19 December 2007

Route 301: Episode 1


= = = = = = = = =
The town: Allendale, South Carolina. One of many towns bisected by "Old 301", food and lodging meccas along a thriving "short cut to Florida." The passage of the Interstate Highway Act in 1956 spelled eventual downfall for most small burgs like Allendale which soon would become bypassed when the interstate highways were to be finished. Some towns had the fortune of being along the planned routing of these new highways. Alas, the same could not be said for motels and many restaurants in places like Allendale, Bamberg, Sylvania and Glennville. Their days were numbered.

Some towns were cut off as quickly as the late '50s, and began to wither on the vine into the 1960s. Fortunately for 301 (if more inconvenient for travelers who wanted to get to point-B quicker), the completion of I-95 through South Carolina and Georgia was late in coming. Allendale, et al, therefore had a lot more borrowed time, as the last link of 95 wasn't opened until 1978!

Shall we take a nice siesta?
If you were a truck driver, and used 301 as your route to points southward, I'm sure you found the "Interstate Truck Terminal" outside Allendale as an appealing place to have a bite to eat, maybe a refreshing shower, and a tank of Pure "Super Energee" Diesel for your 18-wheeler:
Above is the aptly-named Interstate truck stop, pictured in a 1963 Pure Oil directory. Nowadays, it doesn't look so good:
So, what killed this truck stop? What a profoundly sad irony, eh?

Just like up the road a piece in Santee, the town of Allendale is another "Radiator Springs" overflowing with decaying reminders of an earlier time. It used to have its own Holiday Inn. And the town was home to a certain orange-roofed roadside icon:
In 2006, here's how it looked:
Simple Simon and Pieman have both moved on.

* * * * * * * * *
Now, you might've been passing through Allendale around mealtime, and found yourself captivated by the really cool neon sign outside of this restaurant:
Approved by AAA and recommended by Duncan Hines back in those salad days, the Lobster House provided a good seafood experience as a prelude to what the traveler would find in even greater abundance in Florida.

And today?
The sign, though weatherbeaten, remains. And although it looked to be closed the day we passed through town, the Lobster House appears to still be in operation, if various online references are any indication (including one "motorcycle club" which meets here).
Note to self: find out for sure ... and if The Lobster House is still in business, it would make for a nice day trip and lunch one Saturday. If so, then it'll be worth the drive, because if the food isn't good, it wouldn't be supported by the only remaining clientele base: the LOCALS.

Greetings from the old highway. Having a great time, wish it all were still here.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Retro Wayfarer" Gleck

17 December 2007

1962 A.D., Paradise Restaurant

For the benefit of anyone who might have half a curiosity about the picture I'm currently using for the title graphic, it's the abandoned Paradise Restaurant ... located in south Screven County, Georgia at the intersection of Georgia 17 and U.S. 301. It's one of many, many such empty and decaying relics along what used to be a thriving East coast arterial. And Highway 301, dearfolk, was just as busy and robust as a certain over-commercialized Chicago-to-L.A. corridor we're all familiar with.

Well, here's the above picture (which I took in the Spring of 2006) "in the clear", as we in the radio bidness like to say:
The Paradise is located in a pecan grove (and that's pronounced "PEE-can"), adjacent to a motel which also shares this name. In its prime, both served as an oasis of sorts along 301 between the cities of Sylvania and Statesboro. Evidently, this was the second building to house this eatery. Plenty of old, linen postcards abound on the 'net which show the original structure. I'd been looking in vain for one that showed this building. Lo and behold, I finally found one:
It's postmarked 1962. Okay, so it still had the old sign. Don't you just love that orange and teal color scheme?? And those hanging light fixtures visible through the plate-glass windows.

Yeah, yeah, it's these times when I wish I was 52 instead of 42. To have been able to experience a lot more of real Americana first-hand.

Okay, here's the deal: if Seraphim and I win Powerball, we're gonna buy this place and return it to her beautiful original space-age grandeur. That neon sign out front, by gollydurn, is gonna have every last tube restored, and it will again flash a siren call along US-301's roadside.

All this time, I've been bitching and moaning about the lack of a good artery-constrictin' Friday night fried seafood buffet around here. Well, I'd make one happen.

There might not be as many Florida-bound tourists along this two-lane blacktop, however we'll bring 'em in from Statesboro, Millen, Sylvania, Newington, Springfield, Waynesboro .... if you build it, they will come. I have to know I'm not the only one craving a good Friday night seafood spread.

The Paradise will come back to life. And it will become highly-renowned for its cakes, pastries and other baked goods. I happen to know somebody who tinkers a little with cake-makin' on the side. I share a bed with her.

And, in the event Nettiemac wants to join us, we'll offer The Paradise Tiki Room in the back.

It doesn't hurt to dream. It really doesn't.

"And so, my friends, we'll say goodnight,
for time has claimed his prize,
but tonight can always last,
as long as we keep alive,
the mem'ries of Paradise"
--Dennis DeYoung, Styx

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Recommended by Duncan Hines" Gleck

14 November 2007

Nightmare in Studio 54

And then there was Ford tape #5. It's an RCA sampler, dated 1980, apparently before Big Corporate Interests acknowledged that, yes, contemporary music was here to stay and wouldn't be going away any time soon.

WARNING: I highly recommend giving any recently-eaten meal ample time for digestion before reading any further. I'm not responsible for any gastric discomfort on a full stomach.

This is so off-the-chart horrible that it should be repackaged by RHINO for a cousin to its Golden Throats anthologies.


PROGRAM ONE: (man, talk about retro!)
NARRATION -- INTRODUCTION (this will be going to MP3 shortly and distributed to the "inner circle" via standard e-mail)


In 1977, Dolly had two of the biggest hits on the country chart.

Read that again. Slowly.

Ahem, no chart action here ... just spare change filler from her 1978 Heartbreaker LP.

ELEANOR RIGBY / Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops Orchestra

It was not about the music. It was about the models on the album covers, and nothing else. Any conductor who would wear a "U.S. Olympic Drinking Team" sweatshirt on an album cover should be expected to do the unexpected. He victimized every artist out there, and even The Beatles had to take their lumps, too.

