December 30, 2011

Here comes 2012...and The Globe and Mail

2011 isn't the only thing coming to a close for me. I've published my final columns with the Toronto Star, as of last Monday's Motherlode, and the Wheels column that's up today. It's been a blast - I couldn't have taken a better step in my career then spending the past 5 years there.

Soooooooooo. Where to find me? The Globe and Mail! I'm officially on board the Drive section as of January 1. Going national is a great move and terrific opportunity. My first column will run January 6th - the auto section runs on Fridays. You're gonna have to get used to getting your car fix a day early!

Motherlode will live on with the Hamilton Spectator, and on my site, of course. You'll be able to keep finding all my stuff here, but the Globe has lovely glossy printing.

2011 has been a crazy year, in more ways than one. Yeah, that one too. It's been wonderful and difficult, enlightening and raw. I wouldn't trade the learning for anything, but I'm looking forward to 2012; hope you'll stay put for the ride.

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December 23, 2011

It's the most wonderful time, of the year!

If you read Slate, you'll know they have a regular feature called The Explainer. Readers can write in questions they have, questions about every day life, questions that they evidently can't - or can't be bothered - to dig around on the internet and figure out for themselves. At year end, Daniel Engber posts a list of the most ridiculous questions he has received. And I answer them.

And now, the 2011's best headscratchers from Slate's The Explainer.

