Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wagon watch

Bandwagons. We all jump on or off them at one time or another. Today I thought I'd take stock of my current ridership status.

Entourage: On, but with a loosened seatbelt. This season was generally good, but several times in recent weeks I felt like I was watching a formula play out, with each character being put through his paces in exactly the way you'd expect. It took me out of the show and reminded me that I was watching TV (and yes, HBO, your old slogan aside, it's TV). Jeremy Piven, though a raging bag in real life, continues to shine in the role that has come to define his career. He and Kevin Connolly are by far the two best actors in the regular cast, and for that matter, two of the few good ones. Coincidentally or not, their characters are the two most interesting.

Chicago Bears: On. I ignored the preseason as usual, then I was out of town when they opened their season with an ugly loss at Green Bay. But I've caught the three games since (Comcast DVR remote that jumps ahead thirty seconds from the ref's whistle to the next snap of the ball: accept no substitutes), all entertaining victories including a nail-biter over the defending Super Bowl champs. Their savior, newly inked quarterback Jay Cutler, looks like the real deal, and the team features a bunch of talented young playmakers I'd never heard of a month ago. Speaking of which:

Johnny Knox: On. The rookie speedster is as cool as Johnny Knoxville, but younger and faster. He raised eyebrows with a passel of flashy plays in recent weeks, then ran back Sunday's second-half kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. He's a humble Devin Hester.

Mad Men: Not on, but walking alongside. Mad Men is a decent show and yet the most overrated show on television. Stylish, gorgeous to look at, sure, but wildly inconsistent. The writing is too frequently just OK for a show that many have anointed the chosen one. (It does have a nice pedigree. Creator Matthew Weiner first pitched it years ago as a relative unknown and couldn't get any takers, so he stuck it in a drawer and took a job writing for The Sopranos. Five years later he was one of their top scribes and when he dusted off Mad Men during Tony Soprano's final season the AMC network bought it immediately. Ah, credibility.) In short, Mad Men is good enough to keep watching but doesn't deserve the mountains of hype it gets (a local columnist feels the same way and another chimes in here). However:

Jon Hamm: Enthusiastically on. He's Cary Grant for our generation, the ridiculously handsome star of the most lauded show on television, but it hasn't gone to his head. I met him at a party in New York City last winter and chatted with him for a while. As detached and mysterious as Don Draper is, Jon Hamm is engaging, bright and funny. He couldn't have been less impressed with himself, but I was plenty impressed. Then in July he appears in the celebrity softball game at the All-Star Game in his native St. Louis and, playing third base, cleanly backhands a hard smash and fires a strong throw across the diamond for the putout. How cool is this guy?

Chicago Cubs: Off. The bandwagon derailed some time in May or June as injuries and inconsistent play from the expensive end of the roster ruined the 2009 campaign. Manager Lou Piniella's refusal to move the underperforming Alfonso Soriano down in (or out of) the batting order didn't help either. Derrek Lee hit every pitch over the wall in the last two months of the season and no one even noticed.

President Obama: On. I happen to like his politics, but leave that aside. I admire his leadership and he's got personality and coolth to burn. He remains impressively steadfast in the face of frequently inane criticism (don't speak to our schoolchildren directly? death squads?). As for results, it's only been eight months. Time will tell.

Northwestern Wildcats athletics: Hard to say there's a bandwagon at all, but if there is, I'm on it. Heck, I'll drive. I salute any serious research university that puts a good team on the field without sacrificing its rigorous academic standards (see also: Stanford, Duke). NU's young football coach Pat Fitzgerald has done so, increasing the win total in each year of his short tenure and leading the team to the Alamo Bowl last year. The 'Cats also frequently impress in non-revenue sports: the women's lacrosse team has won five straight NCAA championships, the softball team played in two recent Women's College World Series, and the tennis teams are usually tough.

Twitter: Off. I've never jumped aboard the Twitter Express as so many have. That's not to say it's not an effective way to share opinions, but to paraphrase a recent beer advertising campaign, I'll skip the microblogging site in favor of my good old macroblog.

Chicago 2016 Olympic bid: The bandwagon hit a wall last week, but I'd never jumped on board. There would have been pros to having the Olympics here, but significant cons. All told, I could never bring myself to feel more boosterish than about 55/45 against the bid, so I'm content to let South America get its overdue first bite at the apple.

