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April 7, 2010

I recently saw Public Image Limited’s performance on American Bandstand again.  THAT, my friends, was a crowning moment in American TV.  They wouldn’t stop playing, and they scared the shit out of Dick Clark.

They actually made no attempt at the lip-synch or miming to the record. Singer John Lydon repeatedly held the microphone to the bewildered teenagers in the audience when he was supposed to be singing; guitar-mangler Keith Levene and wobbly bassist Jah Wobble exchanged instruments during “Careering.” It was utter bedlam.

On a soundstage about some years ago, I actually had an opportunity to ask Dick “Third Reich and Roll” Clark about the infamous PiL appearance on Bandstand. So I did.

Me: “So Dick, do you remember when PiL appeared on Bandstand?”

DC: “Who?”

Me: “PiL. Public Image Ltd.”

DC: “Oh, you mean John Lydon.”

Me: “Yeah, John Lydon. What was that like?”

DC: “Well, I remember before the show he told me that he had a cold. He said that because he wasn’t feeling well he was just going to go up there and take the piss out of me. So I said, ‘Go ahead.’ And he did.”

Me: “Wow. Did you ever read the story about you in CREEM magazine by Lester Bangs?”

DC: “Can’t say that I did. What was it called?”

Me: “’Screwing the System with Dick Clark’”

DC: (laughs)

Me: “Well, anyway, there is a compilation of Bang’s stories in a book called *Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung*. I brought it to the set with me. If you want, I can drop it by your dressing room later and you can read the story I’m talking about.”

DC: “Yeah, that would be great.”

(Later, after leaving *PR&CD* in DC’s dressing room)

DC: ”You know, son, I do remember that interview now. What I like about the Bangs interview is that he didn’t put words in my mouth. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been misquoted and misrepresented to fit somebody’s preconceived viewpoint about what they think I’m about.”

Post Script: If a you haven’t read it, Bangs’ piece is an example of “Give ‘Em Enough Rope and They’ll Hang Themselves”-type journalism. I do not doubt that the quotes were accurate, for they revealed what a twisted culture fascist DC really is.

Lester Bangs, RIP.

Conversely, Dick Clark will *NEVER* die. The wrong humanoids have cryogenically-enhanced life spans, in my opinion.-30-



March 9, 2009

by Cole Coonce

(excerpted from Sex & Travel & Vestiges of Metallic Fragments)

His driver’s license expired on his birthday and he never knew it. LAX’s Homeland Security caught the lapse last month as he attempted to board a plane to Kennedy. He was lucky to be allowed on board.

A month later and it is Indian Summer and any suburban adjunct to Los Angeles with a smattering of foliage is on fire. Meanwhile, it is a soul-sucking afternoon at the DMV on Rosemead Boulevard. The parking lot is overrun with shaven-headed hoodlums in hopped-up Hyundais jousting for fleeting parking space with housewives in Honda CRVs.

In the glaring sun he pulled his silver Chrysler over on the street while the others played bumper cars in the motor vehicle parking lot. And to think, he pondered, that this is where the driving tests begin. Fair enough: if you can make it out of that asphalt atom smasher alive, you deserve to drive. That should be the whole exam—make it out of the parking lot without getting killed and the city is your motoriffic oyster.

Inside the DMV, there is even less personal space and the only thing that would make it more tedious would be to show up with a hangover.

The lines to get a license are tangles of confusion and entropy. Even with an appointment, the passing of time is five gears in reverse. After visiting three windows, he was told to take a number and go sit in the blue section. He was in a blue chair, next to the bluehairs—old ladies whose medications were a few molecules off—and he tried to ignore their rants and harangues about stolen debit cards and purloined passwords, delivered in a stuttering clip and pointed at the gunfire-proof glass.

This is America as the New Second World, he mused, as marble-mouthed public address announcements about assigned numbers going to assigned windows gurgled through blown speakers. It was completely unintelligible and each p.a. notification was merely an alarm to look at blasted-out teevee screens, whose parallelograms framed a matrix of a sort of bingo game, with numbers correlating to the next available window. If one ignored the garbled salvo of sound, one ran the risk of not looking at the video monitor and thereby missing one’s number and starting the whole procedure over again. The cacophony was accompanied by Japanese girls talking into phones and asking what their friends were wearing when they went to the new Brad Pitt movie. It was post-modern Benetton cum post-war Poland. Eventually, his number was up, his picture was taken and he was renewed.

Back on the street, the sky was mercury and the silver Chrysler was baking, and it didn’t cool down until he pulled off the freeway and parked under the shade of some nascent oak trees at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center.

By then, the sun was on its downward arc, the hydrogen lumens lighting the soot and particles that had collected from the surrounding fires. He swam and swam, and closed his eyes as he did the backstroke. He was in shadows and then he was in sunlight and back again.

Because of the piss-poor air quality, the pools were half-empty, but a smaller one had a swim class for rugrats. Toothsome Pasadena milfs monitored their munchkins and provided sensual visual respites as he would pull up to the lip of the water and catch his breath.

His workout was done when he saw her exit the women’s showers and saunter towards the water: blonde, stout, and sculpted with an hourglass body, her amber skin offset by a bicep tattoo of a pattern that resembled the concertina wire from a concentration camp. She wore a red one-piece that fit like latex. She rolled her tresses into a rubber cap and draped a pair of cobalt blue goggles over her limpid eyes.

He rested his back against the pool’s edge as she swam. He tried not to stare. Her form was flawless. Perfunctory, but as graceful as a dolphin, if not a leopard. He tried not to be obvious about his admiration for her strokes, but he would watch her porpoise through the water and out of the shadows; and the sunlight would hit her face as she swiveled for air and it was a wet, expressionist painting.

She climbed out of the drink, the water dripping off of her carnal can. Her exit was as smooth as her swimming, as she had deftly unraveled her blonde locks with one leg still in the water.

He left when she did. He sat in the car with wet shorts, and thought of beauty and propagation. He keyed the ignition and the radio reported more ocean and desert winds fanning ubiquitous flames.30-

The Curse of Rancho Los Feliz

October 10, 2008

Plague, Holocaust, and Homicide in Griffith Park

They say it’s cursed. Griffith Park — all of it. But if there is a pox on the park that Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith set aside, then City Councilman Tom LaBonge ought to heed the warnings of the past. The city is in the midst of redesigning some of the park right about now, and LaBonge is neck-deep in it, perhaps to manifest the latest iteration of a scourge and hex that first appeared around the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Yes, in 1863, according to legend (and a bit of recorded history), local rancher Don Antonio Feliz, who owned the 8,000-acre rancho, succumbed to smallpox. In his wake, a legacy dispute ensued over the signing of his will. While his niece, Dona Petranilla, was sent away to protect her from the pox, it seems one of Don Feliz’s associates, Don Antonio Coronel, bamboozled her out of the estate that would someday become Griffith Park itself.