  1. Why do people put their hands to their heads/faces when something goes wrong? People are instinctively quite happy when something goes wrong, especially to someone else. They have to hide the fact they’re laughing.
  2. It's not really topical, but it's been bugging me for a while: Why do comedy clubs have such unfunny names? Not just boring—it's hard to tell a joke in a three-word business name—but it's usually something inane like “The Laugh Factory” or “The Chuckle Hut.” Why don't they just name comedy clubs after comedians? They worry about people forgetting who older comics ever were. Plus, The Dice Clay Dinner Club was taken.
  3. Why does the outside of the base of most toilet tanks show the path of the waste pipe? (Obviously, the porcelain is molded this way—but why?) This seems unnecessarily explicit to me. Ah. You’re the guy who showers in his bathing suit.
  4. Are the blind sleepy all the time? I was under the impression that your brain signals it's time to sleep when it gets dark. I, for one, can't stay awake when I close my eyes and meditate! Meditating is supposed to clear your mind for higher purpose, not just clear your mind. Please stop.
  5. Whatever happened to dandruff? That's my question, basically. As a kid, there were so many commercials about it, and I remember seeing people who had dandruff. Neither ever seems to happen anymore. Dandruff is caused by having a dry scalp that flake off. Global warning has cured this scourge. So next time you see a dead polar bear, just tell yourself it was totally worth it to not have dandruff.
  6. Does anyone ever get a sex change back? They do take this into account. The bits they remove are kept in a fridge for storage. Please hang onto your bill, however, or you will only be given a gift card.
  7. Why do furniture stores rely so heavily on the advertising gimmick of “going out of business” sales? It seems obvious that they aren’t actually going out of business, but are just trying to drive traffic to their store. I can understand why they might do this, but the real question is, why is this so prevalent among furniture stores and no other industries? It seems the same principles that apply for furniture could apply elsewhere, but I only see these with furniture stores. I’m guessing the answer has to do with some furniture industry pioneer and his lasting legacy. They started this when IKEA moved into the market. They believed people would actually rather drive miles and miles to a store where they could then purchase furniture in bits and pieces, slug it home denting the roof of their car and spend three days trying to assemble it before realizing it had come with two left sides. Local retailers knew this was an awesome concept that would threaten their market of ready- made furniture delivered, in one piece, to your home on a truck by two men wearing little slippers over their shoes. They were right.
  8. Why don't roaches live in cars more often? There seems to be plenty of food in many cars to support them. Do they get motion-sickness? They do. That’s why they always get to sit in the front seat.
  9. When I fry bologna (for a fried bologna sandwich, of course) it always forms a big greasy bologna dome. None of the other meats I fry do this. What's going on in bologna to make that weird dome shape? Oh my god. Do not throw that out. It is totally shaped like the Capitol Building, and will fetch a pretty penny on eBay. If the burny parts look anything at all like Abe Lincoln’s beard, you can sell it for even more.
  10. Odd to say the least, but why do so many of our states end with the letter a? Way too many to be happenstance—there must be a reason. The only thing odd is someone using the word happenstance with a straight face. When Christopher Columbus christened it America, he decreed that all states should end with an ‘a’ also. Ohio didn’t get the memo, and Rhode Island was just all pissy because they only got a patch of land the size of a Fig Newton.
  11. I’m a tall guy. So when I pee, sometimes there’s a splash that exceeds the height of the bowl and lands on the floor. What is it that splashes? Is it water from the toilet or is it pee? I’m guessing it’s water from the toilet because the momentum of the pee takes it down and for it to splash out would defy the physics of liquids. Sit down when you pee, you pig.
  12. When you cut open a pumpkin, there is no whoosh so there must be a gas inside the pumpkin filling the "empty" space. What is it and how does it get inside? We suggest you throw the pumpkin from a first floor balcony. You’ll get all the woosh you want.
  13. When parking in a nearly full parking lot, is it quicker to a) park in the first open space you see and walk, or b) drive a few laps around the lot and grab the closest possible spot? In my experience the two ways are about even, since the extra time spent driving for "b)" means a quicker exit when you leave. Please settle this using statistics as my wife has refused to argue anymore regarding this issue. You’re a menace. Please turn the wheel over to your wife.
  14. Let's say that a meteor never hits the earth, and dinosaurs continue evolving over all the years human beings have grown into what we are today. What would they be like? Would they have a society? A language? iPods? My cat just told me they would still be working on the whole opposable thumb thing, so they could get the earbuds in.
  15. Why do dogs (and other animals, for that matter) like having their bellies rubbed? We just rubbed a porcupine’s belly. We can safely say your theory is blown to hell.
  16. I have a question in regards to rap. When did we start making those hand gestures as we rap? Is a cultural phenomenon only in America or is it international? How did this originate? First, ‘we’ don’t use those hand gestures. And ‘you’ should really stop: have you heard of Vanilla Ice? We’ll wait while you Google him. Click ‘images’.
  17. Why don't they ever use “presents” in advertisements? It’s always about “gift”-giving, and “gift” ideas, never a “they'll love these as presents.” Clerks everywhere were polled and agreed that doofus trying to return something without a receipt would probably not understand the concept of a present card.
  18. Why is it wrong to say things like, "I'm not a ___ (e.g. anti-Semite, racist, whatever); half my friends are ___ (e.g. Jewish, black, whatever)." It seems logical, if not said after an offensive remark, but it seems we learn quickly in life not to make that statement because it's quickly laughed at and discredited. No, it hasn't happened to me in 25 years, but I'm not sure I understand why it's taboo. I’m not anti-Stupid. Some of the best questions come from idiots.
  19. Why do all announcements from the National Weather Service come in capital letters? I assume back in the day when they were using the first primitive computers, that was all they had, but isn't there some way to morph them so it doesn't look like they're shouting? Even using the announcements are in all caps. And the ellipses in the middle of the sentences confuse me. In olden times, weather reports took place outside. It was often blustery, so they had to switch to upper case letters. The lower case ones were being blown away. Stay tuned for updates....after your local news.
  20. I've got a mosquito bite on my tattoo. Did the mosquito get a little dose of ink along with my blood? She did. Everyone should keep their eye out for a mosquito with a tattoo reading Corey Hart 4-Ever on its arse.
  21. You know how when you burp, you taste something that you ate recently, but it isn't always the thing you ate most recently? Or if you ate a bunch of things around the same time, your burp will taste like one of those things, but not all of them? What determines which food your burp will taste like? Your stomach is actually like those jellied salads your grandma makes. Each layer is suspended in stomach juice, which is not unlike Jell-O. The order of your burps depends on which layer you’re at. Sometimes you’ll get mini marshmallows, sometimes pineapple chunks, sometimes tinned mandarin slices.
  22. Do "scare quotes" exist in all written languages that have some punctuation for denoting quotes, or only in some? All written quotes have now been replaced by simply saying the words and holding up your hands. Using your Peter pointers and your up yours fingers, simply do bendy fingers and roll your eyes simultaneously. If it’s scary, you may say ‘boo’ at the end.
  23. Why does it take 45 minutes for the pharmacy to get your prescription ready—even when no one else is waiting? They’re filling your anti-anxiety meds. How do you think they stay in business?
  24. I am wondering why the tradition is to consider the 25th anniversary of just about anything to be a milestone: A wedding anniversary, a hit movie release, someone's death, a big event (e.g. LiveAid concert), etc.. Except we don't typically celebrate someone's 25th birthday in the same way. Why is that? Being married to the same person for 25 years is a big deal. It’s great if a movie, after 25 years, is still relevant. A death is interesting. A Live Aid concert has a purpose. If you’re just 25 years old, you are none of the above.
  25. Can you text 911? You can, but a Porsche will show up.
  26. We are taking my daughter to Disney World. I remember as a kid being a little scared and intimidated by the huge characters. Why are they so big? Is there a psychological study that finds this to be the appropriate size for fantasy characters; does it make them more fantastical? I think quite the opposite. It almost breaks the illusion and calls out the fakery. They’re fake?
  27. If I flush a live insect—think roach—down the toilet, can I expect it to die? Or am I giving it a sportsman’s chance of re-entering my life, and possibly seeking revenge? I’d always assumed it would drown, but someone told me I was mistaken and wasting both water and time. Better, people tell me, to make sure they’re fully squished before disposing. Do you even remotely understand the concept of ‘sportsman’s chance?’ Unless you give the thing a gun, you’re flushing a live creature that the guy from Number 11 probably just peed on.
  28. Whatever happened to nurses' caps and why all the different kinds? They sold the rights to the original little origami folded hats to Slutty Halloween Costumes, Inc. a few decades ago. Real nurses can no longer wear them without someone thinking they’re going to start stripping.
  29. When a friend laughs at their own joke, it usually kills the joke. However, when I'm watching SNL and the actors can't hold it together I laugh harder than I think I ever would have otherwise. The same thing happened to me watching this great piece recently on the Colbert Report about ice cream flavors. I almost died as Jon Stewart struggled to emit the word "Stewberry." Why do giggling comic actors seem to make sketches so much funnier? Am I a sympathetic laugher? Am I laughing at the actors or with them? (I'm leaning towards “with.”) I just called Stephen Cobert and Jon Stewart. Between them they make $19 million a year. They asked me to pass along their thanks for feeling sorry for them.
  30. Why aren’t there any topless casinos in Las Vegas? There are plenty of casinos and plenty of strip clubs in Vegas but there aren’t any combinations of the two. It seems like someone would create a casino where the dealers were topless. Due to union rules, dealers can work until age 70. Since only cards and chips are allowed on the dealer tables, this proved a problem for the only dealers willing to go topless.
  31. Why are smart people usually ugly? I get this isn't always the case, but there does seem to be a correlation. Attractiveness doesn't predict intelligence (not all ugly people are smart), but it seems like intelligence can be a good predictor for attractiveness (smart people are usually on the ugly side). Keep in mind, I have nothing against people who are really brilliant, I've just always wondered. You’re gorgeous, aren’t you?
Want more? Here's 2010 and 2009

