Saturday, June 28, 2014

Conferate Flag - Hatred or History?

Over the last fifty years or so, The Confederate Battle Flag has become an increasingly caustic source of  debate. At the core of the debate is whether or not that flag is a symbol of hatred or history. While it ultimately comes down to the context that the flag is presented in, the bottom line is that that flag is an emotional lightning rod and is best handled with extreme care.

Last week, our younger son brought my Confederate Battle Flag blanket to school as part of an American History assembly where students displayed different sides of the American Experience. Our son, a sweet heart of a kid who will seemingly stop at nothing to get a laugh out of people, wanted to show the "redneck" side of America. He did this, by the way -- and I know you're asking, without our knowledge. Had he asked, we would have told him not to bring the blanket to school because people would take offense and jump to conclusions as to why we even had it in our home in the first place. 
Ironically, he was suspended from school not because he displayed the flag but because he was apparently told not do so by a member of the school's faculty. That faculty member claims they told him not to display it; my son claims they told him that they thought it wasn't a good idea. In my parental opinion, the school should have been more concrete in their directive. Especially seeing  what it was my son wanted to do. Rather than instigate any further debate, we had him take his punishment. Also, upon considerable lecturing from my wife and I we have every confidence that he'll never do anything like this again.
What's troubling now to my wife and I is the "back talk" that our sons have gotten since about our having such an item in our home. Candidly, we feel we're being tarred and feathered and viewed as a family of Paula Deans.
As I open my mind to try and see how others would see us as a result of our son's lapse in sound judgment, I look at this situation through my most judgmental lens and see how people could jump to  the conclusion,  "Well...y'all must be a racist because why else would you have such a thing in your home?"
People are not shy about giving you their opinion of not only the Southern Cross but of the people who have it their possession. I don't know what's worse; those who rush to judgment about those who display it or those that actually, proudly if not arrogantly do the displaying. We've attempted to turn the other cheek. What was it from Hamlet about he who protests too much?
Truth of the matter is, as a crack, Civil War historian or "buff", I have a number of Civil War artifacts in my home not to mention volume upon volume of Civil War history texts. That blanket was given to me years ago as a birthday gift by a good friend of mine from Dallas who knows what a "buff" I am. If it makes you feel any better, I know the Gettysburg address by heart, adore Abraham Lincoln and for the record, vehemently despise the entire "Southern Cause".

The lesson learned is important and simple;  it matters not what you mean, it's how people interpret it.

The school confiscated the blanket and they can keep it.  
 God Bless America.

