Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

3 Things Not To Drive

In a city as rife with personal automobiles as Los Angeles, I've seen a wider variety of vehicles in the past five years than at any other period in my life. If it can be driven, there's one of them in LA (in fact, there are probably hundreds of them); everything from dune buggies to chopper trikes; monster trucks to Lamborghinis. No matter what anyone tells you, the center of the car universe isn't in Indianapolis, Daytona Beach or Le Mans; it's right here in sunny L.A.

Of course, as with all things, with the tremendously good comes the tragically bad. Just like there are more of the world's finest autos on the mean streets of the City of Angels than anywhere else, there are also more four-wheeled abominations. The source of our smog problem may be the easiest mystery to solve this side of a Scooby-Doo episode about an amusment park. And the sheer number of cars on the roads notwithstanding, the number of them that are using a combination of luck and prayer (note the rosary on the rear-view) to keep moving seems to almost necessitate a traffic disaster. So, with my five years in this city nearly complete, here are the 3 worst things on the road:

1. Minivans. In fairness, being childless makes the concept of owning a minivan as foreign to me as owning a bra. But it appears that when one makes the tragically un-hip decision to purchase one of these modern mini-buses, they also seem to abandon the majority of their traffic sense. I cannot begin the count the number of minivans that I have seen traverse the local freeways as though they were sports cars - albeit ones moving at a maximum of 65 miles per hour. What's more, their drivers appear to have universally adopted indignation as a driving style - with a nearly inhuman disregard for honking, being passed on the right and obscene gestures. I'm not trying to say there's not a place for minivans on our freeways, in fact I'm certain there's one. It's called the far right lane.

2. Pre-1987 Toyota Trucks. For the most part, anything built before 1987 that hasn't been meticulously maintained (i.e. by a collector/car enthusiast/mechanic) shouldn't be on the road. I'm all for the durability of goods and love when something outlasts what I believed its functional life to be when I bought it, but ignoring over twenty years of automotive innovation for frugality's sake is not only poor judgment, it's downright unsafe. I only single out these trucks because they are the only Reagan-era cars that I see on a regular basis. And without exception, they appear to (a) have been painted with spray paint and in a hurry; (b) to be carrying far too much equipment (or people) in the bed - as evidenced by the sub-12 inch distance between the road and rear bumper; and (c) be driven on tires thinner than Paris' Hilton's personality. I'd feel safer driving behind a panel-truck carrying both C4 and plutonium in uncovered buckets than behind one of these.

3. Chevy Aveo, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, Etc. I group these cars together only because they seem, for the most part, interchangeable (and from outside of ten feet, indistinguishable). You know these cars, they're the ones you get from the rental agency if your company is cheap; the ones which appear to have tires with a smaller diameter than the ones on your mountain bike; or the ones apparently assembled with less reliable plastic than the stuff used to build above-ground pools. This is not an indictment of economy cars. There are great cars to drive if you don't have twenty grand to drop on a vehicle and are concerned with gas mileage, they're called Hondas. These cars always seem to be driven either by some too young to be licensed (i.e. teenagers) or someone dressed for a job that requires both a name-tag and a special hat. In either case, they are always oblivious to both road conditions and other drivers and seem blissfully unaware of the fact that it would take both an act of God and a thirty percent downhill grade to get their car up to an acceptable freeway speed. If there was ever a group of cars that should be relegated to surface streets only, this is them.