Dona Petranilla did not, however, go quietly. Upon her receipt of doodley-squat from the estate, Petranilla went medieval on the interlopers, and declared a curse on the land, its future owners and inhabitants. In perpetuity, it seems … . Which may have worked a little too well, as – again, according to legend – she was the first casualty, exiting this mortal coil promptly and post-haste.

Her bamboozler, Don Coronel, sold the ranch not much later, as many of those close to him bit it in grisly fashion. Coronel’s will was contested through the courts, and reached the Supreme Court, whereupon the justices ruled in favor of Coronel. Eventually, Coronel bequeathed the huge property to his lawyer, who was subsequently shot.

Enter Griffith J. Griffith.

Imagine O.J. Simpson as a humanitarian and Fatty Arbuckle as philanthropist: Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith – a man with a military moniker as phony baloney as a drug store cowboy – made his fortune in mining and bought the former Rancho Los Feliz as an ostrich farm cum tax dodge. And he had his own demons to tame.

During a hotel stay in nearby Santa Monica, the Colonel botched an apparent homicide attempt on his dear wife, missing her brain but putting a bullet in the eye of his flinching missus. “It was deliberate,” testified Mrs. Griffith at her husband’s attempted murder-slash-divorce trial. “He made me get down on my knees,” she deposed. “I asked to pray.”

Quick as you can say, “divorce granted,” the Colonel was whisked off to San Quentin, where he could meditate upon his aim and penance, which included an offer to build an observatory at his eponymous park.

Before and after the planetarium, there has been sundry circumstantial evidence of Dona Petranilla’s hex manifesting itself into the local ecology of fear: among them bubonic plague, floods, and fires, the most salient disaster being a bellowing 1933 blaze that trapped scores of greenhorn firefighters and ultimately consumed 29 of the hapless men.

Bring Out Your Dead/Plague-Carrying Squirrels

In April 2006 – yes, in this brand new century! – Griffith Park got a shout-out in the New Scientist when L.A. County’s Acute Communicable Disease Control Unit issued a bubonic plague alert there after a park visitor was found to have contracted – and survived – a bout with the Black Death. Officials remain uncertain about whether she contracted the disease in an urban location or in a park and admitted, “We may never know where she got it.”

Regardless of the point of Yersinia pestis contamination, as her turgid purple and black boils deflated and the fever broke, the recovering victim may or may not have been heard to utter, “Boy, I’d hate to catch that shit again…”

Boy In ThePlanetarium, Come Out!

Arbiters and monitors of the so-called Rancho Los Feliz Curse argue that another manifestation of the hex came in the wake of the Nicholas Ray teen-angst tearjerker, Rebel Without A Cause, with the premature deaths of three of its stars, James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood.

In that film, Dennis Hopper and a gang of teenage hoodlums take over the observatory, and police are dispatched to talk down that misunderstood-yet-cinematic juvenile delinquent, James Dean. Indeed, L.A.’s boys in blue summon Dean with the following warning: “Boy in the Planetarium! Armed police are outside. Whoever you are, drop your weapon and come out!” (Which was advice that Dean may have heard in his previous line of work, that of a male hustler in New York; likewise, Mineo heeded those words in real life, as both his lifestyle and artistic choices became increasingly more homoerotic…)

After his star had risen on the heels of Rebel and the earlier East of Eden, Dean purchased “the Little Bastard,” an exotic Porsche 550 Spyder, and began sports car racing, with reasonable success and prowess. En route to a race in Salinas, Dean and a passenger motored west towards the intersection of California Routes 41 and 466, when Donald Turnupseed pulled his ’50 Ford onto 41 and crossed into Dean’s lane. According to the surviving passenger, Dean’s last words, voiced right before contact, were, “That guy’s got to stop … . He’ll see us.”

At 37, Mineo took a gig portraying a gay burglar in the stage comedy, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, and after a rehearsal in 1976, he was stabbed to death in the alley behind a West Hollywood apartment building.

A couple years hence in Catalina, Natalie Wood was partying on her yacht, The Splendor, with hubby Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. Details are murky, but coroner-to-the-stars Thomas Noguchi revealed that Wood was loaded when she died and the bruises on her body might of have been from the fall off of the boat.

Trash Truck Road And Metaphysical Mumbo-Jumbo

Okay, if it is a given that the ghost of Don Antonio Feliz apparently rides at night and that hapless firefighters died en masse and that petting the squirrels can bring back the Black Death and that a tertiary cast of prime actors died years before their prime (or at least expectancy), giving credence to the Curse of Griffith Park is to prove nothing except that life happens, of course. To buy into the myth and the vaguely metaphysical mumbo-jumbo is to conceal the wonder of the place… . The beauty there is far more rational and much less New-Age-y than all that, yet still transcendental…

To wit: Not long ago, while on a bicycle, I rode up the observatory, and soaked up the transcendental reflection of the sun on the Pacific Ocean – a vista that drops the drawers on any painting in a European museum.

Metaphysically sated, I crested the ridge that holds the HOLLYWOOD sign, and began my descent down “Trash Truck Road,” the back way to Travel Town in Burbank, in a rather pell-mell fashion. There, in the middle of some rather smug bliss, I rounded a corner at a brisk pace and saw an animated form in my path. For a second, I thought it was a mountain lion and my mind began going through various primeval and instinctual responses, all of which have been mutated through the human animal’s ability to travel on wheels faster than he or she can run.

The form came into focus and I realized it was a coyote … it looked at me with indifference and I kind of did the same.

The faces of progress should not be so cavalier, however. Which is to say: if Tom LaBonge’s reported dream of aerial trams, paid parking structures, and sundry developments comes to bear, he should ignore the coyotes trotting along Trash Truck Road at his own peril, for they could be the shape-shifting lupine manifestations of Dona Petranilla’s Curse. — Cole Coonce

On Drag Racing, Cycling and Atavistically Reconnecting with the Ghost of America Past

September 11, 2008

(Originally published in BikepLAgue.)

We’d been reading articles by this guy Cole Coonce for a while in local papers, and we’ve been pretty stoked that there’s someone writing more than just one–offs about bikes as idle assignments. We decided to meet up for a ride along the LA river, over the stiff climb that is Mt. Hollywood at the back of Griffith Park, then down into Los Feliz to get coffee and talk a bit about bikes, drag racing, and road riding.