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December 20, 2011

Do not be this person

I was at The Bay yesterday. Not as crazy as it sounds; I ventured out for the first time to pick up some Christmas stuff, and within 90 minutes had a tree, a stand, cat litter, gift cards, various stuff for the boys, and gas. Most of this was from different places, but I plotted my course and went. Got parking, had quiet stores (it was about 2 in the afternoon), and was relieved. I hate shopping.

All was going along swimmingly until I got to The Bay checkout. Now, many of you, if you've shopped in the last decade, will have noted that big department stores now have about 3 checkout tills that they hide. You can follow overhead signs for ages, only to find the checkout, looking more like a duck blind than a customer service place, unmanned. You then have to wander around some more, trying desperately to avoid the perfume section (which means instant migraine) which takes up most of the real estate of department stores. I can only imagine the profit margin cosmetics have to deserve such placement.

I actually found what I was looking for (I'm sure I could safely say what I got here; nobody in this house reads my blog) but I you never know. Arms loaded, I started to go through the maze looking for a checkout. There was a lineup, but I was prepared for that. I should have left my coat in the car, but the two lines were moving fairly quickly.

Until. Until the woman started digging in her purse. Crap. A return. I worked retail for ten years. Doing a return happens in dog years. The line, as if having a mind of its own, instantly formed on the other side. Good thing; Returner had no receipts. Returner had no tags on the sweater she was trying to bring back. Returner didn't even have it in a Bay bag. So of course, considering all of this, she acted the only way that made any sense: she got all stroppy with the clerks.

