Tag Archives: cars

“My Mercedes Is Not For Sale”

A quick summary: a memoir wherein the author, Jeroen Van Bergeijk, drives a Mercedes into West Africa to have a bit of an adventure as well as to turn a profit selling it to an African car dealer, or deserving cabbie, or whoever ends up actually producing the cash in the end.

It may be that in translation, pulled off by one John Antonides, the tight, clever character of the writing was utterly lost. But whatever the reason, a chant of the writer’s commandment to SHOW DON’T TELL grew in volume in my head as I progressed through the book.

Also, I think there is some kind of guideline about not treating your reader like a blockhead. If every time I read an analogy, and three sentences later the only thing I can think is, “DUDE! I get it…” then something needed to be edited, methinks. Let me soften this by saying, I was never actually insulted by the overexplaining; it is not pompous, just annoying.

That said, where else are you going to be able to read about an automobile trek across the Sahara? I’m sure there are other places, but there are enough things in the plus column to warrant joining Van Bergeijk’s trek:

1. It’s a pretty quick read, assuming you don’t have little kids interrupting you for food every couple of minutes.

2. The narrator is successfully presented as somebody you’d actually want to hang out with (even if he is a bit circuitously long winded).

3. He pulls in a lot of references to other relevant texts and some historical facts to illustrate the events and his observations, so you feel like you’re exploring the continent from several angles.

4. It takes a fairly balanced look at Africa – I’ve been studying the continent’s history and art for a few years, so I’m attuned to some of the common pitfalls as far as assumptions and prejudices go. The narrator manages to present his feelings (which tend toward compassion) but makes sure to include enough alternate testimony that you feel you’re getting a sufficiently broad crosscut of various points of view.

In conclusion: it’s worth a go, if the African continent holds any fascination for you.

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Altered States

Sometimes I feel the need to make sense of our society’s drug policy.  For a brief moment in the ’60s (or so I’ve heard, having not made my entrance into this world until 1970) there was a subculture of people experimenting with altered states of consciousness, often induced chemically.  But besides that, we have all kinds of factions fighting against each other, none of them going anywhere except to hell in a handbasket: the “cool” drug counterculture, the illegal drug making/selling economy, the drug war economy, the poor souls fighting addiction, the puritan idealism that inevitably adopts a hypocritical position of condemning some chemicals utterly while accepting others without question, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, etc.

Okay, well, the legalized industries are doing fine.  But we often excuse their products as harmless, though in the last few decades we have been leaning the other way with alcohol and tobacco.

But we still allow people, including children, to walk around souped up on caffeine and sugar and few of us recognize these effects as altered states.  (I don’t know about you, but the most positive and productive I am all day is the hour or so when I’m flying on my morning caffeine fix.) We are only  just beginning to see them as powerful.  And our inevitable response seems to be to condemn them.

Are we capable of a more intelligent handling of the issue?

No matter where we stand on whatever drug issue, legal or otherwise, we all seem to be operating under the same common assumption: altered states are secretly fun, to some degree dangerous and always carry at least a small stigma of shamefulness.   Even with coffee, aren’t we addicts all at least a little sheepish when admitting our fixation?  Sobriety is held as the ultimate righteous state.

But might altered consciousness be something humans need?  Is it ever beneficial?  We might admire a Native American peyote ceremony for the soul searching and mystical insight it provides, but none of us is allowed to do it.  How would someone’s reputation change in your eyes if you found out they’d done acid?  

We allow, “I was just experimenting in college” and “I didn’t inhale.”  We’ve gotten to where we allow people to be reformed users, like George W., for example.

But for someone to be a respected member of mainstream society who proves their worth on a daily basis and is also a known pot smoker?  Nope.

We all have understandable fears based on anecdotal evidence of some type of chemical destroying someone we know and/or love.  We may even decide to buck the present trend and be against alcohol consumption.  But cars and motorcycles maim and kill lots of people, and isn’t that an altered state for a lot of people?  The power, speed, independence, road rage, status symbol possession… Most of the time we drive in a fairly sober, utilitarian manner, but who among us doesn’t ever floor it or take that corner just a little faster than necessary?  We definitely are not in our natural state, feet on the ground, head surrounded by sky.  Our heavy metal boxes put us in a certain frame of mind.

But we would never dream of outlawing them.

Our tv watching puts us in an altered state, a passive, drooling spectatorship.  How are the hours wasted and life energy atrophied away any different in front of the tube than passed out with painkillers?

