Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coupl'a Things XXXIII

1) Sperm Sperm Sperm Sperm SPERM, wonderful SPERM.. Sperm sperm sperm sperm...

I was amused greatly by the Heartland Men's Chorus' concert celebrating British pop music from the Beatles to Susan Boyle this past weekend. One of the best shows they had mounted in a long time; the chorus was in full view, voices in fine tune and with just the right blend of camp and serious musical work.

The ad-hoc reviewer from the KC Star gave a few backhanded accolades laced with a whiff of homophobia. He mentioned an "offensive" song and had to caution that it was not "family friendly", the code for anti-gay hysteria. The offensive song was the classic "Every Sperm is Sacred" from "Monty Python's Meaning of Life." Look it up if you don't know it, it is hilarious... especially so sang by 100 men. :)

The local rag, as do many of the papers in their online editions, allows you to post a comment. So I started to post that the offensive song was the above mentioned ditty. When I clicked to post my comment, it flagged it and asked me to remove a word. Yep.. sperm. Offensive.

Thus goes the USA, the most sexaphobic country in the civilized world for sure. Sex is a bigger crime than killing someone, sex is not to be discussed, shown, or even referenced to. The Puritans strike again.

So I posted my comment, changing sperm to "male seminal reproductive fluid". That convoluted mouthful was ok.


2)Easter and all that is upon us. Since I am sort of annoyed at all things church and religion, it has less meaning than usual this year. No singing, no running around for special services. I guess I will go a service on Sunday with my friends the Highfills and then to a brunch. But the excitement and meaning is gone for this year. We'll see what next year brings.

3)Spring is upon us as well. It is 66 degrees at 10:30ish AM, and the sun is full. The spring bulbs are in bloom, the peonies are popping up, birds are everywhere. I even saw a small moth flitting around.

I have fertilized the vegetable garden and raked the soil. It looks good. I have 3 onions that popped up out of nowhere and other gardeners have some fall vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts and such trying to revive. Leeks are on my plot for this year, along with eggplant, Italian beans and the usual peppers. Maybe a squash or two and some pole beans. I will let the community part provide the tomatoes and such.

4) And now.... sperm.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Rigoletto

The Friday night audience for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City's production of Rigoletto was a buzz with glowing reports about the incredible performance of Mary Dunleavy as Gilda, the tragic daughter of the court jester Rigoletto. Dunleavy's, according to the Kansas City Star review, "rippling arias seem to flow so effortlessly, [and]sends the theatergoer home with indelible images—and sounds—in his head." Those who had attended earlier performances of the opera echoed the praise with shouts of "magnificent!" "Best I have ever heard" and "wonderful".

But, unfortunately I did not get to hear that on Saturday. A serious respiratory infection claimed Ms Dunleavy's voice and she was forced to withdraw.

Luckily, a wonderful Gilda was available in the form of Angela Gilbert, a South African native who has performed internationally and knew the role.

Gilbert was sensational, and those who were able to compare felt she was at least an equal to Dunleavy in her passionate, solid performance. Surely one could not tell she had arrived that afternoon in KC, spent a few hours rehearsing the staging and resting a bit before hitting the stage. She and Richard Fink (Rigoletto) and David Pomeroy (Duke of Mantua) acted and sang as if they had been together for weeks. Fink's declaration of vengeance "Si Vendetta" was as chilling and foreboding as I have ever heard it. Pomeroy with his rich tenor and excellent diction laughed and pranced through the famous "La Donna é mobile" with swagger and just that touch of evil that makes this aria more than just a trifle.

This was a fine, traditional retelling of the Victor Hugo tale as adapted by Verdi. Although the plot is as convoluted and absurd as any bel canto opera (you know.. secret affairs, doomed lives, palace intrigue, revenge and murder), Verdi's dramatically lyrical writing transcends the obvious problems and delivers a masterpiece. The sets, dark and foreboding yet never heavy handed, contributed to the air of impending tragedy. Ward Holmquist and the orchestra handled the orchestral parts with aplomb and forward tempo, never rushed but allowing Verdi's rich score to sing when needed.

While I would have loved to have heard Dunleavy's acclaimed Gilda, I certainly did not feel cheated with this performance. One of the most overall satisfying I have heard here in several strong seasons.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Living without hair on one's head may be as big a pain in my patoot as was my short attempt at living without a car. One would think ridding oneself of something would reduce maintenance. Not so with hair. Instead of a daily wash and rinse (no drying needed) I now have to run a razor over the whole orb every single day. If I miss a day, it looks and feels like I have been wrapped with 400 grit sand paper. Whenever I remove my hat (obligatory in sunny weather to keep from burning and in cool weather to keep drafts down) I get this disconcerting scrape-y, scratchy feeling that perhaps I will get used to someday... except when I feel it on my pillow at night.

