Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mustang, Untamed

Our daughter just turned 21. And, parked in front of our house as I write this, is the car in which we drove her home.

I remember strapping her tiny, 4-lb. body into her car seat and securing her in the Mustang's back seat that day in June, 1993 in front of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. She was born two months premature, and thus weighed just 2-lb, 14-oz. when she was born via emergency C-section.

The Mustang was purchased in September, 1992, just before my bride and I were betrothed. Little did we know that some 21-plus years and 115,000 miles later, we'd still own the car.

But that's OK. It's been a good car. How could it not be, if it's old enough to legally drink alcohol?

It's starting to come apart at the seams now, which is to be expected. Rust is spreading like cancer.

But the Mustang still runs and it gets me front Point A to Point B. We just make sure that the distance between those two points isn't too far. We have a 2003 Mercury Sable for that.

The Mustang almost bit the dust some two years ago. It's a two-door, which means the doors are very heavy and put great strain on the hinging mechanism. It got to a point where you would have to do a lift-and-yank maneuver and then slam in order to properly close the driver's side door.

One day in 2012, I slammed the door shut after getting gas and the driver's side window shattered from the impact. It scared the bejeebers out of me.

So I took it to the collision shop and the proprietor delivered bad news. He could fix the door but it would be a job of monumental labor, because of where things were located and the work it would take to get to said things.

He suggested that I put the Mustang to sleep, due to inordinate repair cost.

Well, this was the Mustang. You don't just put a Mustang to sleep without getting a second opinion.

Collision shop #2 had a brighter outlook. Second opinions are good because you can always play the doom and gloom of the first opinion against the second. Often, the second opinion person likes to play the hero. And, stealing business away from a competitor is never a bad thing.

So second opinion guy said he would give it a whirl, and for a reasonable price.

Over two years later, the repaired door is still working. The Mustang was saved from euthanasia.

I still get compliments and inquiries about the Mustang. Usually it's at a gas station. Another customer will ask me if I am interested in selling.

Mustangs have a mystique.

Some seven or eight years ago, on a Saturday night, I drove the family to Royal Oak, ostensibly to get some food at our favorite Thai restaurant, Siam Spicy. We took the Mustang.

It was evident as we got closer to the city that something was going on. Traffic was very heavy. By the time we got to Woodward Avenue, it was all too apparent what I had done.

I had driven us right into the Woodward Dream Cruise!

I had no choice but to turn north onto Woodward. The bystanders and lookers-on assumed we were part of the Cruise, tooling around as we were in a Mustang.

They urged us to beep the horn and shouted words of encouragement from their lawn chairs, tipping their beer cans in honor of the great American Mustang.

I tried to tell them that I was just trying to grab some dinner with the family. Nobody heard me.

And, Siam Spicy was closed that night. So the trip was all for naught.

But the Mustang got one of its last moments of glory.

It's seen its days in various mechanic shops over the years. It has had brake jobs, new starters installed, new exhaust systems and sundry other work. It's been the Joan Rivers of cars.

But it still turns on when I stick the key in the ignition. And it still is the car we drove our daughter home in, and you can't put a price on that.

You probably couldn't sell it now, but it never was for sale anyway.

Long live our 'Stang!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Utash: We Can Only Hope

Sometimes the 24-hour news cycle gets extended.

Sometimes it's a 48-hour or 72-hour news cycle. And, on occasion, a story manages to stay in the public's consciousness for a week or more.

News stories anymore are like pieces of pasta thrown against the wall. Only some stick.

The Stephen Utash beating has beat the 24-hour news cycle, by far. Now the question is, Will it matter?

The Utash story is right out of a novel or a made-for-TV movie.

White suburbanite hits a young black boy with his pickup truck, in the city. The suburbanite stops to check on the condition of the boy and is then beaten senseless, perhaps to death (that's a part of the story that has yet to be resolved), by a mob of black men.

It's a story that almost had to happen, to provide the most recent litmus test of where we are as a society, particularly when it comes to violence and race relations.

The elements are all there, and if they weren't, the story wouldn't work as well. It would be a flawed test.

The driver was white, the hit boy was black. That's the only way this can work. Any other combo would either not tell us anything we don't already suspect, or it would be less newsworthy.

The white man is beaten by a mob of black men. Again, reverse it, and it's just another example of what so many people already suspect, and what so many other people vigorously try to defend.

