Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So long to an awful year (mostly)

2008 has been one of the worst years of my life, and a pretty bad one for a lot of other people.

It started out poorly on Jan. 17 when my wife broke her leg. Then came six operations, several weeks in the hospital and a few more in rehab. There was the clerical error that meant that my wife didn’t get paid for two months. Then my father was in the hospital for a few days.

Things weren’t much better for the rest of the world. The world’s general economic condition knocked my prospects for a better job from slim to none. Many are mad at Madoff for the Biggest. Ponzi. Scheme. Ever, while the Big Three American automakers have proven to be as reliable as a ’75 Pinto.

Music continues to get worse, or maybe I'm just getting older. While American Top 40 and other teeny-bopper shows have year-end lists of the biggest hits, I have been reduced to nominating one song a year as This Year's Only Good Song. The winner this year is....Coldplay's "Viva La Vida."

I do have an award for Mondegreen of the Year. Apparently, this is one that was misheard by a lot of people, because Ryan Seacrest actually interviewed The Pussycat Dolls on American Top 40 in order to debunk the mondegreen. (Oh, the crap you stumble into on the radio during long road trips!) So here it is...

WRONG: I wanna have boobies
RIGHT: I wanna have groupies
"When I Grow Up," The Pussycat Dolls

Still don’t think it was a bad year? Did I mention that two of the most critically acclaimed films of the year are a Batman flick and a Pixar movie about a trash compactor? I thought that would shut you up.

It wasn’t all bad. It was a year where a lot of chickens came home to roost. The Spygate Patriots blew their perfect season at the hands of the GEEEEE-MEN (thank you, Chris Berman) in Super Bowl XLII, while the backstretch’s biggest mouth, Rick Dutrow, was suddenly lost for words when Big Brown finished last in the Belmont.

But the biggest comeuppance was saved for George W. Bush and the Republican Party in general, as the American public finally grew some brains and elected Barack Obama over faux maverick John McCain. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to list the many levels on which this election represents change—the country’s attitude toward race and the power of the youth electorate are the most obvious. But the most important trend may be a new-found tendency to respect the mind and leaders who think.

So this year could be likened to the opening of Pandora’s Box. All the ills, evils and diseases came out of the box—but at the end, there was hope.

Hey, the Steelers made the playoffs…

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Found On Road Dead

Years ago, I bought a 1992 Ford Tempo, and it was, without question, the car from Hell.

In the four years I owned it, everything went wrong. The front bumper came loose, a headlight went out, one speaker on the radio stopped working, the power windows wouldn’t go up and down in cold weather, a problem with the electrical system drained several batteries, and one windshield wiper slipped off its moorings and left a big scratch on the windshield. The last straw came when the fuel line broke in two and left me dependent on a jerk of a co-worker for transportation for several days. (And I bought the car two months before Ohio passed a lemon law. Of course.)

It was the last time I even thought about buying an American car.

My roommate when I worked in Minnesota in the summer of ’95 loved his Toyota pickup, and he gave me some advice.

“When you drive back to Ohio,” he said, “take a look at the cars you see broken down on the freeway. I guarantee you that every one will be American.”

I think I saw six cars pulled off to the side of the road on my trip back—and, sure enough, all were American.

My next car was a Honda Accord. I drove it for 13 years. I recently bought a Scion xB that I plan to drive for just as long, if not longer.

Judging from my experience with American cars, it’s not surprising that the industry is in trouble. We are being told that the Big Three automakers are weeks away from bankruptcy. We are being told this by their CEOs as they fly to Washington in private jets to beg for tax money.

While it’s tempting to tell them to pound sand, that would put thousands of people out of work and make a bad recession even worse. At the same time, the automakers should not be written a blank check with our tax dollars.

Give them the bailout—but attach some big strings to the money. Since this is our money that’s going to the bailout, we have the right to make sure it’s done right.

Bail them out only if part of the money is used for the development of hybrids and electrics, and fuel-efficient cars in general. Make them cut the production of wasteful SUVs and urban assault vehicles like the Hummer. Hold them accountable for the use of the money. Increase quality control and stop making cars that will be available for $4,000 at J.D. Byrider before the next Presidential election. And no more private jets.

Who knows? If the industry gets its act together, the next car I buy might be American.

In another 13 years or so.