Since I made a mess of my poor head when I first did the deed (the nasty cut is still visible), I feel the need to avoid over shaving. So since I am staying tonight, the old head has gotten a rest from harvesting of follicles. Anyone need some wood smoothed out?

Benefits? Well, yes. I think it makes me look a bit younger, ridding myself of the gray-ass bit of fluff I had. I don't feel much lighter, but the amount lost was negligible anyway. Do I get attention? Yes and no. Some of the regulars at 303 have never seemed to notice. A few have. At least the comments have been favorable. Only Tom has rubbed my head yet, but that doesn't count as he was smashed drunk.

So, as with living without a car, the benefits have a lot of baggage tagging along with them. I am not sure if I am going to keep doing it. Maybe after the newness wears off (and the shock I still have that I actually did it) I will let it all grow back.

Meanwhile stock in Gillette has likely went up; band aids too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

End of An Era

The worst thing to happen to Kansas City since Mayor Funkhouser was announced today. The 102 year old Folger's Coffee plant in downtown is being phased out as of 2012.

Fucking shame.

Not only for the jobs, the empty building and further loss of tax revenue, we will also lose something that made downtown Kansas City so unique; it will no longer smell like fresh roasted coffee. One could tell when the big old roasters were in full bore as the rich aroma wrapped around the old buildings on the north edge of downtown. Crossing the river from the north on Broadway brought you right by the plant. Many who were not aware of the existence of the place were undoubtedly perplexed by the strong aroma of coffee, thinking a coffee festival was in town or Mrs. Olsen had just passed by. It was easy to miss the place; the plant did not have a huge sign, just elegant bronze letters reading "The Folger Coffee Company" above the door and was not an obvious industrial site. It looked just like the old office buildings and lofts that surrounded it.

So another institution has been lost to efficiency, stakeholders and greed. At least the plant's operations are staying in the US, they and another plant are going to New Orleans.

As for me, just as a token protest to our loss, I am no longer buying any Folger's coffee. We have Roasterie and Parsi locally made to satisfy our need. I guess I'll have to go by their plants to get my coffee aroma fix.

But it was fun having a downtown that smelled like a fresh brewed cup. Few places could best that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

And These People want to Rule America?

As seen in the KC Star. Further proof that Republicans have have lost their mind.

A new national Louis Harris poll finds that a majority of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim, while 45 percent agree with the so-called "Birthers" that the president was "not born in the United States."

The poll of 2,230 Americans, taken during last weekend's health care showdown in the House of Representatives, shows how successful Obama's opponents have been in demonizing the 44th president.

Full results are expected tomorrow, but preliminary findings were released in The Daily Beast by John Avlon, whose book "Wingnuts" details the hyper-partisanship that has swept America since 2008.

According to the poll, 57 percent of Republicans, and 32 percent of Americans overall, believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. The opinion comes despite Obama's description in his bestseller, "The Audacity of Hope", of his adoption of the Christian faith.

The poll found that 45 percent of Republicans, and 25 percent in the overall survey, agree with Birthers that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president."Even Fox News pundits, notably Bill O'Reilly, have dismissed the Birthers' claims. The state of Hawaii produced Obama's birth certificate during the 2008 campaign.

Another eye-opening finding: 38 percent of Republicans, and 20 percent of Americans overall, agree that Obama is "doing many things Hitler did."

And 24 percent of Republicans, and 14 percent overall, agree that Obama "may be the antiChrist."

The poll found that voters lacking a college education are much more likely to agree with more extreme myths and rumors about the 44th president.

In a more conventional opinion - echoing charges from some House Republicans during the health care reform debate - 67 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist, an opinion held by 40 percent of those surveyed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Enough Already

I thought these were a hoot. This is a bust on one of the balconies of the Palace after our 8in of March snow yesterday. He seemed to be expressing what we all feel; enough already!

But never fear, being spring now (we think) the temps are supposed to be in the 50s for the rest of the week and hopefully this is the last of the white stuff for a while.

Looks a bit like a Conehead with a snow boa.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On Top of Mt. Baldy

Once upon a time, I said (I remember it well) that I would shoot myself if I ever went bald. I was probably 18-20 years old at the time and had a head of incorrigible dark brown hair that tinged with blond in the summer sun. It went everywhere; Afro-picks were used to untangle it and it had to be washed and dried daily. My crop sprouted cowlicks by the dozens, O'Cedar Mop Company wanted me as a model and ladies wished they had as thick and shiny hair as I did.

