14 December 2012

Flying High Maintenance

I've always considered myself a fairly gregarious fella, even affable at times. I try not to be judgmental, but sometimes folks just drive me over the edge.

Please forgive me. I'm venting. I figured it had been a while since I posted and this way I could kill two birds with one stone.

Often, I think about what causes me to feel the way I do with first impressions and being judgmental -- while I try remembering to live and let live, or that we're all God's children, or "do unto others" or any other manner of encouraging words that are instilled in us so we can all get along -- as I develop negative feelings toward others, particularly complete strangers.

Typically, it's their obvious lack of consideration for anyone but themselves, which I find infuriating. Other times, it could be inconsiderates who talk on cell phones in restaurants and theaters or other public places where nobody should be forced to listen to half of one's conversation. Still, it could be the drivers who lose control of their cars because they are too busy texting, talking, eating, farding (thanks, Jeff), shaving or reading the paper. Or, it could be people who eat with their mouths open. Or, those who don't cover their mouths when they cough, hack, wheeze and sigh around other passengers on an aircraft.

Which brings me to "her," and my curiosity about the depth of my disdain. Truthfully, I started this to work at figuring out my disgust, knowing that in the end it's inconsequential to her, me or the rest of the world. But, apparently, I abandoned the need to come to terms with my feelings and have decided to rant.

I suppose it began with seeing her being wheeled in a chair to the gate and down the jetway with a big bag filled with McDonald's "food" and a large drink perched in her lap. Of course, if you read this erratically updated journal much, you know how I feel about the evils of fast food, particularly McDonald's. But, then it occurred to me, her size and her station may have nothing to do with poor eating habits and lack of exercise. So, I think, maybe it's a glandular problem. Surely it's her thyroid. So, I'll give her a pass and try not to think poorly of her.

Zone 1 boarding was announced, my boarding pass was scanned and I made my way down the jetway, where there were at least 10 people waiting to board behind her. Mind you, she'd been escorted down the runway long before "zone one" was invited to board. Of course. There was a problem. As I drew closer, I listened to the conversation the exhausted but patient young wheelchair escort was having with her -- as he explained that because this was a regional jet her backpack and the remaining pile of luggage she'd managed to drag along with her was ineligible for regular boarding on this junior sized plane with limited on-board stowage space.

Clearly, "her" is high maintenance. "Well, I need to keep that. And, what about this."

Finally, he backed her into the aircraft. As he came out, others began to board. But, some of her ephemera still needed to find its way to her, so the young wheelchair assistant was trying to get back on board behind us. When he learned that "her" was in row 5, Cameron offered to deliver the jacket since we were to be seated in row 4. We could see relief in the wheelchair attentandant's face as he handed over the garment and turned back to secure the rest of her stuff for gate checking.

She thanked Cameron. In fact she's been very polite to the whole crew, in spite of needing help with everything from securing her soft drink to stowing her bag under the seat. Even with the flight attendant's good-natured guidance, the negotiations working to determine what was kept and what had to be discarded or stowed were tedious.

Already exasperated for the crew because of her neediness, I began to lose my charity while we waited for baggage to be loaded in the belly of the plane...

...the smell of the crap she was eating was nauseating. The ventilation port above my head was wide open in hopes of deflecting the stench away from me without success. I don't know if I've ever heard such noises and utterances from eating before. The snorts and groans between noisy bites and slurps were enough to remind me to check for an air sickness bag in amongst the aircraft information card,"SKY" magazine and "SkyMall" catalog front of me.

In the midst of this inexplicable scene, I hear, "ANYBODY GOING HOME TO ELMIRA?"

I shuddered. Surely she couldn't be fishing for a ride with someone from the airport. Could she?


Nobody said a word. Finally, we were cleared for takeoff, and as we ascended she finished eating. I thought to myself that maybe things in row 5 would finally quiet down. I was wrong.

Cough. Hack. Snort.

I understand that as weather changes we may experience respiratory difficulties and sinus problems. Allergies wreak havoc on countless folks, including myself to a lesser degree.

BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE, COVER YOUR EFFING MOUTH WHEN YOU COUGH. Especially if you're sitting behind me in a pressurized, sealed metal tube hurtling through space with recycled air.

Rather than coming unglued, I decided to immerse myself in a couple of crossword puzzles and prayed that I could ignore her. Somehow this worked -- or she fell asleep. I was grateful that the flight time was right at an hour. We landed safely in Elmira, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard the familiar tone signaling that the "fasten seat belt" sign had been turned off.

After the passengers in rows 1 through 3 deplaned, I escaped with my laptop as quickly as I could, and waited in the jetway for my rollaboard, while an unsuspecting wheelchair attendant made her way up the jetbridge to the plane. God bless her.

16 September 2012

Flight Attendants: Still the Unsung Heroes of 9/11

Flight attendants: still the unsung heroes of 9/11

As the spouse of one of many bedraggled, underappreciated flight crews, this is worth sharing. Again. In somebody else's words. Thank you, Charlie Leocha.