She argued. She started pulling random strips of paper from her purse. Some were from other stores. One might have been her grocery list. By this point, two clerks were corralled trying to deal with her. At a time of year when clerks are pretty thin on the ground, I found this pretty frustrating. I had just been in the men's underwear department ALONE, yet she got two helpers.

I'm usually okay with shopping for the kids. I've mastered the Grandma Trick of holding it up so someone close in size to see if it'll fit, or close in age to see if it's nerdy. A funny thing happens when you start doing this in the men's underwear department. Geez, guys. I'm shopping for Christmas presents.

Returner had now been at the checkout for twenty minutes. I know this because I wandered off to shop some more. I entertained the notion that perhaps the Bay plants belligerent returners on purpose, just so people will wander off and shop some more. Back in line, the one that wasn't moving, we listened. You couldn't help it. "I'll take a gift card," said Returner, with a giant exhale we all took to mean "can you believe this place?". No, it's you we couldn't believe, Returner.

I turned to the woman ahead of me. "Looks like we'll be spending Christmas together," I told her. "Please tell me you know how to make gravy."

After half an hour total, Returner finally seemed to be in the home stretch. They had sorted her maze of crap, and decided she was entitled to a refund of 22 dollars. If I had known this, I would have chucked a twenty at her half an hour ago. As they went to put it on a gift card, she all of a sudden produced a receipt. The one she didn't have half an hour ago. Clerk One perused it - I marveled at her ability to not run to the Gun Department and shoot someone. Oh wait, this isn't an American Wal-mart. No guns. That's why Canadians are so polite. We have to be.

Returner had originally paid on her credit card. They said they had to credit it the same way. She geared up. I mean it. She yelled "no! that's not fair!". I am not kidding. Just as I was about to go teach her the meaning of 'fair', they zipped a gift card through the machine and handed it to her.

As the next person in line - who had now grown a beard and had a birthday - stepped up, Returner announced she wanted to make a payment on her account.

I am writing this from jail. Just leave me here until after the holidays.

December 19, 2011

So my sister Roz is hitting a slow time...

Rozzy is a recruiter. That's 'headhunter' to most of us. She's very, very smart, very professional, excellent at what she does. Like me, she works from home. We speak on the phone every day. Every day. If we don't, one of us thinks the other is mad, and spends another day trying to figure out what we did. Then one of us finally remembers that the other one had meetings or something. Though I usually call her from my bluetooth on the highway to keep me company.

Anyway. Things slow down a little for her this time of year. They don't for me, but they do for her. As she tries to find ways to fill her time, she delves ever deeper into the internet. This often results in her sending me links to people who look like Dog the Bounty Hunter in some Walmart in Louisiana, Awkward Family Photos (which is hilarious), random Maxine cartoons, photoshopped pics of one creature having its way with another, stories about Hazel McCallion's son in his cowboy hat, what she saw on Hoarders last night, a recipe she knows I won't make but has to share anyway (she has dreams of me one day actually cooking; never gonna happen), conversations she has with our other sister Gilly that I have been left out of (it's called 'reply all', you witches), and what is happening in her neighbourhood as she peeks out from behind her living room blinds. This actually is fascinating. They hauled out a body the other day. She's waiting for details.

When I write a blog and link to news reports that are serious, in papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, or long involved stories on political stuff or quirky science things, Roz calls me and says 'knock it off. Nobody reads that crap." So today, imagine my surprise when I get an email from her and the link is about the death of Kim Jong II, the North Korean dictator.

"Wow," I said to myself. "Roz is finally using her downtime to broaden her horizons." This made me happy. And, I was also glad she was sharing this nugget with me, as it undoubtedly containing something I'd missed. She knows how much I read; I must be great if it eluded me.

This is the link. And this is verbatim what she said in her email:

Check the pictures of people mourning in this link. That's how I imagine news of my passing to look.

I called Roz to tell her news of her passing would indeed elicit words not unlike the headline in that link. I told her even though she had oppressed, starved and shot us, we would mourn her passing. Her reply? "I'm talking about the pictures. I didn't catch the headline."

December 18, 2011

We're normal after all!