Get the picture?

I also remember a fateful day in the bathroom in my apt in Jefferson City circa 1993. I had the door partly closed exposing the full length mirror on the back while I was mopping the floor. I raised up and noticed the reflection of the back of my head and a big thin spot. There were screams, the mop was put away and I contemplated an early death.

The piles of hair in the shower and sink grew; Drain-o sent me a thank-you note for increasing its sales by 67%. I was too far gone for any over the counter remedy, and Hair Club for Men was out of my price range. I had to face the fact that like many men, I was going bald in my 30s.

Compounding the whole mess was the also not so gradual turn to a mousy grey-white color. I was too lazy to keep up with the Miss Clarol treatments that lasted only a couple weeks, and it fooled no one.

A couple weeks ago at one of our regular 303 nights, I mentioned to the boys that I was considering shaving the whole damn thing off. "Do it!", cried Rich. "You have the head shape for it, it would be fabulous." Rich, frankly, has never steered me wrong, so I thought about it. If I hated it I have plenty of hats and it would eventually grow back.

For some reason, today was the day. The first day of Spring seemed to be auspicious enough, even though I am watching it snow. I read a bit about it, figured my hair was short enough without a trip to the barber and waddled in the snow to Walgreen's to get some shaving gel and baby oil, two things experts said were required for a smooth job.

Part way over to Walgreen's I almost chickened out. But the "what the fuck" part of me pressed on. With my purchases in hand, I resolved to do it.

Washed my hair, said good bye and lathered it up with the gel and a dose of baby oil. Scrape, scrape, scrape, there was more there than I thought. But it did come off easy, usually in big wads. I dried off and used the handy-dandy Norelco electric's clipper blade to smooth off. Another application of the gel-oil mix and some more fancy blade work removed more. Unfortunately, a bit of red-tinged gel told me I had nicked my scalp... big time. So some first-aid and a break for lunch as the bleeding stopped. I guess just one nick for a first timer isn't so bad. (Ok so I found two other small ones, I am not known for my fancy blade work anyway.)

The back of my head had the most hair left, and of course that was the hardest part to reach. A brutal, who cares whack-job with the scissors got the thicker part cut down to size and it soon joined the rest in the sink. A go over with the rotary blades of the Norelco smoothed the plains and got the occasional stand of hair that was missed.

Outside of the noticeable nick, it really looks pretty good. Frankly, it makes me look younger. Getting rid of the old man gray-white crap took a couple years off. It is not baby butt smooth, but it is closer. A few more gleanings with the Norelco should do it.

I'll do a picture sometime, but not today, there is a band-aid on my head.

My Hair 1957(?)- 2010


Friday, March 19, 2010

Coupl'a Things XXXII

1) I have been listening to the wonderful, jazzy, neo-classical, Stravinskian Symphonies and Sinfoniettas of the French-Polish-American composer Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986). I and most others hear lots of influences of Roussel, the neo-classic Stravinsky (think Symphony in C and Symphony in Three Movements)and jazz (Milhaud is an influence too). Some find the works too derivative, and second rate, but I find them fun, colorful, energetic and far from just Stravinsky-Lite. But there is no denying the connection to Stravinsky yet Tansman's own voice shines through, more lyrical and less angularly dry than some of Stravinsky's oeuvre. Chandos has all the Symphonies and orchestral works in a fine set. Well worth exploring for the adventurous 20th century fans. Available from my mail order friends listed in the links section.

2) Just when I took a few minutes last evening to enjoy a warmish sunset, greeted our lawn care man supervising the first application of fertilizer and weed control and spent most of the day outside cleaning out some old junk in our junk pile, we awake to a winter storm watch with 6-8 inches of snow predicted for the weekend. Now these predictions have a way of being a bit inaccurate and the weather people around here tend to catastrophize but it looks as if we are going to get something starting this evening. So, while it is a balmy 50 before sunrise, we will watch the temps and precipitation drop. Now... where did I put the snow shovel??

3) Another harbinger of spring is the annual silliness of Daylight Savings time. I always forget if this is standard time or DST, but regardless, it annoys me. Although I do enjoy the fact that we get a few more hours of light in the evening. My usual 5AM wake up was shifted to past 6AM and even as late as 7 as I struggled to adjust. I do not have a clock in my bedroom (just one less thing to shove the # 13 in my face) so I rely on my usually good internal clock. Finally, today things seem to be back to normal, but only to be screwed up again when they futz with it in the fall.