Morgan: So, tell us something about yourself, who you are?

Cole Coonce: Well, I’m kind of like Walter Mitty: I’m a bit of a wannabe cyclist in a way – never quite as into it as what I think about. The thing about cycling is that it’s incredibly humbling. Physically, mentally, intellectually, philosophically, etc – and I think that is my attraction to it. I think what is interesting is that despite my abilities as a cyclist and knowing just enough about bikes to get me into trouble; I’m a huge fan of thermodynamics. Cycling being a thermodynamic process. I’ve always been a fan of the internal combustion engine. Massively, nuttily into it. In contrast, most likely, to a big part of your demographic. My journalistic background is the most extreme forms of thermodynamics as applied to the automobile: drag racing. Zero to one hundred MPH in under a second, zero to two hundred and fifty MPH in 2.3 seconds, zero to three hundred and thirty MPH in 4.4 seconds, you know: the G-force is taking the skin off your cheeks. But that being said, that is an extreme example of what the automobile promised when it was be coming mass produced: freedom, exhilaration. But just take a look at this intersection here [gestures as cars stopped at the lights]: that’s not about freedom. That’s about drudgery. So I think that cycling conversely, or ironically, fulfils the promise of what the automobile was there to deliver.

Morgan: A classic case of people forgetting about what something was there for the first place, right? Becoming routine.

CC: Right. You guys commute to and from the Westside by bike. I was reading recently [referring to the recent LA Alternative cover article, “Vicious cycling”] about some guy leaving his job on the Westside to come back to Silverlake and there, coming off the off- ramp of the freeway is the guy who he works with! That’s just a classic example of commuting. I live in Eagle Rock and I punch into jobs in Culver City. And I know that it takes me one hour fifteen minutes to ride by bike and can take one hour twenty minutes by car. But every day it’s 1:15 by bicycle. Consistently.

Morgan: A bit more predictable on the bike.

CC: Yeah.

Morgan: So the reason I emailed you originally [for the interview] is because your name has cropped up a few times recently in articles about bikes in local papers [most recently, the City Beat article, “The world is your Velodrome”]. And we like that. You’re into bikes. Do the se articles reflect a growing interest from publications, or is it you pitching it to them?

CC: What is the cart and what is the horse? In the world of journalism, it’s harder and harder to stay ahead of the curve. Everything is co-opted immediately so when you pitch things to people, it’s got to be about stuff people haven’t heard about before. And in this day and age, we’ve heard it all before it’s even happened. So with the ‘straight’ publications – and by that I don’t mean ‘fetish ‘ oriented, as I’d describe your fanzine [fuck yeah!] – they know what a bicycle is, but they don’t understand what people are so nutty about. They don’t understand the enthusiasm. So yes, I pitch them on different things that are applicable to cycling and Los Angeles. In that sense, I’m the engine that’s driving it. On the other hand, trying to explain the euphoria of cycling to someone who doesn’t do it, including many people in the ‘straight’ magazine world, is like trying to explain what chocolate tastes like on LSD to people who’ve never taken LSD. There is an abstraction and there is a cognitive disconnect to it. We all get it, be cause we’ve all got the fever.

Morgan: Yeah, like that article you wrote in City Beat and another that I read on line where you rode up Mt. Baldy with a drag racer. He ‘s blasting by you and you’re quoting different great thinkers of the past to paint a perfect portrait of how it feels.

CC: Ha ha! That guy is a bit of a friend of mine. His name is Whit Bazemore and he’s known as the world’s fastest cyclist because he’s one of those guys who goes from zero to three hundred MPH in four seconds. But truth is, he ‘d rather be climbing Glendora Ridge road on a bicycle.

Morgan: Yes, you write a lot about drag racing and a lot about bikes. It seems like you’re almost writing about them as two aspects of the same thing. Can you say a little more about that?

CC: Well, what makes drag racing so special, and again it’s hard to explain it to people who haven’t got the fever, and I have the fever although I’m a fan, not a racer per se. There is a quote from the curator of technology at the Smithsonian about drag racing. He called the obsession ‘technological enthusiasm.’ You’ve got people who are so completely enthusiastic about the technology to the exclusion of everything else in their life that makes sense. So we’ve got you guys [referring to Max] with the screwiest bicycle designs you can possibly think of, making whatever weird statement you are, but you’re just so into it that you just can’t fuck with it. This person wants to get up in the morning and wants to do some thing to a bike that makes it better, or more extreme, or more abstract, or whatever it is, and so that’s the correlation: drag racers have this weird DNA which says, ‘OK: I have this hunk of aluminum. How can I make it go three hundred and forty MPH instead of three hundred and thirty?’ And I think the same science is applied to cycling. But there ‘s also the buzz. If you’re sitting in the drag strip and you’re going from zero to a hundred in a second, that’s the same as if you’re sat waiting at the intersection and a tractor trailer rear-ends you at a hundred MPH. It’s the same G-force. It takes a certain type of person to think that that’s great. So if you’re riding your bike back down from Santa Barbara at 8pm on a Saturday night down PCH and you’re getting buzzed by cars at eighty MPH and there’s a part of you that says, ‘this is great!’, it’s the same thing. So I think both drag racers and cyclists do have issues. But that’s what’s important. If they didn’t have issues, there ‘d be nothing to write about, you know?

Morgan: Yeah, I’d definitely agree with that. Progressing from that point, your recent article talks about the end of a relationship being a good kick-off point for becoming really into bikes and I’d say that both of us can identify with that.

CC: Looking back, and saying, oh, so that’s when I got really into bikes…

Morgan: Exactly. Do you think that breaking up with some sort of a romance is the prerequisite for becoming an obsessional cyclist?

CC: Yeah. Bazemore – this drag racer – had a really bad motorcycle crash and a part of his rehabilitation was to get on a trainer- a bicycle trainer – for 45 minutes a day as a part of his work out. And he really though he was doing something. Conversely one of his friends was this Olympic cyclist, and he was like, ‘yeah, well done, 45 minutes….’. So he put Bazemore on a real bike. And he was overcoming real physical trauma. And this just got through to him. Although I can’t really speak about that, as I’ve never had real physical trauma, I do know the trauma of the id. Overcoming a break-up: you can either sit there and stare at the world and be mad at the world, or do something. So if you’re really mad at a member of the opposite sex, or the same, then cycling is a really good motherfuck, with your tongue hanging out as you’re climbing a hill. You know, in my instance, I would literally cuss her name as I was climbing. Not that I was right and this person was wrong. But probably. So I find that romantic break – ups are really good for getting into shape.

