Car as avatar

Dan Neil reviews the Ford Escape hybrid.

I anthropomorphize cars. I can’t help it. Some overly empathetic fold in my brain wants to make a steel-and-glass thing into a character, a persona, an avatar, a material semblance of the people and the company that built it. If you’ve walked through as many car factories as I have, you won’t forget that behind even the most unlovely and unloved vehicle there are 1,000 people pulling their guts out to make it great, and trying to keep their jobs besides. For a critic, all this is supposed to be inadmissible evidence — what matters is the thing itself — and yet, I’d have to be made of stone not to register the desperate circumstances from which some vehicles emerge.

I cry at puppy shows. I am not made of stone.

Read the rest.

Related, off the AP-AOL Autos car-relationship poll last month, read how On Deadline readers describe their cars’ personalities.

Also related but in a different way, apparently the Times has bigger plans for Neil. From editor James O’Shea’s “posting stories” address last month: “Here’s a prototype of a landing page for autos, which would capitalize our car coverage in this the wheels capital of the world. And we didn’t even get into what we could do with a talent like Dan Neil.” Should be interesting.

Song of last week

Baby, What Do You Want Me to Do. No great meaning, just had the song in my head for a few weeks, popping in and out like the filler time it serves so well in the ’68 comeback special. Finally was on a mini-vacation and had a chance to put on the album (the single disc, not the double) and it hit the spot. It reminded me of a great little music moment from Peter Guralnick’s Careless Love. After the marriage to Priscilla….

The chemistry that was evident from their first moment together on-screen was borrowed from real life. From Ann-Margret’s point of voice, music was the catalyst. “Music ignited a fiery pent-up passion inside Elvis and inside me. It was an odd, embarrassing, funny, inspiring, and wonderful sensation. We looked at each other move and saw virtual mirror images.” She was, Joe Esposito told Elvis, “a female you,” and soon she was at the house almost every night, or he was over at the apartment she shared with her parents. They drove around listening to tapes in the new Rolls-Royce limousine, they rode motorcycles together (she shared his passion for Harleys), the guys always knew enough to disappear at the right moment — or if they didn’t, Joe let them know. Everybody liked Ann — they all referred to her by the name of her character she played in the movie, Rusty, but Elvis called her Rusty Ammo. She was funny, she was sexy, she was never anything less than a good sport, she was one of the guys. One night she and Elvis were sitting around watching TV with the gang, “an average, lazy night at home,” when she and Elvis put on an impromptu show.

We snuck out of the living room. Then, without warning, he pushed open the big double glass doors. Everyone turned and looked. We were both on the ground, stretched out like cats, and in a husky growl he sang, “You got me runnin’.” I answered in a similar voice, “You got me hidin’.” … As we traded lyrics, we crawled across the carpeted room in time with the music while everyone clapped and laughed.

Between jumping into iconography and the corn that was already there, you’d be suspicious of how much you’d enjoy the moment, but you can’t sing the song if you’re not having a little fun. YouTube has the ’68 special version.

The ’89 Indy 500

The earliest moments where I can remember feeling sad about professional sports were the 1986 NFC championship game, the final weekend of the Orioles 1989 season and the ’89 Indy 500.

In the championship game, the Giants beat the Redskins 17-0. In the final weekend, Toronto ended the O’s remarkable rebound from the infamous 0-21 ’88 season and shut them out of the playoffs. In the race, Emerson Fittipaldi and my beloved Al Unser Jr. dueled for the lead in the final laps before an innocent bumping of tires sent Unser spinning into the wall.

Fortunately during this era, I also had the Dodgers’ ’88 World Series win (surely Orel is still going through the mail), the Redskins’ ’88 Super Bowl win (Sister Mary Ann, if memory serves, sent Jed Fox to the principal’s office for rooting against them, perhaps in a class-disrupting fashion; four years later, Dallas-loving John Paul Diller would apparently be more diplomatic in countering Miss Pairo’s victory-following sing-a-longs of Hail to the Redskins) and lots of Topps cards to keep me in good spirits.

But when Al Unser Jr. gets involved in a high-speed side-swiping incident — with Unser allegedly as Emo (the old school “Em-o,” not the new pronunciation), an average citizen as Unser and police claiming the drinking of more than milk — ’89 comes to mind.

‘The resulting scenario’ is my commute

The photo on the Post homepage Saturday was of Route 7, but the map showed the first real trouble as more to the north.

Chain Bridge Road and the Dulles Access Road — the lower and upper commutes to my work — are going to get it first. Even for those of us who don’t take the Beltway, the conversation of the empty land between Chain Bridge and the campus to office buildings looms pretty large. The ugliest traffic light in the neighborhood is going to get worse.

But this angle in the related story is interesting — “new toll lanes on the Beltway, which will include at least two, but more likely three, sets of new access ramps into Tysons, including one plunging into the heart of the area, onto the bridge over Route 123 that connects the two malls, Tysons Corner Center and Tysons II Galleria.” As you’re leaving the campus, the bridge comes before that traffic light. Most of that light’s troubles come from it being a funnel to the Beltway. Could it help to have a second way of accessing the ramps? The bridge is currently a two-lane thing with no light to access it, but there’s some land room around it. Sure, that land is where the office buildngs are going, but … get out your hard hats and maps, my friends.

“The resulting scenario sounds like the cruel fantasy of an angry god,” the Post says. The whole thing makes me miss taking the Metro, and yet that’s the point of the whole thing. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to look for my pedestrian tunnel through the hills and under the Beltway.