The person who intervened and got the mob to stop beating the white man was a black female nurse. Author, author!

The white man lies in a medically-induced coma as the suspects are rounded up. Score another for the fiction writer.

Oh, and whites and blacks come together in churches around town and try to pray the violence away. Money is being raised for the white man's medical bills. Not bad, not bad at all.

And Detroiters did it all by themselves. They didn't need anyone to zoom into town to rally the troops.

The author did a bang up job on this one.

Ah, but it's all true.


Steve Utash

The Utash beating has a shot---an actual, legitimate shot---at bringing white and black folks together in an effort to take a collective look in the proverbial mirror.

Thankfully, the words "vigilante justice" have been rinsed off this story, revealing it to be what it really is---senseless, animal-like violence that wasn't advocating for anyone or anything, other than an opportunity to take something out on a poor man. A chance to get your licks in, for whatever reason.

Unlike others, though, I'm not convinced that the mob saw a white man and decided to go to town. Maybe we will never know for sure. Maybe the five (so far) suspects that have been arrested---four have been arraigned---will start chirping, even against each other. Maybe a motive will trickle out.

Maybe had the driver been black, he would have been beaten, too---once identified as the man who hit the boy. Again, we may never know. But we may, eventually.

The fact that no one in the beating mob---according to witnesses' recounting of the incident---appeared to show any concern for the boy's physical condition before they started whaling on Utash, is the most damning piece of this horrible crime.

And that's why the vigilante label doesn't fit and has been ripped off, rightly so.

You can't have vigilante justice if you don't know what the heck you're justifying.

The facts, of course, weren't all in when the mob sprang into action. They didn't know---or didn't care---that the child stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic. The boy was 10 years old---certainly old enough to know not to step into the street without looking both ways.

But that's another discussion entirely.

It's terrible, but often it takes something terrible to finally drum something into people's heads.

We can only hope that Steve Utash---and let's hope he survives and regains his wits---evolves into a turning point of sorts. He will not only be a man but a landmark.

Then again, the beating of Vincent Chin didn't necessarily change anything.

But that's the thing about hope. You're willing to throw the history books out the window and say, "Maybe THIS time."

Maybe this time.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

See You Later

It's not easy to be a trailblazer when so many of the trails have already been blazed, but David Letterman somehow managed to blaze one anyway.

You may think that late night television was an already-mined resource by the time Letterman, 66, came along in 1982, hosting "Late Night with David Letterman" on NBC.

It's true that TV at the witching hour was nothing new in 1982, having been first attempted some 30 years prior and being refined for 20 years by Johnny Carson when NBC gave Letterman a late night slot, following Carson's "Tonight Show."

But it turned out there was still plenty that Letterman found to do that not even the iconic Carson managed to discover.

Letterman announced today, somewhat shockingly during the taping of "The Late Show with David Letterman," that 2015 will be the year of his retirement.

"This (retirement) means Paul (bandleader Shaffer) and I can finally get married," Letterman said to a crowd that seemed to need the laugh to digest the news. But Letterman was serious---about the retirement part.

The longtime late night host said he had a phone conversation with CBS president Les Moonves not long before tonight's taping and informed Moonves that 2015 would see the end of Letterman's run on "The Late Show."

Letterman was a morning loser when NBC gave him a mulligan---a big time mulligan---and put Letterman where his milieu clearly was, in late night.

Letterman's morning show, which lasted just a few months in 1980, was a critical success of sorts (two Daytime Emmys) but a ratings disaster.

But he was back less than two years later, after midnight.

Where Letterman was able to forage---and where Carson either chose not to go or simply never thought of going---was in the mostly unexplored forest of pulling life's non-celebrities into the party.



While Carson would occasionally interview folks like an old lady who collected potato chips that looked like people and animals, Johnny's genius was in his gregarious chats with the famous and in his sketch comedy bits.

Letterman made 15-minute celebrities out of the every man with bits like "Stupid Pet Tricks" and "Stupid Human Tricks." He also made Larry "Bud" Melman---real name Calvert DeForest, a little-known actor but his day job was working for a pharmaceutical company---famous with Larry Bud's strangely humorous appearances, which many times made it seem like the joke was on Melman.

While Carson ventured into the crowd for bits like "Stump the Band," Letterman took it one step further and blended crowd games with cameos from comedic actor Chris Elliott, with hilarious results.