Morgan: You can go either way: a downward spiral into drinking and drugs, or say ‘fuck you! I can look after myself with out you!’ and make some positive efforts.

CC: It’s strange. It’s even beyond looking after yourself. You’re channeling your own rage. It’s the most benign way to channel that anger and ultimately it’s quite healthy. We were bullshitting about this on the way up the hill, but if it weren’t for cycling then there ‘d be a lot more postal shootings and office shootings.

Morgan: So you go on midnight ridazz, you got the first copy of the zine with out us even knowing it. The LA bike scene is really fascinating to us, which is why we started this zine. Where do you see this coming from?

CC: If you’ll let me mix my literary references, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French philosopher came over in the 1800’s and talked about how this weird thing called democracy was working in America, in spite of itself. That could be applied to cycling in Los Angeles. Talk about square peg/ round hole. It’s just the big hammer approach. Making people understand. Getting back to the point that a bicycle makes a lot more sense than a car a lot of the time. The only real issue is stuff like changes of clothes. I don’t bicycle every day but when I do I make sure I have a change of clothes, so I can be at work and not thought of as being another smelly cyclist. But I think ‘movement’ is the right term, there ‘s a definite groundswell. I applaud what you guys are doing, as you’re definitely a part of that. Just acceptance – if you cycle around other parts of the country. People here think that cyclists are from Mars, but else where in the country, they think they’re from Pluto. I think in a way, cyclists from LA don’t know how good they’ve got it. Not to say there can’t be a ton of improvement, there certainly can.

Morgan: It’s really fascinating because the LA scene seems to have just come from a series of random events. It’s a scene that is still very much in and of itself and not co-opted.

CC: Right, right.

Morgan: Except maybe the fixed gear scene which is becoming a little like that [mainly in reference to ‘Team Puma’, the Puma sponsored messenger race team].

CC: Ye ah, that’s be coming a little precious. I personally don’t ride one and don’t understand the joys associated with them but I understand that they’re there for other people. They’ve become the Mazda Miata of the cycling scene. They’ve become this weird symbol of the cycling scene. And they have to watch out, with all due respect, simply because they are some what precious about what they’re doing, which is somewhat alienating, which is something you’ve got to watch out for, because you’re kind of alienating the kind of people who you really want to win over.

Morgan: That’s a really, really valid point.

CC: Yeah, and I’m strictly here to co-exist with cars. I want respect from them, and I’ll give them the same. In the same way that they’re completely assholic, soccer moms on their cell phones blasting through a yellow light and not paying attention to what they’re doing – not understanding that force equals mass times acceleration, that this is basically a tank that they’re blasting through the intersection, conversely there are some, you know, let’s call them ‘extreme’ elements in the Midnight Ridazz crew and various subcultures who piss motorists off. And I’m just like, “look man, you’re not doing me any favors”. The next time that I encounter that guy that you pissed off, he’s going to remember you and not think twice about revving it up and scaring me.

Max: The funny thing is that most of them you see showing up and taking their bikes off the back of a car! It really isn’t the people that ride the most who are the most aggro.

CC: Right. You know what’s hard, that when you’re all pumped up on adrenaline from cycling and you’re totally hyper-aware and a car or bus cuts you off or does something that’s not very cool, you just want to get up on the tire and yell at them. Myself, I take a deep breath and calm down.

Morgan: It’s really easy to get into a herd mentality when you’re in a herd.

CC: Yeah. I’ve seen instances with the ridazz and they come to an intersection and someone in a BMW does some thing they don’t like and they start kicking the quarter panels. You know, this is not doing anybody any favors.

Max: I think it’s a bad combination of the psychological disconnection you have with driving a car and the ultra- sensitization of being on a bike, being all ‘grrrrr!!!’

CC: Yeah, it’s tough. At least every urban cycling trip, I really want to motherfuck at least one person in a car. And just in general, and not to play into a stereotype, SUV drivers are the worst drivers. They’re the least aware [cue muttering from all parties about Hummers]. I think that what should happen is that everyone registering an SUV should be tricked into going to another session of Driver’s Ed via some sort of sting operation, offering free tune-ups or some thing. Not to be reactionary or anything. But I can dream.

Morgan: It’s been a real pet peeve of mine recently: riders being over-aggressive. I’ve ended up yelling at people on rides recently.

Max: Kind of a general problem is that whole mentality of simply ‘being in the way’. You know, ‘let’s ride, and get in the way…’

CC: You know, I’m sort of a Zen libertarian. I want to peace fully co- exist with people and now have them cut me off or do screwy things to me. And the lunatic fringe of cycling undermines that. Not that there aren’t lunatic fringes everywhere. I was on one midnight ridazz once and we were on Adams, maybe, near USC, and there was this one guy playing chicken with cars, riding on the wrong side of the road. Luckily the Darwinian stuff will take care of this guy soon enough, before he can do too much damage. But you know, that’s a bit counterproductive.

Max: I think it was pretty funny on the last midnight ridazz where the police we re saying, ‘stay in the right lane, stay in the one lane ‘. We need a little more reasonable goal. Like, ‘stay out of on-coming traffic’. I think we can handle that.

CC: Yeah. But I don’t mean to bag on the ridazz. I have really come to appreciate recently the ridazz and the ‘organizers’, as they’ve really done the impossible and worked out how to herd cats.

Morgan: One of my favorite phrases, ‘herding cats’. Thanks. Anyway, one last thing. You ride up to Mt. Wilson and I’ve seen a post from you talking about doing ridazz on a Friday follow ed by the Planet Ultra event from Lone Pine to Panamint Springs near Death Valley by moonlight. You’re into both the urban scene and the roadie /ultra-distance scene, that we ‘re very much into. We were just stoked to read about that. So maybe just finish off by saying something about your favorite roadie rides.