4) Holy Amnesia, I like that term. Fascinating report showing the Bible is more violent and pro-genocide than the Quran:


This will send Glenn Beck's and Pat Robertson's heads spinning!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hypocrisy In Action

In the hypocrisy award for the month, former Alaska Governor, quitter and current media clown Sarah Palin admitted that she used to get her treatment in Canada's single-payer system.

"We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada, and I think now, isn't that ironic?" CBS news link.

Ironic in that she has compared the attempt to reform the US healthcare system as a socialist, Orwellian program that would force people to stand in front of "death panels".

Hypocritical bitch.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Playing Catch Up

1) This week just flew by, which can be good or bad, depending on how you feel about life in general. As for me, it seems to just be careening forward. I mean really, here it is almost 15th of March, St Patrick's day is almost here, Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend, the snow is all melted (even the big bank of snow in the church parking lot next door, gone over night earlier this week) and green is starting to peek out of the cold, brown ground. Since the weather is a tad warmer and rain has replaced the snow, I have been out and about, as have many of my colleagues and thus I have been derelict in my blogging duties. Allow me to do a bit of catch up.

Monday found me at my usual haunt of Bistro 303 enjoying the wonderful $5 hamburgers and the usual crowd of regulars. Steve, Amy, John and I enjoyed gossiping, greeting our friends, harassing the owners and drinking a lot of vodka. Tuesday, Bruce and I ventured to the new Hamburger Mary's for $1 tacos and cheap margaritas. We downed several of the above while musing on life's foibles and mishaps.

I was staying in Wednesday, but a call brought me out and I met a friend for "a drink". 5 Martinis later, I made it home somehow.

Thursday found me back at Hamburger Mary's for AIDS Walk KC charity bingo. I actually won a game and got some fabulous prizes. Of course I won the first game so my prizes were less than those that followed, but I was certainly happy as I never seem to win at much. It was all for a good cause and Amy and I had a lot of fun, good food (you know... I have been to Hamburger Mary's 3 times and I have never had a hamburger there yet) and drinks. We know most, if not all the staff there, so it is like a 3rd home.

Tonight? I am done in. Sort of like my old travel days when I had go out to eat and drink every night and then stay home all weekend and do laundry and vegetate. That is the plan.

2) I neglected, distracted by all my revelry, to do a review of last weekend's Kansas City Symphony concert. Michael Stern was in town to conduct George Crumb's "A Haunted Landscape", in my opinion his most successful orchestral work, Beethoven Piano Concerto #1 with Robert Levin, Piano and ending with the Copland Symphony # 3. Crumb's soundscape was indeed haunting and quite well played by the symphony and the huge percussion array. As Crumb writes, "A Haunted Landscape is not programmatic in any sense. The title reflects my feeling that certain places on planet Earth are imbued with an aura of mystery... Places can inspire feelings of reverence or of brooding menace (like the deserted battlefields of ancient wars)." Ghostly sounds intermingled with haunting wisps of melody, battle calls, ancient rhythms and chants. Quite evocative and well received by the audience.

Robert Levin gave a robust and brisk performance of the sunny Beethoven 1st. Levin tore into the extended cadenzas with gusto. Not even a ringing cell phone could mar the brilliant first movement. Although Levin paused to comment "if you would please, at least, use a tune that fits the cadenza."

The Copland 3rd is not one of my favorites and I, along with my friend Megan, find it interesting that the gay, communist Copland is always the grand old man and father figure of the "Great American Symphony." That accolade belongs alternately to the Harris 3rd or the Mennin 3rd, depending on my mood. Quite a fine performance, but I was not persuaded that it is all that great.

We have a symphony break for a while, with the orchestra occupied with "Rigoletto" and some pops things.

3) The "Coffee Party" is taking off. A challenge to the screaming, anti tax and ultra right wing "Tea Party', the Coffee P Party has a commendable goal: The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them."

Join with me.

4) The Washington Post has a great article from a journalist, calling out FUX News for its shameful lack of journalistic standards and blatant lies propagated by this Fake News channel:

Howard Raines: Why don't honest journalists take on Fox News?