Flight attendants: still the unsung heroes of 9/11

by Charlie Leocha on September 11, 2012

Photo: By Tomas Pihl, Flickr Creative Commons

Over the years since 9/11, there have been many ceremonies, new memorials and remembrances for those who died in that day’s tragic events.

Police officers, firefighters and other first responders gather every year with politicians on stages across America. Yet few remember that the first casualties of the terrorist attacks were flight attendants. Sadly, airline crewmembers are almost never included in the tributes.

That’s a shame.

I’ve said so on every anniversary of the September attacks, and I’ll say it again this year.
Airline flight attendants are the unsung heroes and frontline foot soldiers in this country’s “war on terrorism.” The stress on our airline systems has increased and will only get worse. And yet flight attendants continue to report to work every day, ready to do what they can to keep us safe. I hope the traveling public does not take them for granted.

Every time a plane takes off, every time a traveler stands up and walks toward the cockpit, and every time a passenger ducks behind his seat to dig through carry-on luggage, flight attendants go on alert.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the media was filled with stories about “real heroes” — rescuers, police and firefighters who risked their lives to save workers in those buildings. The firefighters, EMTs and police deserve every accolade they receive. However, flight attendants should be praised as well.
Flight attendants face potential danger every time they go to work. Where once their main purpose was to see to in-flight comforts and provide knowledgeable assistance in case of an emergency landing, their new job requirements are much more nerve-racking. Worse, their work is almost always taken for granted.

What once was an airborne world of giddy tourists and grumpy businessmen is now a war zone. Trouble — perhaps deadly trouble — could break out in the cabin at any time. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But perhaps someday.

New terrorist dangers are unknown. So unknown, in fact, that the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government organizations still cannot predict where, when or how an attack will take place.

While passengers grumble about the inconvenience of security. We have that choice. Flight attendants don’t. If they want to continue being paid, they have to go to work.

The same is true of pilots, of course. But pilots are now barricaded inside their cockpits. Some have been given stun guns and others have been trained to carry firearms. But what are flight attendants getting?

Not much. Before captains lock themselves in the cockpit, they now basically tell the flight attendants that they will have to fend for themselves. They don’t have much choice — most everyone agrees that the cockpit door must stay locked.

As for public recognition, there’s been almost nothing. Instead, what flight attendants have seen since I first wrote this story seven years ago is a continuing series of layoffs, downsizings and reductions in pay.

Are our memories so short?

Flight attendants were the most consistent source of information on 9/11 when, at the risk of their lives, they phoned airline operations personnel to let them know about the hijackings; they even provided seat numbers and descriptions of the hijackers. Flight attendants were most certainly involved with the in-cabin attack on the terrorists aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania instead of into a building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Later, in one of the few instances of terrorism thwarted in the act, a diminutive flight attendant physically prevented a fanatic from lighting a fuse to a shoe-bomb that would have downed American Airlines Flight 63 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

So, let’s get our priorities straight.

Baggage screeners earn between $25,000 and $38,000 a year. TSA supervisors earn $44,400 to $68,800 a year. Federal air marshals make between $36,000 and $84,000 a year. These workers receive all the standard government perks of medical care, vacations and insurance. Meanwhile, flight attendants, the airlines’ real frontline troops, receive starting salaries of $18,000 a year, or less, and don’t have a prayer of seeing $30,000 for at least three years. Vacation time in those years is meager, while time “on reserve” (waiting around in case another flight attendant is sick or gets stuck in traffic) seems to be endless.

To add insult to paltry pay, over the past half-dozen years many flight attendants have had their retirement programs and pensions stripped from them by their struggling airlines.

While the plane is in the air, flight attendants are our first line of defense. They may be serving peanuts, pretzels and drinks, but they are constantly on watch until touchdown at the final destination.

Today’s flight attendants face what amounts to nonstop battle stress from an unidentified, furtive and unpredictable enemy.

I, for one, thank them for their service. All of us who fly should thank them as well.

31 August 2012

Hurricane Zealot

While Isaac built up steam, I heard murmurs to this effect. Truthfully, I'm surprised it's taken as many days for this bullshit to surface.

Bloviating zealot.

I've never been to Southern Decadence and it's not likely that I'll go. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, straight or gay, just doesn't appeal to me.

My only Mardi Gras experience took place in Port Arthur, Texas, where we were able do some of the usual Mardi Gras stuff, like watch floats, drink beer, get hit in the face with beads and listen to great Zydeco music. Until this time, I didn't know that other places like Port Arthur, Mobile, or a host of other Gulf Coast cities and towns observed the holiday. As such, I'm happy to have a little of the carnival experience between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday without the drunken crowds and their vomit/urine/YIKES in the streets.

Ooohh, SCARY! (
I've seen the annual photos and watched numerous videos of both Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence. Behaviorally, they look pretty much the same to me. Either one is a curiosity, one that I can watch from the quiet comfort of my home without being elbowed, mugged or trampled. It's sort of like watching that moron and her brat daughter Honey Boo Boo. A train wreck.