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Listen, I'm all for the American car culture. I'd hate to see the quintessential expression of American individuality (outside the kind of jeans you wear) be driven into state-sponsored unimodality. I certainly wouldn't want a world where we all drove the same thing. But, in a world where traffic is one of the places where anything that we do affects everyone around us (as anyone on the 405 can tell you), we ought to be especially conscious that our own choices don't make life harder for everyone else. So even more so than what you wear, what you say, or what you listen to, drive what you like - just make sure it doesn't suck. Because if it does, the rest of us won't just point and laugh, we'll leave you stranded with that thing on the side of the road.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

3 Winter Shames

Well, the Winter Olympics are upon us, and they appear to have had just slightly more impact on the sporting world than the WNBA Finals (yes, that league still, unbelievably, exists). For some reason, the winter games in Vancouver have become nearly as irrelevant as the host country itself, and one gets the feeling that the results of the events aren't even front page news in the host city itself. I have yet to watch a single moment of competition, and have only seen blurry clips of the tragic luge accident - which seems to have been the only newsworthy element of the entire undertaking. Gone are the days of families gathered around the television set to see some American ice princess triple axle and double lutz her way to gold; or even the morbid curiosity of watching to see if some unfortunate ski jumper will make his "agony of defeat" way into a crowd of spectators.

But amidst this globally over-hyped irrelevance there are some amazing feats of perseverance, athletic excellence, and unimaginable dedication. Unfortunately, there are also these inexplicable affairs, the 3 worst events at this year's Winter Olympics:

1. Two-Man Luge. Listen, luge is crazy enough. It's like someone took a look at an ice-coated track that was designed to be traversed in a fully enclosed bobsled and said, "Hey, I wonder if I could go down that on a really small sled in a skin tight suit and minimally protective helmet and visor." And then some crazy European guy was watching and thought that wearing full body spandex and sledding at 80 mph in front of strangers wasn't awkward enough, so invited his very close friend to ride on that same minimal sled while laying on top of him. I'm not quite certain how something like this becomes a hobby, let alone a sport. I'm also not sure the type of relationship required to undertake something like this - but every time I see it, I make the same face that Taylor Swift did when Kanye upstaged her at the Grammys.

2. Biathalon. I'm normally a big fan of Olympic events that combine things: the triathlon is an amazing test of endurance and the decathlon is widely considered to determine the "world's greatest athlete" but whoever thought up combining cross country skiing with target shooting should have been rewarded with a nice quiet room with barred windows, not their own international competition. It's hard to imagine anything these two pursuits have in common. I know people that like shooting guns, and I know people that like cross country skiing, and these are definitely not the same people. What's more, instead of shooting something cool that might actually mitigate the banality of this event, they shoot .22 caliber rifles which is the firearm equivalent of a really hard-thrown rock. I'd rather watch a Jersey Shore marathon than 10 minutes of this crap.

3. Curling. C'mon. Be honest. You knew this was on the list. What is awesome about curling is just how damned seriously everyone seems to take it - especially the Canadians. This looks more like something you play in a backyard or on a cruise ship than something that they should give out gold medals for. What's worse is that only the "team captain" gets to slide the giant rocks down the ice, the rest of the "team" gets to, no kidding, use brooms to furiously sweep the ice in front of the granite chunk as it shoots towards the target to make it go faster or slower at the captain's request. So, in review, you can be an Olympic athlete by sweeping ice with a broom really, really fast. If I won a medal in this, not only would I hide it from my friends and family, I'd refuse to sign the release so NBC would have to pixelate my face on their broadcast like a mob informant.

* * *

I'm all for the Olympic motto: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." But I fear that somewhere along the way we forgot that it is still a celebration of athletic excellence, and not simply a persistent desire to play in the snow in front of strangers. I may very well turn on these Games at some point, if for nothing else than to see how Bob Costas can possibly add any gravitas to sledding, shooting, and really cold shuffleboard.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

3 Rules For Texting

Remember when text messaging just seemed like too much of a hassle? When it was the sort of thing that only the kids who were busy customizing ring tones and decorating the outsides of their phones with rhinestones were doing? Back then, sending 160 character notes to our friends seemed just a shade more mature than passing them a handwritten version in homeroom while the teacher’s back was turned and with only slightly more utility than ten or so numbers you could get on an old school pager. But, alas it has become a text messaging world.