Heh. Heheheheh. Love this piece from the Guardian about a mealtime with 3 little boys.

December 16, 2011

Mini Me

Travel is changing. With every airline charging people to check bags now, everyone is hauling everything they own onto the plane. I keep thinking I'll see a sheep; and I complained about dogs. Really. People bring their dogs onto planes now. As I said to a seatmate a couple of weeks ago, they can bring on a dog, and I can't eat a *&^$%#& peanut.

It used to be that you sort of scooted onto the plane after the initial crush of people who had lined up to be first in line to breath that airplane air. Who wanted to be there longer than they had to? Well, now you get on as fast as you can so you have some space to jam your crap into the overhead bins. I don't check bags, but I never have. Checked is lost; if you're going somewhere for just 2 days, you can't afford to be without your stuff.

This is harder to do with winter events. You know, the kind I love best. You have to have bulky boots and a coat, your airplane sweater (okay, that might just be me), and stuff to wear once you're there. Which means high heels and leather jackets (okay, that might just be me, too). Anyway. I got to Frankfurt airport on Tuesday morning and sauntered off the plane and left my good ski jacket behind in an overhead bin.

Argh. I had to buy another one. In ski country. In ski weather. Yeah. I'm tearing through the airport looking at price tags of 240 Euros. I'd bought 100 Euros for $140 Cdn. Nice math, eh? Frankfurt airport is a big circle. As I traipsed around looking for the lost and found, I had to go through security 4 times. 4 times. I had to take off my boots and belt and coat and dump my stuff to be x-rayed and jump through the beeper machine and produce my little zip baggy of liquids 4 times. Why? Because 'I'm sorry Miss, but you haf left Germany, even though you haffent even left the airport!'. My passport has 4 stamps in it, all about 20 minutes apart. That L on my forehead isn't for Lorraine.

But then, we landed in Innsbruck. Wow. Gorgeous, gorgeous place. And, I scored a coat for 70 Euros at an H&M. It's hard to be mad when you're in the part of the world that invented Christmas. After dinner and an evening tour of Innsbruck, we headed to the tiny ski town of Kuehtai. That pic up top? That's where we based operations for the off road testing of the Mini Cooper S Countryman All4s. Fun fun fun.

You'll have to wait for my piece in the Star for details, but the fun stuff I can spill here. The second night, we were driven up into the mountains at a very cool restaurant. Long, twisting drive. After dinner, with a tiny bit of wine in me, we tobogganed back down. Yup. They handed us sleds, and off we went. If you want to go right, you lean left. It took me about halfway down to master this. I kept falling off. I was soaked. I was laughing my arse off, it was so much fun. You'd get up some speed, and realize you were about to plant yourself full speed into someone else. So, you'd yell and laugh and fall off. And get back on and keep barreling down the alp.

We asked our hosts who the most fun journos are. They of course can't admit it out loud, but we know. This is the Canadian contingent, apres tobaggon run. Jeff Voth, Mark Hacking, Annette MacLeod, some goofy chick, our BMW host Rob Dexter and Shawn who- is- so- young- I -can't- remember- his- last- name. Sorry, Shawn.

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December 11, 2011

Up, up and away

You know when you have a pet, you buy them special pet things? Especially in the beginning, when you imagine your pet will be doing pet things like pets on TV or in magazines? It's never like that; The best ones, of course, are those ads that beg you to send money to save poor animals. Those eyes. I don't know how they do it. I never hear Sarah McLaughlin gently singing in the background as a dog eats someone's underwear, or the cat snarfs up a hairball.

When we got Maggie, we bought her a cozy little bed. It's darling. She's never slept in it, in nearly 12 years. JoJo occasionally snuggles up in it, but it's Maggie-sized, not JoJo sized, so JoJo kinda splooches over the sides. They both sleep on my bed at night, Maggie right on top of me (when I roll over, she just rides the duvet. We call it cat surfing), JoJo tucked up beside me until I forget she's there and fling her onto the floor. By accident. She just walks over to the little bed thing and plumps herself down.

I tell you this only because they both get positively evil if I'm not home. I've been not home a bunch lately, and I have to leave again today for a few days. Maggie saw the suitcase open - again - and she's glaring at me. I hauled out sandals and plunked in long johns. I may still have sand from Palm Beach in my cuffs, but now I'm off to Austria. Going to Kühtai, to drive Mini Countryman ALL 4s. Soooooooo excited. I love the snow. I love Minis. Maggie is not impressed.

