Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Art of the Car

The Kansas City Art Institute held its annual "The Art of the Car" Concours this weekend and as custom for the past three years, I went to browse the cars on display and contribute to the worthy cause. All proceeds from the concours go for scholarships to the Institute. As in past events, a wide variety of cars made it to the show, everything from a 1919 Pierce Arrow that was used by Woodrow Wilson while President to a tiny 1950's King Midget, a very basic kit car that was somewhat popular for a time.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

Wilson's 1919 Pierce Arrow. The picture does no justice to the size of this machine.

The detailed powerplant of a 1959 Aston Marton DB III

Rare 1948 Olds Series 66 wood bodied wagon. Few of these partially hand made wagons were made.

French/Russian Coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik was famous for his swoopy bodies on Talbots, Delahayes, Pegasos and even a Cadillac or two. This is a 1950 Talbot-Lago.

The clean, sleek 53-54 Bourke-Loewy Studebaker got all gummed up for 55, but was still light years ahead of the competition.

Studebaker, using the service of Raymond Loewy and his talented staff, kept turning out sleek and moden designs... that just didn't sell. This 1963 Avanti (as the 55 Commander above) still looks modern today.

Nothing says SMILE! like a 1950's Buick!

1940 Cantrell Bodied Packard. The wood on this car is immaculate.

Rare beauty from the golden age of stock car racing. Ford built about 750 of these aerodynamically enhanced Torinos for racing. Most were raced, but at least 500 had to be built for sale to qualify. I had never seen one in person before.

From the smaller end of the spectrum came this 55 Nash Metropolitan. Sentimental favorite for me, as I learned to drive a column shift on one of Chuck Gooden's many Metros. I think the one I drove was yellow and white. There were 3 Metros at the show.

Hotter than hell at the show, but it always is so that was nothing new. 206 some cars were in the show. I didn't stay to hear the best of show winner, chosen as a people's choice award. But I bet the Pierce got it. The KC Star has a few more pics, here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reaching Tilt Level

Is anything easy anymore? Does anyone care? Is "service" just a cruel joke to relieve us of our hard earned money? Is business so damn good you can just piss off or ignore your customers at will? And really, is the anniversary of the death of that clown Michael Jackson really more important than the on going gulf oil disaster, the fucked up wars, the continuing nightmare of the US political landscape...???

With frustration levels above the "tilt" level for many, it is no wonder so many Americans are on anti-depressants, beat their families, kick their dogs or go completely Howard Beale and join the Tea Party. I am about at that level, but rest assured, I have no intentions of drinking the tea; more of a coffee guy here anyway.

With the world on edge, it takes little to send one off into rant-and-rave land. Case in point: after 6 years of good service, I am going ballistic over my dry cleaners. They lost one of my favorite and expensive shirts last week. I was going to wear it at a funeral this past weekend, but since it was first, late in getting back and second, lost in laundry purgatory I had to change plans. So do you think they care? On the surface, maybe. I gave them a week and then inquired yesterday. Nothing. I don't think they have even looked. The clerk, who knows me as a regular customer, told me she "has to light a fire under their butts" when something like this happens. It could take months she said. So maybe by the time I need it again, it will reappear. Meanwhile... I am looking for a new cleaners.

This was combined with a second hassle-fest regarding setting up a new Dr apt. My old clinic was so swamped that getting an appointment was as about as likely as winning Powerball. So I was referred to a local Doc who had an office near by only to find out he had closed it and went to online consultative services managed by "HelloHealth".

With a name like that I should have been suspicious but I decided to play along. On Monday AM I registered, set up an appointment and then went on with my morning online routine which involves checking my bank account at UMB. Imagine my chagrin finding that within a few minutes, "HelloHealth" had tied up over $100 in charges on my debit card. I canceled everything and wrote to them to take the charges off. "Oh, don't worry" came the somewhat condescending reply on Tuesday, "these are just pre-authorizations and will go away soon". It took them until Friday and now I am being billed for $25 monthly service fee. MESS! And I never talked to the Dr at all. So here we go for round 2.

Internet, automation, cell phones all that was supposed to make things easy with around the clock instant access. Yeah, that can work just fine until something goes wrong Then you find you are thrust headlong into the virtual reality world of cyberland, whatever that is. Try to reason with a computer or an email service... it will drive you to drink. Well... try to reason with a human anymore... that does about the same.