The once impersonal cell phone call has become surprisingly intimate in this brave new era of communications. While the previously benign SMS message has become a staple of modern conversation – and the latest smart phones have made it even simpler than its nearly antique predecessor, the e-mail. As with all forms of communications – text messaging has become nearly ubiquitous (i.e. my dad does it), and just like the others, seems to have its own secret rule book. So here they are, the 3 essential rules for text messaging:

1. The Unwashed Masses. Despite what you think, a mass text message is easier to sniff out than a checking scam in an e-mail from a “Nigerian bank official”. These are a bad idea to begin with. Because, the chances that you are important enough to warrant this form of communicating with friends are slim enough; and if you are, you probably don’t need to worry about text etiquette, anyways. For the rest of us, if you can’t help yourself, just be sure not to include anyone that you have a dream of seeing naked. Or else a dream is all it will ever be.

2. End of the Road. Unlike regular conversations, it’s hard to know when a text conversation is over. This is because of a variable amount of time between each message. Some say they never really end, and you can pick them up or leave them as life dictates (as if that's somehow the best part about them). However, even the simplest of things in excess can become tedious. For those text partners who can’t seem to get the hint, an unaccompanied smiley face (just like in person) always seems to do the trick.

3. The Stalker Number. The number of texts you are allowed to send without a response is three. If the other person hasn’t responded by then, they either can’t or won’t. Seriously, put the phone down and step slowly away. Your phone does a thousand other things and now is the time to do one of them. If your phone doesn't do a thousand other things, wake up and smell the 2010. Honestly, your vintage flip phone is about as cool as wearing leg-warmers or a Swatch watch. As a good rule of thumb, if you're wondering whether you've sent too many texts, you have.

* * *

The one great thing to come out of text messaging is how valuable it has made the actual phone call. Marginal phone skills notwithstanding, the time you take to dial a number and actually speak can say more than you could ever hope to with your catchy acronyms and cute emoticons, and that's before you've even said a word. The world's gotten impersonal enough, give your thumbs a rest, and use that phone for what it was intended for the first place: making a connection.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

3 Bad Jobs

Ever since "Dirty Jobs" reached a measure of fame as a show on Discovery, we've become fascinated with some of the truthfully and horribly dirty jobs that some people have - the majority of which seem to involve some contact with feces. But after watching dozens of episodes of that show, I'm convinced that there is a vast difference between a dirty job and a bad job. Most of the folks who had those dirty jobs seem to relish their inherent dirtiness and who amongst us hasn't secretly wanted to spend some time doing something completely and viscerally dirty for a little while? There are, however, some truthfully awful jobs that seem to be devoid of any sort of quality, benefit or tolerable conditions; some jobs that I just couldn't imagine doing, and especially not for the meager pay rates that they no-doubt offer. Here are three jobs I'd never, ever do.

1. Discount Store Customer Service - I'm not the kind of guy who could be in customer service in any setting. The thought of regularly dealing with people's complaints seems like just the sort of thing which could push me straight from continually losing faith in humanity straight to shopping for an assault rifle. But having to do it at a major chain discount store (e.g. K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart) has to be the sort of hell that is reserved solely for people who committed genocide in a previous life. The lines of folks I've seen at these customer service counters look like the extras from a George Romero movie, complete with the lifeless stare, slack jaws and aimless shuffling gait. Having to listen to their mindless warblings in justification of returning an $8 lawn sprinkler they bought six months ago would end me more abruptly than a Sopranos finale.

2. Movie Theater Ticket Taker - With the exception of the Arclight chain (and others like it), the modern movie theater is a shadow of its former self. Gone are the gentrified days of courteous ushers, a respectful quiet decor amongst the audience and a ticket price in the single digits. Additionally, the quality of personnel they have staffing these prefab strip malls of video entertainment seems to have been reduced to the point where they are interchangeable with the kids running the local food court. Of particularly miserable note is the young lad or lass that's stationed to take tickets and direct the would-be moviegoers to their chosen theater. To be clear, this person's "job" is take movie tickets, rip them and then tell people (despite the conspicuous and large-fonted signage) how to get to the right doors. Aside from the horror of having to watch an endless parade of simpletons parade in to watch the latest Twilight installment or similar mind-numbing fare, I mention this job because it appears to be a demotion from the concessions counter which houses the slowest moving food sales staff on the planet.