Clearly, there are people who enjoy this sort of thing, though, as evidenced by the throngs that flood the French Quarter in February and September. And, I'm thrilled that they have the opportunity. What I find less thrilling, however, is the lunatic zealots trying to blame the gays for natural disasters.

Convenient, isn't it, that the "straight" carnival happens in February -- far removed from hurricane season? Idiots like American Family Association's Buster Wilson apparently don't cotton much to science. If he did, he'd realize a hurricane hitting New Orleans in the middle of hurricane season isn't so unusual. Right? Oh, but wait -- it's because of the gays.

Bead-worthy in 1860.
Best I can tell, the earliest recorded hurricane to hit New Orleans was in October, 1527. Between then and now, 86 hurricanes have hit Louisiana's coast. Prior to 1974, when Southern Decadence had its modest beginnings, what could Louisianans have possibly done to earn being smote 68 times, Buster? What of the years, like 1860, when hurricanes struck in August, September and October?

I'd send the blathering, Bible-twisting buffoon this interesting, fact-laden paper in its entirety if I thought it would do the rest of us any good by shutting him or the rest of his fellow loonies up for good. But, I know it wouldn't.

So, I'll take great delight in my favorite part of The Advocate's article from the first link above: "Rev. Grant Storms, a regular antigay activist who has railed against Southern Decadence, was recently arrested for masturbating in public."

Yeah. Let's listen to them about righteousness.

And, if you're at Southern Decadence, have a hurricane for me.

Source: "Louisiana Hurricane History" (David Roth, National Weather Service, Camp Springs, MD)

03 June 2012

Who Needs Pork and Beans?

Some time ago, I abandoned the brand of pork and beans that used to be my standard, VanCamp's, because they (like all of the alternatives at the supermarket) contain high-fructose corn syrup. And, since Kroger bought Schnuck's markets and has monopolized the Memphis area, I no longer have the latter's organic Full Circle beans at my disposal.

I was doing ribs for Memorial Day, though. And I had to have baked beans on the menu. I figured I could trek out to Whole Foods for an alternative, but I rarely feel like getting slapped in the face, twice. First, for enduring the often distracted, inconsiderates driving "outside the parkways." Then secondly, at the checkout. There really is justification, at times, for the sarcastic moniker, "Whole Paycheck."

Anyway, thinking about how I was going to put baked beans on the table for Memorial Day, I recalled a couple of times in the past where I'd ordered Kentucky Fried Chicken's baked beans that were undercooked, hard and white, floating in an orange-red liquid. This was evidence to me that they didn't start with pork and beans at all. So, with that, I tried my own version.

I started fairly early in the day because I'd already mentally committed to baking them twice as long to get the flavor, texture and color I wanted. I opened three cans of navy beans and poured them into my favorite heavy crock, undrained. After adding a chopped medium onion and my other usual baked bean ingredients, (molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire), I was astonished to see what looked and smelled like pork and beans sitting in front of me. So I added the same ingredients again, essentially doubling them. At this point the concoction was very soupy but was smelling about right. I figured this would be fine given the extended time I planned on baking them.

You might have noticed that I didn't put any pork or green pepper in this mix. For some reason I wanted to try making these vegetarian, so I left out bacon or jowl, but the green pepper is one of those things that I can take or leave in this dish and today I chose to leave it in the refrigerator. Sometimes I add extras to change things up a bit, like cumin, chile powder, or nutmeg, but not this time. I wanted this first try to be a "base" recipe.

Rather than baking them at my usual 350° F, I knocked the temperature back twenty-five degrees and baked them, uncovered, for an hour. I removed them from the oven, put a lid on them, and left them on the stovetop for about six hours, until about an hour before the ribs were done. I uncovered the bean crock, stirred up the beans and put it back in the oven at 350° for another hour.

I think these were some of the best baked beans I've ever made.

Get the recipe here.

23 May 2012

Isn't It Ironic?

No. Not So Much.

As often as I see "irony" or "ironic" misused or misappropriated, I thank Alanis Morissette for amplifying the dilution and/or destruction of the word with her whining 1995 ditty, "Ironic." Don't get me wrong. I loved "Jagged Little Pill" for its somewhat "in your face" qualities and how at times it seemed to be filled with empowering anthems for the downtrodden. But most of the examples Morissette mentions in her song are mere coincidences or unfortunate events.

There's no irony here, just ignorance. And stupidity.
These days it seems there's often nothing at all ironic about many things called such.

For instance, I agree with the writer that the tattooed dude in his post is an idiot. But, he refers to the tattoo in the story as "ironic" and says that "ironic tattoos are all the rage nowadays."

Funny, for this tattoo to be ironic it seems to me that the moron who paid for it should have been aware of the scripture that follows closely behind. And, I'm betting dollars to doughnuts this jerk only knows this scripture and maybe a couple of others often used to eschew decency for hatred. And, I'll go double or nothing on whether or not he was even aware of the text in Leviticus 19:28.