2006 Volvo S60 T5 sedan: I am so on the bandwagon for this car that I think it is itself the bandwagon. I ended an eight-year bad relationship last week with my personal bête noire, a balky 1999 Cadillac Catera, replacing it with the insanely awesome T5. How Swede it is.


mOoP said...

and yet, the s60 is not a wagon, though volvo is one of the rare makes that even offer wagons - two, in fact.

there is not a wagon bandwagon, though i think there should be.

in britain, you know, they call wagons "estates." they have better words for most things.

Ben said...

Learned the term "estate car" the other week while reading up on Volvo. Had to hunt further to learn what it meant. As you say, estate car sounds so dignified.

I know station wagons all too well, as my mom insisted on owning one after another during my pre-SUV childhood. Ugly monstrosities though they were (remember that green and brown Olds number I drove in high school?), I did inherit a steady stream of them as hand-me-downs. To paraphrase Jack Handey: "Hey, free car."

m0o0O0oPp said...

oooh yeah i remember that one now. but the maxima one was pretty good right?

i waste people's time talking about wagons a lot, because i think the whole regrettable SUV boom could have been avoided through better wagons. american customers desiring multi-purpose vehicles but obsessed with image ran screaming from their memories of brown oldsmobiles into the waiting arms of the chevrolet blazer. automakers could have tried to rename and reposition the category in the market and freshen the designs (only subaru did, with the outback. they never offered an SUV). instead most went the more profitable and easy route, throwing new bodies on existing truck platforms. but now in the post-SUV era, it's exactly what they are doing. that category you may have heard of, "crossovers" (yes, like "SUV," another internal business term that marketing departments, in their infinite uselessness, failed to translate into something meaningful to consumers)? they're wagons that have been jacked up about four inches. so we've come back home, too bad we ever left.

Ben said...

Yeah, the Maxima wagon was a great car until it died with its engine literally on fire in the right shoulder of the Edens Expressway one day when I was driving home from vending a Cubs game. It had a sunroof and keyless entry where you typed your code onto the driver's door handle, both exciting innovations at the time.

You nailed it in your discussion of SUVs. I think the Big Three also reaped tax breaks for selling SUVs since they technically qualified as trucks (some kind of farm equipment exemption or something).

As for wagons, I've always liked Volvo's models. Though boxy, they were less oversized and more distinguished than the American monsters we had. Even today, the thought of a teenager driving his mom's old Volvo wagon takes me back to our teen years as instantly as any John Hughes movie.

A Trevian classmate of ours, and fellow auto expert of yours, reviewed the Volvo S60 here:

Crossover is a marketing term reminiscent of "cross-trainer," which I found to be an excellent athletic shoe to wear while sitting on the couch watching TV.

^^oo|" said...

you're nice to call me an expert. i vaaaaaguely remember MM, who wrote a good review there. man i'd love to do that! i plan to write at least one driving impression for my non-audience, interspersed with my own photos, of the lamborghini gallardo i drove on sunday and referenced on facebook...

Ben said...

I look forward to checking that out.

Like you, Markovich is funny, smart and a great writer. He's got the auto review niche well covered for CNet and You can compare notes with him at our upcoming reunion.

p.s. Would the wagon bandwagon have a bandwagon band?

Mick Jammer said...

Brother of...."BoBB&B?"

Re: Obama. "Coolth?" Nice; your coining?

On Bass fam cars through the years, today the odometer on my '97 Camry passed 175,000. I really have no idea which car would come in second--Ari's old Pontiac??--; the Camry's in the mileage lead by.....a mile.

Re: that Maxima. As I recall, we got the '85 Maxima during my awkward-inbetween period -- between driver's permit and license. Like Benny I *really* loved that car. Ben mentioned its gruesome death on the Edens. My lasting memory of the '85 Maxima was as the site of Ben's and my last physical altercation. As I recall it was after vending a Bear game, we were hating each other over something trivial, and I was at the wheel. The fight broke out with the car moving, but not yet out of the dirt lot in which we'd parked. I hurriedly threw it into Park as Ben & I whaled upon each other as only two skinny brothers strapped in seat belts could do. The upshot was one of us kicking blindly [it was him -ed.] and snapping off the plastic wiper interval doohickey. I remember it costing us $100 apiece, after which we never laid a finger on each other.

BB blogs pretty good, but I can still kick his ass.


Ben said...

Responding seriatim:

Coolth is a real word that I didn't coin, but I do like to use on the rare occasion I'm not sneering at something.