GREASE / Living Disco
This was the first I'd ever heard of Living Disco. RCA gave us the sound that killed a million cats when they unveiled The Living Strings ... there was also The Living Guitars ... The Living Voices ... and, I guess, Living Disco. Grease is still the word. This is the version I'm sure Principal McGee would've preferred playing in the hallowed halls of Rydell High.

WHAT I FEEL IS YOU / Dave & Sugar
The door is always open ... just hit 'eject' and put in that Styx cassette instead. "What I Feel" was yet another filler cut from what no doubt was a filler LP. From the cut-out bin to your cassette player.

MUSIC BOX DANCER / The Living Strings Plus Two Pianos
As if Frank Mills' original wasn't MOR enough. Oh yeah, that's right -- Mills recorded for POLYDOR, and this was an RCA collection. Best of all, they added two pie-nanners to all the lushness. Bless their 81-key hearts.

By now you're probably wondering, "If this is RCA, then where in bleedin' hay-dees is the Floyd Cramer??" Uh-uh-uh-UH, Nipper -- don't touch that Victrola! We're not halfway through this tape yet.

TRAGEDY / Living Disco
No comment.

SO no comment.

AMAZING GRACE / Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Poops
It's better when played on an E-flat Drano can, a/k/a Your basic set of bagpipes. Or if sung with passion and soul by Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells a Story, 1971)

UNCLE ALBERT/ADMIRAL HALSEY / Hugo Montenegro & His Orchestra
"We're so sorry", indeed.


ROSSINI: WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE / Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Flops
Classical music for people not cultured enough to appreciate real classical music.

One for the youngsters. Odyssey was a black disco act best-known for their one-hit wonder "Native New Yorker." This song? More filler, sucker. Go buy the album.

MORNING HAS BROKEN / The Living Strings Plus Two Pianos
We're sorry, but morning has broken. Therefore, we're substituting afternoon. Hopefully we'll have it fixed by dawn tomorrow.

BOREL-CLERC: LA SORELLA MARCH / Arthur Treacher & The Boston Pisces
More dumbed-down classical. Longhair music with a "Toni" home perm.

What part of "RCA compilation" didn't you get?? Yup, here's Mr. Last Date himself, interpreting a page from the Rod McKuen book of poetry (and I hope that new roof started leaking very quickly!).

ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL / Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass
Yeah, boy. Brass, and, since this is "Nashville", we gotta throw in a banjo or two for credibility. Crank this up in your F-150 and go yee-haw.

Why are the farm animals getting so nervous all of a sudden?

SEND IN THE CLOWNS / The Living Strings

"Send in the cats" -- second violin on the fourth row needs another D-string.

DO YOU WANNA MAKE LOVE / Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius
Out of all the lightweight '70s pop, I would never have expected this one-hit wonder by Peter McCann to be performed in a C&W setting. (Jim Ed Brown, incidentally, hailed from Pine Bluff, Ark, and his family group The Browns started their career at KCLA radio. Talmadge Gleck also started his adult career working at KCLA. Co-winky-dink? Probably not.)

And yes, the song was terrible. I think I'd rather "just fool around"; there's not an Arby's in sight.

I WILL SURVIVE / Living Disco
My vote for best cover of this Gloria Gaynor disco classic goes to the band Cake.

And that's it. If anyone's interested, e-mail me and I'll see what I can do.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Living Blogger" Gleck

Ford has a better musical idea

Just when you thought I'd forgotten about my incredible cassetterriffic find last Saturday at the Salvation Army in Bluffton....

There were many Ford "Demonstration Tapes" produced throughout the '80s and into the '90s, most of them 'samplers' put out by the big record label groups, usually part of their 'special products' line. There were even such compilations on 8-track for those leisure-suit'ed souls to shove into that big hole in the dash while driving their new '75 Galaxie Country Squire, faux-woodgrain side panels and all, off the lot.

Five such tapes went home with moi. In addition to the first tape which caught my eye ("Stereo for the '80s" -- which deserves a separate post, just you wait!), there were some later-day compilations. Three of 'em are ARISTA samplers. A 1991-era tape reads like a who's-who of Adult Contemporary oatmeal. Taylor Dayne, Hall & Oates, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, and -- "one of these things is not like the other" -- a 1982 Alan Parsons album cut from Eye in the Sky ("Mammagamma").

All of those later-day tape compilations, including the ca. 1985 tape my grandmother had, were on LORAN cassettes. The tape stock wasn't anything to write home about, but Loran's selling point was its "Lexan Thermoplastic" tape housing, supposedly more resistant to extreme hot temperatures in a car.

But -- as always -- I digress. Another of the ARISTA collections, this from 1990, contained Kenny G's "Going Home" (which brought back my own days playing Pine Bluff's midday answer to John Tesh on KOTN) .... plus Lisa Stansfield's "You Can't Deny It." And, in case you can't get enough of Kenny G's house-rockin' saxophone (Delilah and her steely-dan live for it, I'm certain), there's another track: "I'll Never Leave You." That's what I was afraid of.

That tape was from Ford Electronics: Technology With a Purpose. Ya don't say. If there's anything I cannot stand, it's technology without any kind of rationale behind it. On the spine, it reads "Music System Reference Standard." Yeah, sure. Look, people, it wasn't a high-end Nakamichi or Alpine deck you were listening on, it was a stock Ford OEM factory receiver. Stick it there, and listen to the lo-fi sound while running down the battery in your Tempo as you're on the side of the interstate waiting ... patiently ... patiently? ... for AAA. Seriously, Ford could've put their demo tapes on 3-for-99¢ "Concertapes", and the average Joe Schmo listening on his sputtering '91 Tore-Ups--um, Taurus would be none the wiser.

Back to the point at hand, here's another ARISTA tape, circa 1988. This was the kind of eclectic mix I remember from my grandmother's tape. "Back to the Future" by The Outatime Orchestra. And remember the '88 olympics and Twitney Houston's "One Moment in Time"? I wish I could still forget. Well, it's on here. Also, more Kenny G (I'll pause while the soccer-moms all faint and swoon behind the wheels of their minivans -- Ford Aerostars, of course). Other curios: "Jamaica, Jamaica" by Special EFX ... "In the Mood" by The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel (sorry, no chickens) ... Satchmo's "What a Wonderful World" ... and, for the youngsters on our rrrrrrrreally big shew, Swing Out Sister's 1987 fluff-pop hit "Breakout."