And while Carson had Doc Severinsen and Tommy Newsome leading the "Tonight Show" band and functioning as occasional kibitzing partners, Letterman and Shaffer formed almost a tag-team comedy duo, chatting during the first 10 minutes of each show like they hadn't spoken with each other all day.

It's no coincidence that pretty much every late night show after Letterman's employed a band with a leader who tried to be Paul Shaffer Light.

Sid Caesar and company started doing "Man on the Street" bits in the 1950s (something Carson never really did), but Letterman again turned it up a notch, beseeching the regular folks to partake in stunts and pull pranks on other unsuspecting folks---their colleagues, so to speak.

There are many other directions that Letterman took late night comedy and talk, but they are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say that while the genre had been discovered, Letterman took that block of clay and molded it.

"The time has come," Letterman said today in announcing his retirement a year hence.

He wasn't emotional, he wasn't melancholy. He sounded like a man comfortable in his place and with his timing.

It was as if he was saying, "My job here is done."

Which, it is.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sugar, Spice and Puppy Dog Tails

Timberlake Christian School (TCS) in western Virginia buried the lead in their letter to the guardian of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle. The last sentence was the most true and the most telling.

"We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained indentity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education."

No kidding, it's not the best place for Sunnie's future education.

Like, I'd pull that child out of there yesterday.

Sunnie is an eight-year-old girl, but by her own admission and her grandmother's (Sunnie's legal guardian) own acknowledgement, Sunnie likes a lot of "boy stuff"---such as autographed baseballs and hunting knives, according to CBS-TV affiliate WDBJ.

But Sunnie also digs jewelry and stuffed animals, too.

"It's fun," Sunnie says of her varied interests---some of which don't seem to fit TCS' characterization of what a little girl should be.

Hence the letter, apparently quoting school policy, sent to Sunnie's grandmother, Doris Thompson.

The letter began ominously.

"You’re probably aware that Timberlake Christian School is a religious, Bible believing institution providing education in a distinctly Christian environment," the letter started, and nothing good usually follows a sentence such as that in a letter sent home from school.

And, nothing good did.


Sunnie Kahle

Why is it, that supposedly Christian entities---organizations based on ideals that are supposed to espouse and embrace inclusion rather than exclusion---seem to be the least tolerant?

And, from an educational standpoint, what happened to encouraging children to broaden their horizons and open up their worlds a little bit?

So an eight-year-old girl is sometimes confused for being a boy, as Sunnie told WDBJ. Is that the worst thing in the world?

For their part, school administrators told ABC 27 that they have not accused Sunnie of any wrongdoing; they just want the family to follow all guidelines set for students.

Good thing that the TCS folks are educators, because they certainly think we're all pretty stupid.

"Sunnie realizes she's a female but she wants to do boy things," Thompson told WDBJ.

How ironic that TCS is discouraging that, because it seems like a pretty damn good life lesson to me---that girls can do "boy things."

I mean, heaven forbid Sunnie grows up to be a CEO or a soldier or a fireman or something.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Life Outside the Bun

I admit it. I love Taco Bell.

There are so many reasons.

I have mocked it before, but I have been secretly in admiration of how the fast food entrant can make so much with such few ingredients.

Give the folks at Taco Bell a tortilla, some sort of meat, refried beans, rice and cheese, and stand back.

And they do it all without breaking the bank.

I can walk into a Taco Bell, order food for our family of four and still get a few bucks' worth of change from a $20 bill. Try that at McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's.

I like a good old-fashioned taco for 99 cents. A bean burrito (with extra onions) for $1.49. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find anything on the menu for more than four bucks.

And the quality? It's not a matter of "you get what you pay for." For the price, I think the food is pretty damned good.

I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. I don 't pretend that Taco Bell is Mexican "cuisine." But I also don't experience that "I paid $3.99 for THIS?" feeling, either.



And you don't have to travel very far to find a Taco Bell, either. They are almost as ubiquitous as McDonald's.

This isn't a paid advertisement, even if it reads like one. I'm not getting a dime from the Taco Bell folks. Not that I couldn't use it.

But it occurred to me that we eat Taco Bell almost weekly. There's something devilish about walking out with sacks full of food for well under $20.

I have tried Del Taco, which is also near our house. And while I appreciate the delicious, pungent cilantro that is highly present in some of their items, it isn't Taco Bell---which I know is exactly why some people prefer Del Taco.

