Attack of the clamshell

clamshellfingerOn this Sunday morning I’m nursing deep lacerations on the fingers of my left/dominant hand, suffered in the noble cause of freeing a cinnamon donut  from the edges of the scourge to humanity known as razor-sharp clamshell plastic packaging.   Plastic-donut-container-6-count-upright-260806-2

You’ve all fallen victim. All you want to do is remove the product so you can actually use it or eat it, since that’s why you bought it. You must first figure out the first layer of security. That’s the sticky label placed across the spot you believe to be the leverage point that will allow you to open the package. Sometimes this label is easy to breach. You just snip it with scissors, or, in rare cases, zip across it with your finger nail. Recently, though, my breakfast pastry was guarded by a strip of material I can only imagine was developed to prevent rhinos from entering one’s SUV. Neither scissors, jackknife, razor blade nor hedge trimmer could break the seal. As ridiculous as it sounds, I had to resort to using a hacksaw. Success was gained after dulling two blades in the process.  At that point, I’d kinda lost my taste for danish, but I nevertheless persevered."Of course it's in its original packaging. I'm returning it because it's impossible to open!"

Having broken the first obstacle, step two was actually opening the package. As you may be aware, clamshell packaging is held closed by several big plastic dimples on the lid that fit tightly into recesses on the bottom half. Simple technology. Cruel operation. In order to separate the halves you must hold one side and find purchase on the other so you have sufficient leverage. That’s where the packaging has its say as to whether or not you will enjoy the delicious delicacy it contains. As you slip a finger into the thin, tight margin between the sides, there is not enough space to avoid being rasped bloody by the sharp plastic edges. You are not happy, but you are hungry and your coffee is getting cold. However you must continue because in the words of George Costanza’’s mother, “I feel like an idiot having a cup of coffee without a piece of cake!” Indeed.

clamshell_packaging5And so you ignore the blood and growing pain and pull and tug and curse and stomp and scream until, until…you hear that lovely crackling “pop!” of the two side separating. Finally, there are no barriers between you and those bear claws, or jelly donuts or cinnamon sticks or apple danish. They give you that look of “take me…take me…but please don’t take cream or sugar.”

Your unpackaging ordeal now over. Your lips smacking with sugary reward you ignore the blood dripping from your index finger, the pain that won’t go away till dinner time or the futility that preceded your eventual success. Those are mere battle scars. You have won. You savor your victory. Until you again march into the kitchen…tomorrow…at breakfast.


Standoff in the french fry aisle

frenchfryaisleWent food shopping this morning and things became tense at the french fry freezer case.  There’s only one brand of fries we like..not your store brand or Ore-Ida or microwave fries, but those awesome fries they serve at Checkers and Rallys fast food joints. You can buy ’em by the bag, stick ’em in the oven and fall into a french fry rapture.


Well…it seemed some dude decided he needed to camp out in front of the exact spot where the Checkers/Rallys fries were sitting, all plumped up and waiting for an adoring family to take them home.  The guy wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t looking at the various brands and types of fries and he certainly didn’t seem worthy of a bag of Checkers fries. He just stood there, hanging onto his cart in a trance, looking like he was coming down from his last shot of heroin.  The normal protocol of just saying “excuse me” didn’t seem like it would be effective because the guy appeared separated from reality. So I circled around and around until I used the only other tool in my box that had a chance of not inciting violence…I just sidled my cart next to his, gave him a steely look that said, “I wanna get into the fuckin’ Checkers fries.” That’s really all it took. He quietly moved away, gave me a sorrowful look, while muttering, “oh, excuse me.”

Testing a retiree’s metal

Active-RetireesOne of the cool benefits of my particular health plan in retirement is something called “Silver Sneakers.” One of the things I hate about that cool benefit is the name “Silver Sneakers.” Silver Sneakers gives you free entree’ into a number of health club chains around the country with the intent of enticing you to exercise more and lowering health care costs. What really gives me grey hair is the association of the color silver with those of us who have taken a certain number of trips around the sun.

First of all, I have never worn sneakers that are silver nor do I intend to. I may have a couple of silver-y grey hairs, but not enough to notice…especially after I pull them out.

Second, it may be time to call in a metallurgist to suss out exactly which precious metal is in play. How can people in their so-called “golden” years simultaneously come under the classification of “silver.” Perhaps Charles Darwin missed the evolutionary process whereby at at 65 or so you become an alloy.

Third, “silver” denotes second place. Who won gold?

Further, when you think of how many retirees pursue carcinomas under the Florida sun it’s possible to carry a Silver Sneakers card during one’s golden years while being bronzed.

ActiveRetireesPersonally, I would prefer to be identified with a much stronger metal such as steel or titanium, not a malleable milquetoast such as tin or aluminum. How cool would it be to see an AARP ad hawking benefits of membership during your “Kickass Steel  Years,” Those are the years when you say exactly how you feel, tell poolside mah jong yentas to put a cork in it and berate Izzy the deli guy about how fatty the pastrami was, in front of all his customers…all without a hint of regret or self-consciousness. Yeah…time for us codgers to kick a little brass.

