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Posts Tagged ‘Cars’

Futurism on Wheels, and Other News

July 1, 2014 | by

soviet concept car

The Torpedo-GAZ, from 1951—a Soviet concept car with a tubular duraluminum skeleton. Via io9.

  • The nineteenth century “had its own explosion of media … Much as with today’s web, people complained there was too much to read … The solution to overload? For tens of thousands of Americans, it was the scrapbook.”
  • Authors turn to pseudonyms for a number of reasons—some strange, some prosaic, some almost metaphysical. In Sarah Hall’s case, the problem was another Sarah Hall: “I could never be published as me. Someone had got there first … my agent reminded me, gently: ‘I really don’t think you can be Sarah Hall.’”
  • An interview with Jeff Sharlet, whose new book looks at religion in America: “In nine out of ten cases ‘spirituality’ is a con—not a con by the person invoking it, but a con on that person. It offers the illusion of individual choice, as if our beliefs, or our rejection of belief, could be formed in some pure Ayn Randian void … We’re caught up in a great, complicated web of belief and ritual and custom. That’s what I’m interested in, not the delusion that I’m some kind of island.”
  • “It felt like the water was rising and lapping just under my nose … I really began to wonder whether my career was over.” Classical musicians contend with stage fright.
  • Soviet concept cars from the fifties and sixties show what might have been, had futurism held its grip on the national imagination—these sleek, modular vehicles are a striking counterpoint to the American cars of the era.

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Chevrolet Caprice

April 21, 2014 | by

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A 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

On a Tuesday in late August, on my way to the ferry landing at Thirty-Fourth Street, I saw a huge, white, rusted-out Chevy Caprice make an illegal turn off FDR Drive, nearly skidding onto just two wheels. The Caprice barreled up Thirty-Fourth Street. When it blew by me I got a quick look at its occupants: three old ladies, all elaborately coiffed: the driver, another riding shotgun, and the third leaning forward in the backseat to better converse with the other two. I imagined they had just come from a group outing to the beauty parlor. Each of them probably had a rain bonnet tucked away in their purses, in case it rained later. The driver was wearing Gloria Vanderbilt–style sunglasses and a smashing shade of coral lipstick that was probably really popular in the seventies. I was quite taken with her. When I’m an old lady I want to drive around with my girl gang in a huge rusted-out white Caprice Classic and piss off cab drivers everywhere, I thought.

The image of the three ladies stayed with me well into the next day, which was also, randomly, Tori Amos’s fiftieth birthday. In observation, a pop-culture site compiled and ranked her 100 best songs. I dumped the top fifteen or so into a playlist and listened to it for most of the day. I felt sad but not depressed, an odd combination for me. One of the reasons I don’t listen to Tori anymore is that I am old. The other is that listening to Tori Amos reminds me of Tracy, my best friend from high school. Emma Straub wrote a piece for the Daily a few years ago called “My Rayannes,” which, in reference to Rayanne Graff from the nineties TV drama My So-Called Life, posits that all teenage girls are half lesbian. Less outrageously, it outlines an adolescent phenomenon in which one seeks a darker, more daring, more risk-taking counterpart—an accomplice in DIY piercings, home dye jobs, and, in Straub’s words, “tempestuous, obsessive friendship.” Read More »

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Ice-T Reads a Fantasy Novel, and Other News

February 7, 2014 | by

dungeons and dragons

Photo: Ian Lamont, via Flickr

 

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Too Good to Succeed

July 23, 2013 | by

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Very often you have to be a lone nut to come up with a really original idea.… People are very insular … even [in] a great city like New York … people are like fish swimming around in aquariums and all they know is the water in the aquarium.
—Francis Ford Coppola

In the summer of 1938, when the first issue of Action Comics introduced the world to Superman, its cover featured the Man of Steel lifting a steel-framed Chrysler Airflow, “the first sincere and authentic streamlined car,”1 above his head. It was the 1937 model, down to its rounded, beetle-brow hood and tapered rear, its grooved speed lines and triangular back “opera” window, its whitewall tires and condensed, newly horizontal grille. The following year, when Universal Pictures decided to make a film version of the popular radio serial The Green Hornet, the screenplay called for the hero to drive a car with “ultramodern lines,” something that looked fast. (“That thing travels faster than the bullets I send after it,” notes a patrol officer during a chase scene.) But by then, the Airflow—a vehicle vastly superior in speed, safety, and comfort to anything on America’s roads—had been so maligned in the public’s imagination, thanks in part to a competitor’s expensive smear campaign, that, decades later, it would still be spoken of as the greatest failure in automotive history. Instead, Universal chose a 1937 Ford Lincoln Zephyr. The name was meant to evoke the Burlington Zephyr, a 1934 streamlined train (featured in the 1935 film The Silver Streak). When The Green Hornet returned as a TV series in 1966, the Black Beauty returned as a Chrysler Imperial, modified to fire rockets as the 200-mph Black Beauty, the Green Hornet’s signature transport, its speedster “look” augmented with stylized lightning bolts painted on the fender skirts and a “Flight of the Bumblebee” soundtrack.

