Baggy Paragraphs

Posts Tagged ‘cars

A turn for the worst shook a driver and an Omaha neighborhood in 1965

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Big Event 1965

One day in 1965 a woman who had never driven a car received her first lesson. The driver was the grandmother my St. Pius X schoolmate; the instructor was his aunt. Rounding our corner at 9705 Grant Street, in Omaha, the novice driver kept on turning. The 1963 Oldsmobile F-85 shot through the mouth of our driveway, ran over the maple sapling—which sprang upright again like an acrobat—and crashed into the house next door. The inhabitants, Red and Marty Thibault, and their three daughters, Julie, Cathy, and Holly, heard a loud bang and registered the impact.

No one was injured. The milk box wasn’t knocked off the side porch. (How advanced, those Thibaults, with their window air conditioner!) Still, what an event. Neighbors came over to enjoy the moment, leaning against our garage door, reflecting, with the shaken driver, that no one had been undone, thank God.

Between the houses, the view is of curving Seward Street in the middle distance. And a cornfield: we Omahans claimed wild farmland for suburbia.

Bud Aitkenhead drove Walter's stock car to victory at a local track. Photo by Irv Conron, track photographer.

Bud Aitkenhead drove Walter’s stock car to victory at a local track. Photo by Irv Conron.

The weird fleet of cars in the Ahrens family’s driveway must be remarked. My parents, Walter and Mary, had bought the 1959 Volvo 544 new. When it was two or three years old, it suffered a carburetor fire. The multiple carbs needed regular synching and may have been neglected. The blaze, a Sunday morning occurrence while en route to Mass, scorched the paint off the hood. The scorch mark ever remained, a sign of Walter’s growing disenchantment  I can’t explain why the tire leans against the humpbacked 544.

Sometime around then we acquired an old panel van, which would sit in the driveway’s other lane. Wally’s Conoco, 49th & L was emblazoned on the sides. People often asked if Walter’s nickname was Wally. He bought the van for about $75 to tow his stock car, which was stationed behind the garage door on the Volvo’s side, to the local tracks. Red Thibault became mighty provoked when Walter tuned up the unmuffled V-8 engine. Walter’s attitude was that he would do and say whatever he wanted, and if Red Thibault or anybody else didn’t like it, that was his problem.

My brother Dan’s toy road grader is in the driveway. And of course the Nash Metropolitan. We were a family of automotive freaks! My mother once took, as I remember, some of us and some neighbor kids, eight in all, to a movie: everybody piled in. It was before I’d ever heard of the Guinness Book of World Records, but we may have qualified.

beef-stateNebraska’s license plate slogan in 1965 was The Beef State. We made beef, and by God we were proud of it. When it was later decided to sex up Nebraska’s image, the new slogan was The Cornhusker State.

My story has a mixed ending. The sapling maple tree survived the incident, although always bearing a scar where a strip of bark was sundered.

And the Beef State slogan is back, bigger and bolder than ever.

But my schoolmate’s grandmother, unnerved by the accident, never got her license.

Written by baggyparagraphs

May 18, 2015 at 4:00 am

When Volkswagen Beetles and other cars were the color of bathroom tile

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We took it for granted back then. Cars were the colors of bathroom tile.

Yes, in 1962 for example–and this car, seen recently, ago could be a ’62 although I’m not certain–Volkswagen Beetles were offered in black, white, and red.

But they were also turquoise green, Pacific blue, Gulf blue, and–ye gods!–Beryl green.

The phenomenon of bathroom-tile cars was not specifically a VW thing. Especially during the 1950s, plenty of American iron wore these colors: Hudson, Nash, all of the Chrysler lines, Buick, Cadillac, Ford, Chevrolet.

Pinning down the trend’s origin is a challenge I want to take up.

The minty freshness expressed something specific. Postwar optimism, I always say.


By the early ’60s, people hadn’t exactly sobered up, but the trend shifted, a refreshing naturalism took over. My mind’s eye sees a gold Oldsmobile; a color chart for 1962 shows about half of the paint colors ending with “mist.” Sahara Mist. And there was Sand Beige.

When I was eighteen, I bought a ’53 Chevy, paying $100. The car was twenty years old, the engine exhausted, the turquoise body and white roof faded and chipped. Feeling certain the world would be able to get along with one less green Chevy, I painted the body red. With a brush.