3. Wrong Way Airport Guy
- This one takes the cake. Of all the jobs I have ever seen, this is by far the worst. You know this guy. He is to the airport security team what the junior equipment manager is to a football team. His job is to sit on a stool at the "Point of No Return" in the airport gate area to make sure no one suddenly turns around and makes a break for it back into the "secured area". This young man has to sit and watch, for hours on end, a continuous stream of travelers exiting the airport, simply to make certain that no wrong way traffic occurs. Why this job isn't accomplished by a camera I do not know. These "one way" hallways are always located next to the security screening area, manned with armed law enforcement personnel - and yet, they've stationed a minimum wage, unarmed employee there to keep an eye out. I've personally never seen anyone manning one of these stations that could reliably stop a runny nose, let alone a sufficiently motivated terrorist. What's more, they are usually so brain-numb from the banality of their assigned task that they'd be lucky to notice an armed robbery. There can't possibly be a worse job.

* * *

In the end, I suppose that in this day and age, those of us who are employed ought to be glad to simply have a job, when so many around us don't have that same luxury - but I'm not certain that I'd be willing to do anything even if I had to. Besides, I'm sure there's something much, much dirtier available than the relatively clean vocations I've mentioned above that's looking for people (no doubt something involving feces). It's got to be better to clean toilets than to endure daily the mindless fare I've cited here. But if nothing else, these folks remind me that the seemingly endless paperwork, stress and craziness that my job provides, really isn't so bad after all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

3 Books to Burn

For the most part, reading is an exercise that we all do too little of. The world of multimedia has rendered the world's oldest media nearly obsolete, and the time investment involved in reading anything longer than 144 characters to be an imposition of overwhelming proportion - especially to the youngest generations. As evidenced by my own New Years resolution - we should all endeavor to resist the temptation of short form, or even micro form, prose and pick up a damned book. And though, as a media, books have fewer bits of outright brain rot than any other form, there are some books that you should avoid. There are some books that will actually make you dumber; some books that you would do better to not read anything than to indulge in; some books that, in contravention of one of my oldest held beliefs, should be collected and burned: three best-selling books that will kill more brain cells than they build
  1. Going Rogue by Sarah Palin - First off, this is not an indictment of any conservative tome. Though I have a fundamental problem (especially as a registered Republican) with the direction of the modern GOP, there are some brilliant minds (inexplicably) at work in the party, and they have produced some thoughtful and well-crafted prose. Rest assured, however, that none of it is in here. This thing is like a jingoistic, moral-majority version of Lake Wobegone, dumbed down so that her entire constituency can read it.

  2. Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard - Ever wonder what might happen if bad science fiction met up with cult religion? Well, you don't need to, because it happened a long time ago. In fact, it's grown into a world-wide movement whose basic tenets are so absurd that it makes burning bushes and salvation via weekly confessions look like particle physics. What is particularly horrifying about this pseudo-spiritual smut is how seriously it takes itself (which may explain its propensity for swallowing up small minds). On the upside, this may be the only religious book you can read that won't turn you into a Republican.