No, this isn't irony at all. I can think of a more appropriate and seemingly endless selection of adjectives for this comedy and/or tragedy.

Just like the ghetto-girl with a rotten attitude, an overly bedazzled manicure (on nails that look as if they belong in the Guinness Book of World Records), booty shorts and an atrocious weave fronts with all that and calls herself "Diva."

Nope. Don't think so.

21 May 2012


In light of North Carolina's recent travesty where the citizenry allegedly voted to deny rights, which should be inalienable unless we're living in times reminiscent of Hitler's Europe, I thought finally posting this thought -- which has been languishing in "draft" mode for quite some time -- may be appropriate now more than ever.

Imagine that you and your family has just boarded a ship for what promises to be a vacation of a lifetime. Imagine, then, that while your partner, a happy, healthy 39-year-old, is snapping photos of your children that he/she collapses on the deck.

The sad story.

I don't understand why the ignorant cannot use sound logic or good judgment. Clearly, the victim(s) here provided every legal proof of their relationship with the patient. Yet, the hospital workers didn't respect those contracts. And, now, the victim is living with the guilt of letting her partner down in her last moments on this Earth.

Support gay rights. After all, they are your rights, too, lest we forget:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-- Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller
1892 – 1984

Time Flies

Whether or not we're having fun seems inconsequential. I can't believe It's been three weeks since my father died.

In that time I've logged 2,304 miles between here and home: 1,920 on interstate highways and 384 in the air. That's three round trips. The road time amounts to about 30 hours give or take a couple. My last road trip north was finished in 4:48, but the trip back to Memphis took more than six hours. Starting out, lane restrictions due to construction made passing through Louisville ridiculously tedious. Later delays in Nashville for the same reason -- where six lanes dwindled to two and a "must exit" situation -- made the trip unusually long and tiresome.

I've been to the Floyd County courthouse more than a few times, just like I had the day before driving home. Leaving there, I pulled away from my curbside parking space only to immediately pull into a metered space. An offensive bird left an ugly, lumpy intrusion to cook on the windshield, squarely in my sight line, while I was indoors. Further, I'd spent $30 for a wash/detail at St. Matthews Car Wash the day before. (I know, it's a bit uppity for a car wash but if you know me and had seen my car it was a rare occasion to behold: suicidal insect carcasses plastered on the front, rain-enabled road grime everywhere else, filth on the floor mats, grimy windows). Crusty bird leavings on an otherwise sparkling car were an affront to my OCD nature. The turd had to go. Windex from the cargo box and a napkin from the glove box changed my focus.

Workers busy eradicating evidence of roads too often traveled.

Finished with eradicating the offending splotch, I pulled back out onto Market Street where I was reminded of an incident that occurred when I was very young.

Mother had taken Daddy's bright yellow, hot rod 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible to the same place for something or another and -- per his instructions, I'm sure -- backed into the metered parking space. She couldn't see over the trunk through the back window, and a side mirror is no help in such a situation. She hit the meter, bending it backward and earning a traffic citation and fine. I can't recall any damage to the bumper but I'll bet it wasn't spared. Needless to say at the very least, yelling ensued when she picked him up after his shift at Pillsbury.

My traveling days aren't finished, but I need to stop and take a breath. Catching up on paying work, housework, and yardwork sounds like a nice way to start what I expect to be a full week at home. If I can manage to kick-start my gym work in the process I'll be aces.

05 May 2012

I Don't Like This Ride. I Want To Get Off.

To say that the last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster would be an understatement. Hell, the last two years have been such a ride, but these last few days the ride feels as if it's about to derail if it's on the tracks at all.

I suppose the first screaming, hands-in-the-air downhill rush started with waking up on my birthday, hungover and considering a really bad math equation: martinis + Facebook = bad. Mind you, I didn't get obliterated by any stretch of the imagination. But...

I got my coffee spent a few minutes enjoying the birthday greetings I was reading from friends and family. At the same time I thought to myself, "these people saw your idiotic rant from last night."

Adding to my embarrassment for the foul-mouthed tirade I posted over Papa John's latest alteration to their $10/7-topping pizza deal -- which went up a dollar initially but now robs the customer of two toppings and two bucks -- I felt inexplicably odd and was unhappy that Cameron wouldn't be home for the non-celebration of my day. But those things wouldn't have been the reason for the uneasy feelings I had that day.

The offending reduction in value that sent me into a lunatic tizzy.

I wanted desperately to get some long overdue tasks done both in the office and around the house. My ADD seemed to be on overdrive and I felt as if I was doing nothing more than running in circles, accomplishing nothing. But I did manage to get the air conditioner coils cleaned, upload files for production, confirm delivery of other pieces and finish a bit of accounting. 

In the early afternoon, while in the garden transplanting ornamental grasses, wondering jew and dusty miller, my plans changed drastically. My youngest sister, Tina, called with the news that Daddy had "coded" after coming out of what was to be considered minor surgery for colon cancer, detected extremely early. In fact, we were told there was absolutely no reason for concern let alone a trip home.