I will get back Wednesday to malochio eye. Or however you spell it. It's a Sopranos thing. Maggie has mastered it. Oh, and these pics? The girls in their favourite beds. The empty cardboard bases from their cat food. Silly things.

December 10, 2011

Mercedes-Benz AMG Performance Tour

The Mercedes AMG story from Palm Beach runs today. You should really pick up the paper, though. I got blasted across the whole cover of the second section, and I looooove this picture, the one they used on that cover.

Their were a pair of those cranes hanging out at the track on the parking lot. They didn't care a bit that we were near them, but they were on the wrong side of the car to get pics. You had to shoot into the sun, which doesn't work and casts all kinds of bad shadow. I complained (nicely, of course, as I am wont to do) to the groundskeeper guy I'd been chatting with, and he instantly went to his truck and came back with some bread. He baited that crane all the way around the car, and I got this pic.

He's the same guy that fed the alligator apple pie for me. I may take Louis the Groundskeeper with me everywhere I go, just to help me set up pics.

Oh, and this:
Editor: "Lorraine, you have this crane picture tagged as a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Its the Black Series C63, right?"
Lorraine: "But it's red."
Editor: "Sigh."

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December 5, 2011

I know you all think I don't work

My buddy Grant Yoxon took this in West Palm Beach. How glamorous, eh? I'm standing on the concrete median beside the track. I'm scared of heights, even this one. So, I'm balancing.

Look at those sexy shoes. Merrills. Best shoes in the world. Very grippy. And such a flattering pose, all smooshed into grungy jeans and wearing a t-shirt that is about 6 years old. Tracks are hot and concrete-y and grubby and smell like burning rubber and hot brakes.

I was waiting for lines of cars to come flying by, but of course I had the wrong setting and the plan didn't quite pan out. I'd just taken the alligator pics; alligators are much better at posing than moving race cars.

While it's really amazing to get to drive great cars at high speeds, they make you wear helmets. You put this balaclava on first, which is really attractive. It has a tight opening for your face, and if you put it over your chin you look like a chinless fish, and if you put it under your chin you look like you have a girdle around your neck. Then you put on the helmet, and it's more attractive. Then it gets hot, and your hair gets all caught up, and you swear and poke your fingers all around in the helmet, and it doesn't help. Then you get in the first car and smuck your head because you forget you're all Great Gazoo now, and have to adjust the seat.

December 4, 2011

Ah, maybe it's just my mood

I read this just now, and I want to do it.

The author, DG Strong, relates how during a period of unemployment and depression, he met once a month with a group in his city to read all of Shakespeare's works aloud. Anyone could come; roles traveled round the table, each line in order. Too shy to take part? Sit on the periphery and read along.

All of Shakespeare's plays. Aloud.

Back in grade 9, my first exposure to Shakespeare was with the wonderful Arlene, whom I've written about. I'm now checking to see if I just used 'whom' correctly. Damn. Anyway. At 12, I sat there totally enthralled as she brought it to life, demanding that we hear Shakespeare as it was intended: as a play, not a novel. She made us read aloud. She told us what all the dirty jokes meant. She filled in the background with stories of the time, letting us know who performed this and how.

She showed us pictures of the outdoor theatres, to get a feel for how close to the performers the audience would be. She told us how men played the parts of women, and if the cheap seats down front weren't happy, they're throw rotten tomatoes at the performers. She explained how royalty and muckity mucks sat higher, and Shakespeare had to consider both sensibilities: those who craved the dirty jokes, and those who considered themselves above it.

She brought in Roman Polanski's MacBeth - a beautiful, violent film I've watched over and over. She played records for the other plays, expounding enthusiastically at the front of the classroom, her tiny exuberant frame running back on forth on teetering heels to make sure we understood what was taking place.

I don't know about my classmates, but I was transfixed. I loved the words; I loved this woman who felt it was so important that I love these words.

Later on, at McMaster University, I was lucky enough to take a course on Shakespeare. My professor was also an actor in productions the school did. An unassuming man in most regards, the second class would start, he was transformed. I had a towering, full blown production for each class, as he assumed each role and trolled the aisles, consumed by the words of someone he obviously adored.