Maybe I should just join in and do shoddy work, make excuses, ignore people (I am still waiting for a fellow to come out and give me a bid on my roof, I know I will never see him, guess he didn't need the business.... oh yes, my elevator emergency light battery and a call back from the insurance agent too,) and generally not do a thing until someone calls me on it. Seems to work out for a lot of folks.

When all seems frustration and despair, there can be a ray of light. I was perusing the Land's End catalog and noticed again some stylish and colorful summer Madras shirts, now on sale and with free shipping. So I went online to order one. The one I wanted said it was back ordered until June 14th. Since it was June 21st the day I was ordering, I wondered if it was actually available. So I called their number to inquire. Amazingly, a nice lady answered live on the first ring! No "press 1 for English" or "listen carefully as our menu options have changed" a real live person. She checked and sure enough the shirt was still on back order and probably would not be available again this summer. But, she went on, here are the colors immediately available in your size. My second choice was available but in very limited quantities. "Here, let me order it for you know while you are on the line," she offered. And I did. And it is on the way.

See it isn't that hard to do good business. Unlike Plaza Ford Ideal Cleaners and HelloHealth, Land's End has my business. Hopefully for a long time.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Testing how much you remember from your science classes:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Coffee Spill, BP Style

How BP execs deal with a coffee spill

Friday, June 18, 2010

Marvin Parker Memorial Garden 2010

The Marvin Parker Memorial Garden is in full bloom this season. Many of the same gardeners returned from last year and some new ones added as well.

This year, Greg and the Parker sisters worked on getting a flower garden started on the slope heading up to the garden proper. The Parker Sisters' flowers are filling up the east slope:

Each gardener has a plot if they want or can help with the chores and take from the community plots. This is a garden of lettuce and broccoli towards the front of the garden. Several gardeners have harvested some early broccoli, some let it go to seed not paying attention.

Sue has a nice stand of bush beans this season!

My string beans are heading up the pole. These were from seeds from last year's beans.

I am trying fennel this year. Growing like a weed, but I know not a thing about it. On the bottom of the picture are my peppers, I have picked 3 already this season. You may see some thin, blade-like plants between the frilly fennel fronds and the eggplant. Those are leeks... I hope.

These are the start of a whole field of eggplants in my plot. I have regular size and some of the Chinese ones as well.

Not pictured are some Italian bush beans, some shallots and a lone Roma tomato plant that came up volunteer from last year.

So far plentiful rain has fallen in between plentiful sunshine so we are hoping for a bountiful year again this season.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Final 10

The countdown has begun. I said a while back that I would do 1000 posts here on Puggingham Palace/Pato News and this one makes 990. So the final 10 are approaching.

I may stop completely, I may go on a long hiatus, who knows? Keeping up the blog is now a chore, not a joy. I stare at the blank page and then get up and go on to do something else. Many of the topics I used to love to rant about do not stir my creativity any more. Politics makes me vomit, church is nothing, the dog does little but sleep and eat, the car sits in the lot, concerts are over for the season, and frankly nothing inspires me. So like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, my favorite TV show ever, I want to quit while I am ahead.

Many years ago, I was inspired to start journaling. Sadly, most of my scribbles dating back to the 70s are unreadable; penmanship was never a strong suit of mine. Some Volumes are lost, I fear, as I have not been able to locate them. Looking back can be fun but looking back can also be depressing if you feel you have not made any progress. Most of the time I revel about how silly I was and how things that looked like disasters were just ripples.

So, few dear readers, look for the final 10. Probably not much earth shattering, just me making my way through it all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

AHT: "The Dixie Swim Club"

Greg and I are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to the regular American Heartland Theatre productions we have attended for the last few years. Greg picks me up at 6, and off we go to the Crown Center for the evening. We park in almost the same spot right by the theatre level door and head off to the Streetcar Named Desire for dinner. There we both order the pork tenderloin with extra mayo and fries (I get onions he doesn't), scotch and water to drink and sit at the same table with usually the same waitress. Greg always gives me his pickle. A stroll to the theatre upstairs, order scotch and water from our favorite bartender Mark, and wait for whatever we are going to see. Last night was no exception but we were hatching plans to escape at intermission if "The Dixie Swim Club" (billed ominously as the "Next Steel Magnolias") was more than we could handle.

"Chick" plays or "Chick Flicks" usually are crashing bores for almost any member of the male population. Greg and I are hardly the most typical of men, neither of us are big fans of loud, obnoxious, boorish films or whatever and we both say please and thank-you a lot. Nevertheless, we considered if we were going to order an intermission drink in case we fled the show. We decided what the heck and planned for the whole evening.