I guess what I’m saying is we may be getting older but we’re still in the game playing hard. We’re less silver or gold than Iron men and women..who haven’t nearly lost our mettle.





LIDAR Lament

waymoWhether we like it or not, self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles are in the cards. While they may be useful for any number of reasons, I don’t see them sparking any great tunes.

Let’s think about it for a moment. Some of the greatest songs refer directly to someone whose hands are on the wheel or flooring the accelerator or refusing to drive 55 .

A great example is Golden Earrings’s classic “Radar Love” with the awesome opening lines:

“I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel

There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel

It’s my baby callin’, says I need you here

And it’s a half past four and I’m shiftin’ gear.”

The Doors wouldn’t be caught dead in a self-driving car as they headed for a night of debauchery at the roadhouse:

“Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel

Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel

Yeah, we’re goin’ to the Roadhouse

We’re gonna have a real

Good time”

And before  Bruce Springsteen would allow a bucket of semi-conductors to take the wheel, he would rather be hopped up on caffeine and who knows what in order to maintain control of his ride in really crappy weather to see his lady once again in “Drive All Night.” Just another reason he’s “The Boss.”

“Baby I’ll drive all night

I swear I drive all night

Through the wind, through the rain, through the snow”

While I can understand that autonomous vehicles will be extremely useful..especially for those who can’t drive themselves, I intend to hold out just as long as I can before I cede control of my mobility to a machine that’s smarter than I.

And so I offer this ode to autonomy..that you can sing to whatever melody strikes you…as long as you sing it… yourself.




I been riding all night, my butt’s stuck on the seat

Car’s doing all the work, don’t need my feet

I got a place in mind that I wanna go..

Don’t have to steer… this machine just knows


So I sit and watch the world through the windshield

Eyes on everything but what’s in front of me..

No concern about my speed, or any urgency…

No mental traffic when you’re riding in autonomy.



Got a left foot out of work with no clutch to depress

and my right one just stepped in my Taco Bell mess

My idle hands they have no wheel to steer or lever to shift

And I wonder what damn killjoys came up with this



When I’m in real hurry or just wanna go real fast

Don’t wanna watch it happen, I wanna mash the gas

Want my hands real busy, don’t want it done for me

Won’t cede the thrill of driving to a car’s technology


I suppose I could be open to a car that drives itself

operated by a host of smart electronic elves..

I could just sit back, relax and think about my day

Let autonomy just do its stuff

and whisk me in my way



But to whom do I direct my anger and my bile

When a driverless self-driving buggy tailgates us for a mile.

No GPS or LIDAR gives a flying hoot

When you flip them off or swear or give your horn an angry toot.


I’d just as soon stay in control,

On what’s in front of me..

Make all my decisions and mistakes..

Now that’s autonomy!


Detroit’s secret Amazon ingredient

viewOne of the great things about my little job at Automotive News is my workspace faces a window that looks out on downtown Detroit. Ford Field is just across the road, GM headquarters looms to the left and I have views of Comerica Park, Little Caesars Arena, Greektown Casino and Hotel, the historic Penobscot Building, and even the Wayne County Jail and a glimpse of Canada, just across the Detroit River.  It’s a wonderful view but doesn’t show one of the key reasons I think Amazon should decide to locate its second headquarters here. amazon

There’s been talk about the need for rapid transit, access to a ready labor force and adequate housing. But to me, what Amazon needs the most…are boxes. Millions and millions of boxes. I’ve researched this and discovered that Amazon, of course, has several suppliers for those boxes that get us giddy when they appear on our doorsteps or in our mailboxes. But let’s look to the future. The more Amazon’s business grows, so will its appetite… for cardboard boxes.  amazonboxes

Guess what? I found more than a dozen cardboard box companies in Michigan. In fact, Michigan Box Company  is smack in downtown Detroit. You gotta love the image on its website’s home page. A nice, friendly, happy, eager dog just ready to please and play…and yes…deliver!  michiganbox

There’s a company in the Downriver area called ThePackline Co. You know how many different boxes they can come up with? Their website claims 1,500 different kinds of cardboard boxes in their catalog. Hell, Amazon could ship everything from prosthetic elf ears…elfears

To a scale to weigh your dog, goat, pig, sheep or calf …dogscale

So sure, mass transit is nice for moving people, but Amazon’s bread and butter is moving stuff to its gazillion customers…in cardboard boxes! It’s hard to imagine Amazon ever having enough cardboard boxes since at some point brick and mortar merchants will run up the white flag in surrender to the online sales behemoth…after ordering one from Amazon and having it delivered in..a cardboard box!