On Facebook, We're All Actors

About a year and half ago or so I was, like many people, a daily Facebook poster. It was part of my daily routine to post not only, what I thought at least, where clever, funny and insightful status updates but status updates that kept my Facebook "friends" up to date on what was going on in my life both personally or professionally. The occasional photo or two (or three or twenty five) also let "my flock" know just how peachy keen, god damn awesome everything in my life was. Furthermore, my sharing of posts and links, all from my wildly divergent interests, ensured me that my Facebook constituency would know that I was brilliant, hilarious, insightful, warm, tender and god fearing. Or, lest not kid ourselves, at least that was what I thought, unconsciously, I was trying to be.
Facebook used to drive my wife nuts. She'd scream at her computer screen over a couple or family we'd know, that we were supposedly friends with in "real life", posting picture after picture of fantastic trips they took or their brand new cars or the latest accomplishments of their oh-so-adorable 1.8 children. The bragging, subtle or not so subtle, was obvious but my wife in the heat of the moment couldn't see it; no one's life is as perfect as what it would appear to be on Facebook. For the same reasons you can't believe that your next door neighbor would purchase a $60,000 car just to make you jealous, you can't believe anyone would post something on Facebook just to show off.  Then again, when you think about it, isn't that, innocently at times, what Facebook is all about? Showing off? Sorry. Same goes for those who ejaculate about how miserable their life is or something tragic that's happened to them.  The incessant need for attention comes from the same place emotionally and mentally. I find it hard to believe that if something truly soul rupturingly terrible happened to someone that they would post it on Facebook.
I found Facebook a satisfying creative outlet, I had a ball posting pictures and updating my status on what was going on in my life. Especially when I got a high level of engagement. I rest assured, though, that there were plenty of times someone looked at what I posted and slammed their laptop lid or whispered in disgust in a fit of blind jealously.  As much as an actor loves the stage he also loves the audience and their reaction. On Facebook, we're all actors.
I don't fancy myself so much an actor as I do an artist; the difference lies in that an artist doesn't need the approval of others. Attention is nice, of course (to a point) but its not what drives "us" emotionally. It's the work, the art, the process that satisfies; not approval.
To that end on Facebook it doesn't matter because it's how people interpret what you post. It's not what you meant, it's what people think. With you displaying your entire life out there, you have to be conscious of how people are going to react since everything you put out there becomes part of the mosaic of who you are not so much as a person, but what people see you as. That's a slippery slope I'd just as soon stay off.
I heard an interesting interview recently of a pop act, wish I could remember who, where one of the terribly articulate young gentlemen in the group said that they work hard to make sure that their fame doesn't change who they are; that they don't turn into something that the public thinks they are. While that's smart and dangerous for business all at the same time, I'm sure their label and management went into preventive spin mode when they heard that, the truth is many times we push stuff out there on Facebook without really thinking how people will or are interpreting it. Are we really that person or are we putting on an act that we can't live up to in our real lives? Can we live up to what people think we are? If they think negatively of us, can we ever live that down?  
A big issue that I have with Facebook, and I'm guilty of this and I am accountable, is that when you have a vast "friends list" as I have from as many different corners of my life as I do, you really don't want everyone seeing everything you post. So, I had gotten selective as to who would see what. Usually, that group would be my immediate family and the closest of "real life" friends. That grew tiresome because it's a pain to filter each post and unfilter posts for posts that you want "everyone" to see. In the end if I was doing something worth sharing I'd end up texting the people who I wanted to have see it. If they pushed it out to Facebook and tagged me that was on them. We all know people who post every last damn thing that goes on in their lives and we silently begrudge them for it. I decided to not even be a possible pebble on that mountain of bullshit. While I still have a Facebook account I use it more as a newsfeed based on what I like. I rarely if ever post anymore. And I couldn't be happier.
Kids today don't use Facebook and they're luke warm to Twitter. They prefer texting.  It's immediate and highly customizable via group texting. Social media is here to stay; once something is embraced by the masses there's no turning back but kids today, those bellwethers of future cool, are ahead of the curve. They realized quickly they we don't need to be as dialed into each other as we thought we once needed to be. The people whose opinion I cherish most get to see what I have going on.
Now, if we all just stuck to posting youtube cat videos on Facebook I might think of going back.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

1965 Imperial LeBaron - Sunday Morning Trespasser

Out on a Sunday morning bike ride last weekend, I'm training for the Velosano Bike To Cure July 19-20 (donate here. Thank you!) I stumbled upon a car dealership and this fetching old Chrysler. Sorry, I mean Imperial. Well, it is technically a Chrysler but between 1955 and 1975, Imperial was a separate division from Chrysler. Calling this a Chrysler would be like calling a Cadillac a "GM".

See? Even the dealership is confused.
For the record, this is a 1965 Imperial...
Yes, LeBaron. The car is named after the famous Bridgeport, Connecticut based custom coach builder.
The Imperial LeBaron was Imperial's top of the line model in the early to mid 1960's and was one of the most expensive cars in the world at the time. The cost of the vehicle something Chrysler (the company) attempted to exploit to their own advantage. There is a school of thought that charging more for something means it's worth more.
I'm not sure I agree with that adage. How did Chrysler, or Imperial fare versus Cadillac and Lincoln?
Let's put it this way; had you even heard of "Imperial" as a separate division before you read this? Didn't think so. That's because Chrysler had shuttered "Imperial" as a division after 1975. The brand made a brief (and odd) reappearance in the early 1980's as a high end coupe.
This delightfully over decorated crème puff has an asking price of a mere $8995. That does include, from what I understand, a full tank of gas.
Midges or what some refer to as Canadian Soldiers, come free of charge.