Apparently, this heart attack was a big one, and it took somewhere near thirty minutes to resuscitate, leaving him in a coma.
At 24 hours, we were told that the neurologist was going to wait until the 48-hour mark to perform a CT scan to determine the severity of damage his brain no doubt suffered in the time it was starved of oxygen.

Before we could hear the results of that scan, though, he began to leave us.

Since 5:18AM, Saturday, April 28, we have been in shock, angry, sad, confused but at the same time know we must stay motivated to make arrangements for his cremation, memorial and graveside services while taking care of his business. Mowing the lawn, killing weeds, changing locks, sorting files, talking to his neighbors and friends who call or drop by, sorting photos, taking inventory, throwing out expired and sometimes exploded or leaking canned goods, clearing out the freezer, corralling what I think is
around 18 utility knives, myriad flashlights, gallon upon gallon of Pine-Sol and collecting what I think is now around 40 assorted pairs of glasses in sun, reading and God-knows-what varieties is only the beginning.

Daddy, cropped from a family portrait, 1969.

We've had a few laughs with each other trying on those silly glasses, particularly the ones with the lighted temples. I know he must've used them when he was working in a dark environment and couldn't spare a hand for a flashlight. But they're still comical to see. And, we're truly perplexed about the Pine-Sol. I think we've counted more than ten gallons. What on Earth could he be cleaning that he needed an institutional supply of the stuff in original scent and what I've been calling "grape?" (I think Lisa said it was lavender but grape sounds funnier to me).

It's strange learning some things we never knew about the man. Being in his house without him and rifling through his stuff is unsettling at times. I'm grateful for the help we're getting and I have faith that we'll get through this intact.

But, I'm ready to lift the restraint and step off.

07 April 2012

A Hair-Raising Easter Memory

1961 Pontiac Tempest

Plain Grandma drove one of these. It seemed an appropriate memento of Easter weekend for the year I woke up with gum in my hair after being told explicitly to spit it out and brush my teeth before bed. (I did brush my teeth but I put the gum back in my mouth afterward, then went to bed).

Waking before anybody else the next morning, I discovered an nasty, tangled lump of hair and bubble gum on the back of my head. I panicked. With a pair of blunt-tipped scissors, the kind kindergarten-aged kids were allowed to have, I sawed it out. I thought this move would help me keep the secret that I didn't do as I was told.

When my mother noticed this offensive, nearly-bald spot on my head she asked me what happened. I really didn't want her to know that I kept the gum in my mouth. At that point I began fabricating the the most vivid, imaginative, colorful tale I'd ever told. That explanation was followed with a day-long question and answer session that would have given any interrogation on Law and Order a run for its money.

Today, like then, I cannot offer any real reason a random, black Cadillac-driving, plaid-suited, flame-haired, busty woman would bring her hateful, blonde-haired, pigtailed daughter to our house on Easter Sunday where they would tie me to a chair to steal a plug of locks from the back of my head.

After several performances I was instructed to repeat this lie to Grandma when she arrived with Easter baskets. Her hysterical laughter should have been my cue to give it up, but I persisted until I was threatened with being left behind for our upcoming vacation to Florida.

This story has become a celebrated part of our family history and it's always good for a laugh or two.

Happy Easter, everybody!

02 April 2012

30 Years, Tens of Thousands of Lives

San Francisco, 1982 - Rink Foto
This retrospective is bringing back a ton of memories for me:

San Francisco AIDS Foundation: Our History in Pictures

I remember the conversations I used to have with my friends back when "gay cancer" was in its early stages. Most of those guys died, horribly, in what should have been the prime of their lives.

I'm grateful for the progress we've made. I just wish it could have happened sooner.

The retrospective will be on display for 30 days during the month of April.

26 March 2012

Getting Sidetracked Over a Cargo Net

We all know how a web search works. It's a lot like my writing. Like having ADD. Or OCD and ADD.

You type in your search parameters, peruse the results, click a link and hope for the best. Sometimes, though, before you know it you've clicked your way far from your intended path. For example, I get regular e-mail messages from eBay showing new results for saved searches, which help with my never ending quest for hard-to-find 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix parts. The reminders help until I follow a link, become interested in some other link, and click, click, click my way to Plan 59 or end up searching current market value for my convertible.

Three years ago I saved an eBay search for "2007 Volkswagen Passat" after buying my Passat 3.6 4Motion wagon. I have been thrilled with the decision, but sometimes I feel like I need reassurance that I make the right choices. So, I read "Consumer Reports," among other review sites and magazines. Even the toothpaste we use was the top rated, best cleaning, whitening brand the last time CR did a study on such things and I can often find it regularly priced at 99¢.

I'll follow values on purchases for just about anything significant for a while after buying. Maybe I want to make sure my purchase isn't depreciating too quickly.

I watched pricing and consumer reviews for more than a year after purchasing a new KitchenAid refrigerator and dishwasher to reassure myself that I waited for the perfect time to buy the perfect appliances to suit our needs. So far, it looks like I've done well. But if I hadn't what difference would it make? We don't get Mulligans when on another day we find we might have done things differently.