CC: Yeah, that was all fortuitous. It was the midnight ridazz theatre ride, I think, and the next day it was the Planet Ultra Lone Pine by moonlight century ride, and I’d just broken up with someone just three days before, so I was all ready for that. The Lone Pine to Death Valley century was simultaneously the best and the worst of road/distance riding, especially when you’re dealing with forty to sixty MPH headwinds, and thirty degrees temperatures! On one level it was excruciating and on another level it wasn’t excruciating enough, particularly with where my mind was at the time. I sort of thought, ‘O K, is this the best you can give me? Is this the worst you can through at me? ‘Cos if it is, I can stare it down, and not be cause I’m a badass, but it’s just a case of “I win, you lose” [Top D.R.I. quote there! – morgan]. Of course, in my mind I win. In reality I don’t. But that’s just a part of cycling psychology. Denial. But back on track – I’ve ridden in a lot of places in America, and I ship a bike with me to every city I visit. One of the finest places, strangely enough, is on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. It is a highway which is two-lane, they don’t allow any commercial vehicle s, the maximum speed is fifty MPH and it goes from Natchez, Mississippi on the banks of the Mississippi river all the way to Nashville. It’s not necessarily some thing that your readership is going to hop on their bikes and do tomorrow. But it’s such a great way to commune with the medieval boondocks and swamps, you know, Dixie, and you see things on a bicycle that you don’t see in any way. That could be Death Valley, Vermont, or the Natchez Trail. That ride is all kudzu and cypress trees and swamps and it is very transcendental and on some atavistic level you’re getting in touch with the ghost of the American past. And I think you can only do that on a bicycle.

Morgan: Profound. Thanks!

(Originally published in BikepLAgue.)


May 19, 2008

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are no surprise

By Cole Coonce

“So are you going to pan this show or wot? Caption it with something clever, like ‘No, No, No.'” It is Sunday night, March 14. Tottenham and I are having pad thai on Hollywood Boulevard, a preemptive, high-carb soak-up of imminent libations to be imbibed during and after the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ performance down the street at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater.
“Ummm, you can keep your headline, but, yeah, I’ll probably bag on those guys. From what I’ve read, nobody has really dissed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs yet, and they are at least due.”

“Good for you. Their fans don’t care about music critics, anyway. It’s so over for you and your lot. Like all that shit that runs in the Calendar section of the L.A. Times. A bunch of useless dross by Hilburn and all those other tossers. Nobody cares what you have to say.” He points his chopsticks at me.

“I know it is an exercise in futility, Mr. Tottenham, but I have to say something. Lord knows I can barely be bothered to endorse a check, much less power four cups of Café Bustelo and attempt to hammer out 650 words on this month’s KROQ darlings.”

“650 words? Well, here’s something to pad your word count. Say ‘the problem with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and today’s twentysomething musicians in general – today’s legion of postmodern posturers – is that the world is ready and waiting for them.’ Say that. Say: ‘When we were in our 20s, the world was not ready for us. It’s not the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ fault, it’s just the way it is.’ Go ahead, write that down.”

“I can’t write that down.”

“Why not?”

“Because you said it, and I didn’t. I have a certain journalistic integrity to maintain.”

“That didn’t stop you when you reviewed the Country Teasers a couple of months ago. You quoted me as saying, ‘Flannery O’Connor, I always hated that bastard,’ which I didn’t say, you did, and then you told me, ‘Don’t worry, everyone will get the joke,’ which no one did, so I came across in your little newspaper looking like a total moron, not somebody whose book smarts and intellectual abilities work on a meta-level.”

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs play for 40 or 50 minutes. Two guys and a girl. The arrangements toggle between two sound pressure levels: pretty loud and really loud. The girl yelps and screeches, throws a chair, and rolls around on her back like the flapper Wrath of Fatty Arbuckle; the guitar player summons an absolute tsunami of gnarsome soundscapes, ripping a hole in the very fabric of space and time; and the drummer … drums.

Afterward, Tottenham scours my notes.

“‘Big Jesus and Mary Chain Trash Can?’ Nobody is going to get a Jesus and Mary Chain shout-out, much less an obscure Birthday Party reference. Anybody who remembers Nick Cave’s old band overdosed 10 years ago.”

“But that’s where that young gun-slingin’ guitar player got his haircut and his shtick.”

He ignores me and continues rifling through the notepad.

“‘Patti Smith from Riverdale High?’ ‘Menstrual cramp anti-rock?’ ‘Pole dance instructional videos?’ Is that the best you can do in describing that saucy little vixen? I say she is a spirited lass, and you are not going to do her justice with your purple doggerel.

“But you have to mention the bit where she was groveling on all fours, with the microphone stuck in her pie hole. I rather enjoyed that. Oh, and mention that tunic-waving she was doing, you know: the constant opening of her skirt.”

“I’m way ahead of you, pal.” I point to a passage. “Right here: ‘The airing out of the bread factory.'”

He laughs. I order more wine, and he resumes perusing my notes.

“Hang on. What’s this, then?” He reads: “‘ … the problem with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and today’s twentysomething musicians in general … .'” -30-


May 1, 2008

Scenes from a gas struggle: Will soul-deadening gridlock and exorbitant fuel prices kill the remnants of SoCal car culture?

By Cole Coonce

In efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, there is a great interest in ethanol and biodiesel. There are many pluses to the use of these fuels, including environmental. However, the National Academy of Sciences reports if all the corn and the soybeans grown in this country were committed to biofuel manufacture, it would replace only 12 percent of the gasoline used annually here. Don’t forget, these days we eat most of the corn and soybeans grown here.”
-Chris Economaki, Editor’s Notebook, National Speed Sport News, July 19, 2006

“Myth has usurped reality, because it embraces something technically engaging that is also freighted with emotion. Myth has tangibly led to a rail renaissance that includes a full-blown subway (which actually has red cars) that has cost an astronomical sum, several hundred million dollars per mile. It all adds up to, in the words of one Los Angeles critic, “misplaced technological lust.”
-Robert C. Post, “The Myth Behind the Streetcar Revival,” American Heritage, May-June 1998


We were having a roundtable dinner and drinks at Les Frères Taix in Echo Park. Spilling a gin and tonic, a local art gallery owner unloaded her distress after having crashed her boyfriend’s car. The conversation segued to the gnarliness of just navigating an automobile through this city on any given day. Amongst the conversationalists a gal whose day job was that of an animated sitcom producer, and who was happy as a clam and proud as a peacock about commuting to work in her hybrid.

Also at the table was Mike Bumbeck, an automotive journalist and the editor of, a website that chronicles all things Mopar (i.e., Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth). Between pulls of his French onion soup, Bumbeck was politely listening to the car talk and slathering butter on his bread and commenting about the real costs of alternative fuels.

Since he was busy with his bread, I chimed in. “I think any attempt at alternative propulsion is great. I know this mechanical engineer who says – and I quote – ‘The gasoline internal combustion engine is still so much better than alternative technologies. It will continue to be the dominant prime mover for transportation.'” “I don’t know,” the Hollywood-type said. “You should really go see the Al Gore movie.”

