The Day After The Election

Last fall on the day following the election of Donald Trump as president, Mark woke up in a hotel that didn’t have power in some of the rooms. The night before, he went to his room with his room key and flicked on the light switch. Nothing.

The hotel, an odd little place on the side of Old U.S. 22 in Shartlesville, PA, placed their room key envelopes fastened together with an elastic and sitting in an old coffee can. Mark merely had to go back to the front desk and pick another room key.

Sitting along what had once been a major east/west corridor, the interstate usurped this road’s importance. Like many similar roadways that once were important overland routes for travelers dating from the time of covered wagons up through the earliest days of Happy Motoring in America, most have fallen into disuse like much in a nation built around planned obsolescence. Mom and Pop lodging matching the place where Mark spent the night last fall struggle to remain solvent. Perhaps the owners had simply taken a page from the austerity playbook, implementing measures like asking guests to forgo electricity. Mark also noted that there were signs indicating to boil the water prior to drinking.

On his blog, following the election of the worst candidate we’ve ever called president (thus far), he made a connection between the new POTUS and what MAGA might actually mean when he wrote, “I hope the motel where I stayed isn’t an omen for the future of America. Some of the rooms didn’t have power and you couldn’t drink the water.” Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

My Car Let Me Down

I was looking forward to Wednesday night. Not because I was planning a night on the town, nor was it a high-end date night at one of Portland’s finer restaurants, either.

Wednesday wasn’t even my “day off”; that happens to be Tuesday nowadays—me with my five variant shades of work. After knocking out six hours of financial coordination at the credit union, I was off to umpire in South Portland, at SMCC. The night was comfortable, especially with the school’s ball field situated, overlooking Casco Bay.

What was the source of my anticipation? A night when I wouldn’t be beckoned while being on-call at the funeral home. I’d finally have a night where I could finish my game, drive home, eat dinner, have a beer or two, and somewhat approximate the normal end-of-the-day experience of most Americans.

Instead, JBE1, aka my 2008 Ford Taurus, had other plans. He would choose Wednesday night to shed his serpentine belt and offer a glimpse of the night ahead.This was foreshadowed while we were tooling along Broadway in South Portland, headed towards the college. A red battery icon began glowing, while a message of “check charging system” commenced flashing across the car’s instrument panel. Continue reading

Stopping for School Buses

This means stop.

This means stop.

Let’s begin this week’s Friday blogging exercise with a little traffic safety review for you drivers. According to Maine Revised Statutes for Motor Vehicles, under Title 29-A,  §2308: Overtaking and passing school buses, it reads as follows:

  1. Stopping. The operator of a vehicle on a way, in a parking area or on school property, on meeting or overtaking a school bus from either direction when the bus has stopped with its red lights flashing to receive or discharge passengers, shall stop the vehicle before reaching the school bus. The operator may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the school bus operator to proceed.
  1. Penalty. A violation of this section is a Class E crime which, notwithstanding Title 17-A, section 1301, is punishable by a $250 minimum fine for the first offense and a mandatory 30-day suspension of a driver’s license for a 2nd offense occurring within 3 years of the first offense.

 Most of you are probably wondering, “why is Jim turning the JBE into a blog on traffic safety and rules of the road?” What? Did you not see the WMTW-8 report by Katie Thompson, on idiot drivers passing stopped school buses in Cumberland? I guess those high-end, tony suburbs aren’t attracting civic-minded types any longer. No, just rich schmucks with “get the hell out of my way” attitudes that are always riding up on my ass when I’m simply driving the speed limit on rural backroads like Route 9, coming back from points south and headed back to the compound in Durham. Continue reading

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


For six months, I’ve been writing a monthly feature story called Explore for the Lewiston Sun-Journal. Once a month, I spend a few hours in a particular locale and dig beneath the obvious to capture elements of the town that I’m writing about.

Each time I’ve done this, I came away with a much richer appreciation of the community I was profiling. Several times, I’ve featured towns that I regularly drove through, but from the high-speed highways that often whisk us through these places, I knew little or nothing about the town other than what the typical roadside detritus that most communities are afflicted by during our era of Happy Motoring, offered. Discovery always occurs when we slow down, take a look around, and real exploring begins on foot. At least that’s been my experience.

Exploring another Maine town.

Exploring another Maine town.

Continue reading

Country at War

The George Zimmerman verdict denotes a nation at a crossroads. Maybe we’ve already crossed some kind of line of demarcation. Post-racial America? Maybe if you’re a Beltway elite you think that. For those of us keeping score elsewhere, I contend we’re not at all.

While the Zimmerman trial garnered the lion’s share of coverage via the MSM, other news stories continued to trickle out.

Rolling Stone magazine, once the quintessential rock rag, featured Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev  on its recent cover. Predictably, the binary, black/white moralists were outraged, claiming that Rolling Stone “glamorized” Tsarnaev, giving him the “rock star” treatment. If you actually read the article, a nuanced, well-written piece by Janet Reitman, you might come away with the idea, like I did that circumstances and ideological persuasion can change people, turning docile, well-liked young men into cold-blooded killers. Continue reading

Cracker Barrel Is Actually Quite Hokey (in my opinion)

Hokey, Cracker Barrel-style.

Hokey, Cracker Barrel-style.

When I saw the following tweet yesterday afternoon in my Twitter feed from The Atlantic about Cracker Barrel, I was incredulous;

The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic). ” Why Cracker Barrel Isn’t as Hokey as You Think.” 2 March 2013, 4:30 p.m. Tweet.

My first thought was that things have gotten so bad for long-form narrative journalism that The Atlantic had decided to try to siphon off readers from The Onion. Then I clicked on the article link and realized that the writer, Emily Chertoff, was serious as a heart attack about extolling the virtues of Cracker Barrel, or as I now call it (based on my own experience that I’ll detail below), “a Crack in my Ass.” Continue reading