Anyway, back to the VW. I love German cars for a number of reasons. In particular, though, I love Volkswagen because they give us great German engineering without the "I have more money than sense" price tag. (That's personally speaking, of course. While I want the most value for my money, and I might enjoy the prestige of driving an Audi, Mercedes or BMW, I can't justify the cost. Particulary when my loaded-with-everything-except-navigation VW listed for, in some cases, $20K less than other German cars).

Distraction is the mother of procrastination. I started down this path because for as long as I've owned the VW I have never figured out the proper way to install the factory cargo net. Does it hook here? It CAN'T hook here, can it? Well, that doesn't make sense. And, neither does that.

So I type "2007 VW Passat Cargo Net" in my Google search field and one of the results was the following article from Edmunds. I am pleased. But I still haven't figured out the damned cargo net. And, I really don't know what I'll do when it comes time to trade since VW has apparently decided not to bring the new Passat stateside. And, I don't do crossovers. At least for now.

Road Test

Follow-Up Test: 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion

Just right

BMW 325xi Touring. Too small.

Audi A4 Avant. Way too small.

Audi A6 Avant. Too expensive.

BMW 530xi Touring. Way too expensive.

Mercedes-Benz E350 Touring. Way, way too expensive.

Dodge Magnum R/T. Too plasticky.

Subaru Outback. Too gimmicky.

Volvo V70. Too safe.

Mazda 6 Wagon. Too monochromatic.

Volkswagen Passat Wagon. Just right.

We hope you've enjoyed your trip through the mind of the average Volkswagen Passat Wagon buyer. Please watch your step when debraining.

For nine years, VW's midsize wagon has carved a nice little niche for itself. It's been more refined than its domestic and Japanese competition, yet more affordable than other similarly sized European wagons.

Although its mission of affordable luxury remains the same, the 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon is essentially an all-new car. VW has given it the same extensive redesign it laid upon the Passat sedan in 2006, which means it has grown a little larger, a little heavier and a lot more powerful than its predecessor.

Many models to choose from
One look at our test vehicle's $38,000 sticker price and you realize the term "affordable luxury" is relative. Its base price is even lofty at $33,100. But this 2007 VW Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion represents the very top of the range (the Passat Wagon Value Edition starts at $25,225), and a similarly equipped BMW 530xi sport wagon or Mercedes-Benz E350 Touring would be north of $60,000.

So you get a lot of butter for your bread. Standard stuff includes a 3.6-liter V6 engine, a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, 4Motion all-wheel drive, electronic stability control, a power tailgate, keyless entry, 17-inch wheels and tires, a power sunroof, a trip computer, satellite radio, an in-dash six-disc CD changer and front, side and side curtain airbags.

Options on our well-equipped Granite Green tester were limited to a DVD navigation system ($1,800) and the Package #1 Luxury ($2,750), which added a truckload of stuff, including leather upholstery, a dual-zone climate control system, 12-way power-adjustable heated front seats and a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel.

Fact is, our test car was incredibly well equipped. Missing features are difficult to identify, even when compared to the last 530xi sport wagon we tested, which cost $62,865. Wait a minute. The BMW had a retractable cargo net that, when attached to the headliner, keeps your stuff from flying forward in the event of an impact. The VW is without this net.

Strong performance
Net-loving VW shoppers can find redemption in the Passat's acceleration, which makes the BMW 530xi sport wagon feel like it's running on four. The VeeDub's 3.6-liter V6 makes 280 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm. It also makes this 3,953-pound wagon quite quick.

Zero to 60 mph takes just 6.7 seconds. The quarter-mile is left behind in 15.1 seconds at 93 mph. Both performances better the BMW by a bunch.

If it isn't quick enough, leave the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system off your order sheet. It'll save you $2,000 and about 250 pounds. The last front-wheel-drive Passat 3.6 sedan we tested weighed 3,576 pounds and ran a 14.7-second quarter-mile.

Much of the Passat's thrust can be credited to its tightly geared six-speed automatic transmission. It's a Tiptronic, so manual shifting is available should you feel racy, but we seldom felt the need. When left in "D," the transmission does well enough on its own, so we just left it there most of the time. We didn't even make much use of its Sport mode, partly because the gearchanges and throttle inputs become too abrupt for smooth city driving and partly because it's just unnecessary.

One other nice aspect of the six-speed is its highway gearing. At 80 mph, it puts the engine at 2,500 rpm, which is on the cusp of its sweet spot. The V6 pulls like a freight train from 3,000 rpm up to its 6,500 redline, so there's plenty of passing power, even when the wagon's weighed down with family, Fido and Aunt Freeda's fruitcake.

Still not so sporty
Despite that propulsion, the Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion is not a sport wagon. Oh, sure it's sporty, riding on sizable 17-inch tires and snaking through our slalom test at a very respectable 62 mph, but it isn't a very engaging drive. When you're holding the keys to this machine, spending your day driving mountain roads won't occur to you.

