May 2008

Last night The Boyf and I went to test-drive a little Saturn sedan. It was cute enough and it had some fun features – 5-speed, which we both prefer, a sunroof, etc. – but it just wasn’t what I was looking for (a cascade of car issues has us both looking for new cars while sharing mine). On our way across the lot to the car we had both spotted a used Prius with a big SOLD sign on the dash and shared some quiet lamentations. After the test drive, on the way back into the dealership to consider test-driving a little Solara coupe we’d also seen, The Boyf took a closer look at the Prius and then called me back to where he was.

“Is today the 28th?” he asked, then he looked at his phone. “Is it after 7pm?” I confirmed both of these were the case. “This car went back on sale nineteen minutes ago.”

It turned out that the car was being held for a potential transfer to another dealership but there was a timer on that hold and the timer ran out at 7pm last night. So, The Boyf and I had some thinkin’ to do.

Long story short, we didn’t buy it. The demand for the Prius is so high that used ones – even used ones for which the warranty on the hybrid components is about five seconds from running out and for which nothing else is under warranty at all – cost a pittance less than brand new ones. I couldn’t justify spending that much money for a car that might be really, really expensive to fix when I’ve already turned my nose up at a very reasonably priced very nice mid-’90s sedan from another company on the same grounds.

During the two hours it took us to hash out whether this would or would not be a good idea, though, I did the following:

  • asked to borrow the salesman’s computer and in moments got past their feeble measures designed to keep people from accessing the internet so that I could read some reviews, which was just fun
  • called mrh (a buddy from Unfogged) to chat with him about his Prius; he was unbelievably nice about being called out of the blue
  • used my phone and The Boyf’s phone to hit different reviews sites at the same time and get estimated repair costs for various things

In the end I decided that with tremendous fiscal restraint I could save up enough to get a much smaller loan on a new one in six or eight months and would much rather my first hybrid have all the warranty in the world on it. So, we disappointed a friendly car salesman but life went on; while he was trying to write up our interest in the car he hit a stumbling block of his own in that someone in South Carolina was trying to buy it at the same time. Somebody’s going to buy that car today, I’m sure. He’ll make his sale.

This whole act of car shopping, I note, has been an act of setting goals and then immediately trashing them. My three big requirements were that any car I got had to be a stick (the Prius is automatic-only), had to have a sunroof (no sunroof!) and had to be used because, as I am fond of pointing out, any car loses a tremendous amount of value the moment the first owner signs the paperwork. So, did I just set a new goal to trash? Or did I just set a better goal to which I would rather aspire?

I have commented in the past – on Unfogged, no less, so that I apologized twice to mrh for this when discussing the Prius with him – that I think the Prius is an awesome car but not an attractive one. It is a car that looks a bit like a hamster, to be honest; my preference is not just for muscle cars but for cars that appear to be trapped for all time in the act of flexing. I said all of that before driving one. Driving one – just for five miles – completely changed my opinion of them. They aren’t just extremely comfortable or extremely quiet – they are, and at one point I murmured to The Boyf as we practically subvocalized our running commentary with the salesman sitting quietly in the back seat, “When was the last time we had a conversation this quiet in either of our cars?” – and they aren’t just loaded with features – the “base” model is priced lower because it lacks cruise control and heated fucking mirrors – they are also extremely neat. The gear shift is completely different from any other in a way that’s hard to describe. The thing is practically made of extra glove compartments. For a hatchback there’s pretty great visibility and the engine has remarkable pep for being so tiny. It took off at a faster trot than my Cherokee (yes, I am one of those people) and I passed someone assholishly to make sure it could be driven in the fashion I acknowledge that I prefer to drive.

The Boyf was reading a review as we sat in the sales guy’s office, later, and said, “Oh, it’s recommended that a Prius be driven for thirty continuous minutes at least once a week to make sure the batteries get completely topped off. So I guess we’re going to have to go for long, quiet drives in the country without using much gas.”

Oh darn.

I think I’m going to go transfer more into the Prius fund.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 1 is hell of fun if you like adventure games and RPGs. I’ve only played it for about an hour but that seems to be the two genres it most heavily samples in producing its unique mix. The art is eye-poppingly bright, the cel-shaded look gives everything the enthusiasm and fun of a cartoon and the writing thus far is very good. It’s a joyous thing to play. It’s not crazy complicated; it’s fun, which is what I’m told games are meant to be.

Oh, that’s right, there was a specific point I hoped to make and forgot.

You know what makes Indiana Jones awesome? That it’s an action franchise in which the lead is an academic. The character and the films place a high value on learning and applying knowledge. It is one of only two franchises I can think of (the other being Evil Dead) in which the academic is there to do more than supply exposition.

First, a disclaimer: I am flying high on prescribed Vicoprofen at the moment due to having my wisdom teeth out this morning. In dental news, my teeth came out easily and all I had was Novacaine. People keep telling me this is weird, that I should have been knocked out for it, but really, it took minutes to have all four removed. My dentist was awesome. Before the first needle I said, “For the record, I’m a huge wuss and I’ve never had a cavity so I’ve never had any dental work before. Just manhandle me however you need to and I’ll survive.” She proceeded to do so in a way that never hurt, never made me uncomfortable, and the vast majority of the time I had a mix of Kylie Minogue, The Automatic and Darkest of the Hillside Thickets blaring away in my headphones. Yes, that is a weird combination but it totally worked.