5) Finally, RIP to a great lady, Miss Belle, Bruce's 17 year old black Persian cat. Belle went to the great Rainbow Bridge on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

From Our Local Rag II

Shawnee police want to talk to a man with a Mohawk haircut who scared a little girl on Monday, they said today. A 4-year-old girl told police that a white man with the haircut stopped his blue and red pickup truck and looked at her while she was on the street in the 11500 block of 68th Terrace. It happened at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The frightened girl went to her house and the man drove away, police said. They regard the incident as suspicious and would like to talk to the man. Anyone with information is asked to call Shawnee police

Charge: Aggravated staring at a minor and possession of an unregistered mohawk.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Auto Show Pt II

As Greg and I wandered back to the south end of the vast Bartle Hall Exhibition Center, we again mused on the state of the auto market. A couple of years ago, we both remarked at what a winning line up Saturn had, the Aura on the top of my list for a new car. But 2 short years later, Saturn is gone and dead after only 20 years.

Thus I looked with a jaundiced eye towards the Lincoln and Mercury part of the Ford Motor Company empire. Lincoln has almost always been a distant second to Cadillac in the luxo wars. A big boost in sales in the 80's when Cadillac produced junk after junk (V8-6-4, diesels, Allante, Cimmaron, etc.) kept Lincoln alive. But the 90s and aughts have been less kind. Staying with the regal and fabulous Town Car too long, Lincoln's image suffered. I kind of wonder how long they will be around; Mercury especially as the rumors of its demise have bee around for several years now.

The new MKS and MKZ sedans and MKT (don't they know that was a railroad, better known as the Katy??) and MKX crossover/SUVs are worlds away from the Town Car (still available at a wow! 46K, every penny must be profit) but somehow just seem to miss the mark. Many auto wags felt that the better buy was the new Taurus for 10K less. The MKS, with its new, more aggressive grille, was better inside than the Taurus and felt less claustrophobic, but looked a bit cheap compared to the (gasp) Hyundai Genesis.

The Mercury line up was nothing more than regrilled Fords. I can only imagine how long they will be around. Mercury does not get a version of the Taurus so it makes do with Milan (Fusion), Marriner (Escape), Mountaineer (Explorer) and the long-in-the-tooth Grand Marquis.

GM had the whole southeast side, with Chevrolet and Buick taking up the lion's share. Cadillac was in the middle with GMC trucks; missing of course was Pontiac after 84 years.

GM frankly had little new and terribly exciting this year. Lots of Camaro models in every conceivable bright color, sleek Corvettes and big, brawny trucks were the highlights. The well received Malibu was totally unchanged but is selling well, it is still quite new and competitive. They need to keep watch of the Ford Fusion and the Kia and Hyundai onslaught, in my opinion, or they will be caught napping. Absent from this show were two cars that could reinvent Chevrolet as a marque, the new Cruise and the electric Volt. The Cruise with an emission friendly and powerful 1.4 litre 4 is a big bold step above the Cobalt which in itself was a big step above the Cavalier. Looking like a bold, mini-Malibu, it should do well against the more swoopy and funky Ford Fiesta in the small car field. The Volt is a game changer, pure and simple. Finally, just maybe, we will see a viable, practical and conventional electric car.

GM's surprise is a resurgent Buick, for which my 1990 Buick, the faithful Dunbar, rejoices. The snazzy Lacrosse, more elegant (side portholes even) Lucerne and SUV Enclave have garnered rave reviews. Soon to be joined by the new, entry level (26K) Regal, Buick's line up looked strong. The luxo Lucerne had better looking, more luxurious fittings inside than the more expensive Lincoln MKS, in my opinion. The bold, slightly retro grill (recalling the big, toothy 1950's) looked fun and bold without being grotesque like the Lincoln. The Lucerne Super ( I love that Buick is keeping a modicum of its historic names like Super and Regal) with a Cadillac Northstar V8 is to die for, portholes and all. Buick is going to be successful in the upper ranks, making well equipped luxo cars at a reasonable price.

Greg and I ignored the trucks. Despite being a farm boy, Greg is not a truck fan and of course neither am I. It does bear a mention that trucks are today more "Cowboy Cadillacs" than ever before.

Speaking of Caddies, the 2011 Cadillac line up features a newly redesigned and less angular CRX crossover that is an improvement on the trucky former model. The front is bigger and bolder (as is the trend) but more powerful and refined in every way. Should be a leader in the crowded luxo-crossoever field. The full line up of Caddies is minus the Corvette based XLR sport coupe but included a new CRX sport wagon, one of the few station wagons available nowadays. Tiger Woods can replace his broken Escalade with a greener Escalade hybrid at a cool 73K. The CTS family, starting at 35K and going up to 62 with the powerful, 556 hp CTS-V is making Cadillac a viable Standard of the World again.