A look at today’s VW Beetle color palette shows the progression of taste. Moonrock silver metallic proves that the trips to the moon did in fact produce more than rocks, they produced a paint color. Think of the advances in automotive fashion if we ever get to Mars!

The 2015 Beetle is offered in eight colors: two silvers, a gray, black, white, red, Denim Blue, and for nutty people, yellow.

May the divorce between cars and bathrooms be a lasting one.

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April 6, 2015 at 4:00 am

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Tripping over basil instead of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme

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In most cases, I should use the word “itinerant” in place of “peripatetic.” Ms. Burstein, one of the funniest and dearest people I know (she will probably chew me out for mentioning her name; don’t even think about trying to take a candid photo of her), described a bruising antic episode from her travels, when her suitcase got stuck in a turnstile in the New York subway and she tried to dislodge it with her hip and the subway police laughed when she finally climbed over. From New York, she went to another part of the country. By airplane, I suppose. I was going to label her peripatetic but looked it up in the dictionary before concluding, “Bruising itinerancy.” Then I realized her name is right there in those two words. Fine-leaf

How much water do I give the Outback plant fine-leaf Myoporum, which I’m hoping to establish in my garden? On back, the tag says “semi-moist.” That’s like semi-drunk or semi-pregnant.

If the Flatiron Building had received more I.T. support, it would have been the Flirtation Building.

First Janice, who has similar tastes to mine in music, had recommended I listen to the Stranglers, so on the day after Christmas I downloaded their greatest hits and enjoyed the album. Now she has turned me on to Gang of Four. I have created a Gang of Four channel on my iHeartRadio app. Last evening while I was baking a cake and making dinner, the GoF channel opened up with two songs by its namesake band; then the algorithm gave me Bauhaus’s long “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”; and the Buzzcocks(!); Wire; Devo’s “Girl U Want”; Gang of Four again, doing “Natural’s Not In It”; Joy Division, Robyn Hitchcock, Public Image, The Fall, and the Minutemen. My ex-girlfriend knew Minuteman D. Boon, who had a show on her pirate radio station. As I’ve told Janice, I was in some kind of void during those years; I’d heard of the bands but in some cases (Minutemen, GoF, Buzzcocks) never listened to them. Frosting, decades later!

Burke High classmate Susie J. reported on Facebook that she had tripped over a pot of basil on her patio, falling and bruising her shin. Basil. Wrath. Bone. It would have gone easier had she tripped over parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

I’ve downloaded the Groovy Reflections radio app and am eager to start listening to Gerry Wendel’s show. Gerry’s entrepreneurial spirt inspires me.

The Volkswagen Golf and Jetta busted my balls this morning. I am trying to finish up my Car Guide entries for JeanKnowsCars. Jean and Laura assigned 52 of them. Just among those two VWs, there are so many models: gasoline and diesel, normally aspirated and turbocharged, hybrid, battery-electric, two-door and four-door, sedan and wagon. I should be able make sense of the press releases and blend together all the info, and do the data panel and copy quickly. But not with my short attention span. I had to take a break to do some blogging. The Passat, Tiguan, and Touareg await, and VW will be all finished. Well, not as a brand, but as a writing assignment. Then I have the Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and (one) Lotus. I hope to finish by Sunday.

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April 3, 2015 at 11:02 am

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Edward Herrmann provided a cerebral, classy quality to Dodge ads

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Edward Herrmann

I find myself being asked about Edward Herrmann, who died on Dec. 31. Besides his extensive acting credits, people forget that Edward was spokesman for Dodge in the 1990s–the long-running, successful campaign with the tagline “The New Dodge. We’ve changed everything.”

Fifteen years ago this month, when I was a copywriter for Dodge’s marketing communications agency, I went to Salisbury, Connecticut, with my art director partner Lori Soenen to interview Edward and get a portrait for our planned cover story for the Dodge owners’ magazine, which I edited.

Edward 03Edward and his wife Star had just returned home on a red-eye flight after the six-week run of a play Edward did at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

His mother was ill. There was record cold.

Yet they gave us two full days of their time, opened their home to our crew, provided a catered breakfast and lunch, took Lori and me to dinner at the White Hart and insisted on paying the tab. (I remember him striding, refreshed, into the kitchen on the second morning and declaring to all of us, “I’ve got my libido back!”)