Now, movies! Specifically, The Apple and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I went to see the disco/pop musical The Apple at the Carolina Theatre of Durham on Tuesday night. Let me tell you this: it is high-larious. I was at the late show on a week night so there were maybe a dozen other people in the theatre. Collectively, a baker’s dozen of us laughed harder at that movie than I’ve seen full theatres laugh at intended comedies. Hell, I went to see Some Like It Hot at the Carolina a week or two before that and a half-full theatre laughed less at that very funny film than ten or fifteen of us did at The Apple.

In short, it’s a ham-fisted allegory of the story of Adam & Eve in which at least two thirds of the cast wear head-to-toe silver lamé. Made in 1980, it attempts to predict a very campy, futuristic vision of 1994, when the world is ruled – ruled! – by a music label. The story is of two earnest young Canadian performers (no, really) who are tempted to sign with this all-powerful music label.

What’s completely insane is how much of it is actually pretty good and yet the whole is such a complete trainwreck. The songs aren’t all terrible! There’s some pretty decent choreography. The politics of the movie are spot-on. It’s a film that (senselessly ignorant of its own rightness) manages to predict some measure of the ways labels would try to control consumers’ experience of music. For that matter, it includes the actor who plays Professor Sprout in her first film role.

So what goes wrong? Everything else. The villain’s headquarters look like the chemistry building from a run-down college. Villains drive Jetson-pimped stationwagons and the hoi-polloi drive AMC Gremlins with bubble-domes on top. In every crowd shot – every single crowd shot – there’s at least one woman pushing a triangular, wheeled cart that’s either a stroller, a hot-dog stand or both. It is a train wreck of bad acting, cheap sets, cheap costumes and unintended humor. It’s a movie that’s trying to be campy; what’s weird is that whenever it tries to be campy it fails and when it tries to be serious it’s campy.

It is extremely highly recommended. I am dead serious.

In other news, I went to see Indiana Jones last night and really, really liked it. It’s no War and Peace but it hits all the right notes, it has a single action sequence that lasts at least ten minutes, Harrison Ford very obviously has a ball and Shia LeBeouf manages not to ruin it. In fact, he basically spends the entire movie taking the piss in amusing ways. I realize that I’m on painkillers as I say this but he was… fun to watch (mostly) in this movie. I would not necessarily reject a film outright based on his inclusion in it after this. I must also be honest enough to say that most of my sheer hatred of him comes from Transformers, which is an unconscionably terrible movie in every possible respect and trying to smear him with that project might not be entirely fair.

At any rate, um… yeah. Vicoprofen: the tangent-maker. You have no idea how long it took to type this up.

I worked the last day of early voting on Saturday. Over 800 people voted at my location, many of them first-time voters. By the end of the day the line ran out the door, up a couple of ramps, across the parking lot, down a driveway to the street and up the block. The last person in line at 1pm voted at 2:45. These folks had to stand in line for a long, long time all day.

The thing that amazed me and made me love Durham even more: everyone was nice. Every single person who talked to me was nice, all day.

The Boyf, in his ongoing and relentless awesomeness, got us tickets to see Lou Reed at the Carolina Theatre of Durham on 4/28. I took a couple of pictures without a flash right as the band started up.

The show was indescribably good. He played a couple of songs I’d really hoped to hear – “Halloween Parade” among them, of course – and he played a lot of things that, frankly, I didn’t recognize but did deeply love. They would start out pretty simple with a lot of the songs and then build into this conglomerated and then welded, unified sound that almost became a solid surface one could reach out and touch. The sound quality was spectacular, much better than the sound quality was for, say, They Might Be Giants. As we left I heard a number of people exclaim about how good it was.

The audience was very into it in a way I should have expected them to be with Lou Reed; whereas at TMBG everyone wanted to stand up and dance, at the Lou Reed show everyone stayed in their seats and basically grooved one-on-one with the music. Everyone got to have a very personal or very limitedly shared experience with the music that is a rare gift in a sold-out live performance. (For those of my friends who remember it, imagine something like that time we were five of, what, thirty people at that English Beat show, only surrounded by 1,200 other people.)

There was only one incredibly minor annoyance, this guy in the balcony who kept doing this really annoying whistle. Great, whatever, people react at a concert, it’s a public space. Aside from the fact that we all got a good laugh out of someone yelling at him to shut up, it’s a freakin’ Lou Reed concert. Aggroing at the guy is kind of missing the point of a Lou Reed concert, isn’t it? So, whatever. He was at most an incredibly minor annoyance to me, nothing like those fucksticks from the balcony during Star Trek II at ESCAPISM! last year.*

The only reason he merits a mention, in fact, is that as we were leaving he was leaning over the railing of the balcony to whistle at people from above in some attempt to shake his tiny fist at the world, or whatever. Later, outside, he spent a couple of minutes staggering around and people were a little um… yeah about him. I walked away from the group to take a picture of Evan’s coffee cart, which isn’t always at Carolina events but when it is then I love it in a deep and intense way because Evan makes some damn good coffee and it’s right there. Anyway, I’m taking a picture of the coffee cart and thinking, wow, how sad is it that some guy in his 40’s – I’m being generous – is crazy trashed at 9:30 on a Monday night and being an asshole at a Lou Reed concert? and all of a sudden – BAMF! – there’s the guy, like he’s teleported into the scene. He leaps into my shot, both arms waving, while I take the picture and refuses to move for as long as my camera is out. Still not on the level of the balcony jackasses from Star Trek II but seriously, the dude could probably stand to get some help. His friend who thought Whistler was such a laff riot(TM) could find somebody more interesting to sidekick for, too.

* I will never forgive the people in the balcony. I know, I know, but I can’t let it go.