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.

lidar

 

“LIDAR LAMENT”

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

handsoff

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.

screwingoff

 

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

autoreading

 

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!

 

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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.

the-scream

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.

Boy Scouts Earn “Mensch” Merit Badge

mileswimI was happy to ready today the Boy Scout will welcome girls.  It’s about time. When I was a kid in the 60’s, joining the Cub Scouts then graduating to the Boy Scouts was cool. We proudly wore our uniforms to school assemblies and flashed our merit badges like gun notches. Oh no, they didn’t help you get girls, but it also told them you were probably not a bad risk…in a pinch.  In later years, the scouts became supremely uncool to the point where strolling down the street in your khakis and neckerchief could get you beat up.

But here’s the thing. There isn’t a day when I don’t use some skill I learned in the scouts. Maybe it’s tying a knot, using a jackknife safely, performing some sort of first aid or cooking a meal or kayaking. However, the most important thing I learned in the scouts was how to push myself beyond self-imposed limits. Here’s how it went down. I was 11 years old and not a good swimmer. I could flail around and remain afloat but that was it. During a two-week summer stint at Ten Mile River Boy Scout camp in the Catskill Mountains, they offered a chance to earn the much-coveted Mile Swim badge that you could have sewn onto a bathing suit. Was an effin’ big deal. My older brother already had one but just didn’t see it happening for me. Our wonderful scoutmaster, Don Schneider had been a tailgunner in WWII. A tough guy who had a soft, but firm, touch.  “Eddie!” he called out to me. “You’re down for the Mile Swim tomorrow! Show up at the lake at 9am.” Uh, what was he smoking? I could barely survive a puddle, let alone swimming for a mile in a 50-foot deep lake.  So I nervously questioned his judgement asking, “You know I can’t swim. Do you wanna see brown coming out of my bathing suit?”

“Shit!” he retorted. “Just jump the fuck in the water and keep going! You can do it! You don’t jump, I’m tossing you in!”

Right.

Well, a good scout obeys his scout master and I showed up at the lake at 9am the next day, shivering not from the cold water but sheer fright.  I was joined by 10 or so other guys with the obnoxiously confident looks of someone who was just about to paddle around the wading pool. The lifeguard stood on the dock and gave us our instructions.  “When I blow the whistle, jump in! You have to do 26 laps around the course. Time limit, 90 minutes. You touch anything like a dock or buoy or boat, and you’re done! Ready!” BLOOOWWWWW!

Right behind me Scoutmaster/holder of Torture merit badge, Schneider gave me a push. Uh oh. Feet couldn’t feel the bottom..keep moving! I kept moving and flailing and quickly learned you could save a lot of energy by flipping over to your back every once in awhile.  I got dangerously close to the dock a few times but never touched. After awhile I realized I had done 7 laps, then 10 then 18, then finally I heard Don scream to me “one more and you’re done!” And then I was. Somehow I had swum the mile when only the day before it seemed way over my head. My brother was there to greet and congratulate me. I had so much adrenalin flowing through me I immediately jumped into a canoe and paddled across the lake and back, then jumped back in the water for a victory lap. In the next few days my new aquatic confidence powered me to earn swimming  and canoeing merit badges.

The experience had a lifelong effect on me. My wife always jokes how I’ll say “I can do that” when faced with a challenging or unfamiliar task. That attitude got me through many professional challenges including reinventing myself from a broadcast to print journalist when I was unexpectedly laid off from CNN when it offloaded hundreds of employees as part of the disastrous Time-Warner/AOL merger in 2001. It happened again when I was offered the chance to move to the corporate world as Fiat Chrysler’s first head of corporate communications social media.  It also helped me take up skiing at age 30 and ice hockey at 46. I still do both.

The short answer is my experience in the Boy Scouts made me a person who more often than not says “yes” to new experiences that may test my mental and physical abilities. Because I hate to think of what my life would have been had I stood my ground with Scoutmaster Schneider and said “no.”   That’s no way for a boy…or girl to live.

Some Petty Thoughts


drummerboy2Tell me you’re a guy who doesn’t admit to playing the drums on his steering wheel when a really great song comes on the radio and I’ll quickly call “bullshit!.” Ever since I was a kid growing up in a 400-square foot garden apartment in Queens I’ve banged on things to great songs.  Banged on my workbook in class while those new Beatle songs filled my head in 1964. So much so my twitchy 6th grade teacher Mrs. Newman screamed at me to stop.  I’d fill coffee cans with coins and create a poor-kid’s kit, keeping time to Tony Bennett and Charlie Spivak and the Stones and the Doors and even to my parents’ extensive collection of Broadway show tunes. You can’t help it. When an irresistible beat gets hold of you there are a few choices of what to do next:  snap your fingers, sing along, dance, tap your feat…or bang something.

In the 1990’s I finally had enough dough and room in my house for a real set of drums. Without a band to play with, I set up between two Pioneer speaker towers and blasted tunes to play to. Rock, jazz, the blues and always, always Tom Petty.

The reasons are simple. For a basement banger like me, the beats are easy and take hold of you like stew spiked with sriracha. The guitars are clear and to the point using three or four basic chords. The lyrics make sense and hit home. And, well, you can’t help just wanting to find a way to play with Petty.  That old early 1990-s Pioneer rack unit has a six-disc changer and Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s Greatest Hits always occupies one slot. pettysgreatest

My neighbors may quickly tire of it, but I can play along to “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That”  and “I Won’t Back Down” over and over again at full volume so it rocks my house..and their’s too…and maybe the guy’s around the block I haven’t yet met but expect to see at my door any day now. One time while I was chatting over the fence to my next door neighbor a car backfired. “Sounds like your basement,” he cracked.