One of the sadder moments of the show was the once wonderful Chrysler-Dodge display. Nothing new, just warmed over almost pathetic, cheap looking sedans. The once mighty Chrysler 300C is looking dated and unchanged (as it is), but still the leader in the new high-pockets, small green house look. Greg looked over a new PT Cruiser, little changed from his 2001 model. Chrysler needs something new.. now. Jeep too. Only the Camaro baiting, niche market Challenger had any interest going. We'll see if the crazy alliance with Fiat is any more successful than the American Motors dalliance with Renault.

We glanced at the Subarus, mostly funky off road type cars. At least the ugly Tribeca has been redesigned. The sedans look competent and are nicely redesigned. Maybe there is hope after all for this funky, outsider's brand.

Kia has come on strong lately and was a big surprise for me. I had a Kia rental car that was a tin can on wheels, an early model Rio. A Kia Rio will set you back little, clicking every option on an automatic transmission LX Rio (power windows and locks, cruise, heated mirrors, upgraded audio, spoiler, bluetooth and more for under 17K. Makes a Smart car look silly frankly.

Kia's motto is the power to surprise and certainly I was by the well done and stylish Kia Forte "Koup" and sedan. A top of the line, red, 2.4L auto transmission Forte Koup with leather, heated seats, and sunroof was a blip over 21K. My surprise was the stylish EX Forte sedan in a fabulous Dark Cherry exterior and leather trimmed "coffee" interior with sunroof and auto trans for less than 20K. Again a Smart looks dumb in my opinion.

With thoughts of margaritas and wonderful Mexican treats at Teocali, we ended our review of the new cars of 2010.

My summary:

Car I'd want if money was no object: Maserati Quattroporte. Runner up Jaguar XJ
Sport Car: Maserati Coupe
Sport Car I could afford: Kia Forte Koup
Luxo Cruiser: Hyundai Genesis or Buick Lucerne (a toss up here)
Mid Priced Car: Chevy Malibu
Car I could actually, maybe afford if I tried: Kia Forte

Friday, March 05, 2010

Auto Show

Greg and I always try to attend the Greater Kansas City Auto show each March and this year was no exception. Both of us are pretty committed car nuts, so this is 2 hours of pure pleasure for us. Looking forward to the treat of some fine Mexican food and margaritas afterward was an added incentive.

Unless you have been in the bush or hiding under the proverbial rock, everyone is aware that this has been a rocky year for auto makers. GM and Chrysler Bankruptcy and reorganization, brand names and models disappearing and then Toyota's recent downfall from grace.

Entering the vast Bartle Hall exhibition center, Ford greeted us as usual. They must have paid someone off to always be at the very entrance of the place for all the shows I remember. Ford has been the only US Big 3 not to take bankruptcy or bailouts and frankly they seem to be the strongest right now. The Fusion is the North American Car of the Year and a worthy competitor. I have driven one and found it competent and peppy, even in a basic 4 cyl form as a rental car. The Focus emerged as one of the top buys in the crazy "Cash for Clunkers" scheme and the Ford trucks rein supreme in their class. The Edge seemed to be a very attractive cross over, and the Flex a funky alternative to the really big SUVs. The 2011 Edge, however, looked clunky with the big honking nose, a step back to me.

The new Taurus has been getting a lot of press and was one of my fantasy buys if money suddenly rained upon me. But sitting in it and seeing it up close, I felt the high green house with massive doors and a chopped bustle made the car look stubby and blocky. The interior felt claustrophobic with the small windows. Visibility was nil. So the Taurus is off my list. The upcoming Fiesta will be a winner.

I am not a big Toyota fan, even though I had a Rav4 10 years ago as the last brand new car I ever bought. Their troubles were evident as the display area was not humming with lookers. As we walked by commenting on how the Rav4 has gotten so big and expensive a fellow yelled "bonsai!!", referring to the kamikaze-like acceleration problems of late. Well built, popular as hell, they will survive for sure, but like vanilla ice cream, they do not inspire much excitement.

Similarly we brushed pass the Hondas, noting the new Accord Crosstour was kind of ugly as was the redesigned, fussy CR-V. The Fit is popular and has tons of room for a small SUV or whatever it is.

We spent a lot of time in the Hyundai display. Greg is the proud owner of a new 2010 Tucson, which he has barely driven as he does not want to get it all dirty! Hyundai used to make tin can cars that were laughed at. Not any more. The Sonata sedan is slick, comfortable, very well equipped and a fabulous value. The big Genesis is even slicker and more stylish, especially in coupe form. With a 4.6 V8 under 40K, it is a steal. The small Accent and Elantra are quite well equipped for under 20K. But frankly, the Genesis would be my new fantasy luxo car, replacing the Taurus.

