Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Return of Car Karma

My poor car karma is legendary – or perhaps more accurately, notorious. I've had a good run of it though lately, through no skill of my own, I assure you (and here I'm choosing not to include my mother's past unfortunate experiences with my Civic).

By my poor car karma returned in early June when I was rear-ended while passing through Manyunk, PA en route to spend the day with my grandmother. I'd stopped for the light at Green Lane when WHOMP! A car slammed into the back of mine. Apparently, there had been a bee in the car with the young girl driving it (without license or updated insurance card) and she "freaked out." Oy. Vey.

Let me take a moment here to say that you should pray never to be involved in an accident in Pennsylvania. Of course, you should pray never to be in an accident period, but Pennsyltucky turns the already difficult process into a nightmare. Apparently, the new law states that cops do not come to the scene of an accident unless the auto damage is such that a vehicle is undriveable or there are injuries. One must visit their local precinct the next day and fill out a police report. Except if you happen to be from out-of-state. Then you're supposed to call in to the precinct where the accident occurred. Except no one has told this to the precincts, because when I called in, I got an enormous run around where I was bumped from precinct to town hall to 911 operator and back to the precinct. This included a long, useless conversation with a new 911 operator who took the whole report over the phone with the beep beep of the 911 mechanism sounding the whole time only to be told by a new supervisor at its completion that this was completely the wrong office to take the report and I should call the local precinct and do it all over again. The officer then hung up on me. I'll leave you to guess what I said then.

Anyways, once I'd stopped shaking, I looked at my back bumper and was glad I'd bitten the bullet and bought a small SUV. To the naked, untrained eye there was limited damage but once the insurance assessor and the auto body shop got a look at it, more extensive repairs were determined. So my CR-V has been in the shop since last Tuesday and I've been driving a Jeep Liberty rental. It was a cross between that and a Kia Spectra and as they were offered at the same price, I took the Jeep.

I hate this car.

First of all, for a good-sized small SUV, it has small seats. The center console bulges into the driver's leg space and the space is narrow enough that the inner door handle and seat belt buckle press their images into my hips. Now, I admit, there's a lot of me to accommodate, but this is a little ridiculous. There's no cruise control either. A year ago, this wouldn't have bothered me as I'd never had cruise control in my life, but I've gotten used to it in my CR-V. And the Jeep is a noticeably heavier car; I'm finding it requires constant concentration. If I look down at the radio or the a/c control for a second, it drifts and if I zone out during for the smallest moment, suddenly I'm doing 80+. Despite my (OK, well-earned) heavy foot reputation, this is faster than I want to go. There's the position of things. When I glance down at the dash, the first thing I see is the RPM counter. To check the speedometer, I must look left. So there's maybe a 2 second disconnect before my brain registers that the speedometer is not where is should be and then tells my eyes to glance left. During this 2 second delay, while my attention is off the road, the car drifts. That's when I also realize that somehow I'm doing 85 mph. Also, it's a hatchback so I have to step back from the trunk after opening it to avoid being smacked in the head by the dang door.

Then there are the little things. Look, up till last year, all I knew was the one-armed bandit, roll-up window mechanism, but I got spoiled in that one year. The driver's side window goes down with one click but not up. And the lack of cruise control really bugs me. This is a big, expensive car and yet, no cruise control? It has an automatic function on the lights, with is nifty; you turn them on auto and leave it there. But when it's only raining, I can't tell if they're on or not, which is the law in New Jersey. With the constricted nature of the seats, I can't even reach into the back seat for anything. No sky hooks either, which makes getting in and out of the Jeep interesting with its height, heavy doors, and no extra loading ledge. There's only two cup holders (yes Dad that does matter), which are weirdly placed, and the a/c takes nearly a full minute to turn on, much less cool off the cab. It's a real pain in the donkey to park too; judging the space difference is dicey and I'm frequently hanging 1 or 2 feet out of the space for fear of bumping the front end.

Is there anything I like about it? Sure.

Um…hmmm…lemme think.