Monday, June 23, 2014

1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass - Unconditional Love

It's hard to understand the appeal of two door cars today. That's a dyed in the vinyl interior, unconditional lover of coupes, "coupe guy" saying that too. If they were just fashion statements and sold in small numbers it would be somewhat fathomable to comprehend their appeal but coupes, actually, two door sedans, sold in tremendous numbers forty, fifty years ago. So much so that in many instances they out sold their much more practical but much less stylish (opinion) four door versions.
What's the appeal of coupes? I grew up with them so it's all I know and love, again, unconditionally. I just think they're cool. People are fickle, though and automobiles are expensive to develop; when a particular type of  automobile sells well, manufacturers have a tendency to keep selling that type of vehicle long after that fashion trend boat has sailed. GM built this same car, literally and figuratively through 1997. A time when foreign competition had kicked the beans out of GM and the sedan and SUV had surpassed coupes as acceptable fashion statements.
I love these cars in all the iterations even if some of their updates, like the 1973 model here, weren't as attractive, as some say, as others. That's my unconditional love shining through again right there. The shrink wrap was being peeled off this now much maligned, bigger in every way you can think of 1973 Cutlass (made through 1977) as our featured '72 was driven off the assembly line.

In 1972, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was one of the best selling nameplates in America; it's easy to see why when we put on our Archie Bunker era, rose colored glasses. Striking good looks and value blended together with a fair amount of prestige. Not too much prestige, mind you. Just enough to impresses the Joneses without them thinking you've lost your financial good sense that got you in the position to afford an Oldsmobile in the first place. This is an Oldsmobile after all, not a Cadillac.
The takeaway on this particular car is its general sad condition. It looks like it needs everything. From the looks of it I wouldn't hold my breath that it runs any better than it looks too. If it runs like a top there's a certain cache to it; you have to love a rat rod. However, what's with this front end on this thing? 
After much work to decipher why the hood appears to go in one direction while the grill goes in another, I've determined that this car has been in an accident and someone found disparate parts of Cutlass' and attempted to bolt it altogether and hope for the best. If it fits, it works, right!? At least someone went through the effort to repair what ever it was that was wrong with this car. Even if the grill is from a '69 and the hood from a '71. I think it looks just fine but then again I love this car unconditionally.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

1975 Pontiac Grand Ville - Alfred's Ladder

The Pontiac Grand Ville was the top-trim model in the division's full-sized line from 1971 to 1975. It displaced the Pontiac Bonneville which had served as Pontiac's top-trim model since 1958.
The Pontiac Grand Ville is a great example of the Old General Motors. Or, in other words; the way things used to be at GM.
The Grand Ville sold moderately well from 1971 to 1973. However, the Arab Oil of late 1973 and early 1974 led to gasoline shortages, long lines at filling stations, and skyrocketing pump prices. These factors would sharply cut into full-sized car sales in 1974 as Americans shunned big gas guzzlers in favor of smaller more fuel-efficient cars.
Under the long tutelage of Alfred Sloan, the long time president, chairman and CEO of General Motors, GM had what was known as brand architecture,  a pecking order of makes within their ranks that could, in essence, accommodate a person from first car to last. Starting with humble Chevrolet and moving north with each succeeding vehicular need, customers moved up the ladder  through Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and finally to Cadillac. Coincidence that so many ambulances and hearses were Cadillacs? 