You’d have thought I’d sneezed in the soup. But for Bumbeck, the gauntlet had been tossed … . Between bites of bread and butter, he slathered. “Look,” he said, “Al Gore movie or no Al Gore movie, driving a hybrid isn’t going to fix anything. The end of ridiculous commutes might fix something. Beyond that, if we made hydrogen, with say… a breeder-type nuclear reactor … that could make sense. Besides, then we could all drive atomic cars!” None of the Hollywood-ites got the joke. He kept talking despite the nervous looks from across the table. “No one,” he said, “wants to deal with the real costs of so-called alternative fuels. Burning coal, for instance, is nasty business, but the fact of the matter remains that we burn tons of it to make lamps and TVs light up. Burning up coal down south precipitates lake sterilizing acid rain up north. Meanwhile someone charges up an electric car in New York City at a roughly 50 percent loss of energy, and drives around thinking they’re saving the world.”

Bumbeck took the accompanying silence as mute agreement and thus kept up his spiel, segueing the topic to ethanol production and consumption as a fuel…

“The rest of the world have been tooling around in compact automobiles packing small displacement turbo-diesel engines under the hood that get upwards of 50 mpg for years now,” he explained. “Let folks get their hands on some instead of getting handed another steaming plate of subsidy from the corn lobby.”

The roundtable was silent. The producer-type was insulted. In an attempt to reanimate the conversation, Bumbeck told her what a fan he was of her animated series, but the damage was done. Nobody wants to be told that their attempts to control pollution and mitigate domestic dependence upon foreign fuel sources are futile. People want to feel good about their automotive experience and not be bothered with an eleventh-grade-level physics lesson about how energy cannot be created, nor destroyed – it just changes form.

Or, put another way, at another dinner by Doug Kruse, a drag-racing promoter and automotive engineering savant, who has been researching alternative forms of propulsion since the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973: “Left to its own, energy runs downhill in a given form,” he said. “But at the same time, it is going uphill in a different format. The water that runs downhill in the Mississippi River is then warmed by solar energy which raises [the water’s vapor] to cloud level which is higher than the origin of the Mississippi. So then when it rains, do you say it is still traveling downhill? Or has it merely returned to its source for another downhill journey in one energy form but is an uphill transition in another form. So everything that is going downhill in one format is concurrently going uphill in another format.” Yes, the Laws of the Conservation of Energy will be obeyed. And in this, the summer of unprecedented sweltering heat, polar ice caps reduced to a wet spot on God’s carpet, a foreign policy that plays slap and tickle with our imported petroleum supply, and a continuing proliferation in the demand for freeway capacity and parking spaces, denizens of SoCal can chant in unison: “I do not like the form it is changing to.”

Do not think that you are alone.

223rd and Alameda (or, Valhalla Revisited)

I caught up with Doug Kruse again last weekend in Bixby Knolls. He was sporting an orange vest and directing traffic along a cordoned- off city block of Atlantic Avenue. It was a different gig for Kruse, who is a longtime member of the Society of Automotive Engineers. (Kruse’s mission these days “is to bring the benefits of good fuel economy and emission compliance to benefit the general public.” He is currently working on a VW turbo diesel for use in military aircraft engines, and has installed his multiple-direct-injection technology on heavy-duty diesel engines. Kruse says he expects to complete licensing agreements with several engine companies in the near future.) As an engineer and a thermodynamic visionary, he makes an okay traffic cop, albeit with a twist: The car he was parking was a vintage Top Fuel dragster, the ChiZler, a sleek silver machine powered by nitromethane and credited with the first official speed of 200 mph, a feat accomplished in Alton, Illinois, 45 years ago. The boulevard is a bivouac of retro race cars and their crews and car owners. On one race car trailer is a bumper sticker that reads, “A Towel is not a Hat.”

But it is too hot to laugh at such sentiments. The heat is oppressive and the mercury trips the triple-digit mark, and vapors bounce off of the concrete and asphalt, and though the heat and haze a couple of graybeards futz with starting up the dragster and squirt some fuel in the motor’s intake manifold, thus bringing the 1957 steel Chrysler engine to life. WHHAAPP-WACKA-WACKA-WACKA-WWHHAAPP-WACKA-WACKA-WACKA- WWHHAAPPPP-WACKA-WACKA! sings the mighty ChiZler, as voluminous clouds of nitromethane – the drag racer’s patchouli oil – waft out of the engine’s exhaust manifold.

It is ridiculous heat, and here Kruse and his minions are creating more ridiculous heat. In the restricted area, I commented on the torrid conditions and about my camera’s lens fogging up. An old drag racer, whose stitched-on name patch read “Chili Phil,” said to me “Boy, you don’t miss the ozone layer until it’s gone.” Mixed with the nitro fumes, the vapors and heat waves creating a mirage of memories, aided by an MC who tells the assembled that this is what it once sounded like at Lions Drag Strip – a mere three miles from here located at 223rd and Alameda – when Doug Kruse promoted races there under the sanction of the Professional Dragsters Association … . I remember Lions Drag Strip. For a gearhead, the place was magic. My best reminiscence of Lions is from 1967 at one of Kruse’s PDA Meets. It was an orgy of speed, smoke, and noise. Top Fuel cars from across America made the journey to Long Beach mostly because of what the racetrack represented. It symbolized the psychedelic Valhalla that was Southern California: Copious amounts of burning nitromethane, two girls for every boy, etc. The sun would set in the west, and the fog would creep in off of the ocean, and two dragsters were lighting up, two more were leaving the starting line and another was pulling their parachutes. It was nonstop fire, smoke, and lights through a star filter, all smeared through the Vaseline lens of layers of condensation. I opened my eyes at the Bixby Knolls Dragster Expo and got in the car. On the way home, my mind’s looking glass continued to spiral into the rabbit hole of SoCal Car Culture and Doug Kruse’s inextricable link to same … .

In Julie Newmar’s Dreams

It was after midnight, a couple of years after the Rodney King race riots and right around the time of the LAPD Rampart scandal. My girlfriend was asleep in the bedroom. I was on the couch, catatonic and could’ve been mistaken for dead. I was rife for decompression, exhausted by the existential rigors of life in Los Angeles. The only thing that made sense was to allow the blue light of bad television bathe my tired retinas. The volume was soft enough not to wake my girlfriend, but loud enough to inform her dreams.