Okay.  Granted they are different.  I’m just being dramatic in an attempt to make the point that we try to avoid sobriety in many different ways, some of them demonized as too dangerous and others labeled as simply “entertainment” or “transportation” or “java” some other moniker that makes them untouchable.

What would happen if we said, yes, we need to escape.  Yes, grownups are going to be allowed to choose their method of altering with no legislating and then they will be held responsible for any consequences of their choices.  The pluses and minuses of every method could be discussed freely.  We could openly admit that lots of things we do everyday, even something so innocuous as having a drama queen fit, are forays out of our “right minds.”  We could talk without shame about what we are looking for outside of our sobriety, about what we find there.

Or should we just continue to behave as though stone cold sobriety were the only way to be, ever.  That there is no time or place for getting out of your head or your day to day perspective, unless perhaps you choose Zen meditation, prayer, yogic breathing.  Newsflash — these things are seen as a little bit crazy, too.  Innocuously so, but nevertheless.

I hope this article did not induce any sort of altering in the reader’s awareness of reality as they’ve always assumed it to be — any effects of change in point of view, feelings of lightheadedness or hallucinations were purely unintentional.  Unless you go for that sort of thing.  In which case, you’re welcome. 

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Laziness is not civilized!

Okay people, por favor, don’t let’s get completely pathetic.

I was walking through the parking lot at Target yesterday and I saw a perfectly able-bodied woman who, having loaded her SUV with Christmas surplus, was standing there watching the hatch close itself!!!  

I am disgusted.  This is not an awesome use of technology, people!  This is an example of why we are a flabby, soft, lazy, weak population!

Okay, maybe I’m overreacting a little.  Maybe having to close the hatch of her SUV is the bane of her existence.  I know if I could get something that would make it so I never had to touch a dirty dish again as long as I lived, I would buy it in a heartbeat. 

And really, there are lots of contraptions helping us out.  I haven’t beat my clothes against a rock in the creek in quite some time.  But seriously.  When will it stop?  When will we take some pride in having strength, agility, endurance?

When will we see “automatic hatch closer” on the list of car features and say, “Honestly, no, see the flab hanging off my upper arms?  I think I’d better close the hatch myself, thanks.”

Considering the economic state of our country, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  I suspect it is the roll-up-your-sleeves, elbow grease kind of work that makes you sweat, and not something for which if one pushes the correct sequence of buttons one might remotely signal the economy to restart itself.

Let’s stop being proud of our new laze-crazy devices and start being proud of ourselves and each other for our genuine human abilities.

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Name that motor vehicle!

My husband and I have a tradition of naming our cars.

It officially began when I first met my husband, who at the time owned a white Ford Escort (I was a carless cyclist).  Though we hardly knew each other at the time, he loaned it to me while he was away for Thanksgiving (an omen of good things to come.)  I was given only two instructions: 1. Talk sweet to her.  2. She likes to be called “Abby.”

Growing up, my parents had a more offhanded approach.  My mother, when coaxing a temperamental vehicle, would always refer to it as “Nelly Bell” with plenty of affectionate encouragement, no matter if it were our rusty old pick up or our little Mazda GLC.

To my father, any vehicle that was acting up always earned a moniker that began, “Son of a…”

But my husband and I like to acknowledge each car’s individuality.  Maybe it’s our writers’ minds seeing character everywhere: the thrill of anthropomorphization (How often does one get to work that word into a post?).  When Abby gave up the ghost we bought another Escort, this time forest green and named “Bonnie.”  She’s been a good girl, taking us up and down the West Coast and across the continent to a new life in the South.  But since our fourth baby was born, Bonnie, who seats only five, bless her heart, just hasn’t been big enough.

Therefore, to visit my husband’s relatives last Thanksgiving (now I get to come too!) we had to rent a van.  An Uplander, it was a sweet ride and I got quite attached to it.  Within hours of pulling out of the rental agency we named him “Carl” and he made a ten hour roadtrip with four kids actually enjoyable.

Now we must get a grip, stop our small car idealism and purchase a van.  In case you hadn’t noticed the pattern, we’ve been naming in alphabetical order, so our next set of wheels must be D-something.

I pondered for days and finally came up with the perfect name: “Dixie.”  Friendly.  Sweet.  Acknowledges the Southern community we are now a part of.

And best of all, until we finally find her, we can appropriately sing… “Well I wish I was in Dixie!”

(No offense, Bonnie!)

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