OK – it has interval wipers with gradations, not just one interval and then you have to go full throttle. I had that in my Geo Prism and really missed it when I transferred to Hondas. The gear shift is back in the center console where it belongs – getting used to the CR-V's on dash gear shift placement was a challenge, let me tell you. The engine is big. No, I don't know how big. Whatdya think this is, Top Gear (love you guys!)? But it's big and lugs along unless I push the accelerator to get it to downshift and speed up already, dang it. It's actually on the quiet size despite its size and does a decent pick up when I downshift without the resisting noises my CR-V sometimes blesses me with. Altogether, it's definitely a much quieter ride, offset by the one thing that's really makes the Jeep bearable.

Satellite radio.

Took me two days to realize I had it, but it's been pumping ever since. I've got octane rock, alternative rock, and coffeehouse rock on constant play with country (yes, country, deal with it), 40s on 40s and classical on the other presets. No commercials, no ridiculous DJ shenanigans, no multi-plays of the same 3 or 4 Boss songs, or Zepplin or Floyd or the Stones or AC/DC just to get to one Muse or Airborne Toxic Event, or Kaiser Chiefs or Hailstorm, or any other off-the- Billboard-list alternative rock bands that I'm enjoying. It does peter out under overhangs and overpasses but those are momentary losses and after years of DirecTV snafus, I'm a duck –it just rolls off my back.

It's a good thing I found the radio too, because I just found out that the auto body shop (Midland Park Auto Body; terrific guys doing terrific work) found more damage to my car as they were reattaching the door and it'll take at least another day. Frankly, I'm expecting to go through the weekend with this puppy, which will include a trip to PA this Saturday.

At least the tunes will be cranking. Pray for good car karma.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Appointment Television – The Choir

If you're not already watching BBCAmerica's The Choir – well, why the heck aren't you? It's perfectly lovely, a wonderful, uplifting treat.

Here's the sitch: Choirmaster Gareth Malone believes that every student should be exposed to music. Oh forget this. I'll never summarize it well enough. Here's a snippet from the BBCAmerica Web site.

From schools with no tradition of music to blue collar neighborhoods in need of a community focus, Malone is a man on a mission. It's an emotional journey of shocks and surprises, challenges and rewards with heartwarming results. At BBC America's session at TCA in January, Gareth achieved the unthinkable by getting the journalists in attendance on stage to sing a rollicking rendition of "Barbara Ann." This was a testament to both Gareth's fearless passion to unite people in song and his ability to make it fun for everyone.

From hit TV singing contest shows, to musical based films and television series to millions of downloaded songs - singers are front and center. It could be said singing is everywhere, but where are the choirs? Classically trained Malone embarks on a groundbreaking journey to save the choir and prove it's cool to sing together. Malone dives deep into the community's culture discovering where classical music stopped and what will ignite these people to be inspired to unite and sing.

For more info, check out

Pretty cool, right?

I've had my share of choirmasters in my time, a handful of them quite spectacularly hitting all the high notes and not just vocally. I was terribly excited for this show from the moment I saw the advert and couldn't wait for last week's premiere. The show completely rewarded my anticipation; I was totally enchanted. Gareth is an absolute delight, an inexhaustible champion for these kids and (in later episodes) the adults who make up his choirs, but a strident task master too. He inspires and challenges them all and they simply light up around him (though this sometimes takes a little time). It doesn't hurt that he's immensely talented and bears a striking resemblance to a certain doctor. Who else could pull this off?

Don't let press comparisons to the zeitgeist show of the last season, Glee, turn you away from this gem. That's simply the pitch and the marketing. In fact, The Choir has little to do with that campy, polished show (and I am fond of Glee).

In the 13 weeks that the show runs this summer, Gareth will put together and transform three choirs. With Northholt High School, he aims to take a nascent choir all the way to China for the World Choir Olympics. Next he takes a year-long teaching position at the all boys Lancaster School, determined to build a 100 voice strong choir to perform at Royal Albert Hall at a school with no music department and where singing is practically a dirty word. Finally, Gareth goes to the town of South Oxhey where "a divided community struggles to shake off a poor reputation that stretches back decades." Can a community choir revive the people of South Oxhey?