Had enough of ARISTA? Me, too. I'll close this post with the lineup from a 1987 Ford demo tape from CBS Special Products.

SOMEWHERE / Barbra Streisand
...is that tow truck. I've counted the number of button-copy reflectors in that big green sign in front of me. Twice.
....thanks to being witnessed by Brother Love. Hal-lay-lew-ah.
Can't go wrong with Tony.
That's what the Tempo kept asking me in 1993, when I was car shopping.
A reliable Tempo? Or in a false sense of security that the jackbooted IRS thugs won't find him?
A true 1984 adult contemporary flashback!

FOREVER / Kenny Loggins
That was Jim Messina's answer when Kenny asked how long he'd keep Kenny's balls?
OH SHERRIE / Steve Perry
No, this does not have baggage. You-know-who d-e-t-e-s-t-e-d this song. All it took to make the woman apoplectic was to say, "Y'shoulda been gooooone!"
VOICES CARRY / Til Tuesday
I've always loved this song. A great '80s piece of power pop.
In an '88 Taurus, broken down on the side of a lonely country road, just think of how much "courtship" can take place. Horsey sauce, anyone?
Thursday night already? Damn, that tow truck is takin' forever......
Ford Audio Systems. The official punch-line of the 1988 Olympics.

Comin' up ... a long distance dedication from Harvey, in a stalled Mercury Topaz outside of Inez, Kentucky, to Reuben at Wildcat Texaco in Paintsville ... "put down that ALE-8-1 and come give me a tow!"

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Tempo Tapeworm" Gleck

10 November 2007

Talmadge's Thrifty Treasure Trawl - Two

Ahhhhh, Saturday. What to do?

Easy. Seraphim and I made a sojourn across the river to Hardeeville to get Kitt's oil changed (the dealer does the first one free). Hard to believe it's already been nearly 4,000 miles we've traveled in her ... no, wait. That's about normal. We put lots of miles on our two carriages.

Well, after Kitt's crankcase enema, we took advantage of our proximity to Bluffton's Golden Corral -- far better than the mediocre GC we have in Savannah. There's rumor of Rincon getting one. We can only hope. Now, if only we can get a @#$%ing IHOP in our neighborhood. Please?

And after a most satisfying lunch, the two of us made a little side trip to the Salvation Army thrift store just down 278 from the 'Corral. Not much to speak of here, except for some curios I found in a cassette rack. For one:
It spoke to me. And I heard its voice. It said "Taaaaaaalmadge. Saaaaave me. Rescue me from this salvatory purgatory."

I looked further. And I found a total of five (5) such Ford cassette (pronounce: CASS-ette) tapes.
You remember cassettes ... don't you? They were about the size of your average iPod, except for being analog, storing far less amounts of music, and its uncanny ability to occasionally puke brown ribbons of retarded silly string whenever they got sick.

Somebody from the area (could it have been that goat from the O.C. Welch commercials?) dropped off these "demonstration" tapes at the Salvation Army. And I decided, at the price of 25 cents per each, they were all going home with Talmadge. (PS to Bolivar: "That one's going home with Franklin!")

Ford included these tapes with all new cars which had cassette decks installed. I remember one which Gran Lera had in her '86 Crown Vic station wagon (a/k/a "The Q.E. II"). Evidently other automakers did the same thing. Seraphim told me one came with her Hyundai Excel years ago. What I remember about the one GL had was that it contained samples of everything from classical to hard rock.

So, what about the cassette-equipped Ford head units? You know, the contraption containing the rectangular orifice into which you inserted the tape.........

Above is Ford's basic stereo radio/cassette deck, circa 1984-1992. A/K/A "KICKIN' SOUND SYSTEM!" And, having experienced this very model on a couple of different occasions, I can tell you that were you to have pulled it out and replaced it with the cheapest aftermarket unit you could find (rhymes with "Craig"), you'd be making a dramatic improvement in your sound experience.

And the frequency display on Mom's '86 T-bird and Dad's '87 Bronco -- both with the same type of factory unit seen above -- eventually burned out!

"So what station are we listenin' to again, Bubba?"

"I dunno. Our luck, it's that commie NPR stuff."

The tape deck's range was pathetic ... middling high-end, and hardly any bass. Trust me. I bought LPs back then (CDs beginning in 1986), and dubbed 'em onto TDK "SA" or Maxell "XL-II" chrome tapes, the Coke & Pepsi dual standard, for listening while in the car. Both tapes offered far superior dynamic range, even recording with a budget-line Realistic component tape deck, to the laughably horrid tape stock found on prerecorded tape albums.

The TDK and Maxell tapes (I leaned Maxell) shined in my car's Pioneer SuperTuner-III deck. Boy, that thing was a beauty. Great radio reception, too.

But those same tapes didn't sound so well when played in my mother's Thunderbird. Dad, though, was driving an '84 GMC Jimmy prior to buying the Bronco. The Delco tape deck in the Jimmy was quite good. GM radios, in general, could hold their own. Dunno about Chrysler. But Ford's radios from the late '70s into the 1990s were awful.

Fortunately, it appears that FoMoCo got on the ball. I rather like the audio system in our '08 Escape.

Oh, and look what else I bought!

The original price tag for this two-pack of BASF tapes: $1.90.

Salvation Army Value Price: 25 cents.

Net savings from circa-1992 asking price: $1.65.

The confidence I'll sleep with tonight, knowing that my ass is covered just in case CD/Rs go out of style and the cassette tape becomes the in thing again: Priceless.

Hey, you never know when you'll need old-school blank recording media!

I'll dig into those Ford tapes and give the lowdown on the rundown in a future post, or two.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Have you listened to a cassette ... lately?" Gleck

09 October 2007

Traces of roads, long ago

Last week, during my Birmingham junket (or, to be more precise, east Walker County), I made a daylong trip over to the tortured wilds of Tupelo, Miss., and from there I went over to Madison, Ala. before dropping southward back to the motel. I called this trip "the triangle", as my path kinda resembled one.

With a new and better camera, I wanted to take some improved shots of what I previously had in low-fi digital form. I also longed to take a nice, leisurely joyride ... so that's what I did.

As much as I love making roadtrips with Luvuhmylife Seraphim, I just as much enjoy making the occasional trip by myself. Driving and reflecting. Or "D&R" for short.