On down were the big boys, the high priced makes from Aristocrat Motors. These are the ones people drool over but of course can not buy. Most are roped off to keep us mere mortals away. The Mercedes Benzes were out in force. The line up is being redesigned and frankly they look more like Hyundai models each time. With maintenance costs high, I would not have one of the damn things. The slick supercar SL and SLRs were fabulous to look at and fabulous in cost at 100K and up. They were certainly the most photographed.

Maserati had its coupe and Quattroporte at a cool 150K. They look aggressive and slick, with interiors of fine leather, wood and polished metal. I wouldn't turn one down if given to me!

Smart cars have made quite a splash in the US market in the last few years. Small, tiny actually, 2 seaters with very advanced construction, these 4 wheel carts have become quite a status symbol with the upper income brackets looking for something to stand out in the crowd. I certainly see more of them in the high rent areas than I do anywhere else. Frankly you can get a more substantial and better equipped Kia, Hyundai, Focus or Cobalt for the same money. But then you would not stand out in the crowd.

The newly revitalized Jaguars are certainly better built, more powerful and oh so sleek. But higher in price than ever before, thus they have cast off that poor man's supercar reputation and gone right into the heart of BMW, Benz and Porsche. I'd take an XJ in red with those creamy dove gray seats, thank you.

Little time was spent among the Land Rover and Porsche lines, only to gawk at the new 4 door Panamerica, Porsche's first 4-door offering. I'd still take the XJ. Volkswagen had their whole line up, but we just talked about the problems two of our Volkswagen owner friends are having, the poorly designed rear door of the new big CC sedan that catches your shirt or coat and all the silly names of the cars like Routan, Tiguan, Passat and Touareg.

We reached the half way point by now, turning around and heading south. Ahead of us were GM, Kia, Chrysler-Dodge, Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki and Lincoln-Mercury. We suddenly noted the show was a bit smaller this year, and for good reason. Rest in Peace Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and SAAB, all of which were either missing or discontinued. BMW and Nissan, still very much alive, did not send cars to the show for some reason.

Tomorrow: A Kia surprise and a Buick renaissance.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

From Our Local Rag I

From our local rag's on line edition this AM:

Kansas City police found a young child walking a dog alone early this morning. The child was found near East Eighth Street and Woodland Avenue. The child has been reunited with his family, a dispatcher said. Further information was not available.

This is sad in so many ways, pointing to the further decline in our world:

1) Why is this news?
2) What happened to our society that a kid can not walk his/her dog in the morning?

Well for one thing, our newspaper is gasping like a flounder out of water. The level of "journalism" has dropped noticeably in the last few years. With falling readership and falling revenue from advertising, something common to all newspapers. many of the Star's professional journalists have been laid off or left in disgust. I would assume that in this case someone had to put something up in a space and this was the best they could do. Honestly, I would expect (and even find myself bemused by) this type of headline in the "Bugtussle Weekly Wigwam and Shopping News", but not in a major metropolitan area paper. As one wag put it in the comments section, "..story makes about as much sense as fat guy found eating cupcakes outside of 7-11."

Second, it shows how our neighborhoods have declined from once bustling centers to burnt out, drug and thug infested nightmares. In reality, it is probably not safe for anyone to walk their dog at anytime in this area, or in many areas of Kansas City. Probably at one time he/she could walk the family pooch around without fear. But today, it would only make sense with a pack of pit bulls in armor with an arsenal or guns at the ready. I hesitate to walk HM around my spot unless I have looked around first to see if there are hoodies around. In the neighborhood in question, a combo of light industry, open fields, housing projects and abandoned buildings, the likelihood of danger lurking around the corner or in the door of the old building is real. I guess the news that the kid is back home safe is at least worth a few points.

I don't see it getting better. As the right continues its assault on the poor and middle class, the cities will empty, the tax base slide, services and infrastructure weaken... we will be a Detroit in just a few years, no one will want to live here. And then a newspaper article about a kid walking his dog anywhere in KC will be news.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I've Lost That Buy'n Feeling

In my road warrior travel days, the sight of a shopping mall made me quiver with joy. Instead of sitting in front of a TV watching nonsense, I could wander the night away, up and down the shiny tiled halls of the Great Temple of Materialism.

