Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Freeway Factor

Once upon a time, there was an ideal place to live called Southern California. What made it so ideal was it had two urban centers. One was Hollywood, the film capital of the world. It was full of producers, directors, actors, and myriad of crew people. The other was Los Angeles, a budding metropolitan city, chock full of bankers, lawyers, and various business people.
Separating these two towns and surrounding the entire area was a primarily rural landscape. Tree farms were dominant - mostly of the citrus and walnut variety.

Many of the executives of Hollywood and Los Angeles lived in the surrounding rural San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. These well-to-do types liked the comforts and seclusion of country living. There was a problem, though. It took considerable time driving back and forth over windy canyon roads from home and work. So, they came up with a brilliant idea.

So, a couple of freeways were built. All was wonderful.

In fact, the executives figured out that real-estate values went way up. They decided to take advantage of the situation.

Arteries were constructed. Almost instantly, gas stations and restaurants were built where the arteries met the freeways. Gone were many of the orange groves. People moved near these arteries to take advantage of the superfast freeways.

Soon, the executives got a little concerned.

Eventually, Southern California became a big urban mess. It turns out, adding freeways only adds too many people and more congestion than before.

Of course, the executives moved to escape the concrete jungle to nice rural communities like Denver and Phoenix.

People can be really stupid.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King Day

I have a few comments about the holiday and the man many are celebrating today.

Friday, a co-worker of mine mentioned that the next Monday (today) was a holiday but he wasn't aware which one it was and whether we had the day off. I told him it was Martin Luther King Day. He subsequently looked at his hands and arms and then stated "Not my holiday". His skin isn't black (it's not white, either). Obviously, Dr. King's message hasn't gotten through to everybody.

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

For the entire "I have a Dream" speech, you can click here.

This rings very true today to me and I am often bewildered how such a sensible sentiment is ignored by so many of one race (whites) and mis-interpreted and twisted by so many of another race (blacks). Without going into too political a discussion, I just ask you to look at the quote above one more time and try to understand the simple but powerful message.

One more thing. We no longer have Columbus' Day. It is now Discovery Day. We no longer have Lincoln or Washington's Birthday. We have President's Day. That means we now have only two holidays that are about specific individuals. They would be Christmas, which celebrates Jesus and Martin Luther King Day. It does not seem fair to me that Dr. King is the only American with his own holiday. I say we should change this day to Civil Rights Day and honor all those in addition to Martin Luther King who fought and continue to fight for equality of opportunity for everyone.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cars, Cars, Everywhere but Not a Road to Drive

I attend the L.A. Auto Show virtually every year (I missed it once in the past 21 years). The Ferraris, Maserattis, Lamborghini's, Lotus', and this year, the Bugatti Veyron attract big crowds. The auto show is a great place to take a good close look at these $100,000 plus vehicles that one rarely, if ever sees on American roads. Concept cars also draw great appeal. Most of the major manufacturers feature at least one. Concepts often never come to market and even when they do, the production version is usually only faintly similar to the vehicle originally shown. While this is all interesting stuff, I've always been more interested in cars I see on the road every day.

There is a lot of hubub of hybrid vehicles and emphsis on fuel economy these days. You'd think maybe that the 1970's would return where manufacturers try to outdo the competition. In the 70's, Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan) played a good game of one-upmanship. Corolla's and B-210's broke the 25, 30, 35 and even the 40 mpg marks over a span of just four to five years. Now, thirty years later, we have advanced fuel injection systems, lightweight materials, low-friction tires, and other technology. You'd think we'd be at the 60 or 70 mpg level by now. Why aren't we?