You are Exhibit A, or should I say Exhibit KNJFFSE, for why Camrys or Accords so retain their value as used cars. Many people consider a Camry with 100,000 miles the equivalent of a new car because it likely has another dependable 200K in it.

Cf. my horrible 1999 Cadillac Catera, which had 32K miles when I bought it in Aug 2001 and 55K when I traded it in last week. During the merely 23K I put on it in eight years because I am a little old lady who only drives to church once a week, I probably had ten dead batteries and twenty flat or low tires. Also the aftermarket wheel locks that wouldn't come off. And the electric problems. And the neighborhood mechanic whose kids' orthodontia I paid for several times over. Shame on me for not getting rid sooner. Quel disastre!

I should have bought a Camry or an Accord instead. Actually, I almost did. About fifty Camrys came down the pike during the dealer auction where I bought it, but they were from a rental fleet and didn't have all three ingredients I was looking for: (a) sunroof, (b) CD player, and (c) leather seats. Along came the Catera, unbeknownst to me the least successful Cadillac in history for a reason, and since it did have all three I foolishly snapped it up and the nightmare began.

Speaking of shouldas, I should have had the Maxima looked at when it was acting funny in the week or two prior to its grisly death. The engine was hiccuping occasionally and the RPM-meter (tachometer?) was jumping. There was something odd under the hood and I hadn't yet had it checked out when it turned into a roadside barbecue. Shame on me for my laxity. It was the best car ever and I hated to see it go.

You referred to our ineffectual (at least against each other) in-car brawl as our last physical altercation. "Last" only in the sense of "most recent." Beware!

Reminds me of The Simpsons Movie, where a disconsolate Bart says, "This is the worst day of my life," to which Homer helpfully responds, "The worst day of your life so far!"

p.s. I don't think I ever told you (other than through the blog, I guess) that I got a new car. Promise not to kick the steering column and I'll take you for a ride.

dreegle g said...

Whatever happened to the big green car, the "green and brown Olds number" mentioned above? Certain meegy men may have a nostalgic attachment to it, and may want to know what its ultimate fate was.

p.s. Hi Mick!

Ben said...

My last memory of the 1976 Olds wagon, aka the "Green Machine," is that the driver's door had some problem and we had to go to some auto wrecking yard to get a replacement. The new door was not green but brown, which was too bad since the car was so pretty before that. In hindsight I can't believe we did that, or for that matter found what we needed in a glorified junkyard.

Unlike the Maxima that died a tragic death (and also our Mazda 929S, a weak car that looked nice but earned little respect, and also died violently), I don't have a strong memory of how the green car disappeared from our lives. Like Douglas Macarthur said, old soldiers never die, they just fade away.

Mick Jammer said...

Is that Jason H. greeting me above? I certainly hope so....of course there's always the possibility it's Dougie Dan Griebel Glanz? Hmm...

In re: the Green Machine, which Ma Bass also called the Green Bomber. I can add some details, but it's really Bass Bro #3 who knows the car's ultimate fate, I believe. If I remember correctly, I drove the car to Victory Auto Wreckers (over by O'Hare...Bensenville maybe?), likely with Todd Haddon, to try to address the problem of the driver's door that wouldn't open. They removed the green '76 door and replaced it with a brown one from '77. It was hilarious -- the other three doors had manual windows & locks, and the driver's door had power both. Working, too! Cost me 60 bucks for the door, I remember that (and now, thinking back on it, they most likely left the green one on, sold us the brown, and Todd or some body shop did the work on it back in Glenc). So we limped along for a while with that, and come 1991, Ari got to drive it as well once he turned 16. Ari's advisor at NT was the Automotives instructor, and I'm thinking they worked out a deal where Ari would drive the car into Automotives each day--rock star parking--and let them work on it?? I dunno, something like that, or maybe we just wound up donating the (mostly) Green Machine to NT. I think it's high time Ari weighed in on this pressing matter....


BG said...

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"
Count me on the bandwagon for this hilarious comedy.
Danny DeVito, who knew he was so good?

khaptain said...

Green Machine was donated to NT before I got my license so I never drove it. It was used as a demo car in their shop (demonstration, not demolition). I saw it there during advisory for several months of Sophomore year but never actually worked on it since I didn't take Automotives until Junior and Senior years. It had already been shipped off to the boneyard by then.