Edward told me the Dodge part was “big” for them, and probably as the result he had been able to build what he called “a man’s garage” for his collectible cars: an Aston Martin, a Packard, Rolls-Royce…I think there were five. He posed before it, standing outside in the snow, no matter that it was 10 degrees. Whatever we asked of him. And always he kept up a good-natured patter.

Among his many points of erudition, the guy could recite automotive history up and down. He was very well acquainted throughout the car hobby. In fact, for some years, he emceed the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Edward at Pebble Beach. Photo from AutoWeek, Sep. 4, 2000.

Edward at Pebble Beach. Photo from AutoWeek, Sep. 4, 2000.

I’m most privileged to have known him. I saw him again in 2011, at David E.’s memorial service, and had the chance to gain absolution for something terrible that happened.

After all the trouble he and Star had gone to for us, for the agency, the client killed our story, and the matter was handled disgracefully. As it turned out, our timing for the cover story couldn’t have been worse. What we didn’t know was that Dodge was finished with Edward as spokesman. Classy and cerebral was out.

The New Dodge campaign was succeeded by Aerosmith and the ridiculous, short-lived Mayor of Truckville.

Edward said he never held it against me–a good thing to know.

Written by baggyparagraphs

January 4, 2015 at 7:59 am

People from 99 countries visited Baggy Paragraphs in 2014

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,300 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by baggyparagraphs

January 1, 2015 at 4:00 am

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Lamborghini and Harley-Davidson rank among my top automobiles and motorcycles of 2014

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As a freelance contributor to Automobile, Robb Report, BBC Autos, and, I jumped in and out, and on an off, a lot of automobiles and motorcycles in 2014.

Here are some favorites:


Lamborghini Huracán

Where: Marbella and the Ascari racing circuit, Spain; Gingerman Raceway, Michigan

When: May, October

Summary: Breathtakingly good looking, comfortable to sit in (once you collapse butt-first over the sill), great interior layout with trim that can be as tasteful or garish as you please. The car drives like a peach around town but unleashes real fury on the track.

Better than: Skydiving, a threesome in Vegas, and maybe any other Lamborghini

IMG_4083Ducati Monster 1200 S

Where: Palms to Pines Highway (twice)

When: April

Summary: The established motorcycle press seems to think the new Monster 1200 S is too big and unwieldy, but Ducati says owners had asked for more room for a passenger. Those overindulged journalistic geniuses are splitting hairs awfully thin. This bike fascinated me. There is so little chassis, for one thing. (Someone labeled the overall design “cyborg insect.”) And the 1.2-liter V-twin has immense soul.

What Molly says: “It doesn’t smell as good as a those biscuits you get me at Trader Joe’s, but I still wish I could go for a ride.”

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S IMG_5119

Where: Borrego Springs, California

When: September

Summary: The last variant of a great design. Its age admittedly shows. For example, the oval headlamp openings. Yet it’s bewitching. It makes me drool. And the very idea of such a short wheelbase and a 6.0-liter V-12 is purely outrageous. When you’re happy and you know it, close the top.

Better than: Kim Kardashian’s assets, six Mustang convertibles together

IMG_1278Honda VFR1200F DCT

Where: Isle of Man

When: June

Summary: Honda U.K. let me borrow it for a little tour of the Isle of Man and a trip over the Mountain Course. I returned it with almost no gas in the tank. Sorry, Honda, but thanks for the great time on a bike with a brilliant V-four powerplant and a dual-clutch automatic transmission that was always in the right gear.

Better than: Italian beer being on tap in public houses, the Isle’s “financial services” industry, perhaps most other motorcycles in the class

Toyota Camry IMG_4988

Where: Big Island, Hawaii

When: September

Summary: Toyota put a big effort into revising its popular midsize sedan. The new face has attitude. There are additional features inside. Nothing changes under the hood. Still, it’s such a value, and I enjoyed driving the XSE way more than expected. It’s about as good as a front-wheel-drive car can be.

Better than: Madeleine Albright twerking, whatever they post on Jalopnik

IMG_5751Chevrolet Trax

Where: San Bernardino, California

When: December

Summary: A most pleasant surprise. The turbocharged 1.4-liter engine performs great in all situations. And the cabin is quiet!

Better than: Sitting down low and being unable to see ahead

imgYamaha FZ-09

Where: North Palm Springs, California

When: December

Summary: The 847cc three-cylinder engine kicks ass. And the bike’s price of $8190 is hardly believable. Yamaha’s pushing the right buttons.

Better than: Either Yamaha I bought new.