It was one for the surreal book, that's for sure. From Tupelo to Madison on the same day. That's like visiting Satan and then going immediately upstairs to break bread with Yahweh.

Yes, Satan. Because only the Devil would've caused an awesome roast beef sandwich to become nearly extinct. Tupelo is home to one of the few remaining Danver's locations.

Tupelo, Mississippi is also the headquarters for the Natchez Trace Parkway, a two-lane 'national parkway' of some 443 miles. Or thereabouts. (Amazingly enough, the other NPS roadway - the Blue Ridge Parkway - is longer than "The Trace"; I only learned this fact the other day!!)

The Natchez Trace visitor center is located north of the city nearby where the parkway intersects with Miss. 145 (a/k/a Old US 45). During my years in Tupelo, this roadway was as much a part of the area's culture as a certain jelly doughnut-swilling favorite son. Plenty of memories arose from the Chickasaw Village site, along the parkway ... there's a cool hiking and "interpretive nature" trail, with plenty of trees. And that's where I learned how Tupelo got its name.

I hadn't done very much traveling of this parkway through my driving years. At least until last week. After leaving Tupelo -- and still wolfing down the last of my Danver's booty -- I drove north on Miss. 145 and picked up the Trace, heading northeastward toward Alabama, where I'd get off on US-72 going east toward Tuscumbia, Decatur and Madison.

When I was little, I found the NTP to be a mite boring. Nothing but trees to look at. As much fun for a roadgeek as watching paint dry.

At age 42, it was different. After, ohhhhh, a handful of miles, I quickly found my groove on the Trace. It's a long National Park ... complete with the brown guide signs, in distinctive "clarendon" font, a speed limit of 50 MPH, and trucks and commercial vehicles of any kind are verboten from traveling the parkway. Billboards are also contraband. Ditto for any roadside commerce. It's a 'limited access' roadway, with overpasses and access ramps to get to and from "civilian" roads.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 100% commercial-free zone. It's a nice alternative to the clutter, hustle and bustle of interstates and regular highways. The speed limit might be lower, but you're enjoying the slower pace.

The radio was tuned to AM 580 out of Tupelo, WELO. The Music of Your Life. Sinatra, Clooney and other 'pop standards' made a splendid soundtrack. And being a weekday, I damn near had this roadway to myself. I don't think I saw more than half a dozen cars.

I loved it. And I was so disappointed when I reached US-72, where I had to exit the parkway. I almost changed my plans and kept northward to the Trace's north terminus outside of Nashville.

Even such roadside drama as state lines are incredibly subdued on the Natchez Trace. No big green "Welcome To Alabama The Beautiful ... Bob Riley, Governor", or gigantic signs screaming "Mississippi Welcomes You." Here it's just a simple "Entering [state]."

In the above picture, I'm straddling the line. I'm Alasippi-ing. Or is that Missi-bama?

The dominant motif along the parkway is the arrowhead. It's the shape used for all the historical marker approaches, and for the entrance signs for the various pull-offs.

One should not press their luck while driving this slab -- speeding on this, or any NPS roadway, is a Federal offense. Me, I set the cruise control for exactly 50 M.P.H. and just enjoyed the ride.

And I found out something really cool:

Driving at that rate of speed does wonders for the ol' gas mileage! Check out the 'trip computer' -- when is the last time anyone achieved 30 MPG in a friggin SUV??!!

Seriously, I filled up in Tupelo and the needle didn't budge from "F" until I was past the Alabama line.

I realized something else, too.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a thoroughfare maintained by government interests, without any commercial traffic, businesses, billboards or anything resembling the conduct of free enterprise.

In addition to its purpose honoring an early pioneer trail, the Trace also serves as an alternative route to get from Tupelo to Nashville or to Jackson.

It's very low-key. It's dignified. It's scenic. It's full of substance in a world where other highways are cluttered and bottlenecked eyesores.

I dare say the Natchez Trace Parkway is the Public Radio of highways.

And I so much want to drive this thing from beginning to end. Seraphim and I shall do just that one of these days.

Isn't it nice to know that roads like this exist?

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Proud to have his tax dollars funding it" Gleck

Circles of life.....

"Take your time, it wont be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down."
--Joni Mitchell

I'm back from my annual retreat to Birmingham. All told, a fun time -- as usual -- but these trips are always full of deep introspection, wistful reflection and a process of "mental defragging."

I wish I could make more frequent visits up there. Perhaps after my son enters college and starts a life of his own, I can. Meanwhile I enjoy it there whenever I'm able. There's a profound comfort I feel whenever I first see all the TV towers along Red Mountain, overlooking the city, and then the city's iconic Vulcan statue.

It's rooted, I'm certain, in all the change that's been part of my life over the years. In the middle of it all, there has always been Birmingham. Some things in the city have stayed constant over the many years, such as the giant red neon "WBRC" sign behind their studios atop Red Mountain, a landmark for more than 50 years.

And next-door neighbor Channel 13 - an NBC affiliate - has recently put up a giant backlit peacock behind its building to add to the mountaintop decor.

I was born in a hospital on the north side of Red Mountain. From its parking lot, one can look upward for a good view of the WBRC sign.

For years I've said the same joke: Ask me what sign I was born under, and I'll tell you "WBRC."

Last Wednesday, after I got into town, I made a beeline for my great aunt's house, where we had a nice visit. From there it was to see "Miz Eve", a woman whom I've always considered "kinfolk", although she was merely a close neighbor to my grandparents. Her husband, "Mr. Jim", who passed away in the early '80s, was an audiophile's audiophile, and had the most awesome audio system one could ever want. His circa-1970 Sony tuner/amp is still set up in her house, along with his Garrard turntable, although they're hardly used anymore. They still work, though. I'd give so much to have it all someday. So much.

You see, it was this gentleman who got me started on the road toward appreciating the fine art of music and a lot of his audiophilic tendencies rubbed off on me. I can still remember the day as if it were last week. I was nine years old, visiting my grandparents for Spring break, and we were eating dinner at their house. That afternoon we were at Eastwood Mall, and I'd bought a 45 at Newberry's. I wanted to play that record on his [pause to catch my breath] AUDIO SYSTEM. Mr. Jim said I could, and what happened after I took the record out of its sleeve became a major event in my life.