Like now, it was a time of civil disobedience and class tension. The pirated cable connection in my house was tuned to a public access station and reruns of the day’s L.A. City Council meetings. On it, Julie Newmar, a vampy television actress (and Catwoman on the old Batman series) for whom the limelight had doused was chirping about the intrusion of leaf-blowers and how the noise interrupted her beauty rest and the exhaust particulates damaged her sensitive show business skin. Following her self-absorbed polemic, then-recently shamed Councilman Mike Hernandez – a man who would remain in office even after pleading guilty to purchasing and possessing cocaine – took the podium, defending the hard-working members of his East L.A. constituency who made their livings blowing the leaves off of the lawns of the affluent and into the gutters and the storm drains. Central city Councilmember Nate Holden then gave his two bits, saying that his Latino brothers needed to use brooms to clean up rich people’s lawns and not the fruits of a dirty noisy motorized technology. My eyes were on the verge of rolling clockwise into their sockets when I heard a man say he had the solution to the city’s problems … : “Chairman and city council members, my name is Doug Kruse, and I represent Micro Pulse Controls. I have patented a technology that may alleviate the problems with contemporary leaf blowers.”

I recognized the name of course, and woke up with a shot. Doug Kruse? Promoter of the PDA races at Lions Drag Strip? The mechanical engineer and fabricator? Helping Los Angeles with its noise and pollution problems? One had to marvel at the irony. His solution to excessive volume and emissions was a leaf-blower driven by a small, direct-injected diesel engine. He said such a design was quiet and clean-burning and the subtext was that this would allow illegal immigrants to make a living and Julie Newmar to make her next casting call, well-rested and zit-free. And despite the haze of time and fumes, I more-or-less remember what Kruse told the L.A. City Council: “I have designed a prototype for a leaf-blower based on lessons learned from the 1973 oil embargo,” Kruse said, reading from a notebook and shifting uncomfortably in a suit that almost fit. “As with cars, there is a way with leaf blowers to improve the fuel efficiency by using a higher compression ratio like a diesel engine. Logic said that the only way to do that would be to utilize the direct injection of gasoline and to control the combustion process.” Hernandez, Holden, and the fellow council members were lost, but Kruse soldiered on with words to the effect of, “So I researched the fundamentals of the technology, the thermodynamics of an engine cycle, and discovered that there were combination techniques that could be utilized and patentable. Therefore, with a small, modest research & development budget you could produce a significant advance in the technology.”

And with that the council leader’s gavel came down, stopping Kruse in mid-pitch. “Mister Kruse, the city council meetings are not a commercial for your new company.” And just like a Gong Show act, he was given the hook…

I remember the Jonathan Swift line about the dunces of the world forming a confederacy against a true genius, and went to bed.

Misplaced Technological Fetishism

We are in a swank section of the Huntington Library. Upper-crust women sip tea and talk quietly. The chattering ceases when Robert C. Post, the tall, bespectacled, avuncular man at the rostrum begins to address the assembled from prepared text.

The Huntington had booked the right guy in Post, who is the author of Street Railways and the Growth of Los Angeles, curator emeritus at the National Museum of American History, as well as a former president of the Society for the History of Technology. Back in the day, Bob Post used to travel the languid city streets to watch Top Fuel cars at Lions Drag Strip. One evening – and the setting of the best stories of Post and his automotive-addled youth – he was in the passenger seat of his buddy’s DeSoto and the two men got into a rock ’em-sock ’em fistfight. As the motorized pugilists rolled through traffic, a cop caught sight of the fracas and gave pursuit with the siren blaring and the bubblegum machines rotating. The startled and bewildered law officer asked the driver what in tarnation started the fight.

“I told him that the Chrysler Hemi was going to replace Ford flathead as the de facto nitro-burning engine to dominate the drag strip,” the driver said. “And then he hit me.” “He’s full of shit,” Post said.

It could be argued that Post rarely misread the tea leaves after that. And at a gathering of chattering-class belles, guilty white liberals, and academic-types gathered at the Huntington, champing to hear a fellow liberal and scholar excoriate the Coyote Gods of Automotive Culture, Post told them anything but … . Instead, his talk deflated one of Los Angeles’s most precious canards: the bit about the car companies, the tire manufacturers, and the oil barons all in cahoots to decimate mass transit in Los Angeles, mothball the Red Car trolleys and pave the way for gas guzzlers, gridlock, and the daily grind and hassle of just trying to get yer groceries, punch a clock, or take the young ‘uns to soccer practice.

From a prepared text – later printed in American Heritage magazine – Post read: “We’re always hearing about America’s love affair with the auto; in fact, people love all sorts of technologies, not least railways, and those who love railways often speak in the most hateful terms of motor vehicles. Yet no city, least of all Los Angeles, has been able to stifle the energy – indeed, the outright passion – with which its citizens have embraced the automobile. As [David] Brodsly puts it, “It required no conspiracy to destroy the electric railways; it would, however, have required a conspiracy to save them.” Translation: You had your precious public transport. You didn’t want it. And now that it’s gone, you are wistful about its demise. After the Huntington reading about the inevitability of the Red Car’s demise and “misplaced technological lust,” Los Angeles’ dysfunctional dependence on the automobile for transport has reached critical mass. And any physicist will tell you that it is a short distance from critical mass to ground zero … . Traffic is getting worse and the costs of running an automobile have reached silly levels of expense, fleecing personal savings and pillaging the tax base. (Indeed, a new study out of Riverside concludes that 652 new lane-miles of freeway – costing $8 billion – will be needed in that county just to keep up with expected population growth by 2030.) It makes the modern motorist wonder which fetishism is misplaced after all … and how did it all get so fucked up?

Insurance. Traffic. DMV. Gratuitous Amber Alerts. Gas prices. Faulty sensors and Engine Control Units, exorbitant repair bills. Not to mention intangible, hidden costs, like stress from the claustrophobia imminent from just jumping into an automobile in hopes of getting somewhere and instead just staring at brake lights. These are not factored in, but show up in the cost of therapy, counseling, and medication; specifically sedatives and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Again: How did it all get so fucked up? How much more fucked up is it going to get? I wrote Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear – two socio-anthropological works that sum the angst of life in Los Angeles and make us wonder why more people here aren’t shooting each other – and asked him his thoughts about when and how the civil engineering and transportation planning in Los Angeles jumped the shark. He replied, “The wrong turn came in the late 1970s when [then-Gov.] Jerry Brown gave up the battle for regional planning with teeth. The problem has always been that the constituency for good urban design and socially responsible mass transit is too small and elitist.”