The answer is simple marketing. As with most environmental issues, people say they are in favor of better fuel economy and lower pollution levels, but their actions usually don't back that up. Witness the SUV craze of the 1990's that only seems to be slightly waning now. When it comes down to the crunch, most people will opt for size and power over economy. After the energy crisis of the '70's where cars got very small, cars have been getting larger and more powerful. Once upon a time, the Honda Accord was a very small subcompact car. The Honda Civic was smaller still. Over time, each vehicle got a little larger. Today's Accord is a rather large family sedan with the Civic being a compact sedan that is in fact, much larger than the original Accord. Toyota followed a similar path with the Camry and Corolla. Honda does not even produce a subcompact car for the American market anymore. Toyota has been making the Echo, which is being replaced by the new Yaris but the Echo, at least, was not a very strong seller. What sells for Toyota and Honda? The larger Camry and Accord. Both vehicles offer V6 engines with the Accord's producing 250 horsepower! That's much more power than the performance cars of the 1980's and 1990's. So, yes, Honda offers a hybrid Civic and Accord, but those vehicles still emphasize power. Imagine what a small Civic with a smaller output engine could produce in fuel economy. It might get that 70mpg but I bet that Honda figures nobody would buy a 80hp car in today's world.

What really gets me is why is all this power necessary? An 80hp car can get to 90 - 100mph, well above the legal speed limit. With all these 200+hp cars on the road, we can get more speeding tickets, get into more fatal accidents and pay more for gas but we're not getting to work any faster.

So, should we have horsepower limits on vehicles? I ask this because I have no idea where this is going to end.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

White Christmas

Michelle and I enjoyed a snowy holiday in upstate New York. It was my first vacation in four years (since we bought our house) so I especially savored the time off. I purposely avoided watching news and browsing the Internet. It was vacation after all.

I did had some interesting political discussions with my father in-law John Lefever. I will discuss these in succeeding posts.


This was the third time I've landed at Newark airport and I still have the darndest time finding the freaking Garden State Parkway. This time, we drove 20 min in the dead of a cold night (it was around 2am EST) convinced we were on the right road, which, of course we weren't. Finally we sorted it out. Man, I hate driving in New Jersey. Every ten minutes, you've got to stop and pay $.35 toll. The travel guide tells us that this is a "convenience" to break up the monotony on the road. Yeah, sure! New York is much better, you only pay the toll when it's time to leave the thruway.

We finally arrived at my mother in-law's house in West Hurley at 4 am. Friday the 23'rd of December. We went to the Kingston mall and did all our Christmas shopping that day. We spent Christmas eve at the home of my brother in-law Dan and his wife Diane. Gifts were exchanged and we played a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit - Pop Culture Edition where we all proved how unhip we are because nobody did very well. There were way too many references to Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, and reality TV - subjects I'm barely aware of.

Christmas day was spent in recovery and the evening was spent at a party of one of my mother in-law's many friends. My mother in-law, Edith Lefever is head of the Performing Arts of Woodstock (PAW) community theater group and is practically a celebrity of the Woodstock community.

Monday, the 26th, we got up early and drove 150 miles to Utica, home of my relatives. We spent the day with my Uncle and Aunt Vito and Mary Ernest. I met cousins of mine, Paul, Elizabeth, and Diane, whom I had not seen since 1972 (I was 9 then). My cousin Nick was also there. I had seen him as recently as 1979. My uncle gave us a tour of Utica. I don't think the entire town has a building newer than thirty years old. It is very run down and there is no development anywhere, it seemed. What a contrast to California and the rest of the west! We had a good dousing of snow that day. It came down hard all afternoon while Michelle and I had hot cocoa and looked at photo albums of my aunt and my mother when they were in their twenties and thirties. My Uncle Dick and Aunt Doris came and we were treated to a real italian dinner with home-made pasta, just like my mother used to make. I actually had to scrape snow off our rental vehicle that night before we drove to our hotel.

Tuesday, we drove back to West Hurley, rested, and went to see Syriana (my mother in-law's choice). Syriana is one of the most convoluted, confusing, pointless, and worst movies I have ever had the displeasure of watching. I had thought the cinematic low point of 2005 was Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy but I stand corrected.

Wednesday, we went to Julanne Sapronetti's house in Sturbridge Mass. It was another 150 mile drive. Julanne was Michelle's maid of honor at our wedding and was Michelle's college roommate a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. She married a fellow named Jan since our wedding so we got to meet him.

Thursday, it rained and rained and rained. It was a messy drive back to West Hurley. Much of the snow was gone by then. We had one more hurrah with Dan, Diane, John, and Edith before our trip back home.

A great trip for both of us. Too bad it had to end. Happy New Year everybody and Go Trojans!