You see, I committed the ultimate cardinal sin.

I had my fingers on the grooves of that record as I was taking it out, eager to hear the opening notes of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker."

And Mr. Jim was horrified. He didn't love my peaches, but boy did he shake my tree. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was never again to touch the grooves of a vinyl record. Did I understand??

Yes sir, Mr. Jim. Never again.

From him I learned proper record care. I also learned what it was like to hear music on good equipment. And my life was forever altered. I might not have been able to ride a bike at age nine, but by golly the records I bought after that fateful dinner were as immaculate as Jesus' conception.

[Of course Mr. Jim would've been horrified if he saw me at home -- I didn't touch the grooves of the records I bought, but after seeing what DJs did to 'em at radio stations, I started imitating 'em. I was, I'm sure, the only ten-year-old who CUED his records before playing them.]

I always think about that evening each time I lay eyes on The Audio System, still set up as it was 25 years ago. And I got another gander last Wednesday when I paid a visit to Miz Eve. It was the first time I'd seen her since 2004. It was a bit strange and unsettling looking next door at my grandparents' old house on Saulter Road, but it was looking good. The people who bought it from my family have kept it up faithfully.

In 2004, Miz Eve was as peppy and upbeat and full of life as I'd always remembered her. Given that she was 88 years old at the time, that's no small feat. Today, she's 91. And my aunt gave me a heads-up that she was now having trouble with walking. Still, Miz Eve gave word to my aunt that she wanted to see me. So I did.

I almost wish I hadn't. What my aunt didn't know was that it was more than walking Miz Eve was having trouble with; the grand lady's mind was beginning to give out, too. I think Alzheimer's, or some form of dementia, has taken root. Evidently Miz Eve was far more 'lucid' the day she talked with my aunt. My grandfather was the same way -- some days the brain was operating on more cylinders than others. Good days, and bad days.

My luck, I caught her on a bad day. She didn't even know who I was. Her 'caretaker' -- who did some work with my grandmother in her final days -- reminded her of who I was. "He's 'Agatha's' grandson." Her reply still gives me chills: "How is she?"

It was, suffice to say, the most awkward ten minutes I've ever had as a houseguest, and I cut the visit short, and walked down the hill toward the backyard of my grandparents' old house.

I saw the broken remains of an old steel rod mounted between two trees which for years held a swing. It wasn't broken the last time I saw it.

I got the hell out of there, post haste, because I was fixin' to lose it.

The familiar -- oh, so familiar -- landmarks along Saulter Road closed in on me. Something as ephemeral as the steel towers of the power lines paralleling a part of the street unleashed so much pent up inside me. Miz Eve ..... holy shit, this was Big John all over again!!!!!

I thought back to when my grandfather was alive. And back to when I was five years old. Those power lines meant one thing once upon a time: We were getting near Kmart!! Suddenly my mind morphed the street into 1969. The way the houses looked, the street signs, even the dashboard of Big John's car. I felt him with me. I heard him call me "Buddy."

Seraphim said something about "the circle of life." Well, I don't have a whole helluvalot of 'middle circles', and the outer ones -- the familiar, the relatively few loved ones who were major parts of my life -- are going fast. When those rings fall away, my circle is going to get tiny in a big hurry.

It's the familiar refrain of everything dying around me. Now my aunt ... she's doing well. Of course, she's far from pushing 90 (she's in her late 60s). My uncle is in good health as well, but he's always in Florida and Birmingham to him now is little more than a maildrop.

I have cousins on both sides of the family, but I'm in little contact with them. Just one, if you wanna know the truth. And he's in Australia!!

Some day, and last Wednesday I was reminded that it's coming up sooner than I think, some day I'm afraid I might have little around me except for Seraphim and Tiger.

But maybe not. I've recently reestablished contact with my Aunt Cindy outside of Augusta and hopefully we can make a day trip in that direction before long. I haven't seen her in many years. There's a lot to say about her, and I'll save that for after the visit.

I was, shall we say, more than a little bothered as I drove around Birmingham, killing time before I was to meet a friend of mine for supper. I knew I'd bounce back over the BBQ and his comraderie, but that was still a couple of hours away.

Things indeed looked up later that evening. And ditto for the rest of the trip. But that afternoon was a cruel reminder that I am getting close to my mid 40s. Youth was a long time ago.

If you have an older relative in your life, especially one who is into their 80s -- i.e. past standard life expectancy -- and they're in good health, count your blessings. Nothing lasts forever. Enjoy them every minute, because you're not guaranteed another one like it.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Dizzy from all dem circles" Gleck

18 September 2007

Here in my blog, I feel safest of all

Picking up where we left off, we're now at September 2000. I'm looking to trade in the '97 Nissan Altima for a new ride. Seeing as how I'm making at least one monthly trip to Alabama, I wanted a vehicle that was within warranty. (The Corsica experience has cast some long shadows; today I don't like driving a car outside of any covered breakdowns)

After moving to Savannah, I had a pretty decent change of salary. No longer was I making ramen noodle pay at Troy "State" University; now I was flying high on a Kraft Mac & Cheese budget! Yeah, boy!!

I had my eyes set on a Toyota Camry -- I liked how it looked, it was a bit larger than the Altima, and it was a solid, dependable and reliable auto. I looked first at Savannah Toyota, just around the corner from the apartment where we were living. And I got my first dose of The Toyota Games. They wore me down, but I didn't give 'em the pleasure of pulling my credit report. I'm sure F&I would've had the same reaction as I did when I first laid eyes on Seraphim nine years ago. 20% subprime interest, and it's all mine. All. Mine. Swoon.

I walked. And went straight to the other Toyota dealership, at the time a small and unassuming place called Harbortown Toyota in Garden City. There weren't many games here, I have to say. But I could see the writing on the wall. When I was there buying the car, they were holding training sessions for about two dozen new salespeople. They were building a new building at the intersection of Chatham Parkway and I-16. In 2001, Harbortown would move and become Chatham Parkway Toyota/Lexus. Pretension doesn't even begin to cover it. And, you guessed it, the building is a humongous monument to mind games. They've since become worse than Savannah Toyota. And probably gaining on Stokes-Brown.