Tune in and tune up to find out.

Edited 7/14/10 to add: It helps if I tell you where and when to find it, right? The Choir is on BBCAmerica on Wednesday nights at 10pm.

Disclaimer: I did not receive compensation for this gushing review and Gareth is not coming to my apartment to serenade me in thanks anytime soon. Though really, tout suite on that one, kiddo.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot Days in the Summertime

These days, everybody's whinging about the heat, me included. And I was born in this kind of weather. Well, at least this time of year.

We don't have a/c so every fan we've got has been working overtime all weekend. I move the small one to the kitchen to blast on while I've been working. And I have been working, lovies. Oh yes indeedio. I've powered through moments of deep doubt, I've rewritten and slashed and moved and compiled. I have four open Word documents on my desk top right now, the actual WIP, a file for lines I've cut, just in case, one for lines I want to use later so I don't forget them, and the last a section I wrote a few weeks ago that I'm hoping to have incorporated into the main document by the end of today. Irons, they are in the fire and piping hot. Why not? Everything else is.

It's a discipline I'm not used to – not in me, and it hasn't been easy to maintain. I spent seven hours at Starbucks yesterday working and then another three when I got home. And I'm back again today. My forearms are sore from leaning on the hard table, my back is aching from hunching over the laptop and man does my butt hurt from the chairs. But I'm here, and I have a plan of action for the day, which, with any luck will end with a dip in the community pool and another Tessa Dare novel.

Sidebar: I read Dare's Goddess of the Hunt Sunday while enjoy the cool of the pool, and I mean that literally because every, single child interesting in splashing, throwing balls, or jumping off the side of the pool did so right around me. No matter how many times I moved up and down the wall, and there were plenty of them, children would find me. Once, another woman was following my example (reading while standing in the pool) only two feet away from me and she was TOTALLY DRY. Of course she was – all the little heathens we hanging around me!

Look, if you chose to read a book in the community pool, you're going to get wet. Thems the breaks. I get that. But kicked, bumped, totally drenched, and literally leapt over? Srssly, they were jumping over my head. Sigh. I need my own damn pool.

OK – mean old lady rant over.

Goddess of the Hunt is an amazing novel. Already, I have the next two in Dare's series on interlibrary loan request and as I said, if my day goes the way it should today, I'll be back in the pool (glowering) and diving into her Once Dance with a Duke. I figure historical are a safe bet to read when I'm writing because it not the subgenre that I write in, so if her words get in my head and seep into my writing, they'll be easy to find and delete. As I've taken craft seminars and worked on shaping my own work to be ever better, I read books differently. I'm looking for the things I've been taught.

Well, I looked up at page six of Goddess of the Hunt and realized Dare did in six pages what I had yet to achieve in fifty. Hero and heroine clearly and well defined. Conflict defined, setting defined, all with showing, not telling. And funny, witty interactions between h/h from the get go.

Truly I am a swallow in a cavalcade of eagles. But rather than feeling completely hopeless, I've dug in deeper instead. I remind myself, constantly, that nobody gets it right the first time. That what I'm reading is years of work and rewrites and critiques forming a final product. I tell myself, again and again, that I don't have to do it exactly the same way that my way can be different, that it should be different that, outside of grammar and basic craft, there is no wrong way. That swallows are still able to fly. Some of them even carry coconuts.

Friday, July 2, 2010

America's Birthday

I plan to spend this holiday weekend mostly at my laptop with side trips to the community pool, West Point for fireworks, and perhaps cleaning and rearranging my room (though probably not that last).

I wish you all a safe, restful, and fun holiday celebrating family and good friends and barbeque and fireworks and most of all, our hard-won freedoms in defense of which men and women continue to stand in our place on battle scared front lines across the world.

Though not at all related to the 4th of July, or even to America, here's is a fantastic clip of the band Muse at the Glastonbury Festival in southern England this summer, playing WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME for their encore performance with a little help from The Edge himself. Enjoy!

And may God continue to shed His almighty grace on the United States of America.