Danm glad we did.

"The Dixie Swim Club" is a typical AHT play, breezy, light hearted, intimate (the theatre is small and it is easy to feel right on stage with the actors, plus we feel we know most of them through their regular appearances) and well paced. The plot is simple: 5 North Carolina ladies from a college swim club get together each August at a beach house for a reunion.

Sheree (the wonderful Cathy Barnett) is an annoying hyper-organizer who gags her friends each year with inedible health food snacks. Cheryl Weaver is Lexie, a Blanche Du Bois type with a husband-du-jour. Accident prone Vernadette (the fabulous Debra Bluford) lives a trailer-trash life with a no-good husband and a kid with a mile long rap sheet. The irrepressible Missy Koonce plays Dinah, an aggressive, martini drinking lawyer with no time for a social life. Finally there is Jeri Neal (Jennifer Mays), who became a nun but decided a worldly life was more her style completes the group.

The knee slapping one liners and silly situations fly like mosquitoes in the Okefenokee Swamp and frankly a less talented and looser ensemble would soon send "Dixie" into a proverbial comic swamp. But these ladies have impeccable timing, talent to burn from subtle glances and raised eyebrows (Koonce is a master at this, even when she was not speaking, her eyes, posture and gestures spoke volumes) to over the top theatrics (Vernadette's hilarious paean to the biscuit is a show stopper) which elevates the simple material to an outstanding comic production.

As the play takes the ladies from their 40s into their 70s, a bit of drama creeps in as regrets, illness and death take their toll. But thankfully it does not descend too far or get as sticky sweet as a Georgia peach and leaves the audience with a light hearted exploration of friendship.

Keeping the feeling of an intimate, friendly theatre, the actors in each show assemble to greet the audience. Since Greg knew Missy Koonce well and I had met her, we decided to drop in. I guess I made an impression on the cast as I laughed my ass off in my front row seat. I was treated to an impression by Cathy Barnett of my reactions. She was dead on.

A real treat, so we were glad we stayed and recommend "The Dixie Swim Club" for y'all to see, including the menfolk.

Dixie Swim Club through June 27 AHT

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Kansas City Symphony: Russian Fireworks

The Kansas City Symphony ended its season with a more conventional program than those of late. Three Russian/Soviet favorites were on tap: for an overture, the witty Colas Bruegnon Overture by Kabalevsky, the ever popular Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1, and the Prokofiev Symphony # 5. Music Director Michael Stern was on the podium, with Vladimir Feltsman piano in the Tchaikovsky.

Of all of Kabalevsky's many works only a few such as the Colas Bruegnon Overture, the Comedians Suite and occasionally one of the concerti are heard today, in contrast to the popularity of his contemporaries Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Of the three, Kabalevsky was certainly the more conventional and managed to stay out of trouble with the authorities. Although he was on Zhdanov's famous list, he escaped with nothing more than a warning.

Colas, a 3 act opera about a year in the life of an irrepressible French wood carver and the characters in his village, is a witty and vigorous piece, a perfect festive opener. Stern and the orchestra gave it a sparkling and enjoyable performance, marred only by some over aggressive brass in spots.

Feltsman certainly has an affinity with the Tchaikovsky, as any Russian pianist should, thus his formidable technique and his love for the music was on full display. Unfortunately, his technique and enthusiasm made Feltsman a bit of a pounder in this performance, something the music needs in some spots (the opening of course) but less of in the middle movement and the more lyrical second theme of the sprawling first movement. The big movement seemed to bog a bit as it went along spinning out theme after theme, but Feltsman and the orchestra whipped up a stunning ending that left the orchestra and audience breathless. They received one of the longest and most enthusiastic mid-work rounds of applause I ever encountered. Feltsman, bemused at first, won the audience over with his encouraging gestures. Stern made sure the audience knew there was more to come.

The sweet second movement was appropriately languid and almost impressionistic in the simple A section and lovingly dance like in the middle. This was the most successful movement as Feltsman demonstrated that his technique and power could also gently rock and sing.The brisk, frolicking finale benefited from Feltsman's power and drive, so much so the orchestra struggled some to keep up. The usually fine KC Symphony winds added some wonderful color throughout, but the strings were feeling a bit underpowered and disengaged, especially as the work progressed. Still the large and appreciative audience gave all a hearty accolade.