Anyway, that is now. This was then. The salesperson at Harbortown was nice and down-to-earth. I told him about the situation with my credit, and hoped they could work something out which wouldn't leave me completely raped -- just .... partially so.

Southeast Toyota Finance gave the green light. But I had to list my Dad as a co-signer (which he graciously did). Even then, my interest rate was a whopping 14.9%. "Cost of rebuilding credit," I told myself. So, on September 19, 2000, I said goodbye to Goldie and hello to my next car:

2000 Toyota Camry LE.
Color: Mississippi Imperial Wizard White.
Nicknames: White Bird; It's NOT An "Old Persons' Car", Seraphim!; Deer Slayer

Owned: September 2000 - September 2004.

The Camry served as our 'getaway car' after the wedding reception in January of 2001. As you can see, no shoe polish was harmed in the defacing of the car; everybody instead covered the vehicle with sticky-notes. "Warranty's over, you can't return her" is one message I remember (Not that I'd even want to think about it).

It also marked a return to having a CD player. The Altima had a basic AM/FM/cassette stock receiver. I would've put in the Panasonic CD deck I'd taken out of the Corsica before they took it away, ha-haaaa, but replacing the radio would've involved a great deal of taking-apart of the dash (a/k/a "off-the-chart expensive labor"). So I bought a cassette adapter and Discman unit and was digitally serenaded as such. The Camry had both CD and cassette, so I was well-set. That is, until the cassette deck's pinch rollers started deforming. And the CD player would start skipping when the heater was going and the dash began getting hot. Toyota radios, I soon learned, were crap. Oh well, at least the car was reliable.

It took me through a number of years and miles. The ride was almost as 'floaty' as my old '89 Celebrity. It did very well on the interstate. The worst thing to happen to her was early one morning in April 2003. It was about 5:30, I was on the way to work and I encountered three (3) deer in the road. I tried moving to the left in order to scare 'em off the pavement. Wasn't working. There was no stopping, so I had to brace myself and hit one of 'em. And I chose bachelor number 1. Bam!

It could've been worse. The airbag didn't deploy, and I still had both headlights. Mostly; the right high-beam wasn't working. I could hear the bumper scraping the road as I continued. Shaken, and stirred. As I reached the driveway toward my workplace, the bumper finally came off. Damage: bumper was toast. Hood was slightly buckled. Grille was gone. Right high-beam needed replacing. That was about it. Fortunately, the car was still driveable, so I kept it until there was an opening at the body shop.

And Bambi died for her sins. Serves her right. (Sorry, but I am very much in favor of eliminating all limits for deer hunters. They should be allowed to jacklight to their hearts' content. Deer should be mass-killed; they're a clear and present danger to the roads. End of hyper-conservative rant.)

Now, we're to a different dynamic. It was time to retire Seraphim's ride, the one she brought into our marriage. Her name was "Henryetta" and it was a '95 Hyundai Accent. Forest green. As 2002 began, it was time to car-shop again. Credit was improved, but I wasn't there yet. At least I had about 18 months' worth of prompt and timely payments to Toyota on my side.

To the tune of 11.9% APR, we financed Henryetta's successor:

2003 Toyota Corolla S
Color: Silver, dammit! SILVER, SILVER, SILVER!!!!!!!
(Toyota called it "Lunar Mist")

Nicknames: Luna the Moon Buggy, then shortened to just "Luna.
Owned: March 2003 - August 2005.
We bought Luna on St. Patrick's Day. If you're familiar with Savannah life, you know full well why we wanted to be as far away from that place as we could. Our destination was .... Stokes-Brown Toyota in Beaufort, S.C. Again, a smaller and less-pretentious dealership (today, they're in a cathedral along US-278! Wi-fi hot spot. Coffee bar. Wow. Somebody's got to pay for all those extras. Lowball trades, anyone?)

The Corolla was a new version of an old favorite -- it was a sported-up "S" model, and the 2003 redesign had barely been out a week before we bought it. It drove beautifully for a small car, the gas mileage was superb (36-37 on the highway), and the radio/CD combo was a piece of schitt. Yup, typical Toyota.

Seriously, we loved ol' Luna. And at the beginning, it turned heads. People commented on how the new Corollas looked, and they were all impressed.

So, for the next 2-1/2 years, the Glecks were an all-Toyota family.

As the Summer of 2004 drew to a close, we were looking to trade the '00 Camry. What we both were seeking was a small SUV, so Seraphim could more easily tote around cakes she was now baking on the side. We had two models in mind: the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

Stop #1: We test-drove the 2004 Toyota RAV4 at Chatham Parkway Toyota. The salesman who'd sold me the Camry four years earlier was still there, and once we got into his 'man cave', I could see that he'd been drinking the Cathedral Kool-Aid. My guard was down. And faster than you can say "What's it gonna take?", I'd been roped into the four-square sheet trick. And they gave me a lowball trade-in value for the Camry.

Hah! You think I'm gonna take that for a trade, especially after I had a maintenance paper-trail to prove how good it was?? He then implied that if we walked out that door, the Camry was gonna break down any day. I said, "You have faith in your Toyotas, don't you pal?" And I then continued, "You all have turned into Savannah Toyota!"

The look on the man's face was friggin' priceless. I think I hurt his feelings. He replied, "That's low." Sorry, but that's the truth. We walked.

There's nothing like Toyota dealers to remind me of how much of a wimp I can be sometimes.

Up the road we went to Grainger Honda, where we looked at the CR-V. They had a few 2004 models left, and everything about it had our name on it. That is, until we got in to test drive. Holy crap on a swiszle stick, it was tighter up front than the Corolla!!

Scratch the CR-V. But the salesperson at Grainger asked if we'd looked at the other SUV they had in the same price range. No, we hadn't. He took us to one of two 2004s they had left. One was a hideous shade of phlegm green, and the other was blue. Color aside, I said my first impression out loud to him, "That's the most butt-ugly thing I've ever seen in my life!" (and that's coming from a guy who started out driving life behind the wheel of a golldurned AMC Pacer!) He asked us to test-drive it. So we did. We both liked how it felt, and how it drove. The turning radius was awesome. Seriously. That thing could turn around in our driveway without leaving the concrete.