For the few months I lived in suburban Chicago, the malls were my salvation. Instead of sitting in traffic for an hour or so getting back to my squalid little hole, I would stop at the local mall and wait until traffic was clear. If it was going to take me two hours to get home, it might as well be an hour and a half shopping and one half hour driving instead of sitting the whole time on the "express" highway. I especially enjoyed it when I was out by Woodfield Mall, a huge expanse of stores under one roof and then of course the new additions along side. After dinner at a sushi place I found, I would wander the mall, out from the cold and drear of a Chicago winter, darting in and out of all the stores. Inevitably some new item caught my eye and would attach itself to me. Maybe a new tie, shirt or belt, maybe some designer undies (accessorizing is important), perhaps a new CD, or most special, a new piece of Calphalon cookware or a new set of glassware would end up in a sack in my back seat.

Not any more.

What gives?? Maturity, more sense, less room, less money? Is that the reason shopping no longer appeals to me? Probably all the above. I am not destitute, but I make less than I used to yet I get by quite nicely. I certainly have much less room than I used to have so the argument I have with myself "where would I put it?" takes on added weight. The need to show off and keep up with the Joneses has dimmed. Thus this new philosophy of frugalness, practicality and reason has replaced the one revolving around getting it takes care of wanting it.

One of the few things I ever learned from my father was "buy the best you can afford, take good care of it and it will last". That is why he rarely bought new cars, houses, clothes or much of anything else. And I agree. It is wiser to buy a good item once than a poorly made one 4-5 times. That is why our 60 year old Crosley refrigerator works, as well as the 50's vintage appliances in the kitchen and the expensive wood floors in the house still look new.

Thus it went last night as I wandered around a mall, the Oak Park in Overland Park, KS to be precise, for a bit. I have it in my mind that my good winter coat needs replacing and that perhaps at the end of the season I could find a bargain. Macy's had a nice one, but it was only 50% off instead of the 60% of the others. I almost bought one on line, but a last minute hesitation before clicking "buy" made me rethink if it was really what I needed. And it wasn't on hind sight. Dillard's at the mall had even less than Macy's and I did not see the need to visit Penny's or Nordstroms. A glance by the housewares at Macy's had no effect on me. Not even the Calphalon... where would I put it? I have pots and pans that I do not use and certainly had enough to make a gourmet dinner for 20 a couple weeks ago. Shirts... plenty. Ties... don't wear them anymore, undies..plenty, belt...have a brown one and a black one plus the alligator one I got in Nicaragua.. all good.

I think it took me longer to get to the mall and back than I spent inside it. Driving back I reflected on my poor old coat. A stylish back Liz Claiborne leather car coat, she cost me a good penny when I bought her in 2002. And yes, it was one of those "look what came home with me" buys. But like my dad taught me, I bought a good one and took care of it. Just recently though, I have noted the ravages of time and two buttons have came off. Sewing on a shirt button is easy, getting a heavy duty coat button back on leather is a bit of a different story. But I am resigned now to clean her up, take the buttons to someone who can fix it and wear it for another year or so, or until something catches my eye.. 75% off in my size.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Spiritual Journey IV

It had been a while, one day short of 70 days to be exact, since I had been to church. As I mentioned in my last post, I had sensed that the animosity and divisions still existed that I was so wanting to escape. However, a reunion in an informal setting with some of the people with whom I had worshiped and a sudden severing of contact with someone I had supported led me to decide I should see if things had changed.

So with Greg and Bruce out of town, I went and had my own revelation.

Can one be sitting at a church service and suddenly realize it is all just a bunch of hooey?

Does anyone really believe all this? Do they listen? Do they care? Why do the ones who do believe all this feel compelled to force it on others, even to the point of killing? Do they really think their God and Jesus are Republicans? And have they ever read the Bible to see how it rails against hypocrisy more than it does being a lesbian? What happened to "love everyone", compassion for the poor and sick?

I listened to a fine talk about courage from a very wise and learned man. He was compelled to base his talk on biblical texts and he did, but loose enough that they were secondary to the message. It could have been a talk at a Rotary Club or a historical society for that matter.

The music was ok, I had heard it all before. Yes, there were some folks glad to see me, and vice versa. Some there didn't notice I was there, and vice versa. Those who I consider friends are also those I would (and have) befriend even outside a church setting. But is it all really just a social occasion? Aren't we there to learn and change? That I did not see there, or in Christian religion in general.

So I left not feeling compelled to return regularly. It was nice, but certainly not reborn and reinvigorated; I did not feel the energy and sense of exploration I once found.

That, I fear, is no longer a part of my church experience. And it left me on a Sunday morning. How ironic.