I don’t wanna play those songs with a band. I wanna play with Petty and the boys…some of whom have been with him for 40 years.  In 1978 when my wife and I quit our jobs and took off from Central New York to Tucson, Arizona for our next adventure Petty was blasting on the radio and then again when we quickly moved to Atlanta in 1981 for a job opportunity and once more in 1989 as we fought traffic all 700 or so miles when work took us to our final stop, in Detroit. He was just always there with straightahead rock…no BS..no flowery, overwrought, self-conscious, egotistical declarations. Just stories. Wonderful stories. Simply told.

petty1As a journalist, that’s what I always seek to do. Just tell a story. Try to tell it well with lean language that paints a picture, makes a point, is hopefully memorable. That’s what Petty did.  Using lean language Tom Petty was as much a mentor to me as anyone.  I call your attention to something he said in Dave Grohl’s wonderful film “Sound City.”  Referring to the film’s namesake recording studio, he said when he made a record it couldn’t just be good, it had to be great. When I sit down to create something, that simple but clear statement steps forward in my head. Not just good, but great. Who’s to say if something is great. I use my own criteria and let’s be honest, I would be hard pressed to count on one hand or a toe or two anything I’ve done that I would label as such. But having greatness as a goal, prevents you from settling for just OK or good, or mediocre. It counters complacency. There’s that one tweak, reconsideration of a phrase, clearer explanation or technical refinement that can make the difference.

Mr. Petty’s body of work is testament to a man who practiced what he believed, but never preached. I thank him for that lesson, because it’s helped me be a better person. I also thank him for his music, because I love banging those drums till the walls shake, and I maybe meet a new neighbor. I’ll tell them it’s Tom’s fault…and my name’s not Tom.  It’s just my attempt to be better than good. RIP Mr. Petty. It’s time to play.

Abdicating The Palace

palaceThis week a rousing Bob Seger concert was the last event to be held at The Palace of Auburn Hills, north of Detroit. That’s because its primary tenant, the Detroit Pistons, have moved down I-75 into the new Little Caesar’s Arena..also the new home of the Detroit Red Wings, who fled the aging and obsolete Joe Louis Arena.lca

Unlike “The Joe,” The Palace is a state-of-the-art facility, opened in 1988 and constantly improved and updated. Its main fault is being located off a freeway exit deep in the Detroit suburbs, and far from the team’s fanbase. Even so, The Palace has been one of the premier event venues in the country.  Fans loved it, musical acts appreciated the sound and staging and athletes had few, if any complaints.

But about 18 months from now, the Palace will come tumbling down to make way for, perhaps, the headquarters of an automotive supplier or tech firm. I totally understand the business reasons for its demise. Tom Gores, who heads the company that owns The Palace, the Pistons and its entertainment business, made a Faustian deal with arch competitor, Olympia Entertainment, owned by the Illitch family, which owns the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Little Caesars Pizza and, oh yes, the brand spanking new Little Caesar’s Arena, where the Pistons will now play their home games.  Two competing entertainment and sports titans, jumping in bed together, so they can both make more money.

I have no issue with replacing horribly obsolete buildings but The Palace isn’t one of them. It breaks my heart, and my head, a little, to think of the utter waste of a perfectly usable facility, the work put into it and all that money spent to maintain it as a top tier venue.  It’s just indicative of our disposable society that reeks of minute attention spans and the constant need for something new and shiny.

coliseumextCan you imagine if, in ancient times, the Romans decided The Coliseum had to go because gladiators just couldn’t face lions anymore without being able to relax first in a cushy lounge with 38 selections of wine and grog, and spectators required complimentary thumb coozies to keep their digits warm while deciding whether to point them up or down, but not before grabbing a bite from the exclusive “Nero Club.”thumbs

I can hear the conversation now between developer Leonidis Slumlordis and Coliseum owner Julius Sleazer.

LS: “Julius! Look at this dump! It’s all stone and mud, every third space on one of those rock-hard benches has an obstructed view because of those damned columns, and, by the way, have you sat for more than X minutes on one of those seats? They’re so hard they flattened my poor gluteus circus maximus!

coliseumseatsJS: “Look Leonidis. I get what you’re saying but ever since free agency entered the gladiatior game I have to cough up at least MMM lire to each two-legged lion bait just to put his sandals on the dirt. That, plus new demands from the lion’s union that each gets its mane moussed before each battle so they look good on Instagram, and we stick to gladiators with enough meat on their bones to at least make them a decent meal.

LS: “That’s not the point, Julius. Thumbs up, thumbs down is old technology. Spectators want something more modern, like what’s going on in the Mesopotamia Carnage Conference. All their venues have moved on from thumbs to providing each spectator with red and green plumages. They stick a red one in their hats for “let the bastard die!” and a green one for “he’ll be lion lunch anyway, but good luck!”   That’s high-tech stuff! Season ducat spectators are also demanding more creature comforts such as valet chariot parking and luxury dungeons where their slaves can chill while they enjoy the bloodshed. They’re also demanding unlimited grog and a special section for having their way with high quality wenches, like they do at Alexandria Arena. They don’t call him “The Great” because of his battle skills. The guy is a genius at marketing debauchery and torture. ”

gladiatorvslionJS: “So what are you proposing. A renovation?

LS: “Not at all, Julius. Think bigger! Let’s knock the place down and build a brand new, ultra-modern den of iniquity. It will be state-of-the -archaic. A wonderful place for gladiators to die horrible deaths and an even better place for spectators to enjoy watching it.

JS: “Hmm..I get what you’re saying, but I’m not buying it. The place looks like it could stand for another, I dunno, couple of thousand years.”

LS: Ok, Julius, but you’re an idiot. You’ll lose all your customers and your business will just be in ruins.

JS: No problem, Leonidis. I understand “ruins” is the next hot ticket in the just-developing travel industry!” tourist1