Thursday, June 18, 2009

Forgotten Detroit - Remembered Sister in Christ

Can it have been 5 years? She blew into our downtown Detroit Episcopal parish like a mighty wind during the summer of 2003, and that fall she was to have been the Sunday School teacher for my (then) 4th Grade son. But what I didn't know at the time was that the cancer that was to claim her life on June 15, 2004 was already present and active in her body. As it happened, Mary Jo only taught Eliot's Sunday School class one time, but even after knowing him for all of 45 minutes, she was able to "read" his spirit and his faith and give us valuable feedback about God's work in him.

Shortly after the wind of the Holy Ghost swooped down and picked her up into the life of the world to come, a memorial service was held at St. John's, Detroit. The nave was packed, and even though we were early, our family got the last few seats in the balcony. It was a Friday late in June in 2004, and the transom windows on the Epistle side of the nave were cranked open, giving a view of the Detroit skyline.
Throughout the service, in my direct view was the rooftop sign of the now departed Madison-Lenox hotel (see below). I don't know why that image struck me with such force, but it did. I'm a visual kind of a guy. Hotel and sign are both gone now, but are photographically chronicled at a website called Forgotten Detroit. This website makes me cry like the Weeping Prophet, but if you have a strong constitution, or are desirous of weeping with me over the departed glory of my city, by all means, go and have a look.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Mercury Love

Rachel is not the only one with a lifelong love of a particular Mercury automobile ... I have another such story right in my own family.

We brought home our very first Mercury Meteor almost 15 years ago, the exact same day that we finalized our adoption of our son Eliot. Eliot immediately fell in love with the old black 1963 Mercury, which we named "Mr. Venables" after the Anglican rector in Dorothy L. Sayers' 1934 mystery novel, The Nine Tailors.

Here is Eliot, wrenching on "Mr. Venables", at a very early age:

And, here he is, practicing his driving ...

Time and Michigan winters were not kind to Mr. Venables, however, and he died from "rust cancer". It was one of the saddest days of Eliot's life when we dismantled Mr. Venables and had him towed away ...

But, Eliot's love for this car never faded, and now we are pleased to say that Mr. Venables II, which is Eliot's first car, is now a living, breathing reality, and out on the streets of metro Detroit. Love is love, not fade away ...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!

The entire car hobby segment of the Internet is abuzz with the story of Rachel, the cute elderly lady who has gone over 540,000 miles in her car "Chariot" - a 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente, which she bought new.

Aside from being one of those great "feel-good" stories, Rachel's lifelong love of a single car is an indictment of our entire throw-away society. Hot Rodders: think "true love"! "Enviro-Wackos: think "incredibly low life-cycle cost". You might not like the instantaneous efficiency of Rachel's carbureted Caliente, with its antiquated ignition points, but think of how she has been saving the planet for 45 years by not causing 15 new Hondas or Toyotas to be produced!

I've been a Mercury man since 1994, and the Caliente is as hot as its name, but that is obviously not the only captivating thing about this story. Her faithfulness to a single car, a single idea ... the awesome stability of that love ... well, it is a lesson for this whole fickle, "changing partners" society that we've evolved. The bittersweet part, of course, is that her Mercury has outlasted three husbands. Perhaps they did not understand the incredible power present in the monogamous love of a woman - which Rachel has clearly demonstrated toward "Chariot".

There is a sequel to the story, here.

And it just gets better and better ... (H/T: Drew Collins)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Form versus Function

If ever it needed proving that form does not always follow function, the 2009 Formula 1 cars show this quite nicely. Obviously, the cars function well - amazingly well. But just as obviously, they are completely ugly.

From some angles, the things look like freight trains. From the front, they look like anteaters. I can barely stand to watch an F1 race this year, because of the sheer failure of form displayed by these cars.

However, sometimes form does (beautifully) follow function. BEHOLD, IFBB Fitness Pro, Mindi O'Brien!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Women and Horses and Power and War

There is an utterly brilliant article by P. J. O'Rourke today, about the failure of the American automobile industry. In actuality it is, as O'Rourke posits, a failure of Romance. Not only does this article contain Truth, but the writing itself is spectacular.

Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.

Foremost are the horses. Cars can’t be comprehended without them. A hundred and some years ago Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Ballad of the King’s Jest,” in which an Afghan tribesman avers: Four things greater than all things are,—Women and Horses and Power and War. Insert another “power” after the horse and the verse was as true in the suburbs of my 1950s boyhood as it was in the Khyber Pass.


Thus cars usurped the place of horses in our hearts. Once we’d caught a glimpse of a well-turned Goodyear, checked out the curves of the bodywork and gaped at that swell pair of headlights, well, the old gray mare was not what she used to be. We embarked upon life in the fast lane with our new paramour. It was a great love story of man and machine. The road to the future was paved with bliss.

Then we got married and moved to the suburbs. Being away from central cities meant Americans had to spend more of their time driving. Over the years away got farther away. Eventually this meant that Americans had to spend all of their time driving. The play date was 40 miles from the Chuck E. Cheese. The swim meet was 40 miles from the cello lesson. The Montessori was 40 miles from the math coach. Mom’s job was 40 miles from Dad’s job and the three-car garage was 40 miles from both.

America’s romantic foolishness with cars is finished, however, or nearly so. In the far boondocks a few good old boys haven’t got the memo and still tear up the back roads. Doubtless the Obama administration’s Department of Transportation is even now calculating a way to tap federal stimulus funds for mandatory OnStar installations to locate and subdue these reprobates.

That would be me ... and my son.

Among certain youths—often first-generation Americans—there remains a vestigial fondness for Chevelle low-riders or Honda “tuners.” The pointy-headed busybodies have yet to enfold these youngsters in the iron-clad conformity of cultural diversity’s embrace. Soon the kids will be expressing their creative energy in a more constructive way, planting bok choy in community gardens and decorating homeless shelters with murals of Che.

If you care about this once-torrid love affair between Americans and the automobile, please go read the entire article!