For 1975, the Grand Ville became the Grand Ville Brougham and included more standard equipment than in previous years, such as power windows and a carpeted trunk. This would be the final year for the Grand Ville series, which also included Pontiac's last convertible until 1983. For 1976, the Grand Ville nameplate was dropped and the lineup was renamed Bonneville Brougham, returning that nameplate back to its former flagship status.
It's debatable how well that brand architecture ultimately worked seeing how brand loyal many consumers are. After all, if GM's "brands" were doing such a good job of distinguishing their brands from one another, then it would go to reason that if a Chevy man you'd have issue with moving to a Pontiac, Oldsmobile or other GM brands. People are loyal to brands, not companies. What can't be argued is GM's unbridled growth through 1920's, 30's 40's and 50's.
From 1971-1974, the Pontiac 455 was the only engine available. For 1975, a 400 engine was the standard engine with the 455 optional. With either engine in a car north of 4500 pounds, fuel economy, a sore subject then as it is now, was abysmal.  
GM's margins in the '50's were so great that they did everything and anything they could to stave off any reduction in profits. While platform sharing, where different cars share much mechanically, is the ideal way to operate a car company, problems arise when the lines are blurred between makes and models. Case in point, this Grand Ville, which is nothing more than a trim package of the less expensive Chevrolet Caprice. It also might as well be an Oldsmobile 88 and Buick LeSabre. Save for a slightly shorter wheelbase, it also might as well be a  Oldsmobile 98, Buick Electra or Cadillac DeVille. Familial resemblance was just too strong amongst those makes and models to make having all those makes and models, ultimately, make sound business sense.
The final year 1975 proved to be the most plentiful with just over 4,500 cars built, as word had gotten out that this would be the final year of production. The Grand Ville convertible had the lowest production amongst its corporate cousins, the Oldsmobile 88 Royale, Buick LeSabre/Centurion, Chevrolet Caprice and Cadillac Eldorado convertible lines.
Drive several of these cars back to back and you'd be hard pressed to be able to distinguish any difference in their driving dynamics. They're all big, floaty, wallowing, underpowered and braked. What were you paying a premium for in a Cadillac or Buick that you couldn't get in a Grand Ville or Caprice? As customers began to realize that the cars were very similar they began to ask the same question.

Grand Ville convertibles were rare in the years from 1971 to 1975, never topping 5,000 per year during the model run. 1975 was not only the last year for the Bonneville but for Pontiac convertibles. GM stopped production of all convertibles after 1976.
Following years of building little more than those trim packages of Chevrolets, GM pulled the plug on Pontiac as part of the reorganization following their 2008 bankruptcy.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Deck Is Sinking!

Power washing our Big Red Deck for a season of grilling and chilling and I noticed that it's sinking.  Sinking at the house. Which is unusual. Most decks that I've seen sink do so either in the middle or at the front or on one end.

Obviously, the footings are settling. Hopefully just the footings that are holding up this middle section of the deck. I have to get in there to see what's going on with the joist hangers. Are there any? Are they failing? Is the sill plate moving? Tough to tell from these pictures just how steep the incline back to the house is. Whoops, the dog just rolled over without trying.

Come to think of it, last winter I had noticed an inordinate amount of "ponding" on the deck after it rains. I just shrugged it off. Sort of like when you go to the doctor and he gives you a grim diagnosis. You had noticed all along their was blood in your urine but you just thought it was something you ate. "It'll pass", he said.  

I spoke to a deck guy who also thought it odd the deck is sinking at the house. Here we can see the worst point of the sinking; we're down about an inch or so. Doesn't sound like a lot but you really notice the incline when you walk across the deck from one of the two sides that flank the middle.

This is a beautiful deck when its freshly stained. We had a deck in Connecticut that was "stained" white. White next to a brown house. Beautiful when the paint or stain is is fresh; not so much when it gets a little old. Yeah. "Little old". Like a week into it. Decks are a maintenance headache. I'm an engineer at heart. I build. I don't maintain. This coat of stain is just two years old. It started looking like crap last summer. Someone say, "Trex?"

