Saturday, August 5, 2017

Goodbye, German Sports Sedan

Alas, my E90 is gone.

Facing the kind of expensive repairs that a car like the E90 will always have to have done to it, I traded it in for something much more practical: an Escape Titanium, which my wife will drive.

It's new. It's nice. It's beautiful. She's happy.

What am I in?

A 2011 Camry XLE, purchased when I had a much longer commute and needed something good on gas that was both comfortable and reliable. At that time, I was worried much less about acceleration and driving dynamics than I was about clutchfoot or getting stranded on I-75.

But it's loaded. So, while I must suffer its braking manners and its inability to hold a line, I can at least enjoy the sunroof, the heated leather seats, and that groovy little drawer for storing coins in the dash. I can also enjoy the ergonomics (well done in this case). But mainly I'll enjoyby the way of fuel economy, insurance, and cost of ownershipconsiderable savings. I might not love the Camry, but it's certainly proven that it loves us.

Understand there were no lessons about owning a German car for me to learn from my relationship with the E90, for I'd learned them already from previous cars I'd ownednamely an A6 Avant, a 328xi Sports Wagon, and a GTI. I knew, therefore, that to be a successful German auto enthusiast you needed to be loaded, somewhat selfish, or have fewer mouths to feed. I'm not any of these, yet this time the thrill of the vehicle, and thoughts of becoming one of those guys in the Petrolicious movies who drives a forty-year-old, well-maintained Bimmer, pulled me in.

Was it worth it?


But as it is with love, the next high-end car I own will have to love me back. That means it's probably going to be an Italian.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reflections on the 2017 BMW 230i

On Monday, I took my beloved 2011 E90 328xi (fitted with a 6-speed manual transmission) in for repair and was given a new 230i (fitted with the 8-speed automatic) as a loaner. Soon after I got moving in it I disabled the "start/stop" technology (this I found troublesome) and then played a bit with the "Driving Experience Control" modes, moving from "eco pro" to "comfort" to "sport" to "sport plus" and finally settling on "sport." I thought the automatic would affect the car's drivability. It didn't. Over the next three days, whether commuting in heavy traffic or running errands on empty roads, I loved everything about it. The exhaust note. The handling. The effortless power. How I felt as though BMW had me in mind specifically as the driver when they designed and engineered it.

Alas, once I was back in my E90 it felt, in comparison, large, slow, loud, and clumsymuch more akin to a tank from the World War II era than a world-class sports sedan. I have to admit that on the drive home I was missing that 230i horribly and hoping my E90 wouldn't get jealous. A full day later, I think I still am. The guilt!

Anyway, I can't think of a better way to describe how the 230i performs. It's a great car. But please don't say anything to my E90.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Our annual family golf outing is in a week . . .

And although I'm the guy who organizes it, I'm in no shape for it.

So yesterday evening, realizing I couldn't just hit some of the most beautiful and demanding courses in Michigan cold, I went to the range with my six-year-old. We shared a medium bucket. Although I was once a golf team guy (not nearly one of the best, mind you, but at least on the team), it was the first time I'd swung a club in close to a year. I started slowly, with an 8-iron. Scootz, joyfully, tried out our kid-sized set in the stall to my right. (She was well-mannered; she was terrific.)

As I worked my way through the set, the results weren't great. They weren't horrible, but they weren't great, and that was to be expected—I'll put in some more time before next Friday. It's not that I want, or expect, to shoot lights-out next weekend. I just want to be able to enjoy myself. This outing is with family. There's no real competition. No gambling. No pride on the line. This is uncles, cousins, in-laws, close friends—most of us Italian American—and we all, at this point in our collective lives, stink at golf.

My dad—a man who, for as long as I can remember, certainly prioritized golf, playing, spring through autumn, at least twice a week—started this outing back in the 70s with three of my uncles. In the 80s, once we were old enough, the outing started to include the cousins. Then, once we started marrying, it included in-laws. At one point, in the 90s, we had 24 guys and a waiting list.

Today, my father is the last of his generation still with us. Factoring in health issues, obligations, and, golf's declining importance in our families, we're lucky if the 16 remaining regulars can make it.

But when we can we eat and drink like kings (pasta, salsiccia, and steak with amogio; beer, vino, bourbon, Disaronno, etc.) and listen to music and play cards and hang out and make each other laugh like we did when we were kids, when our mothers would bring us together practically every other weekend. Without this outing we'd more than likely only see each other on Christmas Eve and at weddings and funerals. Like everybody else in this world, as time goes by it takes more and more for us to organize some kind of event where we can get together—a ballgame or a concert or dinner or whatever. We have stuff—spouses, kids, careers, commitments. We're also getting older. And more easily tired.

So I'll go back to the range today—either by myself or with one or two of my kids—and tomorrow and the next day and the next until I'm content with just how badly I'm going to stink. And Friday morning, despite all the practice, when I shank or skull or top or hook or block fade that first drive and experience the laughter of the guys around me, I will not take that moment for granted.

It'll be a privilege.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

On Tarantino's "Hateful Eight" and New Yorker film criticism

Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" obviously touched a nerve with New Yorker critics, generating two serious, unfavorable treatments this week from Anthony Lane and Richard Brody. I don't know whether these will bring New Yorker readers to the theaters to see the film or keep them away. Brody's is Brody as his best, but I'm gauging from his review that he was somewhat torn between being entertained by the film and being troubled both by its graphic violence and by the notions of American history and culture it suggests. Consider the following:
The deceptions mount and fall and the masks pile up and come off, in order to reveal unbearable truths of violence and hatred. It’s as if he were howling, film-long, that the Civil War is still the central and unhealed wound of American history, that racial violence filled with sexual implications is the mad hidden lava running beneath the surfaces of American society, that the law as currently constituted is little help and the absence of law would help less, and that—because of the enduring hatreds of racism—American life, with its systems and regulations, is nonetheless an endless and unresolved death trip. The idea is so serious and so significant that it holds attention even when the dramatic and cinematic material that embody it don’t—yet Tarantino’s approach to the subject isn’t just playful; it’s frivolous and callow. He films like a perpetual adolescent who’s making mud pies (or blood pies) with history.
I haven't yet seen the film. But I have to consider whether Tarantino, via Brody's characterization above, isn't too far off, primarily because he's succeeded on two fronts: entertaining movie goers and agitating talented critics.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A few thoughts on Jaco (2015)

I highly recommend Jaco (2015)for anybody, at any age, with an interest in music (or in cultural studies for that matter). Although it might help to be familiar with Jaco Pastorius, the musicians he worked with, and the albums he recorded, you really don't need to be to appreciate this documentary. For me, personally, Jaco and his contemporaries were musical heroes. They were in their prime when I was learning to play, and I continually turn to their LPs from the 70s and 80s for ideas and for inspiration.

Two bits of history I was not aware of before watching this struck me, and both pertain to Jaco's masterpiece, Word of Mouth (1981). The first is that Jaco desperately wanted Joe Zawinul's approval of it, and that Zawinul in turn was so dismissive of it when he heard it (here and in Peter Erskine's No Beethoven: An Autobiography & Chronicle of Weather Report Zawinul does not come off as the nicest, most easy-going cat). The second is that Warner Brothers was looking for a completely different kind of LP, something more akin to a pop album, and that they didn't know what to do with it and couldn't market it. Here I'd always considered Word of Mouth an artistic triumph, but I was too young at the time to understand that it was a commercial failure.

Jaco's is a sad, tragic story but an important one. Check out this documentary when you can.