So Amazon, please look past the folderol other communities may be passing your way such as pretty pictures, smiling people and promises of a fun and stimulating lifestyle. Oh yeah..we have all that…recreation, culture, technology, hardworking and ready labor force, amazing suburbs, major league sports and an international border. That’s all great.  But we also have plenty of what you need the most. Yup…Detroit not only shapes up…but we have the boxes so you can ship out. Can’t wait till you land on our doorstep.


Taking the steam out of boil water order

watermainThe first hint of something not exactly right was when the stream of water coming out of my shower head was roughly as weak as a pee from a man with a faulty prostate.  Hint number two was the sound of a loud cough coming from my bathroom sink faucet once I turned the tap. Sounded about the same as an Englishman with his mad dog out in the midday sun.  I gave these hydro-aberrations little thought until early this morning when I attempted to fill the coffee pot and all that dripped from the tap was enough H20 to fill a thimble. After scratching my head and thinking of doing the same to my ass I checked my phone for any overnight emails or messages.  That’s where the mystery was solved. A water main had cracked a few miles from my house the evening before and ruined tea time for more than 600-thousand people in the area. 

The headline was dire and direct: “Mandatory boil water in effect for the following cities and towns! Don’t drink, wash, bathe, slosh or spit until you have allowed the water to boil for a minute or more.” Then, I suppose, you had complete permission to scald yourself to your heart’s delight.

So I had no choice but to hop in my car and head downtown to my part–time job 26 miles away in Detroit, allowing me the opportunity to hear non-stop on the all-news radio station that everyone affected by the water crisis was essentially screwed until at least Friday night.  The reason for the delay? The water people don’t keep a spare 48-inch diameter pipe handy for such disasters, so a section of the four-foot wide main would need to be trucked in from Illinois and installed. Then water pressure would be slowly built back up and the water tested to make sure it did not contain the type of bacteria causing President Trump to emulate the man who inspired a famous Edvard Munch painting.


I attempted to buy bottled water but all I could find was a single six-pack of grape-flavored agua. I did see a couple of bottles of Pellegrino water in one shopper’s cart, but I did not deem such a disaster was the time for pretentiousness. I must admit, however, it would be pretty sparkling bathing in a tub of lightly bubbled spritz.

As a provider for my little family, I used all of my survival instincts to come through with one logical course of action. Find a water source that was easily transportable, and totally potable. I need look only at the top shelf of my fridge where a thoroughly chilled 12-pack of Sam Adams seasonal brews were foaming over the chance to be of public service.  My family was not nearly as enthused over my solution as they prefer a nice dry, red. I was only too happy to return to the market, pass the empty water shelves and snicker as I bought a case of Cabernet, feeling a little drunk with smugness, and Sam Adams, that my dear neighbors hadn’t had that same Eureka moment.

So now we’re all set. Ready to ride out this temporary situation for the next couple of days. We won’t need to boil water at all. We’re all cooked.

The Post-Facebook Fuckoff

500friendsIt’s been about a year since I quit Facebook cold turkey as a means of reclaiming my time and a bit of my sanity.  I had developed a bit of a following for some mildly funny posts to the extent that when I attended a business or social event, my followers would give me warm greetings, engage in conversations, call out specific posts. 

But then yesterday, while covering an auto industry event, I found out how fleeting Facebook “friendship” really is.  One of my more ardent former followers…a fellow journalist..greeted me with a big “hi! and a smile. Then came the hammer. “You don’t seem to post much anymore,” she said. “Oh no,” I replied. “I quit a year ago.” Her face fell, then hardened, and then she curtly cut off our conversation and turned to speak with someone else.

Are people really that idiotic and shallow to the point of de-valuing your acquaintance simply because you choose to discontinue posting quips on a social media site?

I asked my daughter, who, in her late 20’s, is a social media savant ,if this was common behavior or simply a display of immaturity by a middle aged knownothing.

She gave me a very serious look while explaining to me in no uncertain terms, “you must maintain your online presence to build your personal brand.”

Now I ran social media communications at Fiat Chrysler for 11 years so I’m not exactly a novice at online branding and the working of social media, but for some reason this hit me like a shot. It just seems so horribly pathetic that human beings can be judged by such an ephemeral criteria. Luckily, I’m at an age where my reputation has long been made. I have no one else to impress except my family. In my semi-retirement I have no occupational aspirations other than to dabble here and there with freelance projects and my very nice part-time position at Automotive News. I do not wish to be some sort of social media personality and the only thing about me that goes viral might be a bacteria I catch in the locker room where I play hockey.

boobsWhat this has all done is harden my resolve not to reverse course and resume my Facebook presence. Oh..I’m still online..through this blog and a very occasional tweet and posting links to some of my current work on Linkedin, but that’s it.

It was fun making people laugh and triggering some smiles during my time on Facebook, but it’s always best to leave the stage with the audience wanting more. That doesn’t make me worth any less.  I still tell jokes…to my real friends…not on Facebook..but face to face.