On the other hand, the Passat's turn-in is crisp and its stability noteworthy. Although steering is oddly numb on center and unnaturally light, it's also quick and controlled by a well-shaped four-spoke steering wheel. Tire noise is overly abundant on the highway, especially L.A.'s concrete freeways, but the ride is well damped and appropriately cush.

The Passat's brakes are another dynamic standout. Four-wheel discs with ABS are standard, and they stop the heavy wagon from 60 mph in just 127 feet with a firm pedal.

A little bigger than before
Three inches of additional width give passengers more hip and elbow room, plus rear legroom has been increased by 2.4 inches. Cargo volume is up as well, to 35.8 cubic feet, which means it can swallow quite a lot of Freeda's fruitcake. The BMW offers 33.6 cubic feet.

The rest of the interior is identical to the two Passat sedans we've already tested, which is to say beautifully screwed together and richly appointed. Problems are still limited to seat bottoms that lack shape and thigh support, cupholders with little hold, and the misplacement of the push-button parking brake. Instead of down by the shifter where it belongs, VW put it way over left of the headlight switch.

We also found the optional navigation system to be a bit lethargic. Although it has thoughtful features like "Back" and "Gas Station" buttons, it seems to think slowly compared to other units.

Another plus is the heft of the Passat's doors. They just feel substantial, as do its chunky pull-type door handles. Visibility is also excellent and the felt-lined big bin left of the steering wheel is a nice touch. But the biggest ergonomic improvement is the growth of the Passat's door bins; they've gone from miniature to massive and can now hold a good-size water bottle.

Knows its place
Like its four-door brother, this latest round of redesign has been good to the Passat wagon. It's improved in every measurable way, and it continues to deliver on the promise of an affordable midsize luxury five-door.

Although there's now more competition in the wagon world, maybe even more than in the days of Vista Cruisers and Country Squires, the Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion should once again find a loyal following.

For many, its unique blend of size, refinement, features and price will be just right
  • 280-hp 3.6-liter V6
  • Six-speed automatic transmission
  • All-wheel drive

What Works

Fast, larger than before, class-leading fit and finish, still a ton of car for the money.

What Needs Work

Too much tire noise on the highway, the occasional ergonomic glitch, slowpoke navigation system.

The Emperor is Naked

Entries such as this may become a regular feature here on my little corner of "the Soapbox."

Or, it may not. Much like "Luncheonette," it may be all but forgotten after a while. For now, though, I've decided to take some of the most unflattering photos I can find of people who eschew acceptance and diversity, who vehemently campaign against any segment of society that isn't like them, who denounce any form of religion or spiritual beliefs that differ from theirs, who work to force being different unlawful in the eyes of the State.

I see this as a place for telling the naked truth, as understood by me and many of my peers. Common decency may sometimes fly out the window here and we'll sometimes "call a spade a bloody shovel."

The first charlatan to be featured here is Maggie Gallagher, founder of National Organization for Marriage. NOM campaigns against gay marriage by inserting its convictions, mostly based upon religion, into politics, corporations and society in general. Lately, it seems they are not getting the support they once did -- evidenced by the lackluster of support of 18,000 pledges for their "Dump Starbucks" campaign. I'm happy for their failure and pray they continue with that success.

Thankfully, campaigns such as "Thank Starbucks" from Sum of Us is only eight signatures short of reaching 300,000 supporters:"

Amazing! We’ve blown past 200,000 in just over 48 hours!

We are going to send a special “Thank You” card from all of us to Starbucks! The anti-marriage National Organization for Marriage has now received over 18,000 signatures on its petition, so we’re upping our goal to  250,000 — way more than 10 times the number of signers they have.  You all are phenomenal!

Thank you, Starbucks. And, thank you Sum of Us. Together, our voices can drown Maggie's droning, tired, non-Christian rhetoric.

29 February 2012


It's odd to me that until now I haven't heard any background about the boy who murdered his classmates in Ohio. A simple search of his name yielded a scant bit of family history, mostly court records regarding his parents' volatile lives. Although I had my suspicion, I wanted to begin to understand why this boy lashed out like he did.

In the e-mails I get daily from Huffington Post, there was a link in "Tuesday's Brief" that took me to an article by Marlo Thomas on bullying and the innumerable wake-up calls we as a society have been given.

Bullying is, plain and simple, oppression. But it shouldn't be considered a rite of passage. It shouldn't be acceptable.

Indeed, it does get better -- most of the time -- but sometimes it doesn't. Only diligence, determination and, more importantly, adult guidance will help.

Give her post a read.

Marlo Thomas: "Tragedy in Ohio: When the Bullied Strike Back."

08 February 2012

The Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth

Oh, for God's sake, Karen. Really? More double talk?

The language in your self-aggrandizing letter is no more than a thinly veiled rejection of your responsibility for putting Komen in the crosshairs for your own political gain, when clearly you are to blame.