Chrysler’s 1929 coupe had been inspired, claimed company ad men, by “the canons of ancient classic art … authentic forms of beauty which have come down the centuries unsurpassed and unchallenged,” its radiator with cowl molding suggested the repetition motif in a Parthenon frieze, its front elevation replicated the Egyptian lotus leaf pattern. “This patient pursuit of beauty will doubtless prove a revelation to those who have probably accepted Chrysler symmetry and charm as fortunate but more or less accidental.” The following year, the new models were said to be “as distinctive and charming” as the Parisian couture of Paquin and Worth. But the focus soon shifted from ancient history and European aesthetics to what was taking shape in the New World’s own backyard. Walter P. Chrysler was a self-made man who understood the importance of tenacity and vision. In 1905, he had borrowed a considerable amount of money to buy a car that caught his eye for the sole purpose of dismantling it to see how it worked. A few years later, he was General Motors’s first vice president, and not long after that, he quit to start a rival company that was now riding high. In 1933, despite a debilitating economy—wages nationwide had dropped sixty percent, more than twelve million Americans were unemployed, and business as a whole was running at a net loss exceeding five billion dollars—Chrysler turned a considerable profit, the only company to produce more cars that year than it had in its Parthenon-Egyptian Lotus phase, just prior to the crash. Read More »

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Car Trouble, Part 2

March 28, 2013 | by

Blacksheep1Read part 1 here.

I owned a car that I couldn’t drive.

After the “Possession at Devil’s Bridge,” as we’d started calling it, Phil had parked the Mini alongside my cottage before roaring back to campus in her reliable yellow Renault. The following morning I went out and stood beside it, wondering what to do next. Any car’s speedometer cable could snap, but not just any car’s cable would have so profound a sense of timing as to do it at midnight, atop Devil’s Bridge, on its first outing with a new owner.

Appropriately enough, the Mini and I were in Wales: home of Arthur and Merlin, breeding ground of the fabulous. In one of the old Welsh wondertales, black sheep that cross a magical river turn white, and white sheep turn black. The Mini’s color remained mushroom grey, but something similar, if more subtle, had happened as it crossed the Mynach. On the far side of the river the Mini had been cheap, utilitarian transportation; on my side, it had already become a character in a story. In Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald says we all have a heroic period in our lives. The Mini came into mine just as one of these phases was beginning (I don’t see why we can’t have more than one), and promptly took its place in the pantheon of memory.

My next-door neighbor appeared and found me stroking my fingers through beads of dew on its roof. Read More »

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Car Trouble, Part 1

March 27, 2013 | by

gimli

I had a car in Wales.

 I know what you’ll say. Really? A car? That’s amazing!

 Don’t be snide. You’ve had cars too, I realize that. But when I lived in Wales as a graduate student, in the early 1980s, a creature came into my life for which the term “car” is unsatisfactory. Calling Gimli a car would be like calling your mother a mammal. Which is true, but in most cases insufficient.

On the outside, Gimli was the color of a week-old mushroom. His interior was bright red. He was a 1967 Morris Mini, and his relation to the Mini Coopers of today—those flashy, sturdy, burly bugs that tool confidently across our highways—is semantic at best. The ancestral Minis of the 1960s and seventies looked like starved versions of today’s cars. They were smaller, skinnier, frailer in every way; if they’d had lungs they would’ve been consumptive. I’m not tall, but I could look down on Gimli’s roof. Driving him on the motorway, my line of vision corresponded to the top of a tractor-trailer’s tires.

Even within the breed, Gimli was the runt of an automotive litter. He was rickety with rust. Every now and then he’d sputter, and I’d have to get out, crawl underneath, and bang his petrol pump with my shoe. The driver’s door didn’t close properly, which meant that in rain he took on water. And it rains a lot in Wales. Going uphill, backseat passengers’ feet got wet; going down, the tide shifted to the front. And yet Gimli and I undertook trips that other Mini owners never dared dream of, let alone embark upon (this may have been a function of my foolhardiness and naïveté, but it reflected well on Gimli). He served many; he flew like a wayward wind along the ringletted roads of West Wales. Read More »

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