My sons have tripped along with their required Shakespeare readings, and each time I've found myself submerged once again in this tapestry. As Pam, Christer's girlfriend, struggled with Hamlet last year, I summoned up Arlene's teachings, and explained and compared and illustrated the sweeping characters and plot. Once again I heard Arlene's enthusiasm, and once again I was reminded how timeless it all is. Pammy looked at me and said, "you should teach this. I finally get it."

I can't teach it, but I still love it. I read this article and found myself giddy at the thought of finding like-minded people to recreate his words.

And you thought the geeks only took science.

December 2, 2011

Back when things were more simple

I don't usually do this, but there was a column in the Star today in a special section on Auto Technology. I had a piece in it, but they haven't posted the extras on their website. it is!

Air conditioning was the devil.

That’s what my Dad always told us as kids, when we got back from a ride in someone else’s car; a car that felt like heaven on a blistering hot July day. “Roll down the windows, you got all the air you want,” he’d tell us.

I thought air conditioning cost a million dollars; it must have, because we could not afford it, even if everyone else could. They didn’t have to eat their ice cream cones in 2 minutes like we did - the cones that were a reward for 3 hour Sunday afternoon drives around Mennonite country.

I remember being fascinated with the small triangular windows on the front doors of our ’66 Rambler, the no drafts. We called them nose drafts. I firmly believed this actually was air conditioning, and begged my mother to angle the flowing air to the back seat. It wasn’t until 1976 that our car had a radio with FM. It didn’t matter; it was only ever set to CFRB on the AM side of things.

We always had station wagons, because my father believed a car was for one thing only: hauling wood home from the cottage. We had nasty plastic seats and no power anything, because the wood didn’t care about those things. It cared about a V8. Little girls fighting in the back seat as they were being dragged across the country to Saskatchewan were not wood, and didn’t care about the engine.

The concept of utility versus luxury has blurred over the decades. The very presence of acres of leather, climate control, heated bolstered seats, and exorbitant stereo systems makes me think we should be embarrassed to squeeze the word ‘utility’ into the description of so many vehicles. The tractor my father drove growing up on a farm? That was a utility vehicle. The hollowed out van my first boyfriend hauled pool supplies in? That was a utility vehicle.

As my sisters and I grew up and started acquiring our own cars, we’d try to teach my father the error of his ways. You need air conditioning, we‘d tell him. Power windows are practically standard. How could you not want comfortable seats and plush carpeting? It wasn’t that we had all these things; we just thought if you could afford it, why wouldn’t you? He thought we were crazy to pay for such silliness. He would adjust his nose draft and turn up CFRB to drown us out.

In 1994, my father was too sick to kick tires and dicker with salesmen, and uncharacteristically handed the chore to my mother. She let her inner car freak fly, and the Chrysler Intrepid she showed up with was loaded. My father only drove it a handful of times, but even he had to concede it was nice to drive a car that cocooned you in luxury instead of challenged your stamina. The fight was over, but the stripped down station wagons remain a centrepiece of my early life.

What about before the station wagons? Like most children, I didn’t believe my parents actually existed until I was born. My mother alluded to a fabulous social life apparently powered by Morris Minors and public transit in England when WWII was finally over. This was fine, but I was far more enamoured of my father’s first conveyance: in the late 1930’s, he used a team of horses to get to school.

Featuring 2 horsepower, he had the original utility vehicle. Call me a foolish romantic, but there are no cars my parents owned in my childhood, nor any I have driven since that have topped this.

December 1, 2011

Home again, home again...

That gator up there? I got up close and personal with her. Well, nearly. There are three of them that live in the water that surrounds part of the West Palm Beach track. The groundspeople take care of them, making sure they don't get hit by vehicles or escape the grounds. Apparently, if they wander too far off, the state comes in and saves them. By killing them. Louis, the guy who took me to see her, clapped and called to her and fed her. She was nasty and moody. That's how I know she was a she.

Thanks for all the cold weather here at home. Brrrr. Spent all of Tuesday at the Raceway speeding around in a complete lineup of AMG's. That's fancypants (well, fancierpants) Mercedes. Yes, I got to drive a couple of the SLS's with the gullwings, as well as a roadster. Oh, my. More later. Lots of laundry; I kept walking in the ocean in my jeans, soaking them all the way up. Almost as much fun as the cars.

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