Evidently the public outcry against Komen's decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood has done nothing to show you that using trickery to advance your personal and political agenda won't fly with those of us who support women's health for all.

Your phrase "perceived" challenges in the language used to justify ending funding for Planned Parenthood illuminates exactly how vile you are. Even though the organization's statistics show that only ≤3% of their work has anything to do with abortion, you've chosen to amplify your lies to anyone who will listen, screeching that Planned Parenthood equals abortion.

Admit it. You're on a personal mission is to end abortion and will stop at nothing to do it -- even if it means allowing innocent women who need breast cancer screenings to die.

Shame on the board of Komen for allowing you to destroy the organization's reputation. And, shame on you for being a the lying, cheating, double-talking Whore of Babylon.

02 February 2012

This is Hardly American

I read a story on Huffington Post about American Airlines wanting to cut 13,000 jobs. If you've been around at all you'll likely know my thoughts on this.

After posting a comment on HuffPo, I was told that the comment was deleted: "This comment has been removed. Most comments are removed because of an attack or insult on another user or public figure. Please see the guidelines here if you're not sure why this comment was removed."

I changed "asshole" to "filthy whore." Guess that wasn't enough. I suppose, too, that naming names probably goes against AOL policy. So, here are my uncensored thoughts:

So enlightening, this story.

Oh, but wait! Nothing was ever mentioned about the CEOs salary and the sacrifices he intends to make for the well being of the corporation.


Nah. He's just playing follow the leader. Not "leader," as in one who actually conducts his business fairly with virtue and goodwill for both customers and employees, one who is satisfied with a more than ample salary and benefits commensurate with the value of his business (like recently retired Costco CEO Jim Sinegal).

Rather, this is the kind of "leader" who only mimics the asshole that first traveled down this well worn road paved with avarice. This is the kind of "leader" who robs his loyal employees who were instrumental in the business' success (like NWA's Doug Steenland who suggested workers enduring 40% salary cuts could dumpster dive to make ends meet).

This is the kind of "leader" who steals retirees' benefits -- ones they earned and were promised -- by changing the rules after the fact.

This is the kind of "leader" who sacrifices nothing himself and ends up taking even more in bonuses and stock options when all the slashing and burning is done. This is the kind of leader who fattens the calf for slaughter, kills it off with a merger then retires with his balloon of cash to his six residences and protects his ill-gotten gains in offshore bank accounts to avoid fair taxation.

My heart goes out to the 13,000 threatened American Airlines employees.

And, my soul cries for this nation.

07 January 2012

Let's Don't Go Krogering

I've been working on a post recounting the Holidays but I've been distracted. Guess that happens when one has trouble paying attention, is easily led in other directions, or, let's say, has projects on which to catch up after two days without a computer. The original, 5-year-old hard drive gave up the ghost. Things are getting back to normal after having a new 70% larger, light-years faster hard drive installed, and I am determined to finish the holiday post. But for now, here is a note I just sent to Kroger via their website.

Back in the 1960s, there was a huge, colorful, tile mosaic of a happy, modern shopper pushing a cart-full of groceries on the wall at the entrance of the Kroger store on Baxter Avenue in Louisville. I loved shopping there with my grandmother.

Shiny, happy Kroger Shopper, circa 1959.

Forty-three or so years later, I've been living in Memphis for a couple of decades. During that time I've bounced between grocers, most recently Schnuck's and Kroger, to get the things I required.

I was less than enthused when our community received the news that Kroger would be buying out its only competition in Memphis for two reasons: A) there were things I could get at Schnuck's that Kroger wouldn't/didn't/couldn't carry, and B) Kroger would be a monopoly with the ability to limit selection, increase prices and more or less hold us hostage. The remaining grocers are either low-budget, discount operations that don't offer the products I prefer or they are small family-owned neighborhood stores that are charming for an occasional visit but not for regular pantry-stocking.

My expectations have been met. I have witnessed the elimination of some of my favorite staples from the shelves, like Eight O'Clock Italian Roast coffee beans, Romanoff Black (and Red) Lumpfish Caviar and Campbell's Select Harvest French Onion Soup. Those are a few of many that come to mind.

Then, there's the price increases. Understanding the state of the economy I expect food costs to rise in general, across segments. It's the quiet, gradual, specific instances that are glaring to me. Is there a run on mayonnaise of which I'm unaware? A soup shortage? Orange trees disappearing?

No, Kroger, I will not take what you give us and like it. I am not a reflection of that apparently gleeful, tile-faced shopper on the wall of my grandmother's long-gone grocery. I am making a conscious commitment to avoid your stores like the plague. I've had enough of the virtual nose tweaking you're giving us in Memphis by ditching things that have long been on our shelves without consideration and the extortion to which we're subjected in the checkout lanes (often while bagging our own groceries).

I'll be shopping at our local meat markets, produce stands and farmers' markets for perishables even more than I have in the past. And, I intend to find everything else I used to buy in your stores elsewhere -- whether it be in bulk at a warehouse store or piecemeal at various places online.

I'm seeking more value for the way I live.