Bottom line: Taco Bell isn't for everyone. But it's cheap, it's filling, and it does great in a pinch.

Plus, I love chihuahuas.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

From Lion to Lamb? WHEN?

It's been a long winter, yet it's already mid-March.

Such a dichotomy.

It's been a winter that most of us would like to forget in Michigan, but it will likely be among the most memorable.

And the calendar keeps flipping. It didn't always feel that way.

Back in mid-January, which both feels like an eon ago and like yesterday, with Arctic temps and snow slamming us alternately, there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Depression began to set in at the thought of a bad winter merely getting started.

As the pounding continued, with precious few moments of respite, as January turned to February, you felt like a hamster on a wheel---running but getting nowhere. The only objective at that point was survival. Just getting through it.

Then, just like that, it's mid-March. Baseball season is just around the corner, which ought to provide hope and a feeling of spring's renewal.

But it's hard to feel that with temps in the 20s and the sidewalks and parking lots filled with patches of dangerous ice.

The calendar says we should be seeing robins and tulips. Instead, we see snow drifts and icicles.



The point being, no matter how harsh and punitive this winter has seemed to be, Father Time has indeed marched on, even when we thought he was going to slow to a crawl.

Remember how hopeless the winter appeared to be, when it was just after the new year and we were staring down the barrel of 10-12 more weeks of ice, snow and sleet?

Things are still kind of rough out there, but we're just two and a half weeks away from April.

March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

So of course, the big question is, when are we finally going to see that transformation take place?

On March 31, I'm going to ask my lovely wife to make lamb chops. Maybe that will help.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Get Yer Red Hots On!

Tonight we're having hot dogs. This is a good thing.

My mom used to call it tube steak. Funny.

I love a good hot dog now and again. There's so much you can do with one.

Before I married my bride, we took a trip to Chicago for a long weekend. That's when I rediscovered my love for the Chicago Style Hot Dog.

Wendy's sold the specialty dogs in the summer of 1988, and I scarfed them up often. I was mesmerized by the combination of celery salt, mustard, pickled hot pepper, dill pickle relish and tomato that was globbed onto the tube steak, which was nestled in a poppy seed, thick bun.

Then the Wendy's promotion ended and it wasn't until our 1991 trip to the Windy City that I found a place that sold them. Chicago Style Dogs weren't plentiful on Metro Detroit menus, I came to find out. You know---our love affair with the Coney Dog and all.

The place in Chicago was called Madison Avenue Dogs, and they used their acronym to name their Chicago Style Dogs.

MAD dogs were a hit with us. Plus I loved the atmosphere in that place.

MAD was connected to a Thai Restaurant, and by the looks of things, Thais ran the hot dog joint, too.

You'd place your order---they offered many types of dogs but MAD dogs were by far their specialty---and the order taker would yell out, "TWO MAD!", "THREE MAD," etc., depending on how many you wanted.

My wife and I have dabbled with making our own MAD dogs at home. It's still a work in progress.


The Chicago Style Hot Dog

But I can go for any type of hot dog---boiled, grilled, what have you. I like the hot dog because it's one of those foods that turns into your own personal canvas. The hot dog is similar to the pizza in that regard, or a trip to the salad bar. Almost anything goes.

Diced onions, chopped up hot pepper, relish, mustard, you name it. Except for ketchup.

I don't do ketchup on hot dogs. My wife does, unashamedly. I just can't get into the flavor combo.

At old Tiger Stadium, the hot dog vendors carried with them two containers of mustard and none of ketchup. Someone once told me that was because the sugar in ketchup attracts flying insects.

Maybe it's just that mustard is the only proper condiment for a hot dog.

In the TV show "King of Queens," Kevin James' Doug Heffernan ate a hot dog with mayonnaise on it in one episode. His friend Deacon called him out on it.

"Who puts mayonnaise on a hot dog?" Deacon asks incredulously.

"I do," Doug responds. "And one day, so will everyone."

Um, no.

As far as I'm concerned, other than ketchup and mayo, you can put anything on a hot dog.

Our local Home Depot gloriously serves hot dogs for a couple bucks a pop. It's difficult to walk by the stand on your way in or out of the store and not stop for a quick tube steak.

But when we have the time and the ingredients, there's nothing like once again dabbling with the celery salt, peppers, tomatoes, mustard et al.

Isn't that MAD?