The mighty Prokofiev 5th received a brisk, damn the torpedos performance bringing out the underlying tension of this powerful work written in the waining days of WW II. The winds had a field day with Prokofiev's shrieking and motoric writing. Stern milked the brooding and turbulent 3rd movement most effectively, allowing the finale to propel the work to a blaze of fireworks at the conclusion. My only disappointment there was the way too understated, manic "clockwork" passage just before the final cadences. I was told that the orchestra was particularly uncomfortable due to some awful humidity that seemed not to succumb to the theatre air conditioning. Thus they played the Prokofiev without jackets. Perhaps the heat and humidity contributed to a performance that seemed relentlessly rushed in spots and dotted with some rough entrances and ensemble. Nonetheless, it was basically a convincing and powerful performance of this symphonic masterpiece and a fitting end to the season.

I look forward to my usual balcony Row G 7 seat next year for the Martinu 4th, Berlioz Harold in Italy, the US premiere of Avner Dorman's "Frozen In Time" Percussion Concerto (which I got to hear a preview performance courtesy of this most charming and friendly composer, the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn, Jonathan Biss in Brahms and Stefan Jackiw in Bruch, among other great pieces. And foremost, the last full season in the lovely but uncomfortable and acoustically lousy Lyric Theatre.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sheer Nun-sense

Ah, hypocrisy reins in the Roman Catholic church. An Arizona Bishop has excommunicated a nun who approved an emergency abortion for a woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension. She and the 11 week old fetus would have died. Basically being pregnant was killing her, the baby would not have survived either.

The Bishop, a patsy for the ass kissers in Rome, took his high horse road and excommunicated everyone, pleasing no one but The Pope.

The article asks a very pertinent question. Why was such swift action taken on this when abusive priests were and are permitted to keep all their rights and privileges in the cult?

Damn glad I am not a Catholic.

Nun Excommunicated

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Another One

Ford Motor Co. board voted today to end Mercury vehicle production in the fourth quarter. Thus the up and down life of Ford's middle child comes to an end.

The fate of the 72-year-old Mercury brand, born as an upscale Ford in 1939, has recently been in question. Thus this announcement comes as little surprise. Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at more than 580,000 vehicles but have been declining ever since. Ford sold about 92,000 Mercurys last year. That was a good year for a Grand Marquis in the 80s, not counting the other models in the line up.

In the 40s and 50s Mercury was more of a baby Lincoln rather than a Ford. The unique bathtub Mercs of the 50s (think any low slung hot rod you have seen) were more related in style to the Lincoln Cosmopolitans than the Ford Tudor. Same with the late 50s when the Turnpike Cruiser was the most Buck Rodgers thing on the road. In the 60s, Mercury suffered along with many of the mid class rivals and became more upmarket Ford than baby Lincoln. Its best years were the 70s, when the Monterrey model was closer to Ford and the Marquis was a step below a Continental.

The most well known Merc was the Cougar, itself a spin off from Ford's Mustang. Cougars were suave, sexy and luxurious and above all successful. Cougar's cat emblem virtually identified all Mercury autos for a generation, where one could buy one "a the sign of the cat."

Even then one could see the problem that eventually spelled doom for Mercury. None of its cars were unique, none screamed Mercury. Even when there was a unique Merc (that is one not sold by Ford dealers) it was a derivative of some other Ford product. Those include the German "Merker" of the late 80s and the awful Australian Capri. Mercury got a mini van care of Nissan whose "Quest" was re-badged and slightly restyled as the Villager. Thus the badge fought annually for relevance, only the long in the tooth Grand Marquis keeping it afloat.

In the last few years, Mercury became even more irrelevant. All products were nothing but re-badged and disguised Fords, from the Milan (Fusion) sedan to the SUV Mountaineer (Explorer). Those between 75 and death will have to get a-hold of their last available Grand Marquis soon.

I owned one Merc, an exasperating 1986 Grand Marquis with few miles but a nagging engine problem that led it to an early grave. Rode like a dream and was solid otherwise. My friend Steve had an 84 that we took to Cleveland and back in the late 90s. Great car.

So another great name joins the ranks of cars consigned to the dustbin. Times have changed, the old multi-layer marketing plans that relied on a customer being loyal to a brand and moving upscale as they got older and more wealthy just doesn't work anymore. Life has been tough on the middle kids; Olds, Pontiac and now Mercury. Who's next?

Some say Chrysler may drop the Chrysler brand and go to Dodge and the new Fiat made cars.

Tough time to be a car fan.

Mercury 1939-2010