IMG_3840Volkswagen e-Golf 

Where: Berlin

When: March

Summary: Multi-mode electric driving without the geek factor of a Leaf or Prius. And built on the same line and in sequence with other Golf models, it’s a manufacturing triumph, as well.

Better than: a-b-c-d Golfs

IMG_5292Harley-Davidson Project LiveWire

Where: Downtown Los Angeles

When: October

Summary: Think they’re sitting on some engineering talent at the Motor Company? Project LiveWire presents us with a highly refined electric motorcycle. Hey, this is only a prototype. Not only is the electric powertrain well integrated, but the design is nicely conceived (although the rearview mirrors weren’t too effective).

What I found myself saying when leaning slightly forward streetfighter-style over the straight bars and riding away from the L.A. Convention Center: “This is a Harley?”

Better than: Being locked inside a limo with Miley Cyrus

IMG_4949Mini Cooper Hardtop 4 Door

Where: Henley-on-Thames, England

When: September

Summary: What Jeep did with a four-door Wrangler, Mini Cooper is doing with its new 4 Door. It makes perfect sense to offer rear doors—a first for Mini—and add functionality for those who want to nevertheless express their individuality. It still drives great. And I like the way looks. Nice job, Mini!

Better than: A lot of Maxi cars

Indian Chief Vintage IMG_3913

Where: Long Beach, California

When: March

Summary: It almost makes me a believer in 800-pound motorcycles. The bike is stable in a crosswind, and the ride over choppy pavement is equanimous. Coming home from Long Beach at night, I had the sense that other vehicles were aware of my presence because of the bike’s size and ample lighting. It cruised ever-so-relaxed at 80 mph and 3000 rpm. All the custom flourishes charmed me, even when I was just seeing it in my garage.

Better than: Motorcycles without whitewall tires

IMG_5238BMW i8

Where: South Haven, Michigan

When: October

Summary: A turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine teaming with an electric motor to power a supersports ultraluxury car with swan-wing doors is just what the world needed, and BMW gives it to us–a rare, fine thing for $136,650.

Better than: Every car that lacks a sound symposer

Ducati Scrambler _8150121

Where: Palms to Pines Highway

When: December

Summary: As the Monster increases in size, capability, and price, Ducati seeks a new generation of buyers with the Scrambler. The Scrambler Icon, seen here, is $8495. Another $1500 gives the choice among Classic, Full Throttle, and Urban Enduro models. The gas tank’s accent panel can be individualized (red and green checks, anyone?) and a panoply of saddlebags and apparel make this bike a means of personal expression.

Better than: A whole album of fuzzed out guitar riffs, a maxi scooter, your next tattoo

IMG_2393Chevrolet Silverado

Where: In my driveway now

Why: To haul bags of mortar mix, a load of fill sand, and maybe a motorcycle

Summary:  This is the fourth General Motors pickup I’ve driven this year. Whether GMC or Chevy, heavy- or light duty, they’re so useful (and more efficient than you might think). Even though they’re a handful in the supermarket’s parking lot (backup cams are definitely a help, though) I desperately want one. What’s cool about the Silverado: LED lamp for the cargo box, integrated bumper step, EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate that drops gradually.

Better than: Listening to a hoarse whisperer, a weekend in Woonsocket, a midsize pickup


What I’m eager to get my hands on in 2015:

Mazda CX-3

Yamaha FJ-09

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S

Mazda Miata

Audi A9?


Early contender for 2015 Automobile of the Year:












Written by baggyparagraphs

December 31, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Breakfast with all the trimmings, including pet peeves and a hog’s squeal

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South Haven, Mich.—At breakfast this morning in Captain Nemo’s restaurant, I overheard the talk of two men, one of whom had already distinguished himself by saying, “You can use every bit of a hog but the squeal.” In fact, he did most of the talking. But late in the session, the other one listed his pet peeves:

  1. Socks with open-toe sandals
  2. Low-powered motor scooters on the highway
  3. Motorcycles towing trailers (“If you need that much shit, get a convertible.”)

Then he told of the ultimate. He had seen a low-powered motor scooter going 30 mph on the highway, towing a trailer, and the rider wore sandals and socks.

The every-bit-of-the-hog-but-the-squeal man said, “Did you hit him?”

No reply.

Maybe time to check some cold case files?

Written by baggyparagraphs

October 7, 2014 at 7:31 am


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