My plan this weekend is to pull up enough boards to be able to make some sort of diagnosis. These are hard to get up, though. If I can get any traction on the screws, most times I snap off the heads. Lovely. There's also plenty of nails in this thing. Poor thing was not taken care of it seems and when it was it was hatcheted. We're the third owners of this house that was built in 1998. The people we bought the house from were divorcing. Note to self, don't buy a house from folks who are splitting up. They don't keep up their assets.

Good news is I had been planning on adding lighting to the deck and that would require me to pop up a number of boards to gain access underneath. Bad news is, this project might be a lot more than I had bargained for. Cheers.  


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

To Lease Or Not To Lease...THAT is The Question

Manage Your Life Like It's a Business

Who should lease as opposed to buying a car?  Well, "The Rich" lease their cars because it's believed best to buy appreciating assets and lease depreciating ones. With rare exception real estate appreciates, particularly in the long haul. Automobiles always depreciate. That $300,000 Ferrari-Lamborghini-Maserati "What's Their Name Celebrity" is driving?  Leased.

Leasing also makes sense, to some degree, for those who have limited financial resources. Leasing an inexpensive automobile can be an affordable way to have reliable transportation. A cheap lease being easier to find than a good, cheap, used car. If mom and dad have children who drive a cheap lease buys peace of mind. At least for the term of the lease.

Now, depending on the terms or length of the lease, usually between 24 and 36 months, your monthly lease payment is driven by the predetermined value of the car you're leasing at the end of your lease. That's what's known as the residual value. The higher the residual value the lower your monthly payment. Put cash down on the deal (not recommended) or a trade in and that monthly payment goes down even lower. Figure $20 per month for every $1,000 cash or trade in value you put down. Get $3,000 for that old Taurus plus another $2,000 cash and you've driven that lease payment down $100. To the monthly cash flow conscious buyer that's a deal maker.


One of the problems with leasing is the end of the lease. Let's skip the drama about damage and mileage overage fees for now but keep in mind they can be significant. At the end of the lease, you have three choices; lease again, buy the car at the residual value or buy another car (new or used). For the record, I've never seen a residual value that could be negotiated lower for a customer buy out. So, in most cases leasing amounts to little more than renting. Oh, and that old Taurus you traded in and the cash you put down? That value is all gone at the end of the lease. Unless you buy out the lease then you can rationalize, to some reasonable degree, that what you put down initially still holds water. If you don't buy out the lease then you have to make yourself comfortable that not only is that $5,000 gone but it went for nothing more than to give yourself an affordable monthly payment on something you rented. You also don't have anything at the end of your lease. My recommendation is that you hold onto your cash and make the higher monthly lease payment. More on this in a second.

What to do? First, look at the residual value and shop it around in the marketplace to see if buying the car out is an option for you. If the retail value is above your buyout (or "balloon payment"), then buying out your lease is a viable, efficient and wise option. If the balloon is larger than the retail price then it doesn't make sense to buy the car.

Next, look at buying a car and getting off the leasing-go-round. When buying a new car buying it with today's ridiculous rates with payments spread out over 60 months will have your monthly payments come in around the same amount as lease payments over 36 months. Sure, that car at the end of 60 months will be 60 months old but you're in a great position for months if not years of no payments if you keep the car. Older used cars with low mileage can be tricky to finance. Many lending institutions are either hesitant to loan money on older cars and charge a high APR. Others won't loan you money at all because they think the car too old. Best to shop banks as well as cars.

Another option is to purchase a gently used car. The values are incredible. Get a good APR over 36 months and you've bought wisely. I'm a car guy too and I'd love to drive a new car every two years if not sooner. Thing is, I love saving money more than I like new cars.

To Lease Or Not To Lease...THAT is The Question. If  you're focused on making the best business decision you can, you're probably going to make a good decision. Best of luck!