not that long ago (when viewing history’s arc) where assurance, rather than uncertainty was trumpeted. Perhaps Americans were simply less skeptical than they are at the moment.

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Hold Onto Your Cars

Lies and propaganda are unleashed on a regular basis. Sometimes, it seems nearly impossible to know what to believe anymore. One whopper being touted by someone (environmentalists?) is that Millennials don’t drive cars.

There have been a number of articles that indicate that Generation Y are not embracing automobiles like previous demographic groups, especially the Baby Boomers, who cut their teeth riding around in the backseat of gas guzzling behemoths built in Detroit. Some of this may just be wishful thinking. Progressives are notorious for this. That and demanding one thing for you, and another for them. But that’s another blog post for another day.

Since August, I’ve been writing articles on cars for a trade magazine group out of Dallas, Texas. It started with a book review, and moved on from there. I enjoy the work, and as a result, I’m paying closer attention to what’s going on in the automotive world. Continue reading

Some ‘Splainin to Do

I’ve been putting up regular content here at the JBE since 2012 when I first launched this site. The primary purpose of creating this WordPress platform (my first time designing my own website, btw) was launching my personal brand. At the time, given what was happening—basically, getting down-sized—plus, I was reading Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and others; personal branding seemed to be the proper exit ramp to free agent nation.

The most important aspect of the JBE now looks like it’s been centralizing where I blog. That’s one reason why I chose to include one as part of the website in the first place. At the time, my plan was to write about reinvention and other things central to my personal brand.

With all that’s transpired over the past three years, the blog remains the primary reason I keep the site up and running. My efforts the past year to reinvigorate my own freelance writing is the reason why I also maintain another site where I post my freelance writing clips and keep my online portfolio up-to-date—something that seems like it would be a requisite for a free agent writer these days. The personal brand thing—I’m not as bullish on that anymore. Continue reading

Savoir-faire

I would never try to usurp or upstage my sister’s quest to be the French-speaking sibling in my family of origin. I’m happy to concede that status to her.

One interesting fallout from her interest in Francophone culture is that I’ve started noticing (paying attention?) to how often French words, or derivatives of the language, pepper our own. Take for instance my recent obsession with the band Pavement, detailed three weeks ago here at the JBE, and their song, Embassy Row. I mean, is there a more clever mid-90s slacker songwriter than Stephen Malkmus? Literate, witty, and if you pay attention, you pick up interesting tidbits, including a French word, or two.

The debonair Stephen Malkmus.

The debonaire Stephen Malkmus.

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Trip Planning

Back in the day, before Google siphoned all the fun out of planning that special vacation journey, travelers had to rely on non-Internet tools to route their vacations. Some of these old-school accouterments were things like maps, gazetteers, and a handy-dandy atlas.

Now, all you have to do is ask Google (or Siri), “what’s the way to San Jose?” and before you can say “Swiss cheese for brains,” you’ll be routed on your way.

Growing up, I remember the year our family took a vacation trip to Burlington, Vermont. I think I was 13, or maybe even 14-years-old. My sister was two years younger. I still fondly remember that first trip to Burlington, a vibrant college town, nestled alongside Lake Champlain.

Of course, traveling with the ‘rents sometimes meant that Dad, Herman, or Winter Carnival King of ’51, required quadrants so he’d know his bearings along the way. If he didn’t get them from Saint Helen of Immaculata, he might get a bit cranky, and of course, it might become hell on wheels between the two of them. I think I get some of my driving impatience from my dad when I’m logging time behind the wheel on a trip, and I get lost somewhere between points A and B. Maybe it’s just a male thing. Can I even publicly state that men and women are different? I sure hope so.

Hitting the open road!

Hitting the open road!

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Crumbling Down

It’s tempting to look at the world, at least the world as it gets filtered through our digital imagery, and feel like the globe we’re sitting atop is spinning out of control. I’m sure part of this is by design—people in the midst of fear—rational or irrational—are much easier to corral and control.

At the same time, there is a corresponding tendency on the part of 21st century humans to believe (irrationally, I would add) that technology, that amorphous term that gets tossed around willy-nilly at every turn, will bail us out of every single one of our problem patches. I’m a contrarian when it comes to this technological salvation app.

America’s infrastructure and the upkeep required to maintain it is trending in the wrong direction—to borrow a term from a popular series that curried favor with the Tee Vee watchers out there—it’s “breaking bad” and has been for decades. When the American Society of Civil Engineers released their report card on the condition of the nation’s infrastructure, the overall grade was a D+. This was relative to our roads, bridges, dams, waste water facilities, airports, and includes the electrical grid. Continue reading

Rattled by the Rush

I try not to get too nostalgic for the past. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of a time—back before Google, and their quest to turn our brains into a hunk of Swiss cheese. Was it a better time? I don’t know. There were certainly positives. Oh, I know—thou shalt not speak evil of any technology! And believe it or not, there was life and a social scene before Facebook—arguably a richer one.

A reminder of that time came the other morning, listening to WMBR’s “Boomerang” program, sliding back into some 90s post-punk that I know and love. Erik Morrison is a DJ who once a week (on Tuesday mornings) spends an hour time-traveling back to the days before MP3 players,iTunes, and nearly everyone who is under the age of 25, walking around with earbuds jammed in their ears, oblivious to the world around them. Track lists mattered and artists cared about things like the sequence of 10 or more songs, crafted to fit alongside each other on an album. Granted, we’d transitioned from tapes to CDs, but indie rock still meant independent of corporate control. Obviously, that’s long gone and we’re not in Kansas (or Columbia, Missouri) anymore. Continue reading

Hands-free Driving

Self-driving cars built by Google is a topic that whenever it comes up, elicits interest and nods of approval. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be chauffeured around in the back of Google’s big black car, so you can play with your phone and update Facebook, right?

Well, according to Nicholas Carr and a post last week on his blog, Rough Type, we’re still several weeks away from cars that drive themselves. I know that’s incredulous for you “app addicts,” especially those that think Google already owns our world.

Look, Ma; no hands!

Look, Ma; no hands!

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