I posed the same question to Bumbeck. “As hindsight is always way too easy, it’s hard to say what could have prevented it,” he said. “In L.A., the major mistake was likely dismantling the public transit rail system in favor of GM buses. The rail system is what allowed the developers to build then-outlying housing developments in the first place, and also allowed residents to travel to and fro. Now, freeways go to nowhere for very little time before nowhere becomes somewhere. Look to the 909 to see the coming disaster.” Robert C. Post was a little less Cassandra-like, if not somewhat more Pollyanna about the scenario. “A case study that can be interpreted either way – positive or negative – is the Pacific Electric Subway,” he said. “A short but extremely effective stretch of rapid transit that got people out of the heart of downtown and on their way to Silver Lake, Glendale, and other such places a great deal quicker than was possible in an automobile. After 30 years [1925-1955] the subway was abandoned, but it remained potentially serviceable for quite a few years more until it was rendered completely useless because of the footings of the skyscrapers built on [what was once] Bunker Hill. That’s decline. On the other hand, I see that the Subway Terminal building has now been converted into high-end condos, and that there are a lot more people attracted to the idea of living ‘right downtown’ than there were for a very long time. That seems like a synthesis.”

But not to Mike Davis. The Ecology-of-Fear author is not as convinced about said synthesis and the swords-into-ploughshares promise of urban planning: “For all the hype about transit-centered development and New Urbanism, we are still stamping out the same old auto- centered, peripheral suburbs,” Davis wrote. “Two of my buddies, Pacific Beach surfers who spend their days as concrete contractors, have moved to Brawley, 135 miles from their work in San Diego, because they want their kids to grow up in single-family homes. My kids will probably live in Death Valley and spend half their lives in gridlock.”

The Perversity of Success

During the beginning of summer, I took a cycling tour across the Deep South, doing research on American history while visiting sundry Civil War battlefields and cemeteries. Because of my mode of transportation, I didn’t have to fill up my car for a month. When I got back to Los Angeles, one of my first errands was to drive to the gas station and fill ‘er up. I pulled up to the pump, swiped my debit card, and when the numbers stopped moving, my jaw dropped and I sat in the driver’s seat and just shook my head before turning the engine over. It was nearly $50 to replenish a 14-gallon fuel tank. I immediately thought of a phrase Doug Kruse used over dinner, when he was describing the ubiquity of gasoline and “the perversity of success,” meaning that once an infrastructure has been laid, it is difficult to replace – even if one has a better system. That night, Kruse expounded on this theory, as a sort of different equation: “I’ll quote a past president of SAE [Society of Automotive Engineers], Jack Schmidt, who said in 1995 that ‘the electric cars are projected to be competitive with the gasoline engine in 10 years; but the gasoline engine is a moving target.'”

As far as replacements for gasoline as a fuel, Kruse said, “Efficiency most go beyond the engineering calculation and must include the economic calculation in order to be sustainable.” It’s gotta pay for itself, I suggested.

“Yes, sustainable energy must be economically efficient. But now we get into a political issue where people want to say ‘sustainable’ and they want it for free. Well, wheat is a sustainable crop; weeds are not. Yes, weeds grow for free. But they aren’t sustainable; they will not sustain human life. Yes, we are making efforts to make an engineering breakthrough [in running a car], but we know that the major requirement is that it be economically competitive. “Entropy goes two ways,” he continued into my tape recorder. “Entropy is also used to measure the amount of information that can be carried by copper wire or fiber optics – the same equations that are used for engineering thermodynamic analysis of combustion. So then we merely review that the fiber optic cable can carry either light in a totally chaotic fashion – fully natural – or organized data which is purely a function of humanity. Therefore, what you have to take into consideration is that the only way you increase order is through human effort. And therefore, if you are wishing to keep the universe from going downhill into a state of chaos it is simply a matter of human will.”

Driving the Working Class into the Desert

With Kruse’s riff on “the perversion of success” in mind, I asked Post, Davis, and Bumbeck about the daunting economics and inevitability of still-higher prices of gasoline, a fuel that seems to be as resilient as alley rats in Chinatown.

“Laissez-faire environmentalists and Reason Institute pundits think high gas prices will solve all our problems by forcing us out of our cars and into private-sector transit,” Davis said. “Fat chance. European-level gas prices will simply give inequality a new push and perhaps promote more transit subsidies for the middle classes, like light rail with its very high per ride subsidies. The root of the problem isn’t simply the automobile versus Hubbert’s Peak, but land inflation that is driving the working class into the deserts and beyond.”

Post seemed to be resigned to the inevitability of seemingly cost- prohibitive fuel: “Nowhere in the world, I think, except maybe in Saudi Arabia and a couple of other places like that, does gasoline cost as little as five dollars a gallon. In Ireland, which is arguably the most vital economy in the world, I believe it is somewhere around nine dollars.”

Bumbeck said that if five dollars a gallon is tantamount to “a transportation tax on the folks that can least afford to be taxed anymore, our consumer-based economy will take the hit.” Even more alarming, he said, “Sustained five-dollar-a-gallon gas will most likely be a death blow to the domestic auto industry as we know it.” Kruse summed it up in a typically florid fashion: “What people often miss is that petroleum is stored solar energy. It is solar energy that has been accumulated and concentrated for millions of years. Gasoline is paleo-solar energy. There is a limit to the era where we can draw upon this stored solar energy. There will be a transition time to where we have to use concurrent solar energy, to absorb it, store it, and utilize it concurrent with the sun shining. But that day is probably decades and probably centuries off.”

Kill or Be Killed (or, What Would Beelzebub Drive?)

I used to love the automobile. Any time things got dense, I could close my eyes, get in a Walter Mitty mood and put myself back in my uncle’s dragster on the return road on Lions Drag Strip. The automobile. For years, I thought it represented freedom. Instead, it is a form of bondage. Nowadays, if any errand or social obligation is within 15 or 20 miles of my house, I get there by riding a bicycle. Which is, perhaps, too draconian for most. Including those of my impromptu panel. I asked Bumbeck and Davis what they drove. Bumbeck said, “I drive a 1982 Toyota Starlet – because it was dirt cheap, and has rear wheel drive. It came with dents in it already, gets 40 mpg, and handles like a go- kart. I also like saying I own a Starlet.”

Davis got the last word: “Me? I know I should get a horse, but I have a three-hour plus round-trip commute to Irvine from San Diego, and don’t like to be pushed into the ice plant by Rancho Santa Fe realtors in punk Hummers. Kill or be killed. So I drive a black Toyota Tundra, V-8 4×4 that gets about three miles to the gallon. I am the founder and, so far, the only the member of ‘White Guys in Pickup Trucks Against White Guys in Pickup Trucks.’ My daughter is buying me the gun rack for my birthday.” Davis then offered an addendum. “Correction,” he wrote: “A pang of conscience and $50 fill- ups recently forced me to trade my beloved five-year-old Tundra for a slightly less hypocritical Toyota Forerunner – still 4×4 however. You never know about those potholes in the mall.” -30

(originally published in LA CityBeat)