Everything about that SUV was good, except for the look. I just wasn't cottonin' to it. But I'll never forget the salesman's remark: "C'mon, Elements need love too." Okay, I had to say my ear's heart was beginning to go 'hubba!' over the sound system. 270 watts. And AN AUXILIARY JACK. It's becoming very common today, but that was the first I'd heard of 'em in 2004. "Hmmmm, I've thought about taking the MP3 player plunge one of these days," I said to myself. Maybe I could look past this Neo-AMC hideous thing and concentrate on all her amenities. Seraphim, on the other hand, seemed to be less repulsed.

With my Chapter 7 even further behind me, and more of a history of Johnny-on-the-spot car payments, Honda Finance approved us for the promotional rate they were running for the '04 Elements. 2.9%! That, and they were very, very generous in trade-in for the Camry.

2.9 percent??!! Shit, where's that pen??? We took it. Even though I remain convinced to this day that Honda employed the old R&D team from American Motors to design the Element, I was elated that I could again be approved for a 'real' car note, and not one from a subprime bottom-feeder. The date was September 11, 2004. And we had our first SUV:

2004 Honda Element
Color: Blue/Gray ("Border State Brother Against Brother")
The Psychedelic Milk Truck; The P.M.T.; AMC's Design Department Refuses To Die
Owned: September 2004 - August 2007.
On the CAR TALK website, they made a reference to the Element resembling something they termed a "Psychedelic Milk Truck." And that's what we took to calling it. It would become "The PMT."

People at gas pumps asked me about it. Admittedly, I was a bit self-conscious about the Element at first. That's what driving a Pacer will do to a person. I eventually got used to it, but as my manager later said, "You never became one with that Element, did you?"

I'm afraid I didn't. Hate to say. It drove wonderfully (except for the road noise), and the audio system was awesome. We took it to Arkansas in 2006 and to West Virginia early in 2007, and it proved a hardy and loyal companion.

A year later, I began wondering out loud about hybrid cars, thinking it might be just what the doctor ordered for a couple of people who were making daily trips from Rincon into Savannah. 45 MPG on Abercorn Street was music to my ears, that's for damn sure. So we started looking at 'em. Besides, it was time to retire Luna .... and another thing was driving my desire: I felt that my credit had built up enough that I could now qualify for something better than subprime. That said, I wanted desperately out of that double-digit car note on the Corolla. It's all psychology, friends. That's all it is.

We had two options: 1) The Toyota Prius, and 2) The Honda Civic Hybrid. The Prius was out. Not just because of the Toyota dealer games®, but because the Priuses were on back order -- it was tough finding 'em in 2005, and those that did pop up were selling for thousands above sticker. Oh, and there was the small matter of the Prius looking, shall we say, hideous. The last damn thing I wanted was another ugly car in our driveway.

So the Honda Civic Hybrid it was. We made a beeline to Grainger, where the same salesperson made the deal happen. We tested out the one model they had, a navy-blue 2005 model, and after the appraisal on Luna (again, good and well above what we owed on it), the Honda Finance Gods approved us for 5.5 percent on:

2005 Honda Civic Hybrid
Color: Dark blue.
"The Hybrid"; Our Blue "Green" Car; Gas Stations? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Gas Stations; Looking For Mr. Aamco.
Owned: August 2005 - September 2007.
We closed the deal literally days before Katrina tore into Mississippi and New Orleans, and gas prices spiked well past $3.00 a gallon. Talk about good timing!

Overall, the mileage was 40 in town, and about 38 or so on the road. And we got a decent little tax deduction off of our 2005 taxes. Not too bad, considering. It was a reliable ride, until hints of transmission failure began lapping at our feet.

Which takes us to the present day. In the course of less than one month (!!), we went from being an all-Honda family to - in a technical sense - being all-Ford. Who'd a thunk?

Today, it's a 2008 Escape and a 2007 Mazda3. Kitt and Rupert. They formally met for the first time tonight, and I think I'd better check up on 'em, to make sure there aren't any untold stains in the driveway from automotive passion.

Yeah, I know that was a sick and gross way to close this post, but just deal with it.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "I don't want to go near a car showroom for a long time!" Gleck

17 September 2007

'I can lock all my doors / It's the only way to live'

All this thinking about vehicles has started me on a nostalgic tangent.

[The Peanut Gallery can just shut up now; I know a bunch of wise-asses when I hear 'em. Perish the very thought of Talmadge getting all nostalgic on everyone. Never happens. Uh uh.]

I've had quite a few cars to call my own over the 26-1/2 years I've held a drivers' license. I didn't get my first car, however, until after I turned 18. But I did get something for my 16th birthday, lucky lucky me:

1976 AMC Pacer.
Color: Whatta Maroon.
Nicknames: Pisser; Bubble Machine; Butt-Ugly Laughingstock.

Owned: February 1981 - March 1983.
The person who designed this piece of skunk vomit should've been strapped to the gas tank of a Ford Pinto ahead of a car with malfunctioning brakes. My maternal grandparents gave me this thing for my birthday, and I had to endure a buttload of grief from other kids. You've seen what a Pacer looks like. It's so over-the-top, even for 1970s sensibilities. And I was driving a Pacer nearly 10 years before Wayne and Garth 'legitimized' it ... not to mention Goofy.

It was a source of some family tension. My Dad, years later, tipped his hand as to exactly how often he had to bite his tongue. It was his wife's parents, after all, who chose it.

Fortunately, the Pisser began falling apart well into my senior year, and Dad picked out something else for me:

1982 Mercury Capri.
Color: Silver & black.
Nicknames: Silver Bullet; Love Stains? No, That's Just Horsey Sauce; My First Car.

Owned: March 1983 - September 1987.
The Capri - not to be confused with the '90s reincarnation - was Mercury's twin to the Ford Mustang. It looked good. And, despite a few problems of its own, was a great car. The backseat folded down, implying opportunities aplenty for moral turpitude. And I bought a wonderful stereo to go in it -- a Pioneer SuperTuner III cassette deck, complete with Clarion speakers.

"The Silver Bullet" took me from 18,000 miles in March of 1982 all the way to 97,000 miles as I began my last semester in college. In September 1987, I was given a choice of cars as a semi-present for college graduation. A 1988 Mustang, but that one was at a Ford dealership a little farther away ... and for some retarded reason I wanted a trunk instead of a hatchback, which I had with the Capri and the Pisser before that.

So I went with the car closer at hand. I drove my Capri -- which by then was beginning to shake worse than our dog when we take her to the vet -- from Pine Bluff, Ark. to Arkadelphia to take the wheel of my next car:

1987 Mercury Topaz.
Color: Kyle Edwards Powder Blue.
Nicknames: The Tope; The Grand Mal Seizure; Proto-Corsica Piece of Raccoon Feces.
Owned: September 1987 - March 1991.
Well, it had a trunk. It also had an aftermarket Sony stereo installed in there. Sorry, but it was a cheapest model and the Ford people who wired the speakers were total Dee d'DEEs. Left and Right are supposed to be on each side of the car, using the fader to control "front L/R" and "back L/R." Not in this car ... both left channels were on both front speakers while the right channel was in the rear deck.

I remember getting my beloved Pioneer SuperTuner III out of the Capri, and had it installed in the Topaz. It was at a small car stereo garage off Bridge Street in Jonesboro. Bolivar followed me there, and while they went to work correcting the inbred stereo miswiring, we went to Burger King for supper. I remember we were listening to the new Yes album, Big Generator.

The Topaz is the only car in which I've had a real accident. My fault. I changed lanes on a one-way street in Pine Bluff, not noticing the '72 Ford Maverick that was coming up the left lane. I sideswiped it ... and tore off the entire front end and banged up the left-front fender too. And the damage to the '72 Sherman Tank--um, I mean Maverick? It mangled some of the decorative chrome trim, but that's about it. The body had next to no damage!!!

It earned its sub-nickname Grand Mal Seizure because the fuel injector crapped out on it, and every time I was at an intersection it would begin vibrating something fierce. Gas mileage plummeted to something like 15 on the highway. Eventually that was fixed.

Then the alternator went. And, finally, the A/C. By then, I was in Troy, Alabama, and was beginning to drink the Kool-Aid. My grandparents mercifully offered to take that clunker off my hands, and trade it in for their next car. In return, they'd give me their current car which they bought, not realizing it was a step down from their usual Buicks. In March 1991, with a mere 74,000 miles on it, I retired the Topaz and began driving my grandparents' car, which at the time had logged just 17,000 miles:

1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.
Color: Navy Blue.
Nicknames: Mr. Midnight; The Un-Pacer.
Owned: March 1991 - November 1993.
I was more than a little leery about taking on a GM car. My Dad has had nothing but trouble with the few he'd ever owned. Every one of 'em had oil leak problems .... the first thing out of Dad's mouth when he sees a GM car: "Where's the drip?"

The engine had more oomph than the plastic four-banger in The Tope. It also drove as if the highway was a continuous cloud. But I wasn't that fond of the bench seat up front, though.

Except for a radiator fan going south at 27,000 miles and the alternator no longer alternating at 81k, it was a pretty reliable car -- as far as GMs go. But after the alternator, I started having visions of this car disintegrating before my eyes (my Dad's experiences with GM were vividly clear ... my family had a '74 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon, our own "Wagonqueen Family Truckster").

So I went car shopping. The back of my mind was yelling out "Honda! ... Toyota! ... Japanese! ... Japanese!" But I ignored it. And the first car I bought on my own would prove to be a doozy.

1993 Chevrolet Corsica.
Color: Silver & Black.
Nicknames: Son of Silver Bullet; Son of a Bitch; The Car That Personifies Most Which is Evil About Detroit; Country Time.
Owned: November 1993 - November 17, 1997!
It was comfortable. Honestly, it was. The seat felt right. The (V6) engine had pickup. The whole layout seemed to be calling my name. And the color scheme ... identical to that of my old Capri. It was a combination guaranteed to make Talmadge Gleck sign on the dotted line. It was a "program car" - an Avis rental - and it had 16,500 miles when we took delivery.

And the people who drove that car when it was under Avis' ownership must've driven it hard. Either that, or else the Mexicans who built it were .25 BAC full of tequila.

It was a lemon and I could write an entire post about how often this car left me stranded. The cooling system had to be rebuilt twice. It went through two A/C replacements. Something like two radiators. Two alternators. A starter. A fuel pump. A couple of water pumps.

My son has indelible memories of this car, as we were both on the side of the road one day north of Montgomery. "Dad, why is green stuff coming out of our car?"

From 1993 through 1997, I drove a lemon while my then-"wife" drove her 1992 Geo Metro, which had very little trouble about it. Those little Briggs & Stratton three-lung engines do quite well ... until about 75,000 miles. By then, it was the Spring of 1997, and it began sprouting lemons worse than the Corshitca ... only this time, the engine died while Josiebelle was in Pensacola one weekend.

We salvaged the Metro, managed to get enough for it to buy a supersized combo for Tiger, and in May 1997 -- vowing never again to go near Detroit -- we bought our first "Japanese" car:

1997 1/2 Nissan Altima.
Color: Gold.
Nicknames: The Solid Gold Wagon; Goldie; My Friend And Companion Through The Biggest Transitions Of My Life.
Owned: May 1997 - September 2000.
Bought it brand new and it was a solid puppy. I loved it from mile one.

Less than six months later, its two owners would divorce. The decision as to who got which car turned out to be such a no-brainer. Okay, Josie, do you want a car (Corsica) with only nine more payments of $245 .... or one (Altima) with 57 more payments of $331?

I reminded her how often she bitched and moaned about having to drive an automatic because I was "too stubborn" and "too afraid" to drive a stick. I never learned how, and frankly at this point I see no need to. As Lewis Grizzard once said, "I'm secure enough to have my gears shifted for me." I said she could trade in the Corsica for a car of her own choosing ... one with a stick! The woman loved driving a standard. Every car she'd had up to the Metro had manual transmissions.

Yes, she took the Corsica. Amusingly enough, the car she got soon after (a '93 Ford Escort) and what she drives today (a '99 Escort) are both AUTOMATICS.

Back to the Altima ... it was a great car. It got me to and from Columbus, Georgia hundreds (if not thousands) of times during my courtship with Seraphim. And when we both moved to Savannah in the Summer of 2000, it was the Altima which got me there.

But by then Goldie had 81,000 miles on her, and I set out to take a chance on seeing whether I could get a new car financed with a Chapter 7 just 2.5 years in my past.

To be continued....

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "When the image breaks down, will you visit me please?" Gleck