  3. Twilight (and any of its sequels) by Stephenie Meyer - Okay, I'll be honest, I made this list mostly so I could include this in it. These books are to books what Britney Spears is to music. Sure, you can like it privately, but (a) telling your friends you do will make them respect you less, (b) doing it in public will make people think you're an idiot, and (c) yes, you have the artistic taste of a thirteen-year-old girl. Listen, I get that a little fantasy is good for the soul. Hell, even I read a Harry Potter book. But this ill-fated collision of trashy romance and teen angst is as poorly executed as it is imagined. This may be the only thing you can do that's worse for your brain than watching daytime television.
In truth, I'm not advocating book burning any more than I'm actually going to actually slap the do-rags off the meat-chodes I see at the gym. But it pains me to see one of the last great intellectual exercises left in the world get bastardized by the sort of garbage which seems to make it to the best-seller list more and more often these days. I can forgive the reading proclivities of young people much more easily than I can forgive their fashion choices and propensity for street racing economy cars; but I am not as magnanimous towards adults. So for you grown-ups, do me a favor, pick up a Pulitzer book and see what your missing... and leave the trash on the shelf to do the only thing its good for: rotting.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

3 Men's Magazine Misses

There was a time when there was only one publication directed exclusively towards men; and it was called the "sports page". A few years later, there were a couple more: GQ, Esquire, Playboy. Now there is an entire rack at the bookstore dedicated to "Men's Interest" - which is more than the bridal and gossip sections put together (and that doesn't even include the smut)! Details, Maxim, Razor, Stuff, Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Men's Journal and dozens more. These national magazines appeal to our prurient interests in large-breasted models, fast cars and cool gadgets (the latter two mostly to get the attention of the first). But they also dole out advice in copious amounts, the majority of which is suspect at best.

After reading through my share of these glossy pages, and some paging through just to get to the centerfold, I've come up with three things that men's magazines have completely wrong.

1. The Blue Suit. I can't tell you how many times I've read in a men's fashion magazine that if you're only going to own one suit, it should be navy blue. I also can't tell you that I've met anyone who isn't in the fashion industry that thinks this is true. What's more, I've never met a woman who thinks this is a good idea. Let's be honest, you can't really pull off a navy blue suit; you'll mess up the shirt and tie combo and you haven't the foggiest idea of where to go with the shoes. You're going to end up looking like you lost your way to the yacht club or that you work security at an amusement park. I've been in business and in the dating universe long enough to know that the one suit you must own is black.

2. Ripped, Huge, Shredded, Massive, Etc.. I dare you to find a men's magazine that doesn't promise some sort of fitness breakthrough on its cover. Apparently we are all so desperate for fitness advice that we'll take it from just about anywhere. The implicit message in each of these pieces is that no matter what kind of shape you're in, you need to be in better shape and that if you follow a few simple tips, you'll have a body like an undressed He-Man action figure and before you know it you'll be reeling in chicks like Ashton Kutcher on a Cougar Cruise. The truth is, if you care anything about your fitness level, you're ahead of about 90% of the guys out there (if you don't believe me, look around next time you're on public transportation). And if you're the kind of guy who obsesses over your whether your body fat is in double digits or whether or not you can bench press a car - the aforementioned Cougar Cruise is the only place you'll be meeting women.

3. The Weekend Bag. It would seem the that overpriced luggage purveyors the world over have conspired to convince the modern man that the coolest thing you can possibly travel with is a "weekend bag". If you move around with anything other than this - you're a tool wannabe who has a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a table at that great restaurant, into the cool club or the number of that hot girl at the bar. This paragon of masculine impedimenta is basically a very fancy duffel bag (i.e. no parts made of canvas), in which you are to be able to pack, amongst other things, your madras shorts, polo shirts, boat shoes and aviator shades. I've never met anyone who actually owns one of these, but I attribute that mostly to the fact that I don't know anyone who would wear a sweater around their neck as anything other than part of a Halloween costume.

* * *

Let's be honest, it's not getting any easier to be a man these days. There seems to be emasculation lurking around every corner, and the amount of it being peddled by the sources who used to be reliable suppliers of manly advice is all the more frightening. In truth, the only people you should be taking advice from on being a man are the male mentors in your life. You know the ones I'm talking about: they can grow facial hair without looking absurd, have a toolbox with more than just screwdrivers in it and never, ever drink a cocktail from a martini glass. And as for what to do with your men's magazines, just use them for the one